Hate Crime and Terrorism

Conservative Contradictions, Volume 6: Hate Crime and Terrorism

The American idea of terrorism has become inflated with hysteria after September of 2001, though the rest of the civilized world had been living with terrorism pretty soberly for the last few decades. (Among other places, you can read about that historical fact in Richard Marcinko's Rogue Warrior which documents the creation of the American Navy SEALs.)

Terrorism is considered an especially horrific crime. Beyond the immediate death and misery that an act of terrorism causes, it's widely acknowledged that the intention of terrorism is to create fear and panic-- terror-- within a specially selected group of people. That is sinister. Terrorism is considered not just an attack against people or individuals, but against society, against the pillars of our good life and everything we hold dear. Special punishment has even been suggested for terrorists: "Make them suffer as much as possible before dying." In other words terrorism is so bad that we should dismiss one of the core principles of our constitution in order to fight it.

Meanwhile, so-called hate crimes, which amount to the systematic terrorization of a specific population because of "who they are", is brushed aside as a pet peeve of naive legalistic idealists who want to smother our finest documents of jurisprudence with their bleeding hearts. "HATE CRIME? Hate isn't a crime. Crime is a crime! If there's a crime committed, then have a trial about the law that was broken, not about hate."

Terrorism has caused the entrenchment of novel American legal concepts like "unitary executive" and "punishment for the sake of cruelty" and "guilty until proven innocent" and "there's no such thing as habeas corpus." Yet attempts to frame hate crimes with any novel legal concepts meets with hisses.

As the argument goes: Terrorism is an evil malignant force, and we must throw the book at it. But home-grown terrorism that rises out of an apple pie and burns a cross on somebody's lawn, or hangs nooses to intimidate people by reminding them of mob murders that were carried out in the past, or threatens the extermination of an ethnic group by spraypainting slogans on a wall, does not warrant any special treatment and should merely be considered in context of public decency or property damage.

As the governor of Texas, George W. Bush maintained that "we don't need tougher laws [for hate crime]." He opposed hate crime legislation, even after James Byrd was beaten and chained behind a truck, then dragged until his body was torn to pieces by the road, by a small mob of white racists. That was a deliberate act of terror that targeted an entire community. Yet during the war on terror, we are told that we need legal overhaul, thousands of pages long, because our entire nation will be destroyed if we don't pull out every last legal stop.