Most if not all American people are familiar with the concept of terrorism. The 9/11 attacks and the Boston Marathon bombings are recent examples of terrorism that affected many citizens.

However, although many have a general understanding of what terrorism is, there can still be confusion about what exactly qualifies as an act of terrorism under American law. Here's a closer look at the legal aspects of terrorism.

What is the legal definition of terrorism?

Terrorism is defined by the Patriot Act as attempts to "intimidate or coerce a civilian population; to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping."

The Two Types of Terrorism

  1. Domestic terrorism – when terrorist acts are carried out by people domiciled in a nation against other people or property in that nation.
  2. International terrorism – when a person travels to another nation in order to commit the act of terrorism. Both types of terrorism can be extremely dangerous and are a major threat to society.

Acts That Can Qualify as Terrorism

All of the following acts could qualify as terrorism and result in the perpetrator being tried for terrorism:

  • Bombings
  • Mass shootings
  • Kidnappings
  • Destroying buildings by crashing planes into them
  • Chemical weapons use
  • Assassinations
  • Destroying buildings or other property with fire, or other means
  • Driving cars into crowds of people

Acts That Typically Do Not Qualify as Terrorism

Considerations for Defining Terrorism

At times, it can be difficult to determine whether or not a specific act is in fact an act of terrorism, or if it is just a standard crime. In such cases, it is up to law enforcement and the justice system to determine whether or not the act qualifies as terrorism. However, the defining hallmark of terrorism is that the crime is connected to an attempt to intimidate or coerce a civilian population or government.

For example, if a person burns down a house simply because they are an arsonist, then this would most likely not qualify as terrorism. However, if a person burns down a federal government building to send a message that the person does not agree with a certain policy of federal government, then this could qualify as an act of terrorism.

So, the motive behind a person’s actions can heavily influence whether or not law enforcement perceives their actions as an act of terrorism. It can also heavily influence whether or not they are tried for terrorism or for other crimes.

The Impact of 9/11 on the Public Perception of Terrorism

Terrorism is a particularly dangerous type of crime because terrorists often attempt to target as many people as possible, and the scale of this impact instills widespread fear and distrust in people. Although the FBI works around the clock to prevent terrorism, it will be very difficult and take a long time to eradicate.

9/11 dramatically impacted the way that Americans, and people throughout the world, view terrorism. In particular, 9/11 made many Americans fear Islamic terrorism. Since 9/11, there have been a number of terrorist attacks that were connected to the religion of Islam, such as the Boston Marathon bombings and the San Bernardino shooting.

Two large-scale wars were created in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, and they have severely affected the lives of many people. These were the Iraq War and the War in Afghanistan. The 9/11 attacks also resulted in the Patriot Act, which included many policy changes designed to prevent terrorism.

Of course, there have been plenty of terrorist acts carried out by people of other faiths and ethnicities, and by those with radical political or social agendas. However, the 9/11 attacks brought terrorism to the forefront of American society, and made both civilians and government officials much more conscious of the threat of terrorism.