5 Facts That Will Change How You Think Of Terrorism

Terrorism is perhaps the third-most hot-button topic right now, just behind fidget spinners and male rompers -- both of which will, of course, remain relevant forever. But what do we really know about terrorism, aside from "It's bad" and Die Hard? Not as much as you might think. There's actually quite a lot of misinformation floating out there.

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5
We Don't Even Have A Working Definition Of "Terrorism"

Quick, without looking it up, what's the definition of "terrorism?" It's got something to do with terror, right? The act or intent of killing a large number of people, usually civilian targets ... Let's face it, no matter where you are on the political spectrum, you're probably thinking of a specific religion, and it's probably not Zoroastrianism.

5 Facts That Will Change How You Think Of TerrorismTheCadExpert/Wiki Commons
"The Amish? It's the Amish, isn't it?"

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That's fine. It's not your job to have the precise definition of terrorism memorized. That's the job of lawmakers, security agencies, and judges. And considering that they talk about terrorism so much, you can be pretty sure that they know exactly what it is, right?

Nope!

The State Department does have a specific definition of terrorism, and it's this: "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." Sounds pretty cut-and-dry, until you start trying to define things like "political or social objectives."

5 Facts That Will Change How You Think Of TerrorismU.S. Dept of State
"By my definition, the State Department are terrorists!" -- an argument one could make

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For example, the 2013 Boston Marathon bombers were terrorists, while Elliot Rodger -- the guy who shot a bunch of people in Isla Vista the following year because he hated feminists -- was just a bog-standard piece of shit. What makes them different? The truth is that the definition of terrorism is murky, even among lawmakers.

There has been a lot of debate over whether Dylann Roof, the neo-Nazi recently sentenced to death row for gunning down nine black people, is a "terrorist." And then there's the 2015 shooting in Colorado, where a man killed three people in a Planned Parenthood clinic in protest against abortion. The Colorado governor, a Democrat, deemed the shooting an act of terror -- but it wasn't legally pursued as such.

5 Facts That Will Change How You Think Of TerrorismSprings Police Department
Despite all this asshole's attempts to look the part.

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Consider, too, the current discourse on the Syrian Civil War. Russia has been condemned for bombing "moderate" rebels, which they designate as terrorists. Conversely, Vladimir Putin has accused the Obama administration of funding terrorists in the ongoing conflict. To put an end to all this finger-pointing and proxy-warring, the U.N. has tried to arrive at a firm working definition for terrorism, to settle its meaning once and for all. It is almost 2,000 pages long, spread across three volumes.

4
The U.S. Has A Very Poorly Secured Border (No, Not That One)

We keep talking about America like it only has one border: the southern one. The Mexican one. The "bad" one. It's so scary that it already has a border wall, and we're still trying to build another one. The one to the north, for long stretches, operates on the honor system.

5 Facts That Will Change How You Think Of TerrorismU.S. Dept. of Homeland Security
Unless you're smuggling in prescription drugs or maple syrup, no one cares.

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The worry over the Mexican border (at least, the one people admit to) is that ISIS operatives might come flooding across, nestled within shipments of illegal Mexican immigrants, who also must be stopped because they're taking all of our vital strawberry-picking jobs. You should rest easy about the ISIS part, at least -- because it's never happened before, not even once. However, the strawberry fear may continue to keep you up at nights.

5 Facts That Will Change How You Think Of TerrorismBilly Hathorn/Wiki Commons
At least those strawberry jobs aren't being stolen by ISIS people.

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The border between America and Canada on the other hand -- twice the length of the southern border -- is so lax that, until 9/11, the two countries were separated by little more than a line of traffic cones. After 9/11, it was bolstered with some motion sensors -- but not with enough resources to send somebody to follow up on their alerts. Nobody gives a single shit, because it's Canada. What are Canadian terrorists going to do, leave passive aggressive notes on our monuments?

Well, in 2007, agents of the Government Accountability Office tested the Canadian border by posing as immigrants to smuggle across a small nuclear bomb. Well, what looked like one, anyway. They made it. They made it easy. So easy that they never even saw a cop. In 1999, al-Qaida actually sent a terrorist to America through the Canadian border, with a plan to blow up LAX during the millennium celebrations. He made it through with little effort, despite the comically large payload of explosives he was carrying. He was later captured, but it had nothing to do with border security because, remember, there was none.

5 Facts That Will Change How You Think Of TerrorismCanadian Press
We then forgot about him and got back to partying because it was 1999.

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3
Our Theories About What Turns People Into Terrorists Are Useless

In the aftermath of any terror attack, the media runs down a short biography of the perpetrator, trying to figure out what made them do it. These accounts typically explore the killer's childhood, social alienation, and most importantly, how they were radicalized. We generally think we know how it happens: broken childhood, depression, they get in with the wrong crowd, maybe join a church or mosque that has a bit of a local "reputation," and before you know it, somebody's trying on a bomb vest that seriously does not go with those jorts.

5 Facts That Will Change How You Think Of TerrorismIsrael Defense Forces
The Department of Homeland Security needs a Fashion Police division.

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But according to a study from British security agency MI5, there is nothing resembling a useful checklist for radicalization warning signs, and it's not for want of trying. It would be the Holy Grail for security agencies to find such a model, because it would mean we'd be able to stop this kind of thing before it happens, but according to MI5, it's an outright myth that there exists a "conveyor belt moving from grievance, through radicalization, to violence."

5 Facts That Will Change How You Think Of Terrorismkzenon/iStock
So for now, we're best off putting our money into precogs.

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And yet American agencies hold on to the idea: One NYPD report even called on law enforcement to hone in on "hotbeds of radicalization," such as mosques, hookah bars, and ... uh, bookstores. But the problem isn't just that people with radical views are rarely terrorists; studies also show that terrorists don't necessarily hold radical views. For this reason, the ACLU has appealed to Congress no less than four times to dispel the radicalization model, particularly since it's formed the backbone of our surveillance operations.

5 Facts That Will Change How You Think Of TerrorismNYPD
"But ... flowcharts!" - Congress

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2
Refugees Pose No Credible Threat To The U.S.

In the wake of the 2016 Paris Attacks, everybody began to reconsider the leniency of the Western world toward refugee admission. President Trump's hardline stance against accepting refugees was summed up concisely in a tweet by his son Donald Jr. after the Nice tragedy: If you had a bowl of Skittles, and were told that three of them were laced with a deadly poison, would you take a handful, or would you throw out the whole bowl?

5 Facts That Will Change How You Think Of TerrorismSkyangel/Pixabay
"Are we talking about before or after they switched green from Lime to Green Apple?"

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Of course, analogies are difficult word puzzles, and the younger Donald's attempt falls well short (for example, Skittles aren't people, and by throwing them out, you're not condemning them to a painful and violent death at the hands of a tin-pot Skittle dictator). But what percent of the Skittles eaten by America have been poisonous? Zero, so far. Hell, you can throw in illegal immigrants, too -- it's still zero.

In every terror attack on America since 9/11, every single one of the perpetrators has been in the United States legally. And that includes the 9/11 hijackers, who all came in on legal visas. The Boston bombers were naturalized American citizens. The guy who shot up the Pulse nightclub in 2016 was born here.

5 Facts That Will Change How You Think Of TerrorismThe New York Times
"Were they a refugee?" is now always the first question, and the answer is generally "no."

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Now, since 2001, three refugees have been convicted on terrorism charges, but none for planning attacks -- they were all charged with sending money to terrorist groups abroad. See, U.S. officials actually do an amazing job vetting and crosschecking refugees to make sure that none of them are covert terror operatives. Those who have insider knowledge of ISIS operations say that smuggling people into the United States posing as refugees isn't even something they consider, because it's by far the most difficult way to do it.

5 Facts That Will Change How You Think Of TerrorismVmenkov/Wiki Commons
Hey, look: an easier way.

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1
The U.S. Absolutely Does Negotiate With Terrorists (And That's Fine)

"The United States does not negotiate with terrorists." You've heard that so many times it may as well be in the Constitution. Ted Cruz even used it in his presidential campaign, to slam Barack Obama for violating that sacred tenet.

5 Facts That Will Change How You Think Of TerrorismU.S. Congress
As sacred as the stones used to summon Ted Cruz.

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But hold onto your monocles here. The American government negotiates with terrorists all the damn time. And, when you think about it, why shouldn't they? What's the difference between negotiating with someone like Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (the leader of ISIS) and Kim Jong-Un or Bashar al-Assad? They're all pieces of shit, but only two of them are pieces of shit with borders we've arbitrarily decided to recognize.

The "Don't negotiate with terrorists" idea is much more of a guideline than a policy. For decades, it's been a given for U.S. presidents, as well as a talking point for hypocrisy when they inevitably have to break said policy. Ronald Reagan was probably the first to solidify this idea in the American zeitgeist. The way he put it: "There will be no negotiation with terrorists of any kind." But in Reagan's second term, he famously negotiated like a motherfucker with terrorists, in a scandal known as the Iran-Contra Affair -- the trade of weapons to Iranian terrorists in exchange for the release of American hostages. Fast forward to 2002; George W. Bush declared "no nation can negotiate with terrorists, for there is no way to make peace with those whose only goal is death." Shortly thereafter he tried, unsuccessfully, to barter for the life of Americans being held captive by the al-Qaida-linked Abu Sayyaf.

5 Facts That Will Change How You Think Of TerrorismAbu Sayyaf
"We do not negotiate with terrorists" is kind of the opening line we use, in negotiations, with terrorists.

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The U.S. does it so often that they even have clandestine channels to keep such transactions out of the limelight. The Rewards for Justice Program is ostensibly committed to rewarding "favorable resolution" to a terrorist crisis. What a "favorable resolution" means is anyone's guess, even for people in the agency, as they're legally barred from documenting just where the money goes. And, quite purposely, no one is trying to find out either. So technically, if someone used taxpayer money to directly pay Hezbollah, not a soul would know.

For more opportunities to educate yourself on terrorism, check out 4 Stories From When U.S. Terrorism Was Extremely Common and 6 Insane News Stories About Terrorism (That Were Total B.S.)

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