Marcus Cocova is a journalism senior and Mustang News Co-Digital Manager. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of Mustang News.
As a journalist, I can tell you firsthand: the lessons you receive first in the profession are about ethics — especially if you are conventionally trained by a post-secondary institution. I have heard from every professor and/or editor some question or challenge to the content I am publishing. Any journalist with even a scrap of validity has faced questioning about the ethics of their stories and will continue to because that is the business. One facet of these ethics are questions of bias. A journalist’s foremost duty is to bring their audience the closest thing to truth that a human being can provide — that’s our station in society.
When I say that the perpetrators of the invasion of the United States Capitol building on Jan. 6, 2021 were terrorists, I am not mixing words or saying so lightly, and I am certainly not parading some unchecked bias that shades me under the unfounded umbrella of being a fake news corroborator.
This hesitation at large, I believe, is a symptom of the times. We are about to exit a period defined by consistent sowings of mistrust of the media from the president himself. Donald Trump has convinced large masses of the American public to surrender their trust in what he often calls “fake news media.” The only criteria I have seen to make one fit this bill are thorough and factual reports that Trump finds unfavorable.
Surely, those media organizations facing baseless dissent would double their efforts to keep their well earned public perceptions of integrity. This shows itself in the form of fear and hesitation to call these recent aims of Capitol terror what they are.
Even the Mustang News staff has had conversations about what would leave our audience perceiving us as most savory. Specifically, one staff member said they felt terrorism/terrorist were “too strong for our audience.” Mustang News decided to use the word rioters rather than terrorists, following AP Style recommendations. While these conversations are necessary, and I encourage them in newsrooms everywhere, I am personally dissatisfied with the results.
For reference, terrorism is defined by Oxford Language as “the unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims.” The Federal Bureau of Investigation holds a synonymous definition for the meaning of domestic terrorism being “violent, criminal acts committed by individuals and/or groups to further ideological goals stemming from domestic influences, such as those of a political, religious, social, racial, or environmental nature,” while Cornell Law defines it as involving “acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State which appear to be intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion.”
Firearms, explosives, zip-tie restraints, and chemical deterrents were all seen and/or found to be a part of the scene during the siege. This paraphernalia of siege (some inherently illegal) was coupled with the events that unfolded. Ultimately, the day ended with upwards of 50 arrests and five dead; one of those deaths was Capitol Police Officer Brian D. Sicknick, who died after being injured on duty by the mob. This was all in an attempt to overturn the 2020 United States presidential election results.
In short, the actions taken by the invading pro-Trump mob were not only to the dictionary definition but the definition of our legal system and its prosecutors: terrorism, which would make the offenders terrorists.
It would be wrong to blanket this term over every person who was in attendance at the Capitol. While many did force entry, vandalize, steal, and attempt to intimidate and sway the decisions of our democracy through threats of violence, many also refrained and remained outside of the Capitol. These are, obviously, the exemptions and I would argue that they are not defined as terrorists. It should be a fundamental American right to gather and express grievance; we call this protest and it is protected by our legal system for good reason. Those who remained outside of the Capitol remain to be protestors and/or rioters, but those who invaded the Capitol are terrorists. I am left to question most apprehensions with the use of the words terrorism and terrorists.
Being a journalist is taking an oath to uphold truth and report events, as best language can, as they have happened; not adapting to meet the civilities of those who might be offended by our accuracies.
The truth is that this, and any attempt at overwhelming democracy and those who carry it out by threats of violence and/or intimidation is and will remain to be terrorism. No matter what the political alignment, race, religion, group affiliation, or any other background trait of the offenders, actions like this will forever be constitutes of terrorism.
Some skeptics have argued that the use of the word terrorism will elicit a government response similar to that taken after the terror attack of Sept. 11, 2001, of fewer privacy rights. To those skeptics I refute:
1. That is neither what I am advocating for, nor do I believe it is an appropriate response. If the government were to entitle itself to a heavier hand in the dealings of the nation’s privacy and the majority was in opposition, it is then upon the people to voice a reminder to our elected officials where they derive their power: from the people.
If words do not satisfy the decree of the governed I would argue that, as Mario Savio put it, “there is a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, it makes you so sick at heart you can’t take part, you can’t even passively take part. And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop. And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it — that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all.” It is at this junction which perhaps more extreme action may be a viable answer. Such rebellions are the actions our sovereignty is built upon.
One might suggest that the pro-Trump mob truly believed the cause they were acting for was just; that their reasons for conviction are level with those I have previously outlined (in my hypothetical) which would check the boxes for extremity. Compare, however, the unsupported theories that the pro-Trump terrorists claim was the foundation for their actions against the evidence that Edward Snowden brought forth and you’ll see that these are irrefutably not the same caliber.
2. Look around you. It is a brave new world, after all. If you’re afraid of being surveilled and this is your platform for not calling these efforts terrorism, you misunderstand the times you live in. We, whether preferred or not, are watched in ways we likely are yet to even see evidence for. I will again cite Snowden.
Regarding those who have participated and support this behavior: You should be ashamed of yourselves. You have failed democracy, you have failed your country, you have failed your common man.