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Don't Call Them Terrorists

Oregon's Other Politically Motivated Bomb Plot



WHILE THE 19-YEAR-OLD accused of plotting to bomb Pioneer Courthouse Square waits for his trial to begin, a second, much lower-profile politically motivated bombing case heard its closing arguments in an Oregon court this week. The case of father and son Bruce and Joshua Turnidge bears several similarities with Mohamed Osman Mohamud's... except that no one is using the word "terrorism."

Bruce and Joshua Turnidge are facing aggravated murder charges for allegedly building a bomb and planting it at a bank in Woodburn, Oregon, in 2008, just after President Barack Obama's election.

Unlike in Mohamud's case, the Turnidges are accused of actually building and detonating a real bomb and taking real lives: The blast killed two police officers, took the leg of another, and injured a bank employee. Like Mohamud's case, the prosecutors are focusing on the Turnidges' politics as a motivating factor behind the bombing, noting in the trial that Bruce Turnidge's house was filled with weapons and that when FBI agents stopped by his house post-bombing, Turnidge called Obama a racial slur and said that "every ballot should come with a bullet."

Family friends testified as state witnesses that Joshua expressed hatred of police and that Bruce had tried to organize an anti-government militia and also cheered that the Oklahoma City bombings would "teach the government a lesson."

The parallel hits home: Terrorism isn't just a Muslim issue. A study by the Southern Poverty Law Center this year found that America's fastest-growing extremist groups were not Muslim, but right-wing, anti-government "patriot" groups. Instead of being charged with a federal terrorism-related crime (like Mohamud's "intent to detonate a weapon of mass destruction") or having a terrorism enhancement added to their charges (as happened to numerous Earth and Animal Liberation Front "eco-terrorists" convicted in Eugene in 2006), the Turnidges are instead being charged with the state crime of aggravated murder. It's a serious crime (they could face the death penalty), but the word "terrorism" has never come into play.

The attorneys involved in the Turnidge case are under a gag order, so they cannot comment on why the case is being tried as murder, not terrorism.  

But John Parry, Lewis & Clark law professor and author of Understanding Torture, explains via email that the differing approaches to the two similar cases may boil down to jurisdiction: Though bombing a bank could arguably be tried as a federal crime, state prosecutors may have wanted to try the case since local police were killed. Still, "could there be other reasons for the difference in treatment?" writes Parry. "Sure. It could be race, it could be a sense that home-grown right-wing terrorism is not as serious or at least not part of a wider conspiracy."

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