Within hours of 9/11 an idea took hold in some corners of the internet that has grown in power and prominence ever since. I don't know exactly where this idea originated, but the first time I encountered it was the day after 9/11 in a Usenet post very similar to this .pdf:
Dark Acolyte: Were our founding fathers terrorists?
Apparently in July of 2001, only a few months before 9/11, this video was recorded during a FEMA training session of some kind:
In March of 2003, Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur compared the Founding Fathers of the United States to Osama Bin-Laden and labeled them "atypical revolutionaries".
Toledo Blade: Kaptur's remarks providing fodder for verbal volleys
In 2005, NBC Nightly News Anchor Brian Williams compared the Founding Fathers to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Yesterday someone on Facebook posted a Tea Party blog post which contained the video from 2001. In response, I attempted to explain the difference between terrorists and revolutionaries, but Facebook refused to accept my comment. I tried to leave my explanation as a status update, but Facebook refused to accept that as well. I'm not sure if I got caught in one of those weird cache errors that plagues Facebook from time to time or if there is some kind of filter that blocked my posts. In the end, it does not matter, because that failure led in turn to today's blog post (my 475th, by the way).
Scholars, politicians, journalists, and lawyers like to quibble over definitions. They seem to believe that somehow the label changes the reality, therefore, to these people the label is always more important than the reality itself. It's a kind of sympathetic magic, I suppose. Reality, of course, does not care about labels. Reality is what it is and it is up to each of us individually to define our place within the chaos. These are my definitions:
Terrorists use murder and mayhem to create fear. Their targets are civilians and civil authority.
Freedom fighters use small-scale military tactics to disrupt the activities of an armed force they regard as either tyrannical or allied with a tyrant.
These are two completely different strategic goals, with two completely different sets of strategic targets. Sometimes a band of freedom fighters might engage in an act of terror, and sometimes a band of terrorists might engage a military target, but the key to discerning the difference between them is their overall strategy. Al Qaeda, for example, began as freedom fighters. Their targets were the Soviet military and their strategy was to disrupt Soviet military operations enough to make the occupation of Afghanistan unsustainable. However, in 1991 the Saudi Arabian royal family allowed the United States military to use their country as a staging ground in the liberation of Kuwait. This angered Osama Bin-Laden and his followers so greatly that they began to target Americans. As a result, during the period from 1995 to 2000 Al Qaeda morphed from a regional band of religious freedom fighters into an international terrorist organization. Their first targets were American political and military interests in the Middle East or Africa. The most successful of these attacks was the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole in October 2000. Their last major success was the attack on London in 2005, but even then, the conspirators involved were inspired by Al Qaeda rather than employed by Al Qaeda.
America's Founding Fathers, on the other hand, did not engage in murder of innocent civilians nor did they routinely assassinate civil authority as Dark Acolyte suggests in his list of atrocities. They began by opposing the Stamp Tax through a variety of prankish stunts such as tar and feathering British Stamp assessors or dumping cargo into Boston harbor. While these actions did create fear among a few minor segments of early colonial society, the creation of fear was neither the strategy nor the goal. They were more comparable to modern day college pranksters than modern day terrorists. Even the Occupy Wall Street movement has gone far beyond the early "terrorist" actions of the Founding Fathers.
All of that changed when Governor General Gage set out to confiscate the weapons and ammunition of the local militias. That was when the Sons of Liberty took up arms and violence. That was the beginning of the American Revolution. Being genuine freedom fighters and not terrorists, the American Revolutionaries fought direct military engagements, interrupted supply lines, ambushed prison camps, and came to the rescue of communities being terrorized by British troops. If there were any terrorists during the American Revolution it would be the British Army with their tendency to lock entire villages inside the local church and then set it aflame.
America's Founding Fathers were never terrorists, not even in the loosest, most general definition of the word. They began as pranksters, then transformed into freedom fighters. That is the record in both England and America. Those are the facts of history.
Timothy McVeigh was not a freedom fighter. He thought he was, and the reason he believed his actions comparable to the actions of the Sons of Liberty was because his school teachers never taught him the difference between revolution and terrorism. After he became an adult, his Army trainers never explained to him the difference between revolution and terrorism. The American media he relied on for daily news and current affairs never distinguished between the two either. Progressive individuals in key positions throughout our society have managed to confuse the issue so thoroughly that in modern America all acts of violence are seen as equally reprehensible. No distinction is made between self-defense and murder. Victims and aggressors are routinely swapped back and forth in the popular imagination until it is impossible for most people to figure out the difference between right and wrong in the simplest daily decisions.
We as a nation stand on the brink of civil war. Our nation has not been this clearly divided between two sides since the 1860 presidential election. It is entirely possible that violence will break out this year or next. If it does, the divisions will grow even sharper until we each are forced to choose a side. The side to oppose will be anyone who routinely kills civilians, who assassinates public figures, who funds their activity through bank robbery or drug sales, and who believes attacking a police station or a federal court is an act of revolution. Anyone who engages in those kind of actions is a terrorist. It does not matter what they say, how often they quote the Constitution or the Founding Fathers. If their targets are civilians or civil authority then they are terrorists and deserve to be treated as such.
Revolutions are not won by killing law enforcement and city councilors. Revolutions are won by defeating the armies of tyrants. If you work in law enforcement or the military and your superiors command you to attack peaceful civilians, then your commanders have become the terrorists and you need to defend the people either through disobedience or revolt. If the people are burning buildings and looting stores, then they are engaging in acts of terrorism and they need to be arrested and charged. If armed mobs are attacking a police station then they need to be shot and the survivors arrested. If someone assassinates local politicians or judges, then they are a terrorist and need to be treated as one.
The goal of revolution is to cripple the ability of a tyrant to impose tyranny. Assassination of his allies might slow the tyrant, but it will not stop him. The tyrant's powerbase must be struck, his logistics thrown into disarray, his command/control lines severed. Bombing abortion clinics is not revolution. Bombing trains carrying military supplies, hijacking convoys carrying food to military camps, and raiding military ammo or weapon storage facilities are the acts of revolutionaries. If our nation devolves into violence it will be important to recognize the difference between the terrorists and the freedom fighters, because in the end, the terrorist strategy will fail. The only path to victory is a genuine strategy aimed at dismantling a tyrant's powerbase. Terrorists are too busy feeding their own sadistic pleasure to ever achieve a strategically important victory.
9/11 was not a victory. It was a successful act of terror. 7/7 was not a victory. It too was nothing more than a successful act of terror. The Occupy Wall Street movement is not a victory. It is nothing more than a failed act of terror.
Freedom is never won by terrorism. Freedom is won by revolution. Freedom is also sometimes preserved by civil disobedience, or in extreme cases, civil war.