Not Your Stereotypical Terrorism

This continues our series of student reflections and analysis authored by our research team.

Not Your Stereotypical Terrorism

Sarah Carrier

It is a regular day, you are drinking your morning coffee, when suddenly your phone receives a news alert. The title reads something like, “Another Terrorist Attack Strikes America”. You think to yourself, “Great, another ISIS attack, when will our government get it together and get rid of them?” However, you are mistaken. The attack was not performed by a member of ISIS, but rather a member of the Aryan Brotherhood (White Supremacists). Or, perhaps it was performed by an environmental activist against a construction site. Truth is, many people who receive a news alert like the one mentioned above will only read the title, not the story itself, and assume facts based or prior knowledge or prior prejudices. A recent study done by the Media Insight project claims that only 25% of participants went in-depth on breaking news, and 30% said they do not go in-depth on news stories. Readers can find out more about the study here.

There is a huge issue of disinformation being spread to American news consumers. Either people watch a news site that shares in their views and does not give all the facts, or Americans do not bother to go further than news headlines. As a result, their is a common misconception when it comes to terrorism. Many Americans believe terrorism to be similar to 9/11. It is large scale destruction, constitutes loss of life, and is committed by a muslim, member of ISIS, or Al-qaeda. However, the definition for terrorism is changing, there is both foreign and domestic terrorism. The FBI defines terrorism in USC Title 18 writing:

International terrorism: Violent, criminal acts committed by individuals and/or groups who are inspired by, or associated with, designated foreign terrorist organizations or nations (state-sponsored). Domestic terrorism: Violent, criminal acts committed by individuals and/or groups to further ideological goals stemming from domestic influences, such as those of a political, religious, social, racial, or environmental nature.” 

Any violent crime with the goal of influencing politics, or attacking a particular group in such as religion or race, can be a terrorist act. It is not only the Salafi/Jihadist/Islamist people who can commit a foreign terrorism act, it can also be the left or right groups that can commit domestic terrorism. However, it is more common to see Alt-Right groups, for example White Supremacists, perform an act of terrorism. A study done by the news site Quartz, with the Global Terrorism Database, found that in 2017 around ? of terrorist acts in America were committed by right leaning groups. The study and a news article about the study can be found here. 

In the story Three Little Pigs, it is hard to imagine the big bad wolf who huffed and puffed and blew their house down as anything other than a wolf. However, what if another animal came along who wanted the pigs? What if it was a bear, or a lion, or even a dog? It is hard to imagine the story we have been hearing since children in any other possible way. The true can be said of terrorism. Since childhood, many Americans have been told the big bad wolf is ISIS or Al-qaeda. This was acceptable to Americans. Those groups are far away and do not affect everyday life. It is much harder to change the narrative. To believe the wolf is not a wolf at all, but a dog who lives in your backyard. This is a much scarier reality that many Americans do not want to live with. However, this truth about terrorism must be accepted. For example, in Charlottesville, James Alex Field, a member of the Alt-Right, was able to drive into a crowd and kill and injure many people. This criminal act was defined by the United States as terrorism. This is a large and well-known story. However, there are many smaller stories about domestic terrorism that do not make national news. So, next time you are drinking your morning coffee, click on the headline and read the full article. 


CillizzaBioBioReporter, Chris Cillizza closeChris. “Americans Read Headlines. And Not Much Else.” Washington Post. Accessed November 1, 2019.

Federal Bureau of Investigation. “Terrorism.” Folder. Accessed November 1, 2019.

Southern Poverty Law Center. “Study Shows Two-Thirds of U.S. Terrorism Tied to Right-Wing Extremists.” Accessed November 1, 2019.

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