U.S. News

11.04.13

Why the LAX Shooter Should Be Charged as a Terrorist

According to court documents, the alleged LAX shooter was trying to influence government policy with violence. So, why isn’t he being charged with terrorism?

Paul Anthony Ciancia reportedly entered the Los Angeles Airport on Friday with the express motive to kill federal law enforcement officers—and he allegedly did just that. According to police, he shot and killed TSA officer Gerardo I. Hernandez at point blank range. In fact, according to the official complaint filed by the FBI, Ciancia was so intent on killing TSA officers that after he initially shot Hernandez, he returned a few moments later to shoot the already wounded officer again because he noticed him moving.

Ciancia allegedly went on to shoot and wound two other TSA officers before being shot himself and apprehended. He’s currently charged with murder and with discharging a weapon in an airport.  Ciancia was too wounded to answer questions as of Sunday.

To me, this attack wasn’t a case of transitory anger. No, this appears to have been a premeditated attack by a person with a political grievance who came heavily armed to the airport with the clear mission to kill federal law enforcement officers.

How can I say that? Simple, according to the FBI’s complaint, Ciancia was carrying a handwritten note at the time of the attack in which he allegedly described himself as a “pissed-off patriot” angered by the TSA’s violation of his constitutional rights.

His note also allegedly included the statement that he wanted to “kill TSA" and "instill fear into their traitorous minds." In addition, he allegedly expressed anger towards former Homeland Security Director Janet Napolitano, FBI special agent in charge David Bowdich revealed in a press conference on Saturday.

If all of this is proven to be true, this was a man with a political agenda who was angered by our government's airport security policy and allegedly employed violence to change it. Plain and simple: This attack was an act of domestic terrorism.

Under federal law, “domestic terrorism" is defined as an act that violates State or Federal law (for example, murder) and the action must “appear to be intended to:

(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.

The handwritten note allegedly carried by Ciancia, according to law enforcement, makes it plain that his goal was to “affect the conduct of government by “ killing TSA employees.  Ciancia was an angry patriot who apparently felt that TSA officers were treading on the constitutional rights of Americans. Thus, he allegedly used violence to protest and/or change this policy.

How can this be anything but “domestic terrorism”?   But still, we barely hear any calls for him to be charged with this federal crime.  And I have heard few references in the media to this being a possible act of terrorism. The U.S. Department of Justice declined to comment regarding whether Ciancia should be charged with terrorism.

Let me ask this simple question: If the shooter had been Muslim and had entered LAX with the express intention to kill federal law enforcement officers, is there any doubt he would be charged as a terrorist? And if he weren’t, there would be an outcry from people across the nation demanding it.

Our system of justice demands that we apply the same standard if the suspect is dark-skinned and Muslim or white and non-Muslim—or any other race or religion for that matter. Terrorism is not committed by just one religion, race or ethnicity. Terrorism knows no such bounds and historically has been used by different groups for various reasons, including bringing attention to grievances, enacting revenge, and effectuating changes in a governmental policy.

But too often we appear to subscribe to the philosophy that if a suspect is Muslim, it’s assumed to be an act of terrorism. But if a person is not Muslim, we assume he or she is mentally unstable, delusional or simply wasn’t hugged enough as a child. This philosophy is not only wrong, it’s dangerous.

The risk posed by this approach is that we will ignore warning signs of radicalization when non-Muslims evidence them.  But as we have seen in the case of the Oklahoma City bombers, eco-terrorists, and members of the FBI's list of most wanted domestic terrorists, people who have committed acts of domestic terrorism come in different backgrounds and are motivated by different causes.

And sure some will ask: why wasn’t Major Nidal Hassan, who was convicted of killing 13 people and injuring more than 40 at Fort Hood, charged with "terrorism"? Well it's the same reason why Sergeant Robert Bales, who killed 17 Afghanis, including women and children, many in their bed, and then gruesomely burned some of their bodies, wasn’t charged with an act of terrorism. Both those cases were within the exclusive purview of the military since Bales and Hassan were active duty servicemen and terrorism is currently not a charge under Uniform Code of Military Justice.

The investigation of LAX shooter isn't over yet. It's my hope he will be charged with committing an act of domestic terrorism for two reasons. For one, the law demands it. Second, it will serve as a reminder that we must remain vigilantly alert for signs of radicalization regardless of the background of the person. This colorblind approach to fighting terrorism could end up saving the lives of many people-including possibly even your own.