Defining Modern Terrorism and Resisting Stereotypes: Update 1

Prior to beginning the in-depth research of my project, I conducted a preliminary interview with a retired Army colonel and current FBI agent, Col. John Tumino, in New York City.  Through this interview, I gained important insights regarding the topic at hand, specifically that he believes in the necessity of a universal definition of terrorism.  To paraphrase Col. Tumino’s words, in a world where information is so easily recorded and accessed, it is essential to have very specific guidelines that leave little room for discretion.  Furthermore, in his opinion, most of the mass murder case studies that are going to be discussed in my research should not be considered terrorism (domestic or otherwise).  According to Tumino, classifying events such as school shootings, etc. as terrorism ignores the role of mental illness; in a society where mental illness is so stigmatized, we cannot afford to discount its involvement in certain cases.  If we treat someone with a mental illness as a terrorist, that could create an even larger stigma and lead to more issues.

Col. Tumino also discussed the aftermath of 9/11 in NYC, mentioning how the NYPD “went rogue.”  This channeled our conversation into the discussion of stereotypes and the role they play in defining terrorism. Tumino stated that there was a huge search for illegal immigrants in NYC following the 2001 terrorist attack, but that this search was limited to those who were “Muslim or dark-skinned,” and did not focus on “undocumented Russian, Polish, or Irish immigrants.” This highlights one of America’s greatest struggles in defining terrorism – an overemphasis on race and religion.

Over the course of the next few weeks, I am going to conduct research using news and social media outlets with a focus on mass murders in the United States over the past five years, and considering which of these, if any, should be considered terrorism.


  1. mbcmgill says:

    Hi Kristen,
    Your research sounds so interesting and relevant. I like that rather than just relying on news and social media outlets, you were able to get an informed, first-hand opinion regarding this issue. Col. Tumino makes such a strong point when he says that treating someone with a mental illness as a terrorist could create an even larger stigma. The issue of terrorism is complicated enough on its own, but becomes nearly indistinguishable when mental illness, race, and religion are emphasized. I look forward to hearing about your research and the classifications you make about which mass murders should be considered terrorism.

  2. Hi Kristen,
    I am excited to see the rest of your research as this is a topic that I find very interesting. I applaud you for conducting an interview with someone directly connected to this field because it shows that these issues that complicate the idea of “terrorism” are relevant to combating terrorism, not just to understanding it. While race and religion are clearly major topics of focus when discussing terrorism, I have never really considered the issue of mental illness in relation to terrorism before. I definitely agree with the necessity to create a concrete and universal definition for terrorism to help eradicate these complications and avoid losing meaning of the word terrorism. I can’t wait to see how you further develop your research to continue exploring this topic!

Speak Your Mind