The horrifying slaughter at a LGBTQ nightclub last night, which has left at least 50 dead and many more injured, is already sparking a political discussion. It’s reasonable to assume that homophobia is the cause, but is the tragedy a hate crime or an act of terrorism? The alleged killer is American-born Omar Mateen. His father suggested he had a homophobic motive, having been angered when he saw two men kissing months ago.
Complicating the issue of how to describe the massacre is that the FBI has a very narrow and specific definition of domestic terrorism: “(i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping.”
By the FBI’s definition, Dylann Roof, who killed nine black churchgoers out of racism, was not a terrorist. The FBI could reach a similar conclusion in this case, and decide that “hate crime” fits the bill better.
The way out of this morass is to realize that the FBI’s legal definition of terrorism is not the only one that can be used. In a society where homophobia is still rife and has sanction from many politicians, being openly gay is a political act. This means that killing gay people for being gay at a gay bar is an act of political violence, and can be described as terrorism as well as a hate crime. The FBI might disagree on legal grounds but there’s no reason that they should be the final arbiters of how this vile act is discussed.