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Is ‘Lone Wolf Terrorism’ Just Crime?

Recently two separate acts by lone attackers on government workers have been classified as “lone wolf terrorism” by law enforcement and elected officials. First was the shooting in Canada of a soldier by Michael Zehaf-Bibeau who also entered the Canadian Parliament before being shot and killed. Second was a hatchet attack on NYPD officers by Zale Thompson who was also shot and killed at the scene.

But this form of “terrorism” is even more semantically problematic than the ill-defined kind usually referenced in the War on Terror. Lone wolf style terrorism not only means the assailant attacks alone but also plans and organizes the attack alone. In other words, this person has no operational ties to any group – the individual is in personal command and controls their own actions completely.

How is that in any way different than a basic criminal act? You want to kill someone, you get a weapon, you make a plan and you kill someone. You’ve committed premeditated murder and should be punished accordingly. So you had some personal political grievances that motivated it – so what? Murderers who read the newspaper aren’t just murderers anymore?

What seems to make the difference to public officials is that public officials are the ones who are being targeted. Though targeting public officials is undeniably political on some level, creating some special class of crime for deranged and/or malignant individuals that target public officials and trying to tie into the larger War on Terror is inappropriate. But is the only reason to claim that those who commit certain acts are something more than basic criminals because politicians want special legal protections?

Natasha Lennard at Vice offers another reason.

California Senator Dianne Feinstein, speaking on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday, suggested that “the Internet, as well as certain specific Muslim extremists, are really firing up this lone-wolf phenomenon.” Whether intentionally or not, the Senate Intelligence Committee chair performed a lot of political work with that one comment. Crystallizing “lone wolves” as a key threat domestically helps legitimize the US’s current military operation against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. With or without established connections, the Islamic State’s far-reaching tentacles of online influence encouraging individuals worldwide cement the group as a threat to the homeland — which is always useful for politicians struggling to legally justify another protracted war. In this way, attributing attacks to homegrown “lone wolves” is more useful for current US political interests than attributing them to madness alone.

Indeed, expanding suspicion to the individual level is the ultimate end of the War on Terror and neoliberalism more generally. Atomized and divded people can’t shake the established order because they can not unite and cooperate. Can you really ever trust anyone, really? No, you can’t – we need these gates, biometric IDs, credit reports, and vast network of prisons. Even if we, somehow, conquer the threats from East Asia and Eurasia, can we ever stop the enemy within? Best stick to people with property and well established connections if you want anything resembling a community.

And if the lone wolves are taken alive, can we trust a jury to judge them, really? The jury could have a lone wolf terrorist juror. Terrorism should be judged by special experts who really understand the issue not average citizens who might be terrorists anyway – we can’t know for sure can we?

Paranoia and suspicion are the enemies of unity and unity and collective action are the enemies of neoliberalism and our oligarchic society. Expanding terrorism to include even individual acts of madness may be the only way to keep the War on Terror relevant to the general public’s lives. Without relevance how could such large budgets and socially repressive laws be justified? Who will keep us safe from the ever redefined and redefining terrorist threat?

CommunityThe Bullpen

Is ‘Lone Wolf Terrorism’ Just Crime?

Recently two separate acts by lone attackers on government workers have been classified as “lone wolf terrorism” by law enforcement and elected officials. First was the shooting in Canada of a soldier by Michael Zehaf-Bibeau who also entered the Canadian Parliament before being shot and killed. Second was a hatchet attack on NYPD officers by Zale Thompson who was also shot and killed at the scene.

But this form of “terrorism” is even more semantically problematic than the ill-defined kind usually referenced in the War on Terror. Lone wolf style terrorism not only means the assailant attacks alone but also plans and organizes the attack alone. In other words, this person has no operational ties to any group – the individual is in personal command and controls their own actions completely.

How is that in any way different than a basic criminal act? You want to kill someone, you get a weapon, you make a plan and you kill someone. You’ve committed premeditated murder and should be punished accordingly. So you had some personal political grievances that motivated it – so what? Murderers who read the newspaper aren’t just murderers anymore?

What seems to make the difference to public officials is that public officials are the ones who are being targeted. Though targeting public officials is undeniably political on some level, creating some special class of crime for deranged and/or malignant individuals that target public officials and trying to tie into the larger War on Terror is inappropriate. But is the only reason to claim that those who commit certain acts are something more than basic criminals because politicians want special legal protections?

Natasha Lennard at Vice offers another reason.

California Senator Dianne Feinstein, speaking on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday, suggested that “the Internet, as well as certain specific Muslim extremists, are really firing up this lone-wolf phenomenon.” Whether intentionally or not, the Senate Intelligence Committee chair performed a lot of political work with that one comment. Crystallizing “lone wolves” as a key threat domestically helps legitimize the US’s current military operation against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. With or without established connections, the Islamic State’s far-reaching tentacles of online influence encouraging individuals worldwide cement the group as a threat to the homeland — which is always useful for politicians struggling to legally justify another protracted war. In this way, attributing attacks to homegrown “lone wolves” is more useful for current US political interests than attributing them to madness alone.

Indeed, expanding suspicion to the individual level is the ultimate end of the War on Terror and neoliberalism more generally. Atomized and divded people can’t shake the established order because they can not unite and cooperate. Can you really ever trust anyone, really? No, you can’t – we need these gates, biometric IDs, credit reports, and vast network of prisons. Even if we, somehow, conquer the threats from East Asia and Eurasia, can we ever stop the enemy within? Best stick to people with property and well established connections if you want anything resembling a community.

And if the lone wolves are taken alive, can we trust a jury to judge them, really? The jury could have a lone wolf terrorist juror. Terrorism should be judged by special experts who really understand the issue not average citizens who might be terrorists anyway – we can’t know for sure can we?

Paranoia and suspicion are the enemies of unity and unity and collective action are the enemies of neoliberalism and our oligarchic society. Expanding terrorism to include even individual acts of madness may be the only way to keep the War on Terror relevant to the general public’s lives. Without relevance how could such large budgets and socially repressive laws be justified? Who will keep us safe from the ever redefined and redefining terrorist threat?

Photo by Dalbera under Creative Commons license.

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Dan Wright

Dan Wright

Daniel Wright is a longtime blogger and currently writes for Shadowproof. He lives in New Jersey, by choice.