In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Terrorism and Hate Crime

  • Introduction
  • Defining Terrorism and Hate Crime
  • General Overviews on Terrorism and Hate Crime
  • Terrorism Data Sources
  • Interview Data on Terrorism
  • Hate Crime Data Sources
  • Terrorism and Hate Crime Incidents
  • Terrorism and Hate Crime Offenders
  • Victims of Terrorism and Hate Crime
  • The Hate Crime–Terrorism Relationship
  • The Future of Terrorism and Hate Crime Research

Criminology Terrorism and Hate Crime
Colleen E. Mills, Joshua Freilich, Steven Chermak
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 April 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 April 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396607-0217


This article focuses on political crimes, specifically terrorism and hate crime. Both terrorism and hate crime are criminal activities that are often committed to further a political objective, as opposed to typical or regular crimes that are usually committed for personal reasons such as greed, revenge, or other personal motivations. Political motivations encompass ideological, social, and religious objectives. Several works (e.g., Bruce Hoffman’s Inside Terrorism; see Hoffman 2006, cited under Defining Terrorism and Hate Crime) examine the evolution of terrorism from ancient to modern times. While bias-motivated violence and hate crimes are just as old as terrorism, the United States did not formally adopt hate crime legislation, through the passage of a variety of substantive penalty enhancement and data collection laws, until the late 20th century. Making Hate a Crime (Jenness and Grattet 2004, cited under Defining Terrorism and Hate Crime) explores the history of hate crime legislation, highlighting how various civil rights and victims’ rights movements played a role in the passage of hate crime legislation. In the classic text Hate Crimes Revisited, Jack Levin and Jack McDevitt outline the history of hate crimes, explain why some persons are motivated to commit these crimes, and discuss efforts to combat them (Levin and McDevitt 2002, cited under Defining Terrorism and Hate Crime).

Defining Terrorism and Hate Crime

Hoffman 2006 traces the evolution of terrorism definitions from the French revolutionary-era Reign of Terror, to freedom fighter movements, to the various modern definitions developed by American government agencies. This classic text provides an overview of the different government definitions of terrorism, which often include elements of violence against people and property, in service of social, political, and religious objectives as well as intimidation and coercion. Freilich, et al. 2014 (cited under Terrorism Data Sources) and Smith 1994 (cited under General Overviews on Terrorism and Hate Crime) also investigate extremist activity beyond terrorism, such as nonviolent crimes (e.g., financial offenses) committed by extremists and terrorist organizations. Schmid and Jongman 2005 surveys terrorism scholars about the definition of terrorism, identifying over one hundred definitions that all were composed of various combinations of twenty-two distinct elements, with the most frequent being violence, political, fear/terror, and threats. Scholars have extended Alex Schmid and Albert Jongman’s research by investigating which terrorism definitions have been used in peer-reviewed journal articles, and which ones state-police agencies rely on. Weinberg, et al. 2004 examination of the major terrorism journals, finds that their terrorism definitions did not include a psychological element. The authors develop a consensus definition: “terrorism is a politically motivated tactic involving the threat or use of force or violence in which the pursuit of publicity plays a significant role” (p. 786). Freilich, et al. 2009, a survey of the fifty American state police agencies, uncovers, perhaps not surprisingly, that most endorsed the FBI’s definition (which is charged with investigating terrorism inside the United States), as opposed to the State Department’s or scholarly definitions. There is much less debate about how to define hate crimes. The most recent amendment to the US federal hate crimes act, the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act, labels hate crimes as those crimes motivated by “prejudice based on race, gender and gender identity, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or ethnicity” (US Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation 2011). One area that remains contested is that jurisdictions disagree about which specific groups should be protected by hate crime statutes. Jenness and Grattet 2004 detail the debates over inclusion of protected groups such as sexual orientation and gender. Hamm 1993 (cited under Interview Data on Terrorism) compares the language of terrorism and hate crime definitions and finds them to be similar, given their shared characteristics related to violence, political objectives, and communicative nature.

  • Freilich, J. D., S. M. Chermak, and J. Simone Jr. 2009. Surveying American state police agencies about terrorism threats, terrorism sources, and terrorism definitions. Terrorism and Political Violence 21.3: 450–475.

    DOI: 10.1080/09546550902950324

    Surveys the fifty American state police agencies about their attitudes toward eight distinct scholarly and governmental definitions of terrorism, their perceptions of current and future terrorist threats, and their thoughts about the usefulness of a variety of terrorism information sources in aiding law enforcement efforts.

  • Hoffman, B. 2006. Inside terrorism. Rev. ed. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

    An important overview of the history of terrorism, evolving definitions of terrorism, and terrorism trends globally. Examines terrorism in the context of religion, media, and early-21st-century operations by terrorist organizations and discusses issues that future research should address.

  • Jenness, V., and R. Grattet. 2004. Making hate a crime: From social movement to law enforcement. Rose Series in Sociology. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

    Survey of the history of US hate crime legislation and its enforcement. Explains the enactment and expansion of hate crime legislation and judicial decisions, affirming for the most part the constitutionality of such legislation. Scrutinizes the varied responses by law enforcement, including police and prosecutors.

  • Law, R. D. 2009. Terrorism: A history. Malden, MA: Polity.

    Extensive historical overview that traces the evolution of terrorism across time and space.

  • Levin, J., and J. McDevitt. 2002. Hate crimes revisited: America’s war on those who are different. Boulder, CO: Westview.

    Highly influential work on hate crime that sets forth the most widely used typology of hate crime offenders. This text was first published when hate crime laws were initially being passed in the 1990s. It explores the prevalence of hate crime in America and outlines the presence of hate in American culture and media. The book also discusses law enforcement responses to hate crimes.

  • Schmid, A. P., and A. J. Jongman. 2005. Political terrorism: A new guide to actors, authors, concepts, data bases, theories, and literature. 2d ed. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction.

    Schmid and Jongman’s classic book presents the results of their survey of terrorism scholars about how they define terrorism; this survey identifies 109 different definitions. These definitions differ over whether they included or excluded twenty-two definitional elements.

  • US Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation. 2011. Hate Crime Statistics Act. Hate Crime Statistics, 2010.

    Shows the amended Hate Crimes Statistics Act, stipulating data collection on hate crimes against persons and property on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, disability, sexual orientation, gender, and gender identity, as well as crimes included under the act.

  • Weinberg, L., A. Pedahzur, and S. Hirsch-Hoefler. 2004. The challenges of conceptualizing terrorism. Terrorism and Political Violence 16.4: 777–794.

    DOI: 10.1080/095465590899768

    The authors extend Schmid and Jongman’s work by examining all articles published in the three leading terrorism journals from 1971 to 2001. They identify fifty-five articles that discuss terrorism definitions and included seventy-three distinct terrorism definitions. The authors conclude that the various terrorism definitions also differed over whether or not they required each of the twenty-two “definitional elements” identified by Schmid and Jongman.

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