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What Is The Difference Between A Hate Crime And An Act Of Terrorism?

Laura Ziegler

In the wake of shootings that took the lives of three people April 13 at Jewish facilities in Johnson County, Kan., we have been wondering about what constitutes a hate crime and how that differs from acts of terrorism.

On the KCUR program Central Standard,  host Gina Kaufmann explored the differences with professors Jessica Hodge and Steve Dilks from the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Hodge teaches criminal justice and says hate crimes were labeled in recent history, with the first statutes originating in the 1980s and '90s. Hate crime legislation, she says, came in response to events that were already happening, but were labeled by the media to expand on civil rights violations.

Dilks says that while there are a lot of similarities between hate crimes and acts of terrorism, the distinction comes in that acts of terror are planned attacks that are done to draw attention to some cause, rather than to inflict harm or suffering on a particular identity group.

Here are the main differences between a hate crime and an act of terrorism, according to Hodge and Dilks:

Hate crime:

  • additional charge that adds severity of punishment
  • used to send a message to perpetrators, victims and other community members who share the identity
  • often spontaneous and fueled by drugs/alcohol


  • orchestrated and often part of a series of events
  • often associated with formal organization or group
  • may mobilize an entire response force (FBI, U.S. Army)

In terms of the recent killings that happened at the Jewish Community Center and Village Shalom in Johnson County, Hodges says if a hate crime designation is handed down from the feds, it likely will not enhance the punishment, but rather be used to send a message to the families of the victims and the larger community.

A California native, Briana comes to KCUR by way of KMUW in Wichita, Kan. and KUSP in Santa Cruz, Calif.
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