Major figures in the Trump administration have publicly labeled the violence which claimed the life of a woman in Charlottesville, Virginia, an act of domestic terrorism.

Controversy over President Trump’s initial reactions to the mayhem surrounding a white supremacist march centered on Trump’s omission of any criticism levied directly at white hate groups, instead opting to comment on political violence across the board.

Many major Republican figures took to social media and other media outlets over the weekend to explicitly condemn white hate groups like the ones who organized the march in Charlottesville.

“White supremacists and neo-Nazis are, by definition, opposed to American patriotism and the ideals that define us as a people and make our nation special.” Senator John McCain said in a press release.

“Our hearts are with today’s victims. White supremacy is a scourge. This hate and its terrorism must be confronted and defeated.” Speaker of the House Paul Ryan said via Twitter.

“The hate and bigotry witnessed in #Charlottesville does reflect American values. I wholeheartedly oppose their actions.” Said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, also on Twitter.

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But in the political vernacular in the U.S., “terrorism” has come to be a political lightning rod of controversy. What constitutes a terrorist act of violence, and does the difference lay in the identity of the perpetrator or intent of the act? A reality of modern American politics is the careful parsing of words used to describe a tragedy. A hallmark of President Trump’s campaign for the presidency was his insistence on identifying “radical Islamic terrorism” as a persistent threat to the U.S., and castigated his opponents who would not say the phrase.

Many Muslim groups in the U.S. say the label “terrorist” is too readily attached to any act committed by a Muslim, while a similarly violent and politically motivated act by anyone else is not. The most high-profile example being the mass killing at the hands of white supremacist Dylan Roof in 2015. Many wanted Roof to be labeled a terrorist, rather than simply a mass murderer.

This weekend, National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster told George Stephanopoulos on ABC that the attack which claimed the life of one woman and injured over a dozen others in Charlottesville was an example of “terrorism” saying “any time that you commit an attack against people to incite fear, it is terrorism.”

Attorney General Jeff Sessions expounded on this idea on Monday, saying that the attack meets the legal definition of domestic terrorism. “It does meet the definition of domestic terrorism in our statute,” Sessions said on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” and that “You can be sure we will charge and advance the investigation toward the most serious charges that can be brought because this is unequivocally an unacceptable evil attack.”

According to The New York Times, the legal definition of domestic terrorism includes no greater penalties than any other act of violence committed in the United States, and thus Sessions’ label is purely symbolic.

 

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