Spitting Bullets: Anger's Long-Ignored Role in Reactions to Terror: An Examination of College Students' Fear and Anger Responses to Terrorism
One of the terrorism's primary goals is to promote a social and political agenda by inducing fear and terror in a specific population. (1) The terrorist attacks on September 11, 2011 (9/11) are the most well-known terrorist attacks in American history, which took the lives of over 3000 people and caused inconceivable property while the world watched on television. The 9/11 attacks spurred a shift in government and public policy, changed public opinion towards the government, and led to a marked economic decline in the United States. (2)
In the years since 9/11, interest in terrorism has continued to be a critical area of scholarship, and a topic of utmost government concern. (3) Researchers such as Larry Gaines and Victor Kappeler argue that one of the most significant costs of 9/11 was the the American public's increased fear of terrorism, a view reflected in public opinion surveys. (4) A recent Gallup poll, Terrorism in the United States, found the fear of terrorism, which peaked post 9/11 and then gradually receded, has in the last few years once again begun to spike. (5) Furthermore, relative to fear of common street crimes (a much more likely occurrence), (6) fear of terrorism is significantly higher in the general public. (7)
Terrorism and fear are inextricably linked in most people's minds. As previously stated, terrorists' goals, are to instill fear in a mass population. This serves as the definition of terrorism to some. (8) While the beheadings and mass executions of ISIS broadcast for the world to see are certainly meant to instill fear, they are also meant to provoke Western governments into angry responses, such as clamping down on local Muslim populations or bombing distant Muslim lands. Indeed, Osama bin-Laden's plan with the 9/11 attacks was to lead America into a series of "bleeding wars" that would weaken the superpower. (9) Even the etymology of the term "terrorism" evokes fear due to the word being rooted in the term "terror." (10)
This paper argues that many of the negative aspects of responses to terrorism come from the anger that terrorism invokes in victim populations. Anger elicits the desire for revenge in the victim population as well as distrust of the terrorists' co-ethnics. Angry responses tend to be quick and harsh; anger is rarely described as a particular or deliberate emotion. As shown time and again in both academic and mainstream works, emotional waves overtake mass publics after medium-to-large-scale terror attacks. These emotional waves can be manipulated by government leaders to justify military actions and reductions in civil liberties. (11)
While fear has been repeatedly pointed to as a central component in reactions to terror attacks (a questioner asked the historian Eric Foner at a post-9/11 lecture if Foner believed that "fear conquers freedom"), anger has mainly been ignored. (12) The criminal justice literature clearly shows that anger--embodied by a desire for retribution--at the accused leads to harsh penalties. (13) The terrorism literature mostly skips over anger's role in terrorists' goals and targeted governments responses. This demonstrates the need to understand further how the public responds to these attacks, which in turn calls on governments to take action.
Ideologically, democratic governments seek to reflect and represent the fears, wishes, and desires of their populaces. This study seeks to capture the responses of regular Americans to explore if the role of anger in responses to terror attacks, with the goal of answering two related questions: 1) Is anger an essential emotion in public reactions to terror attacks? and 2) What are the ramifications of including anger in a model of public reactions to terrorism? To answer these questions this study reviews the current work on anger's connection to terrorism and conducts a student survey, with the hopes of a national survey in the future, to see if anger is indeed a worthy area of study in the field of terrorism studies. This paper demonstrates that terrorists want us angry because those that are angry are prone to overreaction, which can make the terrorists look like the real victims. As such, anger should be a central component of our understanding of responses to terrorism.
This article studies a sample of college students--an important demographic to examine--as college communities view the fear of terrorism and perceived risk of victimization as critical concerns for students, staff, and faculty. (14) Furthermore, while students are not current practitioners or policymakers, they will be in the future. Understanding how a fear of terrorism shapes the emotional response of this population may provide valuable insights into how they will react in the future when they are policymakers and practitioners. The pages that follow present a review of the subject in recent scholarly works and examine empirical evidence and prior public opinion studies, all of which will be followed by the presentation of the survey, results, and policy implications.
Historically, the United States was geographically isolated from significant acts of terrorism. As such, many young Americans have little exposure to terrorism and political violence. (15) Unlike in some other nations that have endured a lengthy history of terrorist attacks and violence, fear of terrorism is a relatively new experience for many American citizens. (16) It was not until the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center and the 1996 bombings of the Alfred P. Murrah building in Oklahoma City and Olympic Park in Atlanta that terrorism hit home for many Americans. (17) Since the 9/11 attacks, scholars have primarily focused their attention on the social and psychological impact of these attacks on Americans, such as stress and anxiety post-9/11, (18) the role of proximity of residents to a terrorist attack, and higher levels of psychological distress. (19) Before 9/11, research in the area of the impact of terrorist attacks on the public focused mostly on posttraumatic stress disorders in those present at attacks. (20)
In the time since 9/11, ample scholarship has focused on the role of sociodemographic variables, such as age, gender, and race in response to terrorism. For example, in their 2006 study, Joseph Boscarino, Sandro Galea, and Edna Foa utilized Terrorism Management Theory (TMT) to examine preparedness for terrorist attacks. TMT is rooted in the notion that people are motivated to survive, but are also aware of their inevitable mortality--leading to anxiety--while strong attachment to a cultural worldview acts to protect against this anxiety. The authors examined more than 1,600 people who were living in New York City on the day of the 9/11 attacks to gauge their level of concern and preparedness for fear of another terrorist attack. Boscarino et al.'s findings found being African American, Hispanic, female, or having a lower level of education related to higher level of fears of terrorism, with African American and Korean Americans reporting higher levels of concern about terrorism. (21) These findings suggest demographic characteristics influence concern and fear about terrorism. These factors could be integrated into TMT to target specific groups in regards to preparedness for terrorist attacks. Other studies support these findings, such as a 2009 study by David Eisenman et al., which looked at the influence of being a vulnerable group and perception of personal risk of terrorism. (22) This study found race influenced responses to the threat of terrorism, supporting the notion of the importance of sociodemographic factors to understanding responses to terrorism. Christopher Salvatore and Brian Gorman focused on gender and fear of terrorism in their 2006 study. Results of said study found that gender-based fear of terrorism closely mirrors the higher levels of fear females express in regards to other types of crime. This finding may be of particular note, as women could be targeted for prevention and preparedness strategies for terrorist attacks, as well and treatment programs are targeting those dealing with high levels of stress, fear, and anxiety due to the potential for or as a result of, terrorist attacks. (23) In a more recent study, Christopher
Salvatore and Gabriel Rubin used data from the General Social Survey (GSS) collected post 9/11 to examine individual-level protective actions to a future terrorist attack and the perceived effectiveness of these actions. Their study found several factors--including race and gender--influence responses to and perceived effectiveness of those responses. (24) The literature supports the importance of examining sociodemographic factors like race and gender in order to have a solid grasp on how a population responds to terrorism. To fully understand the role of specific emotional responses--in this case, anger and fear--they must first be defined.
Definitions and Ramifications of Anger and Fear
As George Marcus stated, "Understanding emotion has for a very long time been central to the ongoing attempt to understand human nature." (25) While it may sound simple, the concept of emotion is hard to pin down. Though fear is a common term whose definition seems obvious, it seems that authors that have studied responses to terror have grouped too broad an emotional range under the label "fear." To this end, it is important to define fear (26) and anger. Scholars that study emotions differentiate them by five characteristics: arousal, expression, feeling, cognitive antecedent, and action tendency. (27) For this paper, the latter two characteristics are most important.
In defining anger, Roger Petersen and Sarah Zukerman argue that a critical cognitive component of anger is the notion that an individual or group perpetrated a blameworthy...