Why not call the Las Vegas attack an act of domestic terrorism?

'Terrorism' is an overused word that tends to obscure more than it reveals. But the reluctance to use it to describe the Las Vegas attackers is troubling.

Eric Verduzco/Las Vegas Review-Journal/AP
Las Vegas police officers are near the scene of a shooting in Las Vegas, Sunday, June 8, 2014. The spree began around 11:30 a.m. Sunday when a man and woman walked into CiCi's Pizza and shot two officers who were eating lunch, Las Vegas police spokesman Larry Hadfield said.

Details of yesterday's murder of two Las Vegas police officers and one other person are still trickling out so there's a good chance that some of the initial news could be false leads. 

That said, here's what we know: The shooters, a husband and wife team, shouted something about starting a revolution before firing on officers Igor Soldo and Alyn Beck; according to witnesses, a note pinned to one of the officers bodies proclaimed "the beginning of the revolution;" and one of their victims was draped with a Gadsden flag (the "don't tread on me one," which is very popular among far-right militias and anti-government extremists.)

They pinned a swastika on one of their dead victims, since they consider the cops to be Nazis. According to one of Miller's neighbors, he showed her a number of the Nazi symbols on the morning of the attack and said "I'm going to put one of those on every cop we kill." 

This all points in one direction: This was an act of domestic terrorism.

That's not what the headlines indicate. The vast majority of the American press prefers not to use the word "terrorism," which would be admirable were it not the case that were Al Qaeda paraphernalia to turn up at the home of the shooters, there would be no such restraint.

It's hard not to see a double-standard at work here. If it isn't Muslim, it isn't automatically terror. Or, at least, a higher bar must be cleared to say so.

John Schindler, an intelligence and security expert who teaches at the Naval War College, calls it "domestic terror." J.M. Berger, a leading US researcher into domestic extremism, also sees it that way:

Yes. The couple who carried out the attack had extreme anti-government views, according to neighbors interviewed by reporters. One neighbor told the New York Times that "all Jerad (Miller, one of the attackers) wanted to do is talk about overthrowing the government,” said Ms. Fielder. “I thought he was talking smack.”

The article continues:

The Facebook pages of the Millers are full of anti-law enforcement postings and violent threats.

A note on the Facebook page for Mr. Miller, dated June 7 — one day before the attack — said: “The dawn of a new day. May all of our coming sacrifices be worth it.” A post from May 7 asks people to send him “a rifle firearms.”

... “That these people would target police officers is not surprising given that they had associations with the anti-government movement,” said Heidi Beirich, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project.

It appears the fantasy of this couple was that their shocking attack would serve as a sort of propaganda of the deed, something that would inspire copycats to follow in their footsteps and then, somehow, threaten the government. They deployed political violence on civilians to terrify those they deemed to be their political opponents.

That is, they were terrorists.

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