Words matter, as we have all come to learn. Words like “racism” and “fascism” are constantly misused, rendering their true meanings all but worthless. Falling victim to this modern tendency to play fast and loose with original definitions are the words “terrorism” and “terrorist.”
Sadly, it has become almost standard practice to use these terms as a reflection of one’s political views. Whether or not some individual or group is labeled terrorist now depends, almost entirely, on one’s feelings towards the perpetrators of an act of violence.
Several recent events in the United States have been described as terrorism by one or other side of the political scale. In reality, all but one of those horrific crimes was falsely defined. To cut through the fog of weaponized semantics, we must understand the very purpose of terrorism and recognize the distinction between it and crimes committed for other reasons.
These particular labels – terrorist and terrorism – demand very specific conditions to be accurate descriptors, and they have everything to do with motive. The nature of the act itself – regardless of how many victims it claims – is almost irrelevant. Indeed, no-one even has to die for an attack to be correctly defined as terrorism. Antifa has yet to be found responsible for a single death, yet it is a terrorist organization. Using violence, intimidation, obstruction of free speech, and destruction of property, it aims to force political change upon a largely unsupportive nation.
Although government entities and various private institutions have formulated differing definitions of these terms, there is one common thread that separates acts of terrorism from all other violence. The motive must be to terrorize or coerce a population or one distinct, targeted section of the populace into affecting political change.