Discussing the evolving threat of terrorism, FBI Director James Comey said the killing of five military members by Mohammad Abdulazeez in July at a Tennessee recruitment center was terrorism. He said that although San Bernardino shooters Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik had been radicalized before they killed 14 people on December 2, investigators have found no evidence of direct communication between the couple and any terrorist organization, says the Christian Science Monitor. Legally, the FBI says “domestic terrorism” refers to dangerous, illegal activities on US soil that “appear intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping.”
For many, the word has come to mean one thing alone: someone killing Americans in the name of an extremist, violent interpretation of Islam. That’s a change from the 1990s, when the media covered a number of high-profile domestic attacks, from “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski, to Eric Rudolph’s bombing of the Atlanta Olympics, to the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. Some think hesitation to label certain crimes as terrorism relates to race and religion. There’s a “reluctance to think that people who look like the majority here” can commit such violence, says Heidi Beirich of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Some recent attacks, such as the massacre at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., which is believed to have been motivated by white supremacist views, have revived the idea that “terrorism” can belong to any creed or ideology, so long as it inspires violence.