Tucson Shootings Response

In early January Jared Loughner shot 19 people in the city of Tucson, Arizona, killing six and wounding 13. Loughner killed U.S. District Judge John Roll, as well as gravely injured Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in the shootings. Because the alleged target of Loughner’s attack was Giffords, some have voiced the opinion that Loughner should be labeled a “terrorist”. This question has been debated amongst many in recent weeks.

According to the Belgium Red Cross, a terrorist act is committed “for the purpose of intimidating the population, forcing a third party to act or destablishing or destroying the fundamental structures of a country or of an international organization”. Giffords and Roll may fit the type of targets in a terrorist act, but Loughner’s objectives were seemingly not to “fight for independence, fight against corporate regimes, or to secure a dictatorship”. However, we do not fully know the reasons behind Loughner’s rampage. It was initially reported that Loughner had targeted Giffords, but his reasons for doing so have not been confirmed. Because of this, I do not believe we can assign Loughner with the “terrorist” label until the investigation is complete.

An important factor in this case is Loughner’s mental illness. Investigations by the Pima County Sheriff Department show that Loughner is believed to have metal issues dating back to the beginning of high school. He was suspended from Pima Community College after complaints of inappropriate behavior, according to Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik (Frantz). Loughner’s behavior can be partially attributed to these mental problems, rather than him shooting 19 innocent people because of a specific ideology. This appears to be a case of a severely mentally ill young man rather than a terrorist act. The key fact is that Loughner acted alone, on his own behalf with no ideology backing his shootings. According to an article by the New York Times, “investigators are ‘100 percent’ certain that Mr. Loughner did not have an accomplice, and while they continue to investigate his “online associations,” they see no obvious connection between the suspect and political extremists”.

Loughner was indicted by a federal jury on January 19 on counts of the attempted murder of Giffords and her aides, Pat Simon and Ron Barber. According to the Arizona Republic, this is only the “beginning of the legal action being taken against Loughner” (Keifer). Loughner faces many more charges, including the murder of Judge John Roll and Gifford’s aide Gabe Zimmerman. He could face the death penalty because of the murder of Roll, a federal judge. However, Loughner has not had any counts of domestic terrorism brought against him as of yet. He plead not guilty to the charges on January 24.

I discussed the issue with one on my pen pals, Emily Flanigan. She has working in El Salvador for over a year now as a member of the Peace Corps. Emily disagreed with me. She felt that Loughner’s actions made him a terrorist.

“The Tucson Shooting was a tragic incident and I believe that Jared Loughner can be considered a terrorist. I have read a few articles online that call him a homegrown terrorist and I think that term is fitting. He may not fit the typical profile of terrorists that we have become familiar with but his actions have made him one. He targeted Gabrielle Giffords, a United States congresswoman. Police have also recently released some of their findings regarding Loughner’s background. They have found videos of him burning the American flag, calling for a new government, and denouncing US currency. He may not have had a backing, but, to me, all of these things make Loughner is a terrorist.”

I think Emily brought up some very interesting points that made me think a lot deeper about the issue, but I still do not believe Loughner is a terrorist. Ultimately, I agreed with some of what Emily said but we have different definitions of the word terrorist. I think the fact that there is no universal definition of terrorism have made the situation with Loughner particularly hard to define.

In the long run, unless investigators can prove that Loughner had the motives behind a terrorist act or was acting on the behalf of a specific ideology, then we cannot call him a terrorist. No matter how heinous, not every act of extreme violence should be considered an act of terrorism. We need to be extremely careful when labeling people as “terrorists”.

Works Cited

Fedi, Namuezi, Laurelia Nootens, Vincent Vandendriessche, and Frederic Casier. Terrorism? Belgian Red Cross. Print.

Flanigan, Emily. Message to author.  7 March 2011. Email.

Frantz, Ashley and Emanuella Grinberg. “Jared Loughner’s Background Reveals Series of Warning Signs.” This Just In – CNN.com Blogs.” This Just In – CNN.com Blogs. Web. 13 Jan. 2011. <http://news.blogs.cnn.com/2011/01/13/jared-loughners-background-reveals-series-of-warning-signs/>.

Kiefer, Michael. “Federal Grand Jury Indicts Loughner in Giffords Shooting.” Arizona Local News – Phoenix Arizona News – Phoenix Breaking News – Azcentral.com. Web. 20 Jan. 2011. <http://www.azcentral.com/news/articles/2011/01/19/20110119giffords-shooting-loughner-federal-grand-jury-charges.html>.

The New York Times. “Jared Lee Loughner Index”. 24 January 2011.< http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/l/jared_lee_loughner/index.html>.