A national terrorism expert said Tuesday that federal authorities are following the right path by investigating the Olathe shooting as a hate crime, but he said last week’s deadly attack does not appear to be an act of domestic terrorism.
“I would shy away from terrorism, because you’ve got to have more of a social or political objective behind doing it,” said Daryl Johnson, a former senior analyst with the Department of Homeland Security. “The FBI defines terrorism very specifically, and that is the big question for us — what is the motivation for this? This seems to be spontaneous. He saw two people of color that he didn’t like…This guy is a garden-variety racist.”
The attack, Johnson said, “speaks to the Islamophobic environment that we’re in right now.”
“Even though these men were Indian,” he said, “I’m sure he thought they were Muslims.”
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The FBI announced Tuesday that it is investigating the triple shooting at Austins Bar & Grill as a hate crime, and hours later, a spokeswoman for President Donald Trump condemned the shooting as an “act of racially motivated hatred.”
Adam W. Purinton, 51, of Olathe is charged in Johnson County District Court with first-degree murder and two counts of attempted first-degree murder. He is in the Johnson County Jail on $2 million bond. Purinton allegedly told his victims, two of whom were from India, to “get out of my country.”
Johnson said the quest for a universal and accurate definition of terrorism is challenging because there’s a disconnect between the technical definition of terrorism and what the public considers to be terrorism. That can lead to heated debates when an act of mass violence occurs and people begin calling for the terrorism label to be immediately applied.
The U.S. Code defines terrorism as “premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience.” The FBI says terrorism is “the unlawful use of force or 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.”
The common theme in both definitions: the use of force intended to influence or instigate a course of action that furthers a political or social goal.
Johnson said the Olathe case differs from such cases as a 2012 incident in Wisconsin in which white supremacist Wade Michael Page killed six people in a Sikh temple because he thought they were Muslims, or the 2015 rampage in South Carolina in which Dylann Roof shot to death nine black church parishioners as part of a plan to start a race war.
Those men subscribed to a belief system that they got from a violent movement, and they were hoping to impact the community around them and make a political statement by doing it, Johnson said.
The Olathe shooting suspect was reportedly retaliating against two people he was angry at, Johnson said.
“The fact that it’s spontaneous and that there was this argument that ensued before it and that he was intoxicated and throwing these racial slurs all kind of indicate it’s not domestic terrorism,” Johnson said. “It’s lacking the political or social objective behind it. Not to say that it’s not a hate crime, because obviously he hated the people of color.”
Johnson added, however, that there’s often a double standard when it comes to defining such extremist acts.
If the shooter had been Muslim, he said, “I’m sure everybody would have labeled it terrorism.”
The Olathe attack, he said, is yet another example of the dramatic growth in anti-Muslim hate spreading across the country.
“There have been about five mosque arsons since January,” he said. “There were also the militia groups having armed protests at mosques last year. This is just the latest violent incident against Muslims.”