The distinctions we’re hearing between”terrorism” and “criminal acts” go beyond the issue of whether to try certain defendants in military or civilian courts. It appears that when it serves the Cheney/Tea Party political purposes, some acts of murder and destructiveness against Americans — attempted or consumated — are called “terrorism,” while other similar acts – such as those of Joseph Stack, who flew his plane into the IRS building in Texas, killing someone in a suicide mission; or Amy Bishop, the professor who shot and killed several colleagues when denied tenure — are labeled as simply criminal acts of individual, emotionally disturbed people.
Aside from understanding the psychology of people engaging in such acts (an important issue, itself), whether they act as individuals or part of an organized group, many in the media appear to swallow this portrayal whole – accepting and repeating the same alleged distinction. Even Homeland Security Secretay Napolitano has joined in, recently stating on NPR’s Diane Rehm show, for example, that Joseph Stack’s actions were those of a “lone wolf,” carrying out a “personal agenda.”
Of course, all this gives more cred to part of the right wing’s core agenda – convincing the public that the Obama administration is “soft” on terrorism, despite all the hard evidence to the contrary. The recent uproar over Cheney The Daughter’s portrayal of some Justice Department lawyers as part of the “al-Qaeda 7” is another example of this strategy. Unfortunately, Napolitano, as well as some journalists and politicians, are playing right into this by trying to make a politically safe but dubious distinction between certain “terrorist acts” and “terrorism.”
An interesting distinction, perhaps, except to those who end up dead either way.