Terrorists and Terrorism Broadly Defined by Patriot Act

Victims of the Boston Marathon bombing getting medical aid.
Multiple People Injured After Explosions Near Finish Line at Boston Marathon. Jim Rogash / Getty Images News

Even before President of the United States George W. Bush signed the anti-terrorism Patriot Act of 2001 on Oct. 26, 2001, civil liberties advocacy groups had criticized it as allowing unreasonable and excessive and unchecked expansions of police powers including search and personal surveillance limits.

Who Might Be a 'Terrorist?'

In less-well publicized amendments, Congress added language to the Patriot Act very broadly, perhaps vaguely, defining terrorism and terrorists, and who the Justice Department and Secretary of State can designate as eligible for investigation and close personal surveillance according to provisions of the Patriot Act.

  • You need not be a member of a terrorist group to be considered a terrorist. If you openly represent or seek community support for terrorist acts or a known terrorist organization, you could be declared a terrorist.
  • Raising money for or giving money to a terrorist group is considered to be a direct act of terrorism if the funds are used to plan or conduct an act of terrorism.
  • Providing services or assistance to terrorists can also be declared an act of terrorism unless the accused can prove "he did not know, and should not reasonably have known" the services would be used to assist a terrorist act. Knowingly providing a hideout, transportation, training or firearms are examples of services that could fall under this provision.
  • Members of terrorists' immediate family may be considered and treated as terrorists themselves unless they can prove to the satisfaction of the Justice Department that they were either unaware of or had openly renounced the terrorist activity.
  • Spouses and children of terrorists can be treated like terrorists themselves unless "the attorney general has reasonable grounds to believe [the family member] has renounced the activity."

    What Is a 'Terrorist Activity?'

    Under the Patriot Act, terrorist activities include:

    • Threatening, conspiring, or attempting to hijack airplanes, boats, buses or other vehicles.
    • Threatening, conspiring, or attempting to commit acts of violence on any "protected" persons, such as government officials.
    • Any crime committed with "the use of any weapon or dangerous device," when the intent of the crime is determined to be the endangerment of public safety or substantial property damage rather than for "mere personal monetary gain"

    A Vital Weapon

    The then Attorney General Ashcroft defended the provisions of the Patriot Act as vital to protecting against terrorist groups that "use America's freedom as a weapon against us." In his testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Dec. 6, 2001, Ashcroft referred to a seized al Qaeda training manual in which terrorists are taught to "exploit our judicial process for the success of their operations."

    Common, non-terrorist criminals have used and abused our judicial system for years, yet we did not respond with wholesale sacrifices of personal liberties. Are terrorists that different from common criminals? Attorney General Ashcroft said they were. "The terrorist enemy that threatens civilization today is unlike any we have ever known. It slaughters thousands of innocents - a crime of war and a crime against humanity. It seeks weapons of mass destruction and threatens their use against America. No one should doubt the intent, nor the depth, of its consuming, destructive hatred,” he said.