Robert Bowers is facing 29 federal criminal charges in connection with the fatal shooting of 11 worshipers at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pa. on Saturday.
The charges include 11 counts of using a firearm to commit murder and several counts of hate crimes.
Domestic terrorism is not among the charges for Bower’s alleged crime, which the Anti-Defamation League dubbed the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in American history, and which Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto said marked the “darkest day” in his city’s history.
WATCH: Coverage of Pittsburgh synagogue shooting suspect Robert Bowers
The week that ended with the Pittsburgh mass shooting began with the delivery of explosive devices to liberal philanthropist George Soros. Former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, former president Barack Obama, the CNN bureau in New York City and actor Robert De Niro were among the many recipients of packages allegedly sent by registered Republican and avid Trump supporter Cesar Sayoc.
Sayoc was hit with five charges including interstate transportation of an explosive and assaulting federal officers.
He, too, is not being charged with domestic terrorism, even though former U.S. director of national intelligence James Clapper — one of his reported targets — and New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio both said the bomb deliveries were acts of terrorism.
Domestic terrorism — an act, but not a crime
Why are neither Bowers nor Sayoc being charged with domestic terrorism? Simple: domestic terrorism doesn’t exist — in the eyes of U.S. law anyway.
The U.S. Code of Federal Regulations defines terrorism as “the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.”
The U.S.A. Patriot Act, signed into law by former president George W. Bush in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, defines domestic terrorism as any illegal activity carried out on U.S. soil that threatens human life, intimidates civilians and looks to influence government policy and affect government conduct through the use of mass destruction, assassination or kidnapping.
However, these working definitions of terrorism and domestic terrorism are only that — definitions. Federal authorities never created crimes to match acts of domestic terrorism.
WATCH: Coverage of pipe bombing suspect Cesar Sayoc
“There is no federal crime labelled domestic terrorism,” a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Justice told Global News in an email on Monday.
“There is not a domestic terrorism crime as such,” FBI director Christopher Wray previously said in a Senate hearing in September. “We in the FBI refer to domestic terrorism as a category, but it’s more of a way in which we allocate which agents, which squad is going to work on it.”
In other words, under U.S. law, domestic terrorism is defined as an action or conduct but does not exist as a standalone criminal charge.
A fixation with Islamist extremism
The most common terrorism-related charge seen in U.S. courts has to do with providing “material support” to foreign terrorist organizations, according to the Center on Law and Security. Material support can mean anything from financial, transportation or communications help to training, advice or personnel.
There’s nothing stopping U.S. law enforcement authorities from wielding generic “terrorism” charges against domestic actors, but such instances are rare, according to the online national security think tank Just Security.
Daniel Byman, senior fellow in the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institute, suggests that this is due to the United States’ heavy focus on Islamist extremism since 2001 coming at the cost of paying due attention to far-right violence.
“That was a mistake,” Byman wrote on Monday.
“As a result of the country’s skewed perception of terrorism, its legal framework offers little guidance for how to handle terrorist acts not committed by jihadis.”
READ MORE: Unstable employment, criminality, radical peers — Why does extreme political violence happen?
By all accounts provided by authorities and investigators, both Bowers and Sayoc acted alone and not in collaboration with any terrorist group in the U.S. or abroad. This means that under existing U.S. law, there are no legal grounds to charge them with terrorism.
However, while neither man will face terrorism charges, that doesn’t mean they won’t get a stiff sentence — Bowers could face the death penalty, while Sayoc is expected to spend the rest of his life in prison.
WATCH: Robert Bowers, charged with Pittsburgh synagogue massacre, due in federal court
Byman argues that although the hypothetical use of a domestic terrorism charge wouldn’t significantly alter the sentences handed down to Bowers and Sayoc, it would still have the impact of boosting the political will to tackle far-right extremists.
He points out that only a tiny proportion of the FBI’s counterterrorism budget is devoted to tackling right-wing actors and that the Trump administration last year stopped all funding to a Department of Homeland Security program that provided grants to communities to counter radicalism through outreach, as reported by Reuters.
Upon cancelling that funding, the Trump administration redirected resources towards law enforcement efforts focused on tackling Islamist extremism.
READ MORE: Donald Trump blames ‘great anger’ in U.S. on media following mass shooting, mail bombs
According to Byman, naming and prosecuting crimes such as the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting as domestic terrorism would mean more resources for counterterrorism programs, greater pressure on governments to act at the first signs of possible violence, and more willingness on the part of social media companies to take down hateful content.
“It is hard to imagine armed Islamic State supporters marching through town singing the praises of Islamic law while the government claims it has no power to act due to the First and Second Amendments. It is easier to do so if the slogans are anti-Semitic and racist,” Byman wrote.
“By calling right-wing terrorism what it is, that will change.”
FBI agents in favour of domestic terrorism law
The FBI Agents Association also seems to be in favour of re-casting domestic terrorism as a federal crime, rather than just a throw-away phrase used to condemn acts of homegrown violence.
The group, which comprises current and former agents, has spent the last two years lobbying Congress to create a law specifically dedicated to making domestic terrorism a crime with specific penalties that is free of the current legal and political uncertainties in which it is mired.
Josh Zive, a legal advisor for the group, said the absence of such a law makes it more difficult for investigators to track and analyze these crimes.
On Saturday, a spokesperson for the association told CNN that it’s high time domestic terrorism was treated as a legitimate threat to the U.S. and made a federal crime.
“Winning the fight against domestic terrorism is not about parties or political views; it is about ending political violence,” the spokesperson said.
WATCH: FBI official says synagogue shooting was most horrific crime he’s seen in 22 years on job
Government officials past and present have said that FBI agents’ hands are tied when it comes to investigating right-wing domestic extremists because such work doesn’t currently fall under the purview of the CIA and the National Counterterrorism Center unless a link to international terrorist groups is established.
An ongoing debate
Ambiguity over what constitutes domestic terrorism versus a hate crime existed long before the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre and the pipe bomb deliveries.
Dylann Roof, who gunned down nine people at a historic black church in South Carolina in June 2015, was convicted of hate crimes and sentenced to death, but was never charged with terrorism.
CNN national security analyst Peter Bergen opined that the reaction might have been different had the church attack been conducted by a Muslim yelling “Allahu Akhbar.”
Stephen Paddock, who killed 58 people at a Las Vegas outdoor concert in what was the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history, was accused by President Trump of perpetrating “an act of pure evil.” Police used terms like “disturbed” and “lone wolf” to describe Paddock, who killed himself after the shooting.
The investigation into the mass shooting was officially closed in early August, with Paddock not liable to go down as a terrorist because authorities said they were unable to isolate his motives.
READ MORE: Las Vegas massacre investigation officially closed, motive remains a mystery
“It’s a debate that has been ongoing, tragedy after tragedy, with many minority groups feeling a sense of unease around how and who we label a terrorist,” Global Toronto anchor Farah Nasser wrote a few days after the Las Vegas massacre.
“It also begs the question, if the Vegas shooter was foreign-born, brown or black — would we be calling him a terrorist?”
WATCH: Farah Nasser on two different definitions of terrorism
Rhys Machold, an international relations expert and assistant professor of politics at York University in Toronto, told Global News that the current ambiguity surrounding the term “terrorism” is rooted in the fact that the word itself is political in nature.
“The naming of some attacks as ‘terrorism’ and others as other things like ‘mass shootings,’ etc. is almost universally determined by the background of the assailant,” Machold said.
READ MORE: Pittsburgh synagogue shooting victims included 97-year-old woman, couple in their 80s
Megan Boler, chair of the department of social justice education at the University of Toronto, said the selective use of the term “terrorism” has its roots in racist thinking.
“The fact that the term is being preserved only to describe ‘racially profiled’ violence reveals how deeply embedded racism and Islamophobia have become in our language and, disturbingly, even in our legal system,” Boler said.
— With files from
© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
Catholic Bishops react to military coup in Mali
Contrary to the expectations of the people, the leadership of the Episcopal Conference of Mali (CEM) has termed the Tuesday, August 18 military coup in the West African nation as “regrettable” and “a big failure for our democracy” and called for a change of mentality if the country has to put an end to coups.
In an interview with ACI Africa Wednesday, August 19, made available to RECOWACERAO NEWS AGENCY, RECONA, the President of CEM, Bishop Jonas Dembélé said that the governance challenges the country is facing can be managed through dialogue.
“The military coup that led to the ousting of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta is regrettable because we are in a state of law and democracy. This is the second time that Mali has had a military coup as a result of the way in which the country is governed. It is a big failure for our democracy even if there were reasons for it,” Bishop Dembélé told ACI Africa.
“It is true that our country has serious challenges including bad governance, the poor management of the economy, corruption, insecurity and so on,” Bishop Dembélé said and probed, “Why is it that we Malians have not managed to engage in dialogue to be able to discuss these problems and face up to these challenges responsibly?”
“Our leaders, our people lack transparency, they hate those who speak the truth and advocate for good governance. This mentality must change for our country to move on,” the Prelate told ACI Africa August 19.
Bishop Dembélé who is a frontline member of RECOWA-CERAO urged the military officials “to ensure a return to democracy as promised but most especially ensuring the new leadership of the country put the people first and tackle the security challenges facing the nation.”
Asked about the role of the Church in the current crisis, the 57-year-old Prelate noted, “For us the Catholic Church in Mali, our role is to preach peace; our role is to preach dialogue. We shall continue in this path of dialogue for peace just like Cardinal Jean Zerbo and some religious leaders initiated.”
“In a state of law, power is not in the hands of certain individuals but to the people. The anger of our people led to this crisis, but we must work for peace and reconciliation in Mali,” Bishop Dembélé said.
He continued in recollections, “The Bishops in Mali have always issued messages before every election in our country sounding the alert and inviting the government to organize transparent elections, ensure good governance and better management of resources.”
“But it seems our messages are never taken into consideration that is why we find ourselves in this situation today,” the Local Ordinary of Kayes Diocese told ACI Africa and added, “If the opinion of the Episcopal Conference of Mali is needed to mediate in bringing back stability and peace in the country, then we are ready.”
As a way forward, the Bishop urged the people of God in Mali to “seek the path to conversion” and to accept dialogue in the spirit of truth and honesty.
“We all want change in our
country, but this change can only be possible if individually we seek the path to conversion. It is for Malians be they Muslims or Christians or members of traditional religion, to do an examination of conscience and accept personal and community conversion in order to engage in sincere dialogue,” he said.
The Malian Prelate added, “Now there is this coup d’état to demand change we really wonder where change should come from. As long as we don’t change our behavior, our mentality, we will always have a repeat of the current situation.”
On Tuesday, August 18, President Keita announced his resignation and dissolved parliament hours after mutinying soldiers detained him at gunpoint, Aljazeera reported.
“For seven years, I have with great joy and happiness tried to put this country on its feet. If today some people from the armed forces have decided to end it by their intervention, do I have a choice? I should submit to it because I do not want any blood to be shed,” President Keita said August 18 during the televised address to the nation.
Rev. Fr. George Nwachukwu
RECOWACERAO NEWS AGENCY, RECONA
Harris accepts VP nomination
Senator Kamala Harris formally accepted the Democratic nomination for vice president on Wednesday following a scathing speech by former President Barack Obama, who said the fate of the nation” depends entirely on the outcome of this election.”
Both Mr. Obama and Harris stressed the importance of voting, with Harris saying “we’re all in this fight together.” Harris sounded an optimistic note by highlighting her personal history and the promise of America, saying she was “so inspired by a new generation.”
“Make no mistake, the road ahead will not be not easy,” she said. “We will stumble. We may fall short. But I pledge to you that we will act boldly and deal with our challenges honestly. We will speak truths. And we will act with the same faith in you that we ask you to place in us.” She called Mr. Trump a “predator” in a speech that came after Mr. Obama issued his most forceful rebuke of his successor to date, saying Mr. Trump “hasn’t grown into the job because he can’t.”
“This president and those in power — those who benefit from keeping things the way they are — they are counting on your cynicism,” Mr. Obama said. “They know they can’t win you over with their policies. So they’re hoping to make it as hard as possible for you to vote, and to convince you that your vote doesn’t matter.
That’s how they win. That’s how they get to keep making decisions that affect your life, and the lives of the people you love. That’s how the economy will keep getting skewed to the wealthy and well-connected, how our health systems will let more people fall through the cracks. That’s how a democracy withers, until it’s no democracy at all.”
Mr. Obama and Hillary Clinton, speaking earlier in the night, both said they had hoped Mr. Trump would rise to the occasion. But they both stressed what they called his failures while in office, with Mr. Obama saying Mr. Trump has shown “no interest in treating the presidency as anything but one more reality show that he can use to get the attention he craves.”
Mali coup leaders vow to hold elections as history repeats itself
The Malian soldiers who forced President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita to resign in a coup promised early Wednesday to organize new elections after their takeover was swiftly condemned by the international community.
In a statement carried overnight on state broadcaster ORTM, the mutinous soldiers who staged Tuesday’s military coup identified themselves as the National Committee for the Salvation of the People led by Colonel Major Ismael Wagué.
“With you, standing as one, we can restore this country to its former greatness,” Wagué said, announcing that borders were closed and that a curfew was going into effect from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m
The news of Keita’s departure was met with jubilation by anti-government demonstrators in the capital, Bamako, and alarm by former colonial ruler France and other allies and foreign nations.
The U.N. Security Council scheduled a closed meeting Wednesday August 19, 2020 afternoon to discuss the unfolding situation in Mali, where the U.N. has a 15,600-strong peacekeeping mission. Keita, who was democratically elected in a 2013 landslide and re-elected five years later, still had three years left in his term.
But his popularity had plummeted, and demonstrators began taking to the streets calling for his ouster in June.
West African regional bloc ECOWAS had sent mediators to try and negotiate a unity government but those talks fell apart when it became clear that the protesters would not accept less than Keita’s resignation.
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