Bill Schuette Labels Random Serial Shooting Terrorism

For a period last fall, someone–allegedly 43-year old stay at home dad named Raulie Casteel–repeatedly shot at motorists driving along one of MI’s main east-west freeways. Altogether, there were 24 shooting incidents, with one man injured in his buttocks.

Late last year, MI Attorney General Bill Schuette took over prosecution of the case, reportedly at the request of the county prosecutors. Shortly thereafter, Schuette added terrorism to the existing charges against Casteel.

“These were acts of domestic terrorism against Michigan citizens and we are prosecuting them as such,” Schuette said in a statement.

[snip]

Casteel is suspected in 24 shootings that occurred on or around the I-96 corridor in October. He was already charged with 60 counts related to shootings in Oakland County.

Schuette added those charges at a time when prosecutors weren’t offering any claims of what Casteel’s motive was.

Here’s how the MI law defines terrorism:

Senate Bill 930 would createthe “Michigan Anti-Terrorism Act” as Chapter 83-A of the Michigan Penal Code (MCL 750.543a et. al.). The bill would prescribe criminal penalties for various violations involving an “act of terrorism”.

An “act of terrorism” would mean a wilful and deliberate act that is all of the following:

  • an act that would be a “violent felony” under Michigan law, whether or not committed in Michigan (“violent felony” would mean a felony in which an element was the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against a person, or the use, attempted use, or threatened use of a harmful biological substance or device, a harmful chemical substance or device, a harmful radioactive substance or device, an explosive device, or an incendiary device);
  • an act that the person knew or had reason to know was dangerous to human life (“dangerous to human life” would mean that which caused a substantial likelihood of death or serious injury or that was a violation of Section 349 or 350 of the penal code); and,
  • an act that was intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population or influence or affect the conduct of a government or a unit of government through intimidation or coercion. [my emphasis]

That is, the state law–like federal terrorism law–requires an intent to intimidate and/or influence either civilians or the government. It requires a specific kind of intent.

Now, I don’t want to downplay how much having a random shooter targeting random drivers frightened–“intimidated”–people (the flat I lived in at the time was very clearly in view of a spur of this freeway, putting my office in within range of random shots from the freeway, though the shootings were east of here).

But calling this kind of randomized violence terrorism–divorced as it is, thus far, of any ideological side–stinks of political demagoguery. Schuette has tons of other charges to prosecute Casteel on. The assault with intent to murder charge–which perfectly describes his alleged crime–also carries a potential life sentence.

Moreover, treating this as terrorism risks lowering the bar for terrorism charges in the future, such that any very scary crime can be labeled terrorism so as to pathologize the alleged criminal.

Now, maybe Casteel has spent the months he’s been in jail ranting about government conspiracies; some reports say he is a grand conspiracist. Maybe there is a basis to call him a terrorist. But thus far, this seems like an effort on Schuette’s part to increase the media coverage of the prosecution he’s leading.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

9 replies
  1. Peterr says:

    I can hear the exchange in the courtroom now . . .

    Judge: What’s with the terrorism charge? Where’s the intimidation? What was he trying to accomplish?

    AG: Your honor, we believe the defendant was trying to scare people into staying off the freeway, so as to reduce congestion. We have testimony from various witnesses that he frequently complained about heavy traffic.

    Judge: You’re kidding, right?

    AG: Not at all. We also will present testimony that he regularly complained about noisy trucks.

    Judge (rolls eyes): I suppose he also lamented the air pollution and climate change, too?

    AG: We looked into that, your honor, and while we think that probably is true, we could not find witnesses to confirm it.

    Judge: (facepalm)

  2. P J Evans says:

    It may also have something to do with his ethnic background, because [sarc] white people can’t be terrorists [/sarc].

  3. greengiant says:

    The FBI said the the occupy movement was terrorist, pretty soon it will be bloggers also if not already.

  4. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Ranting and raving in jail may be because of the Arizona-like conditions in his Michigan jail and may have nothing to do with his intent at the time he allegedly committed the crimes for which he’s in jail.

    As you say, using purportedly anti-terrorism laws against routine violent crime is more than mission creep. It is creeps in the prosecutorial system attempting to misuse the law for personal gain, however the abusers may define it.

  5. Bitter Angry Drunk says:

    Schuette could certainly be grandstanding, and I get EW’s concern about lowering the bar on terrorism charges, but firing shots at passing motorists — mostly, I presume, poor saps who have to get to work and have only that freeway to get them there — seems like an act of intimidation to me. The shooter was playing an arcade game with those commuters.

  6. Greg Bean (@GregLBean) says:

    Seems my comment with links to the Morales case of Gang Shooting Kills Bystander has been deleted as spam. :-(

    However, the crux of comment was that the Appeals Court overturned convictions of terrorism becuase this charge eliminates any opportunity for due process, and therefore is prejudicial and unfair when applied to dubious ‘terrorism’ cases.

    Has Schuette set himself up to lose this case by over-charging?

  7. earlofhuntingdon says:

    The defendant allegedly engaged in acts for which traditional categories of the criminal law are more than adequate. Resort to a terrorism charge is aimed at guaranteeing a prosecutorial victory, along with enhanced political posturing, while facing a lower hurdle with the judge and jury. It is an abuse of the prosecutor’s office, not least because it normalizes the use of terrorism charges for routine violations of criminal law.

  8. Quanto says:

    “an act that was intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population”

    Isn’t this what Glen Beck, Rush Limbaugh , Sean Hannity, Fox News is all about, I won’t hold my breath waiting for the indictments though.

    I would like to know which 7th grade class they get to write these laws.

    As for the shooter, luckily he was a piss poor shot.

  9. KWillow says:

    The Fed Gov would like to be able to call anyone they want a “Terrorist”, such as the “Occupy” people, strikers, demonstrators against the Fed Gov, and so on. But for some reason they don’t call the NRA a terrorist org, which it is.

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