Classifying Terrorism in Criminal Justice

Our work aims to classify terrorism in criminal justice. The research will be performed to define what terrorism is and to report about terrorism and violent extremism in the United States. The subject of the research paper is of great importance. After September 11 we found ourselves in permanent state of emergency, a ‘war against terror’, whose ramifications are as inscrutable as terrorism itself. Terrorism is never easy to understand, and least of all in the aftermath of a terrorist attack. Before September 11 at least, most writers on terrorism recognized that the physical threat posed by terrorism was dwarfed by other more quotidian dangers. But even then, ordinary people, or their political representatives, were less inclined to minimize the threat or put it in perspective. Often urged on by a mass media that magnified the public danger, politicians tried to answer the implicit or explicit call for protective action. That action was, however, usually inconsistent and episodic. September 11 called for more than this. Terrorism shot to the top of the political agenda, and from then on it would be hard to contend that the damage it could cause was comparatively trivial and that its psychological effect was out of proportion to its physical effect.

Both political and academic efforts to get to grips with terrorism have repeatedly been hung up on the issue of definition, of distinguishing terrorism from criminal violence or military action. Book of Jonathan R. White opens with a whole chapter on the issue; another managed to amass over a hundred definitions before concluding that the search for an ‘adequate’ definition was still on. According to White (2005), “Nobody has been able to produce an exact definition of the subject. As a result, terrorism means different things to different people” (p. 1). In a word, it is labelling, because ‘terrorist’ is a description that has almost never been voluntarily adopted by any individual or group. It is applied to them by others, first and foremost by the governments of the states they attack. States have not been slow to brand violent opponents with this title, with its clear implications of inhumanity, criminality, and — perhaps most crucially — lack of real political support. Equally, states find it quite easy to produce definitions of terrorism. The USA, for instance, defines it as ‘the calculated use or threat of violence to inculcate fear, intended to coerce or intimidate governments or societies’ the UK as ‘the use or threat, for the purpose of advancing a political, religious, or ideological course of action, of serious violence against any person or property.’ Having done this, though, they tend to find it harder to specify the behaviour thus indicted; instead they label certain organizations as ‘terrorist’ and make membership of them an offence, and they draw up schedules of proscibed offences such as possession of explosives or taking hostages — most of which will already be offences under ordinary criminal law. So terrorism appears to be a state of mind rather than an activity. In the state's view, only the state has the right to use force — it has, as academics tend to say, a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence. But outsiders may wonder whether all use of violence by non-state actors is equally unjustifiable, even if it is formally illegal.

The very first revolutionary terrorists believed themselves justified in opposing with violence a repressive regime in which no freedom of political expression or organization was permitted. White stated, “One of the primary reasons terrorism is difficult to define is that the meaning changes within social and historical contexts” (White, 2005, p.4). Thus arose the notorious adage that ‘one person's terrorist is another's freedom fighter’. This relativism is central to the impossibility of finding an uncontentious definition of terrorism. The same author found the following: “Under the legal guidelines of the U.S., for example, some groups can be labelled as terrorists, while other groups in the same activities may be described as legitimate revolutionaries” (White, 2005, p.8).

Some writers have suggested that instead of pursuing precise definition it would make more sense to construct a typology of the kinds of actions that are generally seen as ‘terrorist’. It is certainly the case that many kinds of action repeatedly used by terrorist groups — assassination, kidnapping, hijacking — are seldom if ever used in conventional military conflicts; they do seem to signal a special type of violence. But any such list soon peters out: too many terrorist actions duplicate either military or criminal acts. In any case, it is, in the end, not so much the actions themselves that are characteristic of terrorism, as their intended political function.

Maybe because terror is simply a tactic.  But terrorism is a distinctive form of modern political agency, intended to threaten the ability of a state to ensure the security of its members’ — and thus its claim to legitimacy. To get closer to a definition of terrorism we need to unpick its political logic.

For the core of nearly all definitions of terrorism — the use of violence for political ends — is too similar to the definition of war to be of much use. Clearly war and terror are intimately related. It is hard to imagine a war that did not generate extreme fear amongst many people, and sometimes this is more than a by-product of violence — it is a primary objective. Historically, the sacking of captured cities was plainly intended to intimidate the inhabitants of other fortified posts (whether combatant or noncombatant). More recently, the development of strategic air bombing, though it had a strictly military rationale, was based on a psychological theory: the belief that it could undermine the morale of the enemy population.

A way of distinguishing war from terrorism might be to say that war is what states do, terrorism is the recourse of those too weak to oppose states openly. But this misses the point that the weak may adopt a strategy of resistance which does not require terror: guerrilla operations, however ‘unconventional’ by regular military criteria, work by normal military logic. They engage the state's armed forces, on however small a physical scale, and however protracted or episodic a timescale, and thus fulfil Clausewitz's requirement that war be ‘the collision of two living forces’, not ‘the action of a living force upon a lifeless mass’. In other words the defining process of war is combat. But the essence of terrorism  is surely the negation of combat. Its targets are attacked in a way that inhibits (or better prohibits) self-defence. But, of course, what marks terrorism out in the public mind is its readiness to attack not just selected but also random targets; in the indiscriminate bombing of a street market, a store, or a bar, we see a deliberate flouting of the international law of war, and a refusal to accept as binding the prevailing moral distinctions — between belligerents and neutrals, combatants and noncombatants, legitimate and illegitimate targets. So the vital part of the US definition is the ‘noncombatant targets’ against whom violence is ‘perpetrated’ (not, we may note, ‘carried out’; the terminology carries the official anathema).

Terrorism is closely connected with the extremism.  In fact we could name terrorists as some kind of extremists who use terror. White wrote about violent extremists in USA in his book of terrorism.  Extremism, broadly defined, existed in America virtually from the moment it was inhabited by humans. Wars among Native American tribes, rivalries within those tribes, and even altercations among individuals all undoubtedly had extremist characteristics. Fanaticism, prejudice toward other Native Americans, and unfairness no doubt marked early American history with distressing regularity. Recent books on American extremism, particularly on the American "right wing," have attempted to attach the concept of "nativism" to white European society, primarily in the early nineteenth century. Indeed, it was a boatload of religious extremists who landed at Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts. Refugees from "persecution" in England and Holland, undoubtedly from other "extremists," the pilgrims sought refuge in the New World not for religious freedom in the generic sense, but freedom to practice their own form of intolerance and dogmatism, a characteristic not uncommon in persecuted minorities.

There are few things more characteristic of human beings than their predilection to extremism, which is not alien to human society but an integral part of it. In certain forms, it may have been responsible for great inventions, exploration, and other achievements. In other forms, it has been responsible for horrible suffering and pointless loss of life. If we are to understand extremism, we must accept its apparent naturalness; only then can we learn how to cope with its destructive aspects.

The first American extremists were members of Anti-Mason movement of nineteen century. The political sociologists Lipset and Raab described the Anti-Masons as "perhaps the first example in the United States of a preservatist anti-elitist mass movement based on the more provincial and traditional elements in society" and called this "a sociological precursor of movements like the Ku Klux Klan and McCarthyism" (Lipset & Raab, 1970, p.39-40).

Surely the premier terrorist organization of the nineteenth century was the Ku Klux Klan. The Klan initially appeared after the Civil War during the Reconstruction period when the federal government sent troops into the South to enforce the acts of Congress giving blacks equal political and civil rights, which in many cases simply involved appointing them to otherwise elective offices. In the summer of 1867 delegates from several states attended a Klan convention held in Nashville, Tennessee. Written precepts were adopted, officers appointed, and the Invisible Empire of the Ku Klux Klan was officially proclaimed. Former Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest was the first Grand Wizard. Between 1867 and 1871 the KKK was a potent factor in intimidating blacks and overthrowing the black rule which had been imposed by federal authorities in North Carolina, Tennessee, and Georgia. The Ku Klux Klan was disbanded, only to reappear in somewhat modernized form in 1915 (Rice, 1961).

What about the "left wing" in the nineteenth century? As with the "right," it depends upon what and whom you include. There were numerous communal groups practicing a kind of "communism," but they tended toward a live-and‐ let-live existence and were generally uninvolved in the political process. A particularly well-known example was Harmonie, a utopian communal settlement in Indiana that lasted from 1815 until 1824. In 1825 the property was purchased by Robert Owen and another utopian society was attempted—New Harmony— which folded in 1828. There were others, but most ended after a brief period of time (Holloway, 1951).

The concepts of "right wing" and "left wing" became more clearly defined in the early twentieth century. Generally speaking, "right wing" became associated with conservativism, religiosity, patriotism, nationalism, and racism. "Left wing" became associated with "liberalism," secularism, internationalism, collectivism, and egalitarianism.

Domestic extreme organisations and groups in America are left and right. Today’s radical right is quite distinguishable from the radical left of the 1960s in that the former has a greater involvement in verbal and physical violence, greater destructive capacity and purpose, and a greater investment in conspiracy theories. While the left of the 1960s did engage in disruptive activities and violence, it was basically rooted in nonviolence, in an attempt to influence the government toward ending the war in Vietnam and to advance civil rights. Today’s extreme right is opposed to all government involvement in civil rights or governmental activism of any kind, and is weapons- and violence-oriented (Applebome, 1995). The left wing is presented by the Communist Party USA, Socialist Workers Party, Black Panther Party, Students for a Democratic Society, Progressive Labor Party, Workers World Party, Revolutionary Action Movement, Revolutionary Communist Party, Communist Workers Party. Other leftist groups  include the Red Guerrilla Resistance, the Armed Resistance Unit, the Revolutionary Fighting Group (Atkins, 2002). The right wing of American extremists are presented by the Jewish Defense League, The Nation of Islam, different Neo-Nazis groups, National States Rights Party, Ku Klux Klan. Also exist Silent Brotherhood, Aryan Nations, Arizona Patriots, North Carolina White Patriot Party (White, 2005).

Hamm (1994) distinguished the fundamental differences in values between the radical right (exemplified by skinheads and neo-Nazis) and radical left (illustrated by the Weathermen and the Black Panthers). The radical right want to topple the government and have a takeover by First-World neo-Nazism and, decades ago, the radical left wanted to topple the government in favor of Third-World neo-Communism. Right and left techniques and targets also vary. The radical left fought American in-groups, such as the establishment and the social-control agencies. They damaged ROTC buildings, courthouses, police statues, and a restroom in the U.S. Capitol Building. The skinheads and neo-Nazis target out-groups, such as African-Americans. While they sought to bring down the fictitious Zionist Occupied Government, in reality, they committed innumerable killings, stabbings, clubbings, knifings, and stompings of disenfranchised individuals. Probably the most detailed treatment of the differences between the radical right and radical left is Smith’s (1994) book on terrorism in the United States. Smith describes the differences between the members’ demographic traits and between their ideologies. Compared to the radical left, the radical right are older, more often male (93 percent), white (97 percent), less educated (33 percent have a GED or less), more often unemployed or impoverished, fundamentalist Christian, and rural. Smith compares the left-wing groups (animal-rights activists, environmentalists, Students for a Democratic Society, Weathermen, Black Panther Party, Black Liberation Army, et al.) with the right extremists, and finds that they differ markedly on their “special interests.” The far left are characterized by extreme egalitarianism, hatred of racism and capitalism, and an overt opposition to militarism. The extreme right, on the other hand, have “a belief in the intrinsic superiority of their own race or national group and… a belief in the necessity and desirability of war as a means of realizing national or racial destiny” (Smith, 1994, p. 35).

Generally, extremists of the right have been far more successful in persecuting extremists of the left than the other way around: up until recently the right more often received help from the government. The USA tolerated (to say no more) the persistent, systematic terrorization of the Southern black community by the Ku Klux Klan, as well as the less dramatic use of intimidatory violence by employers against labour organizations.  But right-wingers had their turn at the stake during World War II when some thirty of their number were indicted in the Great Sedition Trial of 1944. Both the "Red Scare" period of the late teens and early 1920s and the McCarthy period of the 1950s were eras of considerable persecution of leftists. From the mid-1960s on the left became less unpopular in some quarters and leftist "anti-racist" groups pushed repressive legislation against their ideological adversaries. During the 1980s laws prohibiting "paramilitary training," which could include instruction in karate, were enacted in about twenty states, and "anti-hate" legislation proliferated on state and local levels, all aimed at extremists of the far right. In 1988 a group of twenty-three far-rightists including neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klansmen were acquitted in a widely publicized sedition trial in Ft. Smith, Arkansas (Associated Press, 1988). We could refer to right wing extremists so called militia groups. Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, two former soldiers, who blew up the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995.  It was rumored they had "links" and "ties" to the shadowy antigovernment militia movement. It has taken the tragedy of Oklahoma City to understand that "The Aryan Nation" is not the name of an organization of some sort. "The Aryan Nation" is the goal of the Christian Coalition and the Patriot Militias and the Contract with America and Governor Pete Wilson (Jordan, 1995, p.21).

Extremism flourished throughout early American history in one form or another, as it has in Europe and everywhere else on the globe throughout history. Wars, revolutions, social movements, religions, crusades, and "causes" have exhibited elements of "extremism". And sometimes those extremists could perform acts of terror against American citizens. We must remember it and try to know more about this.   So in the paper were classified different forms of extreme behavior and terrorism in criminal justice. The research was performed to define what terrorism is and to report about terrorism and violent extremism in the United States.


Reference List

Applebome, P., (1995). An Unlikely Legacy of the 60s: The Violent Right. New York Times, May 7,  p. A1,  A18.

Associated Press, April 9, 1988.

Atkins, S.E., (2002). Encyclopedia of Modern American Extremists and Extremist Groups. Westport, CT.: Greenwood Press.

Jordan, J., (1995), In the Land of White Supremacy,  The Progressive, 21.

Hamm, M. S., (1994). American Skinheads: The Criminology and Control of Hate Crime. Westport, CT: Praeger.

Holloway, M., (1951). Heavens on Earth: Utopian Communities in America, 1680 – 1880. New York: Library Publishers.

Lipset, S. M. &  Raab, E. (1970). The Politics of Unreason.  New York: Harper and Row.

Rice, A. S., (1961).  The Ku Klux Klan in Politics. Washington, D.C.: Public Affairs Press.

Smith, B. L. (1994). Terrorism in America: Pipe Bombs and Pipe Dreams. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.


White, R. J., (2005). Terrorism and Homeland Security. New York: Wadsworth Publishing.