Rachel Maddow Belatedly Realizes That Fort Hood Massacre Was Terrorism After All

Not bad, it took her a mere 18 months to grasp this.

On her MSNBC show Monday night, the first time it ran after the death of bin Laden, Rachel Maddow cited several post-9/11 examples of terrorism targeting Americans in the US -- including the attack at Fort Hood in November 2009.

"Since Sept. 11, the story of terrorism targeting the United States itself has mostly, thankfully, been the story of thwarted attacks," Maddow said, such as the so-called shoe bomber and underwear bomber, a plot to detonate explosives in the New York City subway system, the failed bombing of Times Square, and the so-called Dallas bomber who targeted former president George W. Bush.

"And then there was the mass-casualty shooting at Fort Hood in Texas in 2009, carried out by Major Nidal Hasan," Maddow said.

Quite a contrast with how Maddow described the incident on her show Nov. 12, 2009, fully a week after the carnage (video after page break) --

Remember this one? Yes, it is the old paint-the-Democrats-as-soft-on-terror routine. But in order to play that politicizing-terrorism, anti-Democrat greatest hit, the Fort Hood case has to be terrorism. Regardless of how you feel about the political issue of politicizing terrorism, it's worth asking -- was Fort Hood, technically speaking, terrorism? It's not just a political question. It's not just a judgment call. It's not just a matter of taste. It's a question to which there is an answer, a legal answer, and the charges today didn't include anything related to terrorism.

Terrorism is not just conceptual political jargon. This is a legal term and it has, interestingly, changed over the past few years. In order for something to be legally considered terrorism, do you have to be taking instructions from a terrorist group? Do you have to have some sort of clear political motive behind the violence? Is it about the way that you commit the crime, what sort of weapons that you use in doing? Is it about how many people that you kill in your crime? Is it about the specific type of people you target, whether they're civilian or military?

If you're interested in more than just making political hay out of the Fort Hood case, these are the sort of legitimate questions you would want to ask before labeling this or any case an instance of terrorism. Those who are calling this terrorism are making their case in large part because Major Hasan is a Muslim and because he is alleged to have said, God is great, before the shootings. And while it might make for exciting politics to argue that murders committed by religious Muslims are presumptively terrorist acts, those exciting political allegations actually say a lot more about the people making them than they do about the real character of the tragedy at Fort Hood and how we as a country should respond to it.

Five months earlier, after Scott Roeder gunned down abortion doctor George Tiller in his Kansas church, Maddow waited all of 24 hours to deem the killing terrorism. As I wrote at the time, Maddow opened her show on June 1, 2009, one day after Tiller's murder, by saying this -- "We begin tonight  with another deadly act of domestic terrorism."

After recounting examples of violence against abortion providers since the early 1990s, Maddow said this about Tiller's death, accompanied by a banner-headline screen graphic that read "TERRORISM" --

And then yesterday, George Tiller was shot again. This time it was inside his church in Wichita. He was killed instantly. A man named Scott Roeder is the suspect in custody in this case. He's known in extremist anti-abortion circles.

To paraphrase the words of another observer -- was Tiller's death, technically speaking, terrorism? It's not just a political question or a judgment call, nor a matter of taste. It's a question to which there is a legal answer -- and the charges for which Roeder was convicted did not include terrorism.

It's also worth noting that in the year and a half since Hasan brought his personal jihad to Fort Hood, the charges against him have not been broadened to include terrorism. Regardless, Maddow now describes Hasan as a terrorist. Inquisitive minds would love to learn -- why the change of heart, Rach?

Jack Coleman
Liberated ex-liberal from the People's Republic of Massachusetts