Although the Secretary of State has designated almost 70 foreign terrorist organizations, the federal government does not officially designate domestic terrorist organizations or individuals. The U.S. legal code does define domestic terrorism: Acts meant to intimidate a civilian population, or influence government policy through coercion. It does not, however, identify penalties associated with it. As a result, individuals responsible for attacks that federal law enforcement would consider domestic terrorism often are not charged as terrorists.
Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh was convicted of murder, and the Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof was convicted of federal hate crimes, despite the fact that both men’s actions clearly met the U.S. definition of terrorism. The Unabomber Ted Kaczynski — one of the most famous American terrorists, who earned his sobriquet sending bombs through the mail— pleaded guilty to illegally transporting, mailing, and using bombs, and three counts of murder, but not to terrorism. And now the suspect responsible for the recent spate of mail bombs is unlikely to be charged with terrorism. But if he’d waved an ISIS flag instead of a MAGA hat, the story would be quite different.