April 13, 2005

When is a terrorist not a terrorist?

Eric Rudolph, a "serial bomber" who committed a series of deadly bombings within the US, pled guilty in federal court last week to four bombings, and will serve four consecutive life sentences for the attacks. His attacks included:

  • The 1996 Atlanta Olympics bombing which killed two people and injured more than 100 other people,
  • The 1997 bombing of the Atlanta Northside Family Planning Service, which also included a second bomb which was timed to go off as medical personnel, firefighters, police and other law enforcement officers worked to secure the scene and evacuate people from the area,
  • The 1997 bombing of the Otherside Lounge, a lesbian nightclub in Atlanta, which injured 5 people,
  • The 1998 Birmingham bombing outside the New Woman All Women Health Care Clinic which killed a police officer and severely injured the head nurse.

Rudolph was a member of militant fundamentalist Christian group, the Army of God, which wants an end to abortion and the "new world order".
As part of the plea bargain to escape the death penalty Rudolph revealed the location of 250lbs of TNT and a bomb with detonator that he had hidden in the mountains of North Carolina, which suggests that further attacks were planned.

What struck me about this when listening to an NPR story about Rudolph this weekend is the fact that the coverage of this story does not include the word "terrorist".

My question for the readers of The Chant, is when should a criminal be described a terrorist? Obviously the term is appropriately applied to members of Al-qaeda, but what about the insurgent forces within Iraq? What about the insurgent forces within Ireland? Do radical Christians deserve the same label as radical Muslims? What about eco-terrorists and drug dealers?

Craig's 2 cents: Check out this FoxNews memo on how to cover Rudolph.


Chris said...

The New York Times article about Rudolph also fails to use the word "terrorist".

Chris said...

CNN eventually use the label about 3/4 of the way through the article:

Kent Alexander, the U.S. attorney in Atlanta at the time of the bombings, said he was "surprised" by the agreement.

Alexander said he believed the Bush administration wanted to secure a death sentence in a domestic terrorism case, but acknowledged that the government "wouldn't necessarily want to make a martyr out of Eric Rudolph."

Laura said...

It may be hard for our government, currently dominated by the right wing agenda, to label Rudolph a terrorist, when his views (but, not necessarily his actions) mirror their own.

After all, the current agenda is anti-choice and anti-homosexual. So, while they may not find his methods tasteful, they can't really say his attitudes are those of a terrorist.

I think, that for the current admnistration a terrorist must be someone who doesn't look like an American and doesn't think like an American, and who doesn't like Americans. However, since Rudolph is only guilty of bombing parts of America that the right wing finds repugnant, he doesn't fit their label.

Though, I must say, he absolutely fits my image of a terrorist.

Laura said...

After thinking this over a bit, what a terrorist was, and how our government defined terrorism, I remembered John Walker Lindh, the American Taliban.

John Walker Lindh, even according to the official U.S. understanding, never used force against Americans. He refused to fight, not only against Americans, but also Israel. And yet, he was labeled a terrorist and given twenty years in prison.

Rudolph attacked Americans on American soil and we're not calling him a terrorist. He appears to be just as anti-establishment as Lindh, yet he's not a terrorist.

It may be cynical or paranoid of me to believe this, but I think it comes down the beliefs behind the acts. Lindh is a Muslim, who believes in fighting those who oppose his version of Islam. Rudolph is a Christian who believes in attacking those who don't fit his idea of acceptabiltity according to his religious ideals. Apparently, the U.S. government thinks that violence committed in the name of Christianity is somehow less evil than violence committed in the name of Islam.

jess said...

According to dictionary.com:
terrorist: n : a radical who employs terror as a political weapon; usually organizes with other terrorists in small cells; often uses religion as a cover for terrorist activities

of course he's a terrorist. His purpose was obviously to instill fear in those that took part in activities that he disagreed with politically and religously. Why is the media so much more ready to tack the word -terrorist onto the end of 'eco,' but not 'right wing?'

The Craig said...

Terrorism is a political act. Both the act itself and the media coverage of it.

Patrick McFarland said...

Wow, you need to get trackback setup. Here is my reply.

Chris said...

Craig, if the coverage of terrorism is a political act, then what can we make of this? I think that it's passively continuing the stereotype of Arab/muslim as terrorist.

But to what end? Why doesn't the NY Times call him a terrorist? It's really fucked up.

I kind of feel like the American Taliban (Tom Delay and all of his cynical Christian Coalition buddies) are controlling the national dialog way too much.

Florencio Murata said...

Interested. Keep Blogging!