So here’s the scenario. On Christmas Day, a suicide bomb blast left an historic part of an American state capital looking like Baghdad after a car bombing. The Nashville bomber is thought to be Anthony Quinn Warner, 63. But there’s continuing confusion if Warner can be described as a terrorist.
A suicide bomber. Christmas Day. The centre of an iconic state capital. Communications knocked out for miles, affecting police and emergency services too. And it isn’t domestic terrorism?
Not according to FBI investigators.
CNN quotes Doug Korneski, the FBI Special Agent in Charge, on what might be considered domestic terrorism. The agent said: “When we assess an event for domestic terrorism nexus, it has to be tied to an ideology. The use of force or violence in the furtherance of a political or social ideology.”
Ok so there’s no clarity as yet if Warner blew up his vehicle and large parts of downtown Nashville to further any particular political or social ideology. But it’s obvious he had a dangerously malevolent intent. As a local Nashville official has publicly said, “the decision to blow up an RV [recreational vehicle] in the middle of downtown was to make a point about something. Whatever it was, it fits the domestic terrorism definition”.
Re-run the scenario with a different hypothetical perpetrator, a man named, for the purposes of this thought experiment, Abdul or Ahmed or Mohammed or Muzaffar. I’m not sure there would’ve been much doubt that Nashville had sustained an act of terrorist violence at the hands of a suicide bomber.
So, what’s the problem with identifying Warner’s last act as terrorist?
Ramzi Kassem, law professor at the City University of New York, says the terrorism framework is flawed and subjective. It has political uses but isn’t “making people safer, it isn’t helping people understand what drives someone to commit that sort of act of violence, nor is it helping to prevent that violence”. Professor Kassem told NPR that the framework should be dropped altogether rather than expanded in the name of even-handedness.
Second, according to Alex Little, a former lead national security prosecutor, “9/11 fundamentally changed how people in the United States thought about terrorist acts. We became much more used to thinking about them solely in the context of Islamic terrorism with an international focal point”. This has lessened the focus on the domestic terrorism threat.
Either way, it is odd that a Christmas Day suicide bomb blast isn’t considered an act that inspires terror.