In the ensuing media frenzy, a number of people have debated Holmes's motives for such a shocking attack. Some have said he was addicted to computer games, others have claimed he is schizophrenic and/or mentally ill, some have even gone on to state that secularism, his being single and evolution being taught in schools are valid reasons that explain the event. Of course, some have alluded to his acts being synonymous with being an act of terrorism. But what is terrorism, and is it a fair appraisal of Holmes's actions?
Anyone who recalls 9/11, or the truck bomb attack by Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols on the Oklahoma Federal Building, will know a terrorist act when they see one. But it is not the quantity or quality of an attack that defines a terrorist act in law.
In the aftermath of 9/11, the FBI's Terrorist Research and Analytical Center in 1994, domestic terrorism was defined as "the unlawful use of force or violence, committed by a group(s) of two or more individuals, against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives."
Given this definition, McVeigh's expressed anger at the federal government's handling of the 1992 FBI stand-off with Randy Weaver at Ruby Ridge as well as the Waco Siege in 1993 - McVeigh visiting the Waco site during the stand-off, and then again after its conclusion - his later decision to bomb a federal building as a response to the raids in 1995 would be a terrorist act, as its remit was directed against civilians and at the Federal Government.
Likewise in New York, 2001. Nineteen people hijacked three commercial passengers jets with two of them hitting high-profile targets on U.S. soil; a clear expression of an anti-Federal Government and civilian terror attack.
9/11 prompted a hasty law called the USA PATRIOT Act, that defined terrorism in law as;
"(A) involve acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State;
(B) appear to be intended— (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and
(C) occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States."
Whist the USA PATRIOT Act was severely criticised, later reauthorisations of the act have maintained the lawful definition of the original's definition pretty much intact.
With this in mind, what can we say about the recent events in Aurora, Jared Lee Loughner's similar mass shooting in Arizona in 2011, and the Fort Hood mass shooting in 2009?
In order to establish whether or not these acts were terrorism or not, we must appeal to the motives behind them.
In each of the three cases I have introduced, the motives are unclear. Jared Lee Loughner has been diagnosed as a 'lone-wolf' schizophrenic whose competency to stand trial has yet to be established (as have his motives). Nidal Malik Hasan is yet to stand trial, and despite allegations of a religious influence in his Fort Hood attacks, he has yet to come forth with any clear understanding of why he carried out the attack. And with regard to James Holmes, the recency of the events, and his apparent unwillingness or ability to co-operate with the authorities, means we have little reason to believe that the Aurora theatre attacks were anything other than the act of a mentally unstable young man that - like Loughner - is possibly schizophrenic.
None of these people have any links to known terror groups, none have stated their actions were directed at the Federal Government and against a specifically civilian population. And none of them are being charged under the latest terror laws.
Couple this with the fact that each of them were armed with legally acquired weapons, and any warning signs that may have been flagged by one group or another were indicative of a mental disorder as opposed to an idealistic and coordinated attack on the Federal Government, it is hard to parse their actions as terrorist attacks as they are described in law.
Critics of how terrorism is defined each bring something to the table. It has even been said that terrorism doesn't exist at all in any meaningful sense, due to the subjective nature of what constitutes an attack on the State. It has been said that 'one man's terrorist, is another man's freedom fighter', and this statement is certainly not without merit. However, within the jurisdiction of the territory of the U.S. Federal Government, there exists a law that does define terrorism in such a way as we can state whether a given event is an act of terror or not, and none of the three examples I have given here meet those criteria, if for no other reason that no evidence exists that suggests anything one way or another.
I have also noted that those that have compared these events to terrorism, do so on emotive and subjective grounds (like racism or religious discrimination), but the law does not allow for emotive and subjective interpretations, so these claims are certainly without legal merit, and on emotive and subjective grounds, it matters not what colour or religion the assailants are (or their victims), but only what they intentions were.
If the Muslim Nidal Malik Hasan's intention was to kill non-arabs or non-Muslims, then his actions would have been 'hate' related and not an act of terrorism. If, however, he was sending a heretofore unannounced message to the Federal Government that his actions were a direct affront to their authority, then he can be classed as a terrorist according to the law.
Jared Lee Lougner was indiscriminate in his attack (although it certainly appears that Congressperson Gifford was a specific target because he didn't like her), and there have been no claims I am aware of that Loughner was 'sending a message' to the Federal Government in any shape or form.
So what do we know about James Eagan Holmes? Very little, in fact, especially with regard to his motives (assuming he had any at all). He is an intelligent, Christian-raised, shy and unassuming young man who may have had an obsession with comic book heroes and computer games, whose behaviour had changed and deteriorated of late culminating in his withdrawal from University and facing an uncertain future. We do not know why he chose to attack a theatre full of movie-goers beyond a vague link to his appearance on that morning made to resemble Batman's erstwhile nemesis The Joker. I have yet to hear from those that accuse him of being a terrorist, quite what sort of message he was sending to the Federal Government, and until we have such a motive, any speculation on his status as a terrorist is just that - speculation.
I have been called a racist because I don't know his motives and I am reluctant to speculate. Apparently - as my accuser alluded to - if I don't apply an emotive and subjective non-race and non-religion based appraisal of his motives before the facts are in for a white person, then I am a racist because I would automatically assume a terrorist attack if it were committed by a non-white person. Given that I think the case against the non-white Muslim Fort Hood suspect Nidal Malik Hasan has yet to be established, I find this an outrageous slur, and is by definition a racist slur in and of itself.
I couldn't care less what sex, colour, religion (or lack of it) you are, if you are holding the Federal Government to ransom by killing (or even planning to kill or terrorise) its citizens on sovereign soil, then you are a terrorist by definition in law. If you don't meet that criteria, and just want to go on a random killing spree, or because you are suffering from a mental condition, then you are respectively a dick or a tragic victim of your own circumstances. Either way, until the evidence is in to the contrary, you are not a terrorist.