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Get your terms right. Intentionally snarling the traffic on the George Washington Bridge last September was not an act of retribution, political payback, coercion, or whatever else people have been calling it.
It was an intentional act of sabotage. It didn’t destroy structures, but it did destroy the function of those structures for extended periods of time. If that had just been a matter of /incompetence/, it would not be sabotage. But it was intentional — intended to sabotage traffic flow.
We have another word for that sort of thing under federal law. That word is terrorism.
And, damn right, people should be prosecuted for it. That or we should change the relevant laws, because if they don’t apply here they are obviously worthless.
There is no single, universally accepted, definition of terrorism. Terrorism is defined in the Code of Federal Regulations as “the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives” (28 C.F.R. Section 0.85).
Blocking lanes of traffic is a use of force. (If you don’t believe me, join a protest and try it sometime; see what the police and the courts say.) Whichever of the various prevailing theories as to what motivated the Christie Administration officials to block traffic, it was clearly intended to intimidate or coerce government officials to further political objectives.
That’s terrorism. Obama bin Laden could not have gotten away with bombing the Twin Towers if he had snarked “time for traffic problems in Lower Manhattan.”
Terrorism doesn’t have to involve killing people — although at least one woman did apparently die as a result of the Christie Administration’s actions to block bridge access without good reason. It can involve intentionally destroying property or disrupting its use.
Under the USA PATRIOT Act, domestic terrorism is defined as:
activities that (A) involve acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the U.S. or of any state, that (B) appear to be intended (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, and (C) occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the U.S.
Point “(C)” is a given here. Let’s look at the rest.
Was throttling the bridge traffic for hours “dangerous to human life”? Yes. If Al Qaeda took an intentional act with this result, would we have any doubt about that? Do we really think that they’d get off on that technicality?
Did it “violate criminal laws”? Sure it did. And that’s “(A).”
What about “(B)”? Does it appear to have been intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population? Yes.
Was it apparently intended to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion? Yes.
I could even make an argument that it would fall under the rubric of “mass destruction.” If a terrorist group had dumped many tons of boulders at those chokepoints, would we say “oh, don’t worry, it wasn’t terrorism because we were able to clear them out in four days”? I doubt it.
People are tossed out of this country because they once gave soup to a soldier for a vicious regime (or a vicious resistance group, or a non-vicious resistance group that we happen to dislike) on the basis that they aided and abetting terrorism. That seems a few orders of magnitude less significant than this.
If you don’t think that this should be considered “terrorism,” then change the laws. You can make a decent case for that — although I doubt that the FBI and DHS would agree. But so long as those laws are on the books, enforce them fairly against all. That includes domestic government officials who engage in intentional sabotage that substantially disrupts our society.
Let’s start throwing around the “T” word and demand federal prosecution. If they want to deny that it applies, it should be good for a laugh — and it will be educational, too.
Anyone with a tie to Darrell Issa, get him onto this quickly. Oh, you think he won’t touch it? And why is that?