Terrorism is “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.”
Federal Bureau of Investigation
28 CFR § 0.85
Terrorism, as described by the FBI, is always directed toward governmental or political or ideological objectives. The use of violence is common to all forms of terrorism. Also common is the intention to intimidate, either an individual or (more often) a political or religious institution. In addition, terrorism is sometimes categorized as either domestic or international, referring, not to where the terrorist act takes place, but to the origins of those responsible for it.
Much debate has taken place over the motivations for terrorism. Traditionally, it has been thought to reflect religious, political, or ideological beliefs, and that the targets of the attacks are symbolic in some way.
Sparking fear in victims and the public appears to be the most common motivating element. Recent research suggests, however, that motivations may include personal desires by perpetrators to enhance their membership in the terrorist community by jockeying for internal dominance (CSIS, 2020; DOHS, 2021).
Terrorist acts have occurred throughout history but after the Oklahoma City bombing (1995) and the events of September 11, 2001 such events became a new focus of public consciousness in the United States.
Terrorists may not only include those working on behalf of religious or political organizations—such as those who organized the 9/11 attacks—but also individuals working on their own to subvert certain institutions. Sometimes groups will claim responsibility for another’s terrorist action to build notoriety for themselves.
Unfortunately, terrorism is a frightening reality for Americans.
Mass Shootings Distinguished from Terrorism
The Patriot Act defines domestic terrorism as an attempt 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” (Myre, 2017).
It can be hard to explain why domestic violence is distinguished from a mass shooting (Jenkins & Daddario, 2017). A mass gun shooting is defined as an incident involving multiple victims of gun violence. The United States Congressional Research Services clarifies that a public mass shooting is where the perpetrator selects four or more people and shoots them with firearms in an indiscriminate manner.
The mass casualty attack has no identifiable nexus with any terrorist organization, extremist ideology, or any other political purpose. Yet people want to emphasize the terrible nature of what they experienced by attaching the label of terrorism where none exists (Jenkins & Daddario, 2017).
Increasingly, the United States has experienced violent events that some incorrectly identify as domestic terrorism. The following list of mass shooting events, but not terrorist acts, is by no means complete:
- Virginia Tech, 2007
- Sandy Hook Elementary School, Newtown, CT, 2012
- An Aurora, Colorado movie theater, 2012
- The Boston Marathon, 2013
- San Bernardino, CA, 2015
- An Orlando, FL nightclub, 2016
- An outdoor concert in Las Vegas, NV October 1, 2017
- A bar in CA, 2018
- A Walmart in El Paso, Texas, 2019
- An entertainment district in Dayton, OH, 2019
- A gas station in Springfield, MO, 2020
- Several massage spas in Atlanta GA, 2021
- A grocery store in Colorado, March 2021
Mass shootings that have occurred in the last five years are compiled in a database by the Violence Project. Sadly, these events represent only a sample of the violence against the public in the last decade (Myers, 2017). These events justifiably elicit very strong reactions in people, and they have much in common with terrorism, but we have noted the important distinction. They were not ideological, but personal.
Nevada and Terrorism
As Nevadans became acutely aware in October 2017 with the mass shooting outside the Mandalay Bay Resort in Las Vegas during a country western concert, terrifying events can be perpetrated by a single person using no weapons of mass destruction (chemical, biological, or radiological materials) and fueled only by intense personal reasons.
Such events have sparked calls for tighter gun control, but the issues are complex. States vary on their own legislation against terrorism.
Nevada does have criminal penalties for Acts of Terrorism or Attempted Acts of Terrorism, which were passed in the aftermath of 9/11. Nevada law (NRS 202.448) makes it a crime for any threat related to terrorism with the intent to injure or alarm someone, cause civil unrest, profit, or interfere with government operations. Even if nobody was hurt, a person can be convicted of a terrorist threat, which is a category B felony in Nevada and may include fines as well as up to 20 years in Nevada State Prison. Examples include calling in a threat to a place of worship, sending threatening letters to city hall, and sending texts of harm to Planned Parenthood. In addition, making a bogus bomb threat is considered a serious felony.
What Is Being Done?
The U.S. government was actively working to combat terrorist threats even before September 11, 2001, and increased its efforts afterward. Government intelligence agencies are focused on patterns of potential crime, including terrorism, and there is heated debate between those who favor open access to phones and emails in order to identify potential threats, and those who fiercely want to protect an individual’s privacy. Currently, for the general public as well as for healthcare workers, education about the proper responses to terrorist activities, along with thorough emergency preparedness, is the best available defense.
Healthcare professionals are trained to deal with the physical results and injuries from any event; however, the effects of terrorist acts are often more than physical injuries. Emotional and spiritual reactions loom large among citizens, not only among those at the actual attack but also others locally and beyond. Healthcare workers need to be prepared to address fear, even in patients who have sustained little or no physical injury. Psychological and emotional reactions must be addressed along with the more obvious wounds sustained by victims.
Analysis of these events, and responses to them, have resulted in a large body of resources for individuals and organizations seeking to educate and prepare themselves. The changing nature of the internet means that some of these resources may come and go, but websites maintained by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), and the CDC remain up-to-date and valuable for individuals and institutions.
The State of Nevada continues to update its websites and resource links. Contact information and links to both state and federal resources appear at the end of Module 7.