June 15 may well go down in the history books – depending upon who writes them – as the day America came to the point of no return. On that day, the White House unveiled its National Strategy for Countering Domestic Terrorism. In the current political climate, any comprehensive plan to battle domestic terrorism must begin with defining the term, and the definition being used in this case appears dangerously pliable.
Critical examination of what the federal government classes as “domestic terrorism” reveals a serious flaw. As adopted by the National Security Council (NSC), that definition is so broad, so vague, and so subjective that it could be used against virtually anybody whom the administration of the day decides it should. It describes:
“Activities that involve acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State; appear to be intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population, to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion, or to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States.”
A Definition That Transcends The Political Divide
The most troublesome – and most likely to be litigated – four words in this definition are the vague “appear to be intended.”
Whether an American citizen, regardless of political ideology, could be classed as a domestic terrorist depends entirely upon the political leanings of those who control the federal government at any given time. Republican or Democrat, conservative, liberal, libertarian, progressive, socialist, anarchist, or neo-Nazi — it matters not what label one would choose. Anyone could be accused of domestic terrorism for any actions or statements that, to those in power at the time, “appear to be” acts covered by the above definition.
If this sounds wildly paranoid, consider how often left-wing politicians, journalists, celebrities, and activists have thrown around the word “terrorist” to describe virtually anybody who rejects their worldview.
Consider the recent case of Mara Gay, a member of The New York Times editorial board, who told MSNBC’s Morning Joe that she found it “just disturbing” to see pickup trucks flying “dozens of American flags.” Gay’s aversion to the Star-Spangled Banner is not unusual today among the modern American left. A quick internet search for news articles relating to the American flag reveals dozens of opinion pieces that either directly or by implication suggest that flying the flag is an act of racism, bigotry, or intimidation. Revisiting the NSC definition of domestic terrorism, then, is it completely outside the realm of reality to see a future in which displaying the national flag might be considered “activities … that appear to be intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population”?
A ridiculous thought, right? It would never come to that. Ten years ago, if someone suggested that the progressive left would begin to segregate schools and colleges along racial lines, that person would have been panned as a crazy conspiracy theorist.
For any nation, the quickest and most direct route from a free society to an authoritarian police state is the government deciding that an entire section of the civilian population is made up of “terrorists” who pose a threat to both the state itself and to their fellow citizens. If the government can formulate a plan to combat “domestic terrorism” based upon a definition that could be stretched and twisted to cover almost any act or statement it deems threatening, then freedom may well be sacrificed upon the altar of ideology.
Read more from Graham J. Noble.