We have been presented with absolutely zero evidence that Mohammed Youssef Abdulazeez was a terrorist.
No proof. None.
A criminal who did the worst? Yes.
But a terrorist?
"There is no indication he was inspired by anyone other than himself," FBI agent Ed Reinhold said during Friday's news conference.
From the beginning, authorities have investigated Abdulazeez's violence — shooting and killing five military personnel last Thursday — as a possible act of terrorism, which was a calculated move, allowing fuller investigative powers from Washington.
Plus, in our post-9/11 world, Abdulazeez fit a convenient and easy stereotype. He was young, Muslim. He traveled to Jordan. Grew a beard. Already, in the calculus of prejudice, he seemed terroristic.
Then, he shot and killed five military personnel.
Is that terrorism?
Or just an act of terror?
Is there a difference?
The FBI defines terrorism as a crime fitting three categories:
1. It must involve acts that are life-threatening.
2. It must involve acts that intend to intimidate or coerce civilian behavior and/or government policy. These acts may include mass destruction, assassination or kidnapping.
3. It must involve acts that occur within American borders.
That's a loose definition; you can cast a wide net with it. Yet in today's America, terrorism usually implies one thing: Islamic violence. Since 9/11, to speak of terrorism is to speak in code: Muslims killing Americans.
But what about the terrorism of Americans killing Americans?
Consider the following list, and as you read, ask yourself: are they a terrorists, or just a criminals?
Tim McVeigh and the Oklahoma City bombing.
Eric Rudolph and the Atlanta Olympics bombing.
The Columbine shooters. The Sandy Hook shooter. The Virginia Tech shooter.
Fort Hood. The police station in Dallas. The Sihk temple in Wisconsin.
Abortion clinic shootings.
James Holmes in Colorado.
Jared Loughner in Tuscon.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in Boston.
The 88-year-old man who shot up the Jewish Holocaust Museum in D.C.
Abdulhakim Muhammad, who shot a military recruiter in Arkansas.
Dylann Roof, arrested for shooting nine black churchgoers in Charleston.
And Mohammed Abdulazeez.
It all adds up to a wicked family tree of terror-filled violence, a sad constellation full of mental illness, propaganda, easy gun access and, as always, hate, fear and rage.
But is it terrorism?
To call Abdulazeez a terrorist but not the others is a double standard. Yet to avoid labeling these acts as terrorism is to ignore the terror — from schools to movie theaters to military recruiting stations — they induced.
How can one be terrorism but not the others?
If Abdulazeez is somehow connected to overseas ISIS, then understanding his violence is suddenly much easier and not so mysterious. We can explain it away through ISIS indoctrination and radical jihadism.
A true terrorist he may be.
But what if he's not connected? What if he is a lone actor?
Remember what Reinhold said? There is no indication he was inspired by anyone other than himself.
If Abdulazeez was acting on his own, then we must begin a long and painful look at what went wrong, not only in his life, but in Roof's. And Holmes's. And the Boston bomber's. Is there something that infects our young men in this nation? Is there some greater sickness that we are not identifying?
What is the great and sad psychic and emotional toll that our nation's ongoing wars have on young people? Our poverty? Our societal anger?
The semantics of terrorism lull us into locating the source of the violence elsewhere. But Abdulazeez was an American, and, new information suggests, a very troubled one. In a way, he is our city's Dylann Roof.
Are they both terrorists?
Contact David Cook at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook at David CookTFP.