Vandalism or Terrorism?

For discussion… if a group with a history of terrorist activity commits serious vandalism, is that a terrorist act? Why or why not?

11 comments to Vandalism or Terrorism?

  • When I think “terrorism” I think bodily harm.

    When I think “vandalism” I think spray painting cars and blowing up mailboxes with cherry bombs.

    I’m gonna go with vandalism in this case.

  • Jan

    I agree with Buck except that I think you can terrorize someone or a group of people without actually doing bodily harm IF the terrorist have harmed people in the past and IF the harrasment actually causes the person attacked to feel terrified over a long period of time. I am probably wrong here, though, because a timid, small, easily frightened person may feel terror when there is actually no threat, so…. definitely vandalism.

    Terrorism occurs in my mind when the attackers cause the victim to be terrified and to feel helpless. Having no idea when the attacker is going to harm you and not having a warning is a part of terrorist tactics. War may be terrifying, but in a legitimate war combatants on both sides are armed and have protective gear. They know their attackers are coming and are able to protect themselves to a degree so that death or severe injury is not certain.

    I do think terrorist tactics are often used to intimidate, but I think it falls short of being officially classified as terrorism.

  • I tend to agree with your thinking, Jan… I made it a point to include the words “with a history of terrorist activity”…

    For instance, when the KKK burns a cross in your front yard, that is not *just* vandalism…

  • ogre


    *NOT* vandalism.

    Or rather, it’s vandalism that rises to the standard of terrorism.

    It’s not an either/or, really.

    Terrorism is fundamentally political; it’s an attempt to impose an individual’s or group’s views by use of intimidation. Violence is simply the most convenient and effective way to grab up the crowbar or intimidation. But once you’ve got it, you can just swing it menacingly.

    It’s like lynching. Once it’s been done, a rock through the window with an attached note warning one… or else… is intimidation. It induces terror–which is, in fact, its *purpose*. Know your place, put your head back down, be quiet, fall in line… or else you *too* will “get it.”

    Is a death threat from a known terrorist group terrorism? Sure.


    Is it an act of terrorism if it’s not a verbal threat, but rather a symbolic one? Sure.

    Breaking into a home or house of worship and trashing it is a violation that’s felt very personally. If you’ve ever been burglarized, you’ll know that it’s not *just* “Aw, shit, someone stole my stuff.” It’s an invasion, and you don’t feel safe. The point is that various acts carry a visceral, emotional freight that’s beyond the mere objective facts.

    Having someone spray paint an amorphous blob on one’s garage door is mere vandalism. Having it be gang signs that are painted ratchets things up–there’s more to the vandalism than just the destruction of property. Having it be a group that’s assaulted and murdered people *like you* takes it well beyond mere destruction of property.

    The act isn’t about the vandalism then. It’s about the terror that it induces and inflicts.

    Which makes it terrorism.

  • But once you get into the legal aspects of it I am assuming that the punishment for “terrorism” is harsher than the punishment for “vandalism”.

    I just hate to see some over-zealous kid get 20 years for spray painting a car.

    And yes, burning a cross in a yard is more than vandalism.

    gre is making a mighty strong case.

  • Ogre is making a mighty strong case. I have no idea where my “O” went.

  • Jan

    I do think terrorist tactics are often used to intimidate, but I think it falls short of being officially classified as terrorism.

    I am quoting myself here because I should modify that statement. More accurately, “I do think terrorist tactics are often used to intimidate, but I think sometimes it falls short of being officially classified as terrorism. The circumstances may vary and therefore it is difficult to make a blanket statement. I do think, however, there are terrorist organizations, i.e. KKK, Taliban, Al Queda, etc. who routinely practice terrorizing others. On the other hand, some unions have used terrorist tactics, but we can’t say every union is a terrorist organization. KKK, however, was formed to terrorize other people so it can be classified as a terrorist organization.

    So, should we not say there are terrorist organizations who were formed for that purpose and there are people $ groups who use terrorist tactics. A distinction must be made, I think.

  • If an illegal act is committed for the primary purpose of inspiring terror or fear, it is terrorism. Political terrorism inspires fear or terror for the attainment of political ends… but I beleive terrorism is a much larger concept that just political.

    The similarities of motivation behind an ex-boyfriend stalking and terrorizing a woman and a terrorist group making threats of violence upon a nation is a difference in scale.

    Now, terrorism is most often a crime when it is implicated in another criminal act. The primary criminal act on 9-11 was murder on a mass scale. Because we have been able to determine the that the intent of Al Qaeda was to use fear and terror inspired by that mass murder as a political tool, we have made that intent a crime known as terrorism.

    Some analysts and journalists have labeled terrorism as a “tactic”, but I disagree. It is an intent… it is a motive. There are many tactics that can arise from that motive/intent.

    In the case study that was mentioned for this discussion, what has to be determined is whether the primary and motivating intent of the criminal vandalism was to inspire fear and terror. If that is the case, then it is not only criminal vandalism, but also criminal terrorism.

    Yours in faith,


  • Nice comment, David – I think you & Ogre together have this question thoroughly thought through.

  • RW

    And yes, burning a cross in a yard is more than vandalism.

    In America, a person will be charged with (at least) vandalism, destruction of private property, trespass, and depending upon the locale, a hate crime. Personally, I’d throw in “badly in need of an butt kicking” but I don’t think that’s a legitimate charge in any circuit & nowadays the nation frowns upon such caveman tactics.

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