What is the Difference between Terrorism and Crime?

Trying to think rationally about public policy while under the fever of racism and xenophobia is like trying to drive a race car while under the influence of a fifth of Mad Dog 20/20 and a pair of 3D glasses. Since I am unburdened by racism or xenophobia and I haven’t downed a bottle of the Dog since my junior year in college, I will try my hand at some rational thinking about public policy that is central to our national dialogue right now. If some deranged lunatic goes into a shopping mall and starts firing a machine gun is it a crime or a terrorist attack?  That seems to be a reasonable question but if I happen to be walking in that mall hand in hand with my 8 year old daughter, my answer to that question is to roar in the face of the questioner “WHO GIVES A F#CK??” As in-artful as that response may be, that is the more intelligent question of the two.  And since the new U.S. President is peddling the ridiculous conspiracy theory that the press is under-reporting terrorist attacks that are taking place on nearly a daily basis, we need to formulate an answer to this question and do so quickly.
What difference could it possibly make what the motivations of shooters are when there is a mass shooting almost weekly in this nation? Kooks come in every color and creed.  Obviously anybody who attacks and murders people randomly is a mad dog you have to put down regardless of the breed.  Why that particular dog went mad is of little consequence beyond making sure that it isn’t a part of a pack that is laying in wait to attack more innocent people.  But if you are a person who has an interest in advancing public policy that will fund an agency to the tune of a hundred billion dollars over the next few years maybe it helps you that we are fascinated with why the dog went mad and love to focus on that element of the story.
We have squandered hundreds of billions of dollars on “Homeland Security” since we got caught asleep at the wheel on September 11, 2001. The politics of the time dictated an aggressive response but the truth is we had what we needed to thwart those attacks on the day they happened. We just got caught playing bad defense. It was a horrible tragedy but it happens in a nation as massive as ours. And there is little evidence that the hundreds of billions of dollars that we have spent have done much more than enrich a handful of security contractors and make air-travel a pain in the ass that is more like going to the dentist for a deep cleaning than the semi-glamorous travel option it used to be. And with all of that massive transition and all of the adjustment we have made, we STILL have random attacks where innocent people die.
The reason is simple: there are crazy people in this world and crazy people are dangerous. Why they are crazy or how they got crazy doesn’t mean a damned thing. Timothy McVeigh was crazy and bombed and killed people claiming he was a true patriot. Omar Mateen was crazy and shot up a nightclub and killed people claiming he was serving Allah. If we stopped jerking around and focusing on the group identity of these perpetrators and just treat them as the crazed criminal lunatics they are then we could focus on refining our strategies and tactics on how to thwart these mass attacks. McVeigh and Mateen are the same to me and to most rational thinking citizens. They were American born nut jobs that plotted to kill people and carried out their plot. We cannot kill the ideas that drove them to act a damned fool, so we need to stop pretending that we can. And because of that, the fact is people will be acting a fool as long as there are people around.
The FBI and the CIA have a central role to play in fighting terrorist attacks. And despite the political mess that they have been lately, there is every indication that with the right leadership and mission they can play that role effectively. But the very idea of a massive and massively expensive “Department of Homeland Security” implies that they CAN’T do the job of monitoring dangerous people and groups and intercepting them before they strike. Apparently, a victim of a violent attack is double- dead if some jackass screams out in Arabic while his bombs or bullets explode and just plain old, regular dead if some douche bag loser who looks like Eddie Haskell with a bad haircut sets off the blast. Americans have become so fixated on the “why” that we have lost sight of the fact that the “what” remains unchanged by whatever we do or say after the fact. Our time and energy is poorly invested in figuring out if some killer was influenced by ISIS because we end up glamorizing and glorifying the crime- attaching meaning and drama that would otherwise be absent.  And that is exactly what these demented trolls want.
Why doesn’t the Department of Homeland Security focus its efforts and considerable resources to stopping all mass shootings, regardless of the motivation? Why don’t they apply themselves to stopping the alarming and unprecedented rate of murders on the Southside of Chicago? The answer is simple: there is not enough political currency in preventing mass shootings or gang violence, but there is a treasure trove in claiming you are fighting “terrorism.” Our homeland is a lot less secure because of the billions and billions of dollars that we are wasting in an effort to stamp out crazy ideas that cannot be stamped out anymore than we can stamp out fake news stories and wild conspiracy theories. In the end, these fools are just committing crimes- shootings, stabbings, or occasionally bombings. Our law enforcement agencies and criminal justice system were good enough to nail the Unabomber and the D.C. Sniper so they are good enough to deal with some sexually frustrated losers who watched a bunch of Taliban videos on-line.

The sooner we accept that the fight against terrorism is about as effective as the war on drugs was, we can move on. Our country suffered a terrible blow on 9/11 and we needed to address it. But our response has been predictable and only marginally effective. And in the end we have changed our way of life in precisely the way that these assholes wanted us to- spilling blood and treasure in the quagmire that is the Iraq, living in fear of a few spooks and kooks in ninja suits on the other side of the world, compromising our American ideals on immigration, and leaving ourselves paralyzed when it has been time to fight the real fights we should have been in. It may not be too late to shift gears and reverse course- but of course, we do have to get busy setting up the new Muslim Registry under President Trump, so perhaps it is.

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