“There is no apparent nexus to terrorism at this time,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tweeted Tuesday morning about the serial bombings that have rocked Austin this month.
In a Monday morning briefing after the tripwire blast in southwest Austin, Chief of Police Brian Manley was asked when this would be considered domestic terrorism. He said, “That’s been the question all along: Is this terrorism? Is this hate-related?”
The chief said they were early in the investigation and they were working to determine a motive for the serial bomber.
“A very, very sick individual…”
The Texas Tribune reports that, without a known motive, it is not possible to identify the attacks as domestic terrorism, citing the Patriot Act definition for domestic terrorism:
An attempt to “intimidate or coerce a civilian population; to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping.”
That has not stopped three members of the Congressional Black Caucus from calling for the bombings to be classified as “ongoing terrorist attacks.”
The members, who include Houston Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, the ranking member on the Judiciary Committee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security — also called for officials to determine if the attacks are “ideologically or racially motivated.”
Their joint statement continued, “This has become a national security issue and the full investigative force of the federal government must be focused on stopping these attacks.”
Because the victims in the first three bombings were either black or Hispanic, investigators said they were not ruling out the attacks being hate crimes. The two victims in the fourth bombing in southwest Austin are white.
In an Oval Office meeting with the Saudi crown prince Tuesday afternoon, President Donald Trump said, “The bombings in Austin are terrible.”
He said, “This is obviously a very, very sick individual or maybe individuals. These are sick people and we will get to the bottom of it, it will be very strong.”
The president, who described Austin as “a great place, a tremendous place,” said his experience working with Texas and local governments has been great.
Terror vs. Terrorism: Why Rhetoric Matters
The official definition of “terrorist act” from the Federal Bureau of Investigation requires the violence to have a specific “political, religious, social, racial, or environmental nature.”
The bombs have nonetheless caused terror in Austin and spurred the FBI to transfer 500 agents to Central Texas, While causing terror in Austin, officials have not called it “terrorism” without that political or social motivation.
“We will have to determine if we see a specific ideology behind this or something that will lead us along with our federal partners to make that decision,” continued Manley.
“We have much greater surveillance and much greater anti-terrorist capability in our police forces and in our federal agents than ever before,” said the University of Texas at Austin Professor Jeremi Suri, who has studied America’s national security apparatus for years.
Calling it “terrorism” would trigger massive tax-dollar funded federal operations and show a new level of concern. Suri thinks the definition officials are using is too narrow and this should be called terrorism, motivation or not.
“Anytime anyone uses violence against innocent civilians in a relatively random way to create fear and mayhem, that is terrorism. Right? And that’s what this is.” Suri said.