FBI Says Congressional Baseball Shooting Isn't Terrorism

June 21st 2017

Kyle Jaeger

On Wednesday, the FBI released more details from its investigation into last week's shooting at a congressional baseball practice that left five wounded, including Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), who remains hospitalized. Among other findings, the agency determined that the shooting did not qualify as "terrorism," which left some scratching their heads on Wednesday.

The use of the term terrorism is controversial—in part because it appears to be disproportionately applied to attacks carried out by individuals who fall into certain demographics. In the U.S., that typically means attacks perpetrated by Muslims.

When the FBI announced that the congressional baseball shooter had "no nexus to terrorism," some felt the conclusion reinforced a racial double standard.

After all, the shooter, James Hodgkinson, had an established history of posting anti-Republican content on social media. He reportedly asked a congressman what political party was on the field practicing, before he opened fire. And he was found to be carrying a list of names of Republican lawmakers, after law enforcement fatally shot him.

In other words, the evidence makes clear that the attack was premeditated and politically motivated. Here's Merriam-Webster's legal definition of terrorism: "The unlawful use or threat of violence especially against the state or the public as a politically motivated means of attack or coercion."

Whether it's especially helpful to designate certain attacks as acts of terrorism is subject to debate. But the selective application of the term has raised questions about its utility.


While we may be able to literally define the word, its use has become highly subjective, which leaves room for biased misapplication. Or a reluctance to invoke it, even when it would clearly apply. 

This makes the use of the word—or non-use—a declaration of sorts. Or, as, Bruce Hoffman wrote in his seminal book, "Inside Terrorism,"

"It is a word with intrinsically negative connotations that is generally applied to one's enemies and opponents, or to those with whom one disagrees and would otherwise prefer to ignore."