Questions raised over feds' consistency on 'terrorism' definition in wake of shootings

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Published August 16, 2012

| FoxNews.com

Questions are being raised about the consistency of the government's standard for what qualifies as "terrorism," as recent high-profile shootings bear that label while tragedies like the Fort Hood massacre do not. 

According to the Patriot Act, domestic terrorism is defined as an act of violence that is 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." 

The shooting earlier this month at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin where six were killed by an alleged neo-Nazi military veteran was publicly described by the attorney general as an act of terrorism motivated by hate. 

"That is precisely -- precisely what happened here. An act of terrorism, an act of hatred, a hate crime that is anathema to the founding principles of our nation and to who we are as an American people," Attorney General Eric Holder said Aug. 10. 

The shooting Wednesday in Washington, D.C., of a security guard at the conservative Family Research Council is also being handled as an act of domestic terrorism, a source told Fox News. An FBI affidavit says the accused gunman uttered a statement to the effect of, "I don't like your politics," before reaching into a backpack for a handgun and opening fire. 

But the federal government has declined to label other tragedies as such. 

A recruitment center shooting in the summer of 2009 by a man who described himself as an operative for Al Qaeda in Yemen was not handled as a terrorism case. It was prosecuted in an Arkansas state court. 

And the Fort Hood massacre in November 2009, when 13 were killed and more than 30 wounded, has never been described officially as an act of terrorism even though the alleged shooter shouted "Allahu Akbar," or God is great, when he opened fire. 

"Now, you know, we can have really a legal discussion about whether it's a hate crime or an act of terrorism," Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, told Fox News. "I just wish there was some consistency here and certainly to me Fort Hood would be the classic case (of) what should be a clear case of terrorism." 

The Defense Department has dealt with Fort Hood in the context of workplace violence. As part of its ongoing investigation of the massacre, one of the soldiers who was injured, Sean Manning, said that was an insult. 

The recent movie theater massacre, in which a former neuroscience student is accused of killing 12 and wounding 58 others, is not being formally described as an act of terrorism -- but Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said at a hearing on Capitol Hill that the federal government is involved.

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