Intent Can Define Terrorism: Milwaukee Sikh Shooting an Act of Terrorism?



I am asked periodically by clients and Willis associates whether or not a specific act of violence would be considered an act of terrorism. Namely, they want to know whether or not an event would be covered under TRIPRA* or a Standalone Terrorism policy. My response is always the same, it depends on the intent of the action.

Aurora Theater Shooting

U.S. Definition of Terrorism

“Terrorism includes 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 Code of Federal Regulations Section 0.85)

Events such as the Aurora, CO, movie theater shooting in July, which happened for no apparent political reason, are not considered acts of terrorism by the standard insurance definition or the government. They are simply acts of violence.

The key elements in defining terrorism, whether it be from the FBI, TRIPRA, or standalone terrorism market, is that the event must involve an intent to influence the government or population, and it must involve an element of political or ideological reasoning.

Milwaukee Sikh Temple Shooting

It is still too early to tell what Wade Michael Page’s intent was when he killed 7 people, including himself, in a Sikh Temple in Milwaukee August 5. Evidence including tattoos on the suspected shooter’s body suggest that he was potentially a white supremacist. In fact, news reports have stated that Page had been monitored by anti-hate watchdog groups for over a decade.

Should further evidence arise and confirm that Page committed the shooting to intimidate Muslims (it is believed Page thought Sikhs were Muslim), then his actions could be interpreted as an act of terrorism based upon the FBI’s definition of terrorism.

About Justin Conway

Justin is a national resource in Terrorism, Political Violence and Trade Disruption for Willis’ SECURENET divisio…
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4 Responses to Intent Can Define Terrorism: Milwaukee Sikh Shooting an Act of Terrorism?

  1. Sharmila Rao says:

    In the Milwaukee incident, the perpetrator seems to be committing the acts of violence to show his “superiority” over some community. It seems to be well under the purview of “intimidate or coerce…the civilian population or any segment thereof, in furtherance of…social objectives.” Also, both the incidents involve some amount of ideological reasoning in the motive. It appears as if since these are “one-off” incidents and not backed by an organized outfit, they cannot be classified under terrorism. I see a flaw in the reasoning that a hate crime against Muslims can be classified as terrorism but not the ones against any other community. Any thoughts?

    • Justin Conway says:

      Thanks for your comment, Sharmila. Events do not need to involve foreign backing or an affiliation with a group(s) to be considered acts of terrorism by TRIPRA, standalone terrorism policies or the FBI. In 2007, the definition of terrorism was amended in TRIA legislation to include individuals acting alone with no foreign affiliation and stand-alone terrorism policies do not require any affiliation with an organized outfit in their definition of terrorism.

      I am not suggesting that only hate crimes against the Muslim community should be considered terrorism. In my post, I am attempting to separate the events in Aurora and Milwaukee based on differences in intent, not draw similarities.

  2. jimlynch9999 says:

    Great piece. One not to pick: Aurora, COLORADO, movie theater, not Illinois.

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