Well besides the fact that I just tried pretty hard to outline how different these things are based on intent.
Let me ask you this. Is there a material difference between me breaking your toe by accidentally stepping on your foot. And breaking your toe by stomping on your foot in anger?
Because the effect there is pretty much the same. And the difference there is just intent. Even in so far as there is a subtle difference in the effect on you based on your reaction. That’s also determined by the intent.
Is there a difference if your toe is broken by a falling rock?
Lots of things create fear, and lots of things create mass fear. Not all of them have direct actors. Not all of them are even real. And there are a great many ways to deliberately cause mass fear that are not terrorism. Are the Turner Diaries terrorism? Is the Willie Horton Commercial?
Intent is a pretty fundamental concept in the law, in moral philosophy, ethics and in the value judgements we make every day. We make different judgements on and have different laws an punishments for deliberate deaths and accidental deaths. And even pre-planned deliberate deaths and opportunistic ones. Negligent deaths vs happenstance.
So intent is absolutely fundamental to these concerns from the start. But aside from the very big differences in format that come out of the different intents, which I’ve already gone over. There are practical things that come out of considering intent.
You learn certain things by examining the details, and often with a specific eye towards intent. If you look at your classic, non-terror spree shooters. The ones that are isolated from ideologies or movements, where there isn’t even a specific goal beyond very limited personal one (often the death of the shooter). And where they may not even be meant to cause fear.
Choices of target, info about the shooter’s associates, his movements, tactics, choice of weapons, and so forth. Don’t really tell you much if anything about the likely hood of another such attack happening. Anything about where or when it might happen again. What sorts of targets might be hit. What sort of people may be victimized. How they might be conducted. Or how they’re planned. Effectively it’s really difficult to find consistent information that’s useful for preventing them. They’re highly random or idiosyncratic. You can figure out prevention or mitigation by profiling the shooter, or studying such attacks in aggregate. That’s how we’ve reduced serial killers, we got better at identifying and investigating them early in development. Allowing us to capture them before they amass body counts and fully develop an MO.
On the terrorism side all that stuff is hugely important. Targets are often specific and goal oriented. The sort of target hit is likely to be hit again. And often soon. You can identify ideologies that are prone to, or actively promote such attacks. If others are involved, other targets, or directly connected attacks. If there is an organization or specific movement directly involved. These are things you can practically figure out. And in order to prevent or mitigate such attacks you need to. On both fronts intent is critical. And it’s one of the key differences between these things.
You run into a couple of problems by ignoring or confusing the intent end of it.
You get a lot more signal in the noise. You lose the ability to distinguish which sort of attack, has which sort of pertinent information. Which makes it more difficult to figure what the risks are and what steps need to be taken. Or even which bits are important. And can give some very inaccurate ideas about what is important.
As a lot of people up thread already pointed out. Labeling a bunch of stuff as terrorism when it isn’t. Pretty effectively sows mass fear on its own. Empowering the terror that is taking place. And leading to an awful lot of civil and human rights issues. It’s not for nothing that it’s common for despots to peg people and actions that they don’t like as terrorists. And it’s not for nothing that we were and are concerned about our own governments doing the same.
The other side of it is something we see a lot of more of with these mass shootings. And that’s the mistake of assuming all of them are classic spree killings, rather than terror attacks. By doing that you miss the connections between them. Fail to identify dangerous movements with the ambition to do more. And fail to protect similar groups and places that are absolutely likely to see an attack of this kind. We’ve seen a bunch of alt right shooters already, and we’ve been seeing them for a while. Including multiple Incel shooters. And the news, and seemly law enforcement just seem to have realized that Incel exists. And don’t appear to have connected it to the alt right. The fact that the alt right flew under the radar for so long. That they slipped into mainstream politics even as they were spawning terrorists. Is a pretty big problem at the moment.