J.M. Berger

The Difference Between a Killer and a Terrorist

The Atlantic


Two mass murders took place within 48 hours this week. Both attackers were adherents of extremist ideologies. Both terrorized people. But one of these two attacks was clearly terrorism, and one was apparently not. What’s the difference? The place to start, in distinguishing between these attacks, is by defining terrorism. An objective definition of terrorism is both possible and useful—and needs to be applied in a fair, consistent, and color-blind way. That’s the path to placing violent extremism in context and appropriately prioritizing our response.