Was the Christmas bombing in Nashville an act of domestic terrorism? In answering this question it’s important to consider the facts known at this time versus the legal definition of Domestic Terrorism in the Federal Code.
The facts, as they are known today, are the following:
A subject, believed to be a 63-year-old caucasian male named Anthony Quinn Warner, parked an RV on a downtown street in Nashville at 1:22 a.m. on Christmas morning. At approximately 5:30 a.m. several local residents called 911 reporting that shots had been fired in the area. Some witnesses reported that there were three separate barrages of shots being fired spaced apart by a few minutes. It is speculated that the gunshots were an attempt by the bomber to draw police to the area. When police did later arrive, they discovered the parked RV. It was playing a recorded countdown message saying that the vehicle had a bomb that would explode in 15 minutes. As the timer ran out the recorded message changed, “If you can hear this message, evacuate now,” as the time approached 6:30 a.m.
Then the bomb exploded damaging the surrounding buildings and what may have been the intended target, a large multi-story AT&T building that housed a data center. This data center is not a government facility but a communications hub providing voice, data, and video communications services to some 80 million customers worldwide. These customers include private consumers, businesses, and government entities.
The damage to the building caused phone and internet service interruptions for users around the country with a concentration in the Nashville area and Middle Tennessee. It also affected customers from Kentucky to Alabama.
The FBI was able to identify Warner as the likely suspect from the VIN number and possible plate number of the vehicle. Having recovered DNA from human remains at the scene, they next searched Warner’s nearby home where DNA samples were collected. The DNA samples confirmed that Warner was probably killed at the explosion (perhaps with some dogs he also owned).
Following the incident, social media erupted in calls for Warner to be labeled a terrorist or domestic terrorist. But under the law, it’s not as simple as just calling someone a name, even if they are dead and have set off a bomb. So what will it take? Below is the relevant text of the Federal Code, 18 U.S. Code § 2331 which defines the circumstances under an act can be called domestic terrorism:
“[The] term ‘domestic terrorism’ means activities that
A) involve acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State;
(B) appear to be intended
(i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population;
(ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or
(iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and
(C) occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States;”
The Nashville bombing meets all the criteria of Domestic Terrorism except for one, “to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion.” In order to meet that criterion, the Department of Justice (DoJ) must find something in the motives of Warner to suggest he acted in the furtherance of some political aim. So far, they have not found that.
There are rumors that Warner believed in one or more various conspiracy theories about 5G Communications. Adherents of such theories believe that 5G can cause cancer or is spreading the coronavirus. It is not a fringe theory either, it has a wide international following. More than 75 5G towers
have been set on fire in the United Kingdom. There is also a belief that 5G will make it easier for the government to spy on Americans.
There are media reports that Warner believed 5G was responsible for the cancer death of his 78-year-old father who had been a career employee of AT&T. There are also reports of Warner telling an ex-girlfriend that he was dying of cancer. A week before the bombing, he gave her his car. Further, he told clients, he was working as an IT contractor, that he was retiring. Others who knew him claimed Warner was heavily into conspiracy theories, including the one about 5G. Just before the bombing, a neighbor had asked about Warner’s mother and whether he expected anything special for Christmas. Warner was said to reply, “Oh, yeah, Nashville and the world is never going to forget me.”
The problem with the above statements is not that they suggest a clear motive for the bombing, but that they might suggest several, including terminal illness, acute depression, paranoia, and egomania.
Understanding Warner’s motive is made murkier by the fact that he seemed to have kept a very low profile with no digital footprint under his real name on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram. He was also not on the radar of any law enforcement agencies. His arrest record seems to be no more than a couple of arrests for marijuana possession in the 1970 and 80s. The electronic devices recovered from his house have been sent to the FBI forensic labs in Quantico to look at any writing he may have done or websites he frequented. This is to help establish a motive as to why he did what he did.
The FBI, DoJ, and President Trump are not jumping in front of the cameras to call Warner a domestic terrorist. This is not because of racial concerns, political favoritism, or incompetence. It seems to be a matter of law. As aforementioned, in order for the explosion to be considered “domestic terrorism” under the law (which is the one we ought to care about), the FBI will need to establish a set of criteria. One such criterion is that Warner held a certain set of beliefs and that his intent was to “influence the policy of a government by intimidation” or “affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction.” Nevertheless, evidence of that just doesn’t exist yet.
And if we really want to know whether Warner was mentally ill or a domestic political terrorist, we need to wait until enough evidence comes in to confidently support a conclusion.