The Austin Plane Attack: Terrorism?

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White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told the press pool on Air Force One that the plane that crashed into an office tower in Austin does not appear to be an act of terrorism, though investigations are continuing. A White House official further clarifies to me that Gibbs was explaining that there do not seem to be ties between the pilot and foreign terrorist agents or organizations.

The question of what constitutes “terrorism” is often a tricky one to define in public discourse, where political and value judgments sometimes play a role. (The animal rights activists who pours fake blood on a fur coat and the street protester who throws a rock at a Nike Store both seem a far cry from an Islamic jihadi on a plane with a bomb in his underpants.) But the FBI, nonetheless, has a very clear and simple definition for what constitutes terrorism. To wit:

Domestic terrorism is the unlawful use, or threatened use, of force or violence by a group or individual based and operating entirely within the United States or Puerto Rico without foreign direction committed against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof in furtherance of political or social objectives.

So does a guy who writes an online rant about the IRS before committing unlawful violence count as a terrorist? Probably so, by the legal definition. The suspect alleged to have flown the plane, Joe Stack, appears to have written the following online:

I can only hope that the numbers quickly get too big to be white washed and ignored that the American zombies wake up and revolt; it will take nothing less. I would only hope that by striking a nerve that stimulates the inevitable double standard, knee-jerk government reaction that results in more stupid draconian restrictions people wake up and begin to see the pompous political thugs and their mindless minions for what they are. Sadly, though I spent my entire life trying to believe it wasn’t so, but violence not only is the answer, it is the only answer.

UPDATE: The legal language in statute is slightly different, focusing on “acts dangerous to human life,” but that would still seem to fit in this case.

(5) the term "domestic terrorism" means activities that -
(A) involve acts dangerous to human life that are a violation
of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State;
(B) appear to be intended -
(i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population;
(ii) to influence the policy of a government by
intimidation or coercion; or
(iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass
destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and
(C) occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of
the United States.