Governments and legal systems adopt different definitions of the term and which groups are “terrorists” and which are not.
For example, in the UK, the Terrorism Act 2000 defines terrorism as:
“The use or threat of action designed to influence the government or an international governmental organization or to intimidate the public, or a section of the public, made for the purposes of advancing a political, religious or ideological cause.” (1)
In its requirement that annual country reports on terrorism are submitted by the Secretary of State to Congress each year, the United States Code defines terrorism as:
“Premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against non-combatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents.” (2)
Since 9/11 struck, fundamentalist Islamic believers such as al Qaeda have become one of the biggest threats to mankind. Post 9/11 extreme Islamic groups are widely associated with the term “terrorism”.
However, the United States insists that such threats are not constrained to fundamentalist Islamic terrorist groups. As the 2007 National Strategy for Homeland Security states:
“The terrorist threat to the Homeland is not restricted to violent Islamic extremist groups. We also confront an ongoing threat posed by domestic terrorist groups based and operating strictly within the United States. Often referred to as “single issue” groups, they include white supremist groups, animal rights extremists, and eco-terrorist groups, among others.” (3)
Homegrown Domestic Terrorist Groups
The concept of domestic terrorism, homegrown organizations that cause many internal problems, seems to be increasing in prevalence and publicity.
What’s more, according to David E. Heller, Assistant Special Agent in Charge, Anchorage Division, FBI, a colleague told him that when it comes to how the US government identifies domestic terrorist organizations, it does not have a collective procedure. Heller stated:
“The United States does not have a universally accepted process for defining and designating domestic terrorist individuals or groups, which is shared throughout the law enforcement and homeland security communities.” (3)
Considering the rather vague and arguably insubstantial laws and definitions about what constitutes a terrorist, one has to wonder if the FBI’s labeling of certain domestic groups as “terrorists” is wholly accurate.
One of the FBI’s most wanted individuals for so-called “domestic terrorism” is Donna Joan Borup.
Donna Joan Borup is wanted by the FBI for her alleged involvement in the violent anti-apartheid protests that took place at JFK International Airport in New York in 1981.
Borup stands accused of throwing an acidic substance at a police officer during the riot, leaving him partially blind.
According to the FBI website, Borup was also a member of the May 19th Communist Organization, a Marxist-Leninist group, which advocated the armed overthrow of the US government.
Borup was arrested and released on bail, pending a trial in 1982. A federal arrest warrant was issued for Borup after she failed to turn up for her trial. Borup has been in hiding ever since and is believed to have ties to Philadelphia and Horsham.
Partially blinding a police officer by throwing an acidic substance at him, being involved in a violent organization and failing to appear at your own trial are unquestionably criminal activities.
Being allegedly involved in such criminal acts, the FBI is right to pursue the arrest of Borup.
It could, however, be argued that labeling Borup as a member of a domestic terrorist group is inaccurate and is evidence of how the FBI is blurring the boundaries between criminal activity and the term “terrorist”.
More Domestic Terrorists
Also on the FBI’s “domestic terrorism” list is Josephine Sunshine Overaker. Overaker is wanted by the FBI for:
“Conspiracy to commit arson of United States government property and of property used in interstate commerce; Conspiracy to commit arson and destruction of an energy facility; Attempted arson of a building, arson of a vehicle; arson of a building; destruction of an energy facility.” (4)
The FBI is offering a reward of up to $50,000 for information that leads to the arrest of Josephine Overaker. It is safe to label Overaker, for her alleged crimes of conspiracy to commit arson, as an arsonist, but is it accurate to label her as a terrorist?
Another “domestic terrorist” on the FBI’s most wanted list is Joseph Mahmoud Dibee. In 2006, a federal grand jury indicted Dibee on multiple charges related to two conspiracy violations, seventeen incidents and one count of arson. Dibee fled the United States and is believed to be in Syria. The FBI is also offering a $50,000 reward for any information that may lead to Dibee’s arrest. (4)
Again, he’s been indicted for arson and conspiracy violations, but should Dibee really be deemed as being a domestic terrorist?
The Legal Information Institute defines domestic terrorism as activities that appear to be intended to “intimidate or coerce civilian population” and “involve acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of criminal laws of the United States”. (5)
It could be argued that since they were involved in actions that are dangerous to human life, the likes of Borup, Oberaker and Dibee should be labeled as domestic terrorists.
Or, is the FBI over-zealously blurring the boundaries between criminal activity and the term “terrorism”?