7 Recent Cases That Reveal the Apparently High Bar of Terrorism Charges

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on September 26, 2019 | Last updated on October 01, 2019

A disgruntled military member begins planning large-scale, violent attacks in the U.S., including bombing American news agencies and targeting politicians. He seeks out fellow "radicals" at home, and plans travel abroad to train with, fight for, and learn bomb-making from extremist groups. He described, in detail, how a vehicle bomb would work, saying, "30 minutes later, BOOM."

U.S. Army soldier Jarrett William Smith was arrested this week and charged with distributing information relating to weapons of mass destruction. Shockingly, he is not currently facing charges of terrorism, or even conspiracy to commit terrorism. Why not? Here are a few recent cases where terrorism charges were filed, along with some notable ones where they were not.

1. Why Wasn't Dylann Roof Charged With a Hate Crime or Terrorism?

It could be because it was easier to prove under state law that Roof (who is white) shot and killed nine black parishioners under state law than prove that he did it intending to "intimidate or coerce...the civilian population...in furtherance of political or social objectives" under federal law. "Terrorism is act of violence done or threatened to in order to try to influence a public body or citizenry," then-FBI Director James Comey said at the time, "so it's more of a political act and again based on what I know so far I don't see it as a political act."

2. Illinois Men Pledge Allegiance to ISIS, Get Arrested

Two black men told three undercover agents about their devotion and commitment to ISIS, "shared photographs of themselves holding the ISIS flag at the Illinois Beach State Park in north suburban Zion," and said they wanted to see the flag "on top of the White House." Both were charged with conspiring and attempting to provide material support and resources to a terrorist organization.

3. Criminal Charges Following Violence, Death in Charlottesville

A white supremacist drove a car through a counter-protest during a "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, killing one woman and wounding 19 others. While James Fields, Jr. was charged with second-degree murder and several counts of malicious wounding, he faced no hate crime or terrorism charges.

4. Animal Rights Activist Vandals Tried as Terrorists

Two activists, who released about 2,000 minks from a mink farm, spray-painted a barn with the phrase "liberation is love," and destroyed fencing, machinery, and documents, were charged under the Animal Enterprise Terrorist Act. They also failed in their appeals challenging the act itself and its language.

5. Times Square Subway Bomber Faces Terrorism Charges

Bangladeshi-born, Brooklyn resident Akayed Ullah set off a pipe bomb at a bus terminal near Times Square. Prior to the attack, he posted "Trump you failed to protect your nation," and afterwards he claimed he "did it for the Islamic State." He was charged with and convicted of possessing a criminal weapon, making terroristic threats, and supporting an act of terrorism. He was sentenced to life in prison.

6. Man Convicted of Terrorism for Michigan Airport Knife Attack

Amor Ftouhi stabbed an officer in the neck and "Allahu Akbar! You have killed people in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, and we are all going to die!" He was found guilty of committing an act of violence at an international airport, interference with airport security, and committing an act of terrorism.

[UPDATE] Since the publishing of this post, an Illinois man who drove his SUV into and through a mall was charged with terrorism. While police say they have no reason to believe Mr. Garcia was targeting any specific person or store within the mall, and no motive for his actions have been determined, Javier Garcia was charged under state law that classifies terrorism as "any act that causes substantial damage to any building containing (5) or more businesses of any type. Substantial damage means monetary damage greater than $100,000."

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