This continues our series of student reflections and analysis authored by our research team.
Excluded Cases and Why They’re Still Important
tPP maintains a collective document of cases that did not make the final cut for our data set. These cases may not have qualified for a variety of reasons (see the entry on the tPP decision tree here), each being unique, and each calling into question why we believe what we do about our data set. Why are these cases excluded while similar ones are not? These cases are important because our decision to exclude them can tell us about our own data set.
Initially, as I examined these cases, the cases excluded were because the individual crime didn’t qualify as a felony, or because the individual could not make it to trial. An example of this case is William Rodgers who was arrested but committed suicide in jail before he could officially be charged with his crimes.
However, there are many more cases that deal with more complicated issues such as intent. What did these individuals truly intend to do? They may have committed the exact same act as someone else in the database, but, if their motive is different they could be excluded. This shows the emphasis we place on intent.
A case that clearly distinguished the need for intent was the case of James Eagan Holmes. He was the shooter of the movie theater in Aurora Colorado. While this was a horrific shooting, Holmes decided to not make it a political attack when he wrote in his personal notebook that the goal of the attack was “not terrorism.” If he was not trying to explicitly commit an act of terrorism than he is not being prosecuted as such by the U.S. government and he is not an object of our study.
A more complicated case is Donald W. Wright who was charged with possession of firearms and explosives. He claimed to be a member of the “New World Order” but he was not actually a member and there was no actual political use to the weapons in his possession. Simply believing himself to be a member was not sufficient grounds to consider him a terrorist. If he was not an actual member and could not use the weapons to further a political agenda, only a personal one he believed to be political, he does qualify as a terrorist and is excluded from the study.
The final case I want to analyze is Travis Reinking who committed a shooting at a Waffle House. One may confuse this as terrorism as Travis was a sovereign citizen, and thus any acts of violence he may commit would be furthering his sovereign citizen agenda. However, in this instance one must note that the focus is the crime and not on the individual. The shooting was not to further his extremist movement as a sovereign citizen. Therefore, after looking at intent and the type of crime this case becomes excluded due to a lack of political motive.
Intent becomes crucial in determining whether or not to exclude some of these major cases. Do these individuals have a political motive at all? Are they part of a political movement? Are their crimes attempting to further that movement? All of these questions must be answered before a case can be added with confidence into the dataset. These excluded cases are still very important due to what they can teach us about the importance of closely analyzing intent and involvement within political movements.