Many members of the pro-choice community have urged the Justice Department to treat Sunday’s events as an act of domestic terrorism. At first, I thought “of course!” As I’ve done more reading and heard the perspectives of some constitutional law scholars interviewed in the media I’ve become considerably more ambivalent about this. Make no mistake, I feel that Dr. Tiller’s death is deeply tragic, but I remain unsure about labeling this event as “terrorism.” I have two concerns about the expanding definition of terrorism, one is tied to civil liberties and ‘thought policing’ and the second is more political.
First my concerns about calling Dr. Tiller’s death terrorism: On Monday, Rachel Maddow interviewed George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley. He suggested that under the Bush administration the definition of “terrorism” expanded to include many, many crimes. Turley also feels that murder or assination are not exactly the same thing as terrorism especially given that the Supreme Court has protected violent speech. Perhaps a better category would be to call Roeder’s crime a “hate crime” defined as:
Hate crimes… occur when a perpetrator targets a victim because of his or her perceived membership in a certain social group, usually defined by racial group, religion, sexual orientation, disability, ethnicity, nationality, age, gender, gender identity, or political affiliation.
A “hate crime” can take two forms: “hate crime” generally refers to criminal acts which are seen to have been motivated by hatred of one or more of the listed conditions. The second kind is hate speech, which is speech defined as crime. While hate crimes are rarely debated, the hate speech concept is controversial, as criminalizing speech can be seen as impugning freedom of speech. Incidents may involve physical assault, damage to property, bullying, harassment, verbal abuse or insults, or offensive graffiti or letters.