USD Professor Sees New Face Of Terrorism


First, there was Oklahoma City. Then, there was 9/11. And now, there is Boston.

Last week’s Boston Marathon bombings — and the dramatic events leading up to the death of one suspect and arrest of another — may signal a new direction for terrorism in the United States, according to University of South Dakota professor Tim Schorn.

An associate professor of political science, Schorn also directs the USD international studies program.

 Schorn has become well-versed on terrorism, but his expertise goes beyond his Vermillion classroom. The Mount Marty College graduate, who holds advanced degrees from the University of Notre Dame, brings a military background to the table. He has also traveled extensively, particularly in the Middle East.

For Schorn, the Boston bombings represent a blurring of our traditional definition of terrorism.

“There is going to be a less clear delineation between domestic and international terrorism in the future,” he said. “While we may have some that are clearly domestic, like Oklahoma City, and some that are clearly international, like 9/11, we are going to see hybrids, where there are local actors who are acting on more international impulses.” 

The Chechen background of the alleged Boston bombers represents a departure from most terrorist activity against the United States, Schorn said. Much of the previous Chechen activity has been directed against Russian targets.

“It is very odd that Chechens carried out attacks in the U.S. This is probably tied much more to a radical form of Islam and Islamism than to the Chechnyan conflict per se,” Schorn said. “The last thing the Chechen rebels want to do is to make this a case where the U.S. and Russians both are opposed to a more open and autonomous Chechnya.” 

The alleged Boston bombers also were “home grown,” in the respect that they spent most of their youth in the United States. The younger brother became an American citizen last Sept. 11, while the older brother sought U.S. citizenship.

The brothers may represent the changing face of terrorism on American soil, Schorn said.

“We have to expect that there will be more homegrown terrorism, whether of a religious or far-right kind. We have seen developments amongst both radical Islamists and the radical right in the U.S. that indicates more domestic terrorism,” the USD professor said.

“While the former will often be spurred on by events abroad, the perpetrators will probably be American citizens or legal residents. The latter events will be encouraged by the type of domestic political discourse we are increasingly seeing in the United States, with the delegitimization of the federal government, paranoia and polarization.”

Schorn saw a positive development in the authorities’ quick action on the Boston bombings.

“To a great extent, I was rather reassured by the local, state, and federal response to the Boston attacks.  However, we may find it to be an rather overzealous response in the future to shut down entire cities, regions, and transportation systems,” he said.

“While the suspects were captured or killed fairly quickly, thus allowing for a lifting of the state of siege, if this had lasted an extended period of time, Bostonians and others would have started to become a bit impatient.”

Schorn watched the media coverage with interest as it unfolded during the Boston bombings and the aftermath.

“The media needs to learn to let these things develop rather than trying to force developments,” he said. “The latter leads to misinformation, and possibly even hysteria.”

Schorn is also watching with interest the judicial handling of the remaining suspect.

“Now, we all need to step back and let our justice system work. The calling for military tribunals is incredibly irresponsible and undermines our judicial system and possibly even the rule of law. It undermines our credibility and legitimacy on both a national and international level,” the professor said.

“We are a democratic system with functioning courts; let the process work. An extended negation of the Miranda rights would have been a bit problematic as well. We need to protect our Constitutional system in our struggle against extremism.”  

Schorn disagrees with one of the charges filed against the suspect.

“(Dzhokhar) Tsarnaev is being charged with ‘use of a weapon of mass destruction,’ which I find ludicrous. It is making the pressure cooker device equivalent to a nuclear weapon,” he said.

“The notion of discussing the attacks, and charging someone for them, in the context of weapons of mass destruction is an escalation of rhetoric and response that has no merit. It undermines the use of language and terminology, and makes us look hysterical rather than measured and responsible.”

Schorn questions what the “weapons of mass destruction” charge will mean for the future.

“Where do we go if the next attack is much worse? How do we respond to that?” he asked. “It makes a mockery of attacks and the responses to attacks previously in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world.”

Unfortunately, the United States must brace itself for similar attacks in the future, Schorn said.

“We will more than likely see more of these events. Look at the experience of the United Kingdom, or Western Europe, or Israel,” he said. “We need to be resilient and not adopt a fortress mentality.”

 You can follow Randy Dockendorf on Twitter at



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