Terrorism is defined by the FBI as “acts dangerous to human life that violate federal or state law” and “appear 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.” However, not all people who “intimidate and coerce civilian populations” are considered terrorists. The Columbine shooters were not considered terrorists, though they were involved in a “Trenchcoat Mafia” and most of the victims were students of color. The 2015 Charleston shooter who killed nine Black people is not considered a terrorist, neither is the KKK considered a terrorist group. Using a queer diasporic lens to analyze the FBI’s definition of terrorism helps us to understand the issues with the way that certain people in power in the United States attempt to define our borders and our sense of who makes up the nation.
One use for the FBI’s terrorism definition is the terror watchlist. This was employed recently, after the Orlando nightclub shooting this past summer, within a gun control proposal. Though it was not passed, a response to the shooting was to prohibit people from the no fly list (a subset of the terror watchlist) from buying guns. However, there are very few standards for the government to watchlist people and the ACLU believes that this can lead to religious and racial profiling. Furthermore, of all the gun sales in the U.S., only a tiny portion are to people on the terror watchlist. And, of the mass shootings in the U.S., very few are related to terrorism, as the FBI defines it. So even though restricting people from the terror watchlist from buying guns would not be a solution to the problem of gun violence or even likely curb gun sales, the people on the terror watchlist are the people easiest to blame and to mark as unwelcome within these borders, so to some it seemed like a solution.
Gayatri Gopinath defines queer diasporic cultural forms as “forms that suggest alternative forms of collectivity and communal belonging that redefine ‘home’ as national, communal, or domestic space outside all logic of blood, purity, authenticity, and patrilineal descent” (Gopinath, 158). Even though not directly stating it, this gun control proposal and the issues with the FBI’s terror list, define belonging in America as looking a certain way and having a certain purity that excludes most people who were not born in the United States or Western Europe. We can see this in Leslie Bow’s “Betrayal and Other Acts of Subversion.” She points out how Yoko Ono was blamed for breaking up The Beatles and was portrayed as a threat to nationalistic ideas of the U.S., even though she was a U.S. citizen and The Beatles were not. She was demonized as anti-American, even though she is American, yet the white men who make up the band look more “American” than she does. We cannot accept that people like Yoko Ono or other racially profiled immigrants and Asian Americans are anti-American because of a lack of whatever it means to be “authentically” American.
Most of the mass shootings in the US are not related to terrorism (see map above), mainly because the FBI chooses to only mark certain people as terrorists (since really, many more of the mass shootings should be considered terror related). However, there is also such little correlation because the people marked as terrorists are not the ones betraying this country. They are easily painted as dangerous outsiders because of the racialized xenophobia that has seeped into prospective policies for making keeping this country “safe.” We can see it in our president elect’s rhetoric with his slogan of “Make America Great Again” along with all kinds of measures for keeping people out. Unfortunately, yet expectedly, the systems that govern this country are not free from the systematic racism they’re entrenched in; however, recognizing the ways that even “liberal” policies for gun control fall short is vital to making any kind of change.