Terrorism is the targeting of innocent civilians in order to intimidate the populace into adopting the policies supported by the terrorists. The attack on the federal office building in Austin, Texas was not an act of terrorism for several reasons.
First, the attack targeted a federal facility, not innocent civilians. Therefore, there was no effort made to terrorize innocent civilians in order to intimidate them into adopting the perpetrator’s policies. Terrorists seek to terrorize the populace by targeting it for attacks. An attack on a federal facility, although a militant act or an act of treason, is not intended to terrorize those who are not targeted. The anti-government perpetrator apparently targeted a facility that housed an office of the Internal Revenue Service, with whom he was in dispute.
Second, the suicidal act was committed by a lone operative. Because the deceased perpetrator no longer represents a threat to commit any further violent acts, he cannot terrorize anyone in order to intimidate them into adopting his policies. His intent was to cause damage or bloodshed to a federal facility, not to terrorize anyone, as a dead man can no longer intimidate anyone.
Third, the perpetrator may have been suffering from mental illness, which was suggested by his act of arson of his own home immediately prior to the attack and the conspiracy-theorist anti-government anti-Catholic screed he published on the Internet, in addition to his suicidal attack.
Some commentators have likened the attack in Austin to the attack of the federal office building in Oklahoma City in 1995 by anti-government militants in order to label this latest attack “terrorism.” The earlier attack, which was committed with the understanding that it could have been a suicidal attack, was not an act of terrorism for similar reasons: the Oklahoma City attack was committed by a perpetrator with some degree of mental illness who targeted a federal facility, not innocent civilians, out of revenge for federal policies, not in order to intimidate the populace into changing policies.
As I have noted in earlier posts where I define terrorism, it is critically important in order to defeat terrorism that all politically-motivated violence not be called “terrorism,” lest the word become diluted. Reserving the word terrorism only for those acts that meet its definition underscores the particular evil of terrorism and prevents the terrorists and their sympathizers from labeling legitimate military methods used to defeat terrorism as acts of terrorism themselves.