Article Title

Spatial Terrorism


Terrorism, under federal law, generally means an act of politically- or socially-motivated violence perpetrated against innocents. Terrorism within the meaning of federal law, in other words, exists only if a cognizable motive is uncovered. This definition also sees the United States as an undifferentiated landscape—by its own terms, it fails to take into account any geographic nuance in acts of mass violence. This Article suggests that spatial considerations are relevant in determining whether an act of mass violence constitutes an act of terrorism for purposes of federal law. It points to cities—which are characterized by a highly concentrated, fluid population, and which thus have more potential victims of indiscriminate violence —to demonstrate the propriety of considering space in an analysis of whether terrorism has occurred. It further argues that spatial dimensions lend support to shifting the definition of terrorism away from an exclusively instrumental, subjective intent model towards a more comprehensive descriptive, objective action paradigm. The existing terrorism scheme has generated confusion and unsatisfactory results. As incidents of mass violence continue to happen in the nation, the need for a coherent terrorism definition is particularly pressing and acute for prosecutors, judges, public officials, and a society attempting to conceptualize and categorize these incidents. Spatial considerations may provide greater consistency and clarity to the existing definitions of terrorism, further the underlying purposes of having terrorism as an independent legal harm, and catalyze a recalibrated, proper definition of terrorism.