Terrorism: What Happens at Home, Does not Always Stay at Home


By: Gerald F. Witherspoon, Sr. 20140807

Every state, government, and organization is made up of individuals and an understanding of the world is often developed at home. Likewise, the ability to conceptualize what it means to terrorize or to be terrorized starts at the domestic level. Therefore, domestic terrorism offers a glimpse into international and other forms of terrorism. Accordingly, I selected the Palmer Raids (June 2, 1919), Oklahoma City bombing (April 19, 1995), and the Joe Stack IRS attack (February 18, 2010) as the most important events in the history of terrorism. These acts of terrorism give credence to the notion “your enemies will be in your own household.” Further, despite the publicity and massive notoriety of 9/11, the motives of the al-Qaeda operatives shared the same element of hatred for what they considered an oppressive government, albeit, an external one, possessed by the domestic terrorists cognately threaded below.

The Palmer Raids was conducted by Carlo Valdinoci (FBI, 2007). He was reported by the FBI as a militant anarchist who blew up the front of Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer’s home in Washington, D.C. after prematurely detonating a bomb which resulted in his own death (2007). According to the FBI, “The bombing was just one in a series of coordinated attacks that day on judges, politicians, law enforcement officials, and others in eight cities nationwide” (FBI, 2007, para. 3). Additionally, this was arguably the first documented case of terrorism associated with packages by mail. Adumbrated by J. Edgar Hoover, the Department of Justice and Department of Labor began expanding their authorities under the Sedition Act which preluded constitutionally questionable access into the private lives of U.S. citizens (FBI, 2007). It is important to note that governmental officials were not the only intended targets, but business leaders including John D. Rockefeller were included (FBI, 2007). The implication here is a hateful perception and attack against corrupt power.

Regarding the Oklahoma City bombing orchestrated by Timothy McVeigh, the FBI reported, “It was the worst act of homegrown terrorism in the nation’s history” (FBI, 2014, para. 6). In a country that has championed the notion of remaining free from foreign invasion, vulnerability was exposed by a white native born male driving a truck and detonating explosives near center mass (Oklahoma) (FBI, 2014). McVeigh’s act of cruelty mirrored a disgruntled internal citizenry growing more and more frustrated with their government. The Oklahoma City bombing reinstructed many that terrorists are often bitter toward perceived injustices committed against themselves, groups, or individuals they identify with. The Oklahoma City bombing spoke to the ease and common tendency of terrorists to rely on cheap and local resources to produce massive damage. Finally, the Oklahoma City bombing, demonstrates the importance of not allowing 9/11 to restrict our schematic tendencies toward activity from beyond committed by foreign and radical adversaries, but to maintain a dour guard against domestic terrorism as well.

Coequal to McVeigh, the al-Qaeda operatives of 9/11, and other recognized terrorists, Joe Stack intentionally targeted innocent civilians and a government building, specifically, “the 200 person IRS office” in Austin Texas (Johnson, 2010, para. 5). Akin to those mentioned above and evident in his 3,000 page manifesto, Stack developed a hateful perception of corrupt power and abusive injustices committed by the government. That the Federal Bureau of Investigation never recognized him as a terrorist, despite no contradictions between his actions and other long recognized terrorist’s, speaks to the lack of construct validity and pitfalls of definitionalism surrounding the term “terrorism.”

All three terrorist acts remain a replica of the perceptual or cognitive and individual elements future terrorism will entail. Presage-fully, conflict between the rulers and ruled, haves and have-nots, and the oppressors and oppressed will continue to escalate through the process of globalization. More clearly, legitimate sovereign power will continue to consolidate into the hands of fewer and fewer world plenipotentiaries and the number of protesting or resisting “terrorists” will increase. Those who refuse to subject themselves to lawful standards for protesting and resisting will continue to cultivate the cycle of terrorism both domestically and internationally. Finally, the lack of an internationally agreed upon definition of terrorism will only exacerbate these probabilities. As Dr. Boaz Ganor stated,

“The definition of terrorism will be the basis and the operational tool for expanding the international community’s ability to combat terrorism. It will enable legislation and specific punishments against those perpetrating, involved in, or supporting terrorism, and will allow the formulation of a codex of laws and international conventions against terrorism, terrorist organizations, states sponsoring terrorism, and economic firms trading with them”  (Ganor, 2010).


Regarding self-proclaimed media experts and researchers, Marc Sageman warned,

“These ‘experts’ still fill the airwaves and freely give their opinions to journalists, thereby framing terrorist events for the public. However, they are not truly scholars, are not versed to detect or analyze trends, but they certainly like to make sensational statements. They cannot be relied upon to advance the field of terrorism research, as they are more advocates than objective scholars” (Sagemen, 2014, 566).

Objective research requires one to abandon any preconceived notions about their topic. To assume that terrorist activity always originates from an ideological base, is to ignore the real fact that individuals sometimes act contrary to their ideological preferences. For instance, devout Christians may prefer to respond in love to any and all situations. However, when extreme situations and circumstances apply pressure, their ideological pipes may burst. Therefore, I postulate that logical and intentional provocations can lead to illogical and unintentional responses. By logical and intentional provocations I mean rationally thought out and devised plans by a government to overpower and subdue a particular segment of a population that is recognized as intentional. The affected segment of the population may respond, after being provoked, in a manner that would be considered illogical, nevertheless, unintentional. By unintentional I speak to the origin of intent. The terrorist may have never intended for the cycle of violence to occur and unintentionality could be evidenced in the fact the terrorist did not initiate or provoke the cycle into existence. But blinded by a fit of rage and trained toward the normalization of violence by their provocateurs, terrorists engage in activities they sometime regret.

Can you think of an occasion when acting against logic was the most logical thing to do?

I believe terrorists have asked themselves this question many times and answered it prior to following through on their terrorist acts. This in no way implies a need to sympathize with terrorists as all manner of violence requires a legitimate attempt to minimize the casualties. Sympathizing, for example, would imply an interest in reducing the sentence of a convicted terrorist which could undoubtedly lead to an increase in terrorism, and therefore, should be abhorred. Terrorists should be met with swift and unrelenting prosecution. However, by empathizing with terrorists, researchers may be able to better identify the origin of terrorism and thereby probe toward a legitimate solution.

I hypothesize the greater the extent to which a government effectively removes threats to human security, the lower the propensity for terrorism to be perceived as a logical response. Unfortunately, many citizens throughout the international community have lost confidence in their governmental leader’s interest or ability to protect them and have resorted to individual effort at the same. I presuppose there are no terrorists past, present, or future, who are opposed to the seven dimensions of human security. However, “During the last 100 years far more people have been killed by their own governments than by foreign armies” (Developmenteducation.ie, 2014).

As unorthodox as it may sound, I believe decriminalizing terrorism would offer insight into the prevention thereof. Could it be, the most genuine counterterrorism strategy is government accountability in regard to its responsibility to protect its citizens? Are terrorists demanding governmental leaders to protect their citizens instead of oppressing them and cultivating more insecurities?


Developmenteducation.ie. (2014, August 10). More people are killed by their own governments. Retrieved from Developmenteducation.ie: http://www.developmenteducation.ie/5-50-500/_files/067-murderous-governments.pdf

Federal Bureau of Invesitgation. (2014). Famous Cases and Criminals. Retrieved from fbi.gov: http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/history/famous-cases/oklahoma-city-bombing

Federal Bureau of Investigations. (2007, December 28). Stories. Retrieved from fbi.gov: http://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/2007/december/palmer_122807

Ganor, B. (2010). Defining Terrorism – Is One Man’s Terrorist Another Man’s Freedom Fighter? Retrieved from ict.org: http://www.ict.org.il/Article.aspx?ID=1123

Johnson, P. (2010, February 20). Joe Stack IRS attack and the growth of the tax resistance movement. Retrieved from http://www.csmonitor.com: http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/2010/0220/Joe-Stack-IRS-attack-and-the-growth-of-the-tax-resistance-movement

Sagemen, M. (2014). The Stagnation in Terrorism Research. Terrorism and Political Violence, 26(4), 565-580.


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