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Western Michigan University
Ryerson University
Abstract. Since the attacks of September 11th, 2001, terrorism has experienced a
prominence in discourse across the U.S. The representations of terrorists and ter-
rorism by the news media and politi have contributed to the edice of terrorism as a
moral panic. This treatise examines the social eects that have or may occur due to
the social construction of a moral panic of terrorism. The thematic frame is situated
within Cohens stages of a moral panic. We oer an analysis of the medias depiction
and coverage of acts of terrorism, and legislative, political and legal responses in the
form of social and cultural changes occurring from the creation of a moral panic. In
addition, we oer an analysis of the states vested interest in the social construction of
this panic, leading to increased levels of fear, targeted at the general publics con-
sciousness. This article concludes that the presentation of terrorism and terrorists by
the media and politi have contributed to unnecessary levels of panic and fear, mis-
guided public consciousness, and the development of legislation creating negative
social ramications yet be seen.
The American public has been inundated with highly mediated images
of terrorists and terrorism since September 11, 2001. Perceived threats
and heightened security alerts abound in daily media coverage and
political speeches, leading to what may be termed a moral panic. The
edication of a moral panic among the U.S. population has exacerbated
a culture embedded in fear. While the events of September 11, 2001 were
indeed tragic, the construction of a moral panic by the media and
politicians to support their interests is a greater social tragedy.
The concept of moral panic has been used to dene social issues for
the past 30 years (See Becker 1963; Young 1971; Cohen 1972; Hall
et al., 1978; Reiman and Levine 1989; Goode and Ben-Yehuda 1994;
Burns and Crawford 1999; Muzzatti 2002, 2003 (unpublished)). Young
Critical Criminology 12: 327350, 2004.
2004 Kluwer Law International. Printed in the Netherlands.
(1971) was the rst to coin the term, moral panic in, The Drugtakers (see
Cohen 1971; Young 1971). Young examined the ideological role the
media has in constructing social meanings as well as the amplication of
deviance. He provided linkages between the media, agents of social
control and public opinion, which could ascend to a moral panic.
Cohen (1972) was the rst to present an inclusive denition of a moral
panic. The term, moral panic was used by Cohen to depict the reactions of
the media, the public, and agents of social control to relatively minor
disturbances betweenthe ModandRocker youthcultures inEngland. His
research illustrated how these reactions inuenced the enforcement and
formation of social policy, law, and societal perceptions of threat and the
young tribes. According to Cohen, a moral panic can occur, when:
A condition, episode, person or group of person emerges to become
dened as a threat to societal values or interests; its nature is
presented in a stylised and stereotypical fashion by the mass media;
the moral barricades are manned by editors, bishops, politicians or
other right-thinking people . . . Sometimes the subject of the panic is
quite novel and at other times it is something which has been in
existence long enough, but suddenly appears in the limelight.
Sometimes the panic passes over and is forgotten . . . at other times
it has more serious and long lasting repercussion and might produce
such changes as those in legal and social policy or even in the way
society conceives itself (Cohen 1972: 9).
Cohens work focused on the reactions of the media, agents of social
control and the general public to relatively minor clashes between
members of youth subcultures (the mods and the rockers) in England,
and, as the above excerpt illustrates, the ways in which these reactions
inuenced the formation and enforcement of law, social policy, and
societal conceptions of the youth culture-delinquency nexus.
While many subsequent scholars have similarly applied the concept
to youth subcultures (e.g. punks, skinheads, goths, ravers etc.) others
have gone beyond the original focus to apply it to more generalised and
adult manifestations of deviant and criminal behaviour (e.g. soccer
hooligans, motorcycle gangs, immigrants (both illegal and legal), wel-
fare mothers, Satanists, paedophiles, squeegee merchants, serial killers,
etc.). While some of the research is 30 years old, with antecedents
perhaps even a generation older, the concept of Moral Panic continued
to grow in importance in the 1990s and into the 21st century, spurring
considerable theoretical development, particularly the emergence of
critical cultural criminology.
Simply put, a moral panic is an exaggeration or distortion of some
perceived deviant behavior or criminal activity. According to Cohen
(1972: 31), this includes grossly exaggerating the seriousness of the
events according to criteria such as the numbers of people taking part,
the number involved in violence, and the amount and eects of violence
and/or damage. This is, of course, not something that happens spon-
taneously, but rather is a result of a complex interplay of behaviors and
responses involving several actors. For a moral panic to take hold, there
need to be in place six sets of actors. These include: (1) folk devils, (2)
rule enforcers, (3) the media, (4) politicians, (5) action groups, and, (6)
the public. Folk devils are the individuals responsible for the deviant or
criminal behavior. Unlike normal deviants or criminals, these folks are
unambiguously unfavorable symbols: the embodiment of evil.
As those responsible for the enforcement of norms, codes of conduct,
and law, rule enforcers are a vital part of the moral panic. These groups/
organizations, particularly the police, prosecutors, and the judiciary are
expected to detect, apprehend and punish the folk devils. These agents
present the social situation as one that teeters on the brink of chaos if it
were not for them, deviance/crime and all that it entails would abound.
They present themselves as the thinblue line, which separates order and
civilization from mayhem and anarchy. Depending upon the content and
strength of the discourse, it often includes calls for increased numbers of
rule enforcers and more extensive authority (i.e., greater power) for them.
The media is likely the single most inuential actor in the orchestra-
tion and promulgation of a moral panic. Media coverage of certain kinds
of deviant/criminal behavior, particularly those involving perpetrators of
the aforementioned type is usually distorted. It serves to inate the
seriousness of the incidents, making them appear more heinous and
frequent than they truly are. Public anxiety is whipped up through the use
of journalistic and linguistic devices. Special cover story, in-depth
expose or investigative report style coverage employs dramatic
photos, video, and sound bites with moralistic rhetoric.
Politicians are also vital actors in a moral panic. As individuals, who
must operate in the court of public opinion, it is important that poli-
ticians present themselves as purveyors of the moral high ground. As
such, they often align themselves with the press and the rule enforcers in
a struggle against the evils perpetrated by the folk devils.
Self-righteousness and the politics of rage (Berry 1999) characterize
the response of politicians in dealing with crime/deviance. Even the
most liberal politicians usually take a moralistic, no-nonsense, war on
crime stance, advocating reactionary and punitive strategies to deal with
this new threat. Common calls include special hearings or sub-com-
mittees to deal with the problem, zero tolerance policies, tougher laws
and harsher sentences.
The nal, and some would argue ultimately the most important,
actor in a moral panic is the public. The success of the media, poli-
ticians, rule enforcers and moral entrepreneurs in generating and
sustaining a moral panic is ultimately contingent upon how success-
fully they enrage the public and marshal their support against the folk
devils. The vox populi is enlisted as a front-line agent in the crusade
against the designated evil. Members of the public are relied upon to
express contempt for the folk devils and support for the rule enforcers,
to consume the media coverage, and wait for the latest pronounce-
ments from politicians and/or action groups on how the problem is to
be solved.
Goode and Ben-Yehuda (1994) assess the dierence between a moral
panic and a normal societal concern with ve characteristics. These
include: (1) the generation of heightened concern, (2) hostility, (3) a
societal consensus that the actions are injurious, (4) disproportionate
societal reaction, and (5) volatility.
Societal concern about crime and deviance always exists at some level;
however, heightened concern infers an increase in public dismay about a
certain group or its impact. Assessing heightened concern can be quan-
tied by newspaper reports, public opinion polls, and enhanced media
coverage (Good and Ben-Yehuda 1994). Increased hostility is a necessary
catalyst for a moral panic. Hostility refers to heightened levels of intol-
erance directed at the behavior of a group (evil-doers) accompanied by
contempt for those responsible. The third catalyst, consensus, refers to
public agreement that the evildoers are real as is the threat they impose to
society. Consensus is not meant to necessarily incorporate all of a society
merely that it is widespread. Disproportionality refers to over-reaction to
a problem and includes frequency, severity, and scope. This includes the
belief that greater harm is eminent. The nal tool for assessment is vol-
atility. Simply stated, the precariousness of a moral panic can allow it to
appear quickly and without warning. Interestingly, even after the dissi-
pation of a moral panic, a litany of repressive social controls strategies
and mechanisms may be left in its wake (Muzzatti 2002).
This treatise will be situated within Cohens stages of moral panic
integrated with Goode and Ben-Yehudas characteristics assessing that
a moral panic has occurred. Simply stated, we use Cohens model to
assess the stages of a moral panic accompanied with Goode and
Ben-Yehudas model illustrating that a moral panic indeed occurred.
The terms terrorists and terrorism are entrenched in a denitional
quagmire. The diculty in dening (conceptualising) terrorism is the
pejorative connotations it holds. It is subjective in terms of the social
and historical context. It is dependent on political power. The State can
increase its power (or perceived legitimate power) when the enemies
become labelled as terrorists (White 2003). The term terrorism has been
dened in ocial U.S. documents as the calculated use of violence or
threat of violence to attain political, religious, or ideological goals.
Terrorism is accomplished by means of intimidation, coercion, or
instilling fear (White House 2002). Laqueur and Alexander (1987)
denes terrorism as the illegitimate use of force to achieve political
objectives by the targeting of innocent people. There is also a propa-
gandist denition of terrorism (Chomsky 2001:90). It refers to terrorist
acts that are committed by our enemies against our allies or us per-
sonally. This leads to the counter-terrorism measures that could also be
dened as terrorism and to the today a freedom ghter-tomorrow a
terrorist dichotomy. According to Solomon (1999), there is an
Orwellian logic behind dening terrorism. Bombings by Third World
countries are dened as terrorism while bombings by the U.S. are vir-
tuous strikes against terror. Discursively constituted, terrorism simu-
lates the crisis of international order, and hence Counterterrorism is
counter-simulation an attempt to engender a new disciplinary order
(Der Derian 1989). Such discursive practices serve the function of
privileging State techno-bureaucrats, while simultaneously marginaliz-
ing both critical criminologists, and even more disturbingly, the general
public. White (2003) posits that denitions of terrorism are useless, as
they do not account for the social or political nature of terrorism.
Terrorism is politically associated as isolated events that are out of
context, disregarding the precipitating events leading to the terrorist
attack, leaving the perception of the perpetrators actions as unpro-
voked and inexplicably evil (Herman and Sullivan 1989).
Regardless of the lack of consensus in what constitutes terrorism, the
denition and imagery put forth by the media and politi is real in its
consequences; a socially constructed label that denes someone or
something (folk-devils/evil-doers) as a threat to our values or interests.
Having said this, the actual fear and impact that victims of random
violence and terrorism experience must be acknowledged, and such
victimisation should not minimised. The following sections will address
the moral panic that emerged from the tragedy of September 11, 2001.
This will be framed in Cohens thematic frame; the creation of a moral
panic, along with Goode and Ben-Yehudas characteristics assessing
whether a moral panic has taken hold. We have taken the general
frames of both, Cohen and Goode and Ben-Yehudas models, and
established a model from which this analysis proceeds. In other words,
we take Cohens criteria of actors and situation with Goode and Ben-
Yehudas tools for assessing if it is indeed a moral panic or mere societal
concern. Beginning with a person or persons being dened as a threat,
the media presents this perceived threat in a consistent and recognisable
form (Erikson et al. 1989). This leads to a build-up of public concern
and the generation of hostility. A societal consensus is formed accepting
that the threat is real and injurious. This is fuelled by the moral
entrepreneurship of politicians responding with disproportionate reac-
tions to the portrayed threat. These reactions can then lead to long
lasting and deleterious social change. We will analyze each of these steps
framed in the following sub-chapters: (1) someone dened as a threat to
values and interests, (2) Threats depicted by media in a recognisable
form, (3) a rapid build-up of public concern generating hostility, (4)
response from authorities disproportionate reactions, and (5) social
changes resulting from panic. Incorporated within the conclusion, we
use Goode and Ben-Yehudas model to ascertain that a moral panic did
Stage One of a Moral Panic: Someone or Something Dened
as a Threat to Values or Interests
The atrocious nature of the attacks of September 11, 2001 was sucient
for the acts to be dened as a threat. According to Cohen (1972), the
dening of something as a threat to values and interests is the rst
element in the creation of a moral panic. While the media began this
process immediately, the formal denition occurred, when President
Bush declared, America was targeted for attack because were the
brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world. And no
one will keep that light from shining (President Bush 9/11/2001). The
dening of threatened values continued to be re-enforced by the
Great tragedy has come to us, and we are meeting it with the best
that is in our country, with courage and concern for others. Because
this is America. This is who we are. This is what our enemies hate
and have attacked. And this is why we will prevail (President Bush 9/
The dening of actors is the second part of Cohens rst element. The
Bush administration formally pronounced this with,
The people who did this act on America, and who may be planning
further acts, are evil people. They dont represent an ideology; they
dont represent a legitimate political group of people. Theyre at
evil. Thats all they can think about, is evil (President Bush 9/28/
The original identication of the enemy was Bin Laden and the Al-
Qaeda network. During the gradient process of constructing and
enlarging the folk devils, the enemy became increasingly broadly de-
ned. The Administration began their initial targeting of the enemy with
The al Qaeda organisation is not an organisation of good, an orga-
nisation of peace. Its an organisation based upon hate and evil
(President Bush 9/24/2001). The threat to U.S. values and interests
grew. A press release by the Presidents Press Secretary stated, The al
Qaeda organisation is present in, as youve heard from the President,
more than 60 countries, and its links are its links are amorphous
(Fleischer 9/18/2001).
Throughout the following year, those categorised as the enemy
continually expanded. The Administrations war on terror began with
Al-Qaeda but did not stop there. It will not end until every terrorist
group of global reach has been found, stopped, and defeated (Presi-
dent Bush 9/23/2001). The State of the Union Address of 2002 set the
stage for the Axis of Evil: Iran, North Korea, and Iraq.
The second actor involved in dening someone or something as a
threat to values or interests is the media. The day of September 11, 2001,
the media began the rst stages of a moral panic by dening the evil.
The U.S. populace was presented with a barrage of newspaper headlines
that escalated the shock of the attacks. The media are the vehicle of
moral condemnation, and propagate a brutal fascination with the ter-
rorist act (Baudrillard, quoted in Der Derian 1989) The media had
become terrorvision; a choreography of violence, fear, revulsion and
hatred. The attachment of unambiguously unfavourable symbols
(Cohen, 1972: 41) had begun; the hijackers (and by extension, as we will
later illustrate, those who allegedly supported, harboured, or defended
them) were the embodiment of evil. The identication of terrorism,
terrorists, and war were fed to the press by State information dissemi-
nation. Oddly enough, before the State had formally identied the
enemy, the media was clued in to prepare the U.S. citizens for the Bush
Doctrine that would follow. Already on September 11, 2001, media
reports connected Bin Laden with the terrorist attacks, All eyes look to
rich Arab terrorist . . . Bin Laden is the leading candidate said a senior
intelligence ocial (Billings Gazette 9/11/2001).
These examples were only the rst stage in an ongoing process of
identifying someone or something as a threat. The depiction of the
threat of the folk devil by the media continued as stage two of Cohens
model asserts: threat is depicted in a recognisable form by the media.
Throughout the process of creating and maintaining a moral panic, the
media and politi have continuously re-enforced this identication of
terrorists to the embodiment of evil that threaten U.S. values and
Stage Two of a Moral Panic: Threat is Depicted in a Recognisable
Form by the Media
For months after September 11, 2001, the press was consumed with
coverage of the event. Every hosted TV show, newspaper editorials,
syndicate columns, panel of pundits, and news stories dwelled on the
terrorist attacks (Parenti 2002). For one year and fty days,
a total of
17,744 stories ran in the New York Times regarding terror, 10,761 in the
Washington Post, and 5,200 in the USA Today
(Rothe and Bower
2002). Objective journalists simply relating the facts informed us. A
NY Times analysis stated, The perpetrators acted out of hatred for the
values cherished in the West as freedom, tolerance, prosperity, religious
pluralism and universal surage (NY Times, 9/16, 2001). Barak (1998)
addressed the role of the medias representations as being the most
signicant communication that the average person will come to know
about the world outside his/her immediate experiences. The media is the
principle vehicle for popular views, ideology, and information. Societal
foci are commanded by media accounts of events and political dictates
(Burns and Crawford 1999). The rigorous adherence to coverage of the
events of September 11, 2001, and the war on terrorism as doctrinal
truths and imminent threats, repeated day after day, succeeds in its
purpose of establishing a sacrosanct doctrine. The absence of alternative
coverage helped instil beliefs and a consensus of concern. As consumers
of this coverage, the average American was transformed into a fac-
totum (Der Derain 1989: 234) of State discourse, organising agent of
hegemony, and proactive resonator of terrorology.
What Der Derian referred to as media spasms of a seismic scale
and hyper production was clearly evidenced by the abundance of
books written about terrorism in response to the event. Similarly, fol-
lowing a brief respite from its standard fare of exploding buildings and
vehicles, Hollywood aired weekly drama shows with themes of terrorism
and terrorists, always depicting the evil and horrors of the folk devil
(The Shield, Third Watch, 24, and Law and Order). Conversely, movie
reviewers wrote that this or that lm was a welcome antidote to the
events of September 11, 2001 (Parenti 2002). Travel agents encouraged
domestic vacations as a healing experience and often, not so subtly,
suggested that they were a patriotic way to aid a sagging economy.
Everywhere the U.S. populace turned, a reminder of the terrorists
and their evil doings was present. Repeated reminders of the fear that
people in the U.S. should be experiencing echoed through the terror-
vision. CNN journalists broadcasting from live from Kosovo remarked,
I probably feel safer here than you do back home in the states (CNN
News, 2/2/2001). The terrorist and terrorism had been reied to a new
reality. It had become a necessary truth, requiring no further evidence:
the terrorists sought the violent transformation of all the things we
stand for while they only stand for apocalyptic nihilism (Ignatie,
quoted in Chomsky 2001:117). The production and reproduction of
such pieties are an important discursive practice insofar as they serve to
re-establish order and meaning by reinforcing State hegemony.
The interests of the media and entrepreneurs reect self-interest
(economic interests), but also the narrow conformism of the media to
the State (Chomsky 1988). The media has two competing and con-
tradictory roles. They control the ow of information (guided by the
dissemination of information by the State) while making the news
entertaining to sell (White 2003). The media serve their function by
dening the range of expressible views, framing the news reporting
within assumptions laid down by the State, and excluding coverage
deemed inappropriate (Chomsky 1988). In a dark parody of the
general narrowness of debate on a host of social, political and eco-
nomic issues in the U.S. media, over 75 percent of terrorist stories
come from State sources (Paletz 1982). This is in part a response to the
State propaganda system, to wit guarantees the eectiveness of the
State to ensure a moral panic, thereby serving the political interests of
the Administration.
The restrictions imposed on the medias coverage included main-
taining control over media access to information about the investigation
into the hijackings and Counterterrorism operations. The media were
not only limited by the political reigns, but high level executives, fearing
State reprisals (i.e., being cut out of the loop) ordered correspondents
to remind viewers that the Taliban were evil and harboured terrorists
that killed thousands of Americans whenever they broadcast reports or
footage of civilian deaths, hunger, or devastation in Afghanistan as a
result of the U.S. war on terrorism (CNN Chair, Walter Isaacson,
Quoted in Parenti 2002: 51). Such media subservience and the
unquestioning reproduction of the States political economy of terro-
rology exemplify its role as an ideological State apparatus. The outcome
of these restrictions has ensured that the media would feed the con-
suming audience the propaganda necessary to create a moral panic.
Creating a generalised fearfulness gives State leaders greater freedom of
action to advance and justify exceptional legislation, encroach on civil
liberty rights, and accomplish their geo-political agendas (Herman and
Sullivan 1989).
Stage Three of a Moral Panic: A Rapid Build-up of Public Concern
Generating Hostility
Public concern about terrorism and terrorists escalated after September
11, 2001, taking many forms. Patriotic jingoism was evidenced by the
abundant sale and display of American ags, bumper stickers, lapel
pins, and patriotic clothing all aimed at publicly signifying concern and
unity. Rage, anger, and confusion proliferated (Parenti 2002: 33). At-
tacks on Mosques were conducted, grati saying, bomb the terrorists
was etched on vehicles; hate crimes escalated targeting the terrorist
boogeyman image.
The media portrayed images of the united ag
waving country: indeed, it was reactionism guised in a narrow, highly
suspect, and problematic patriotism while simultaneously reminding
the consuming audience of the evil that lurked around the corner.
The Bush Administration not only built on the public concern but
also fed it with political jargon that would pave the way for the State to
ensure its interests. The dichotomous, Either you are with us or you
are with the terrorists speech by President Bush became typical. Any
public dissent that contradicted the propaganda for a moral panic was
met with political repression (Gumbell 2003). John Ashcroft addressed
the Senate Judiciary Committee by saying,
To those who scare peace loving people with phantoms of lost
liberty, my message is this: Your tactics only aid terrorists, for they
erode our national unity and diminish our resolve. They give
ammunition to Americas enemies (Ashcroft 12/6/2001).
As the Administrations narrow war on terrorism, took hold; the
rallying for public concern and support continued. The New Republic
ran an editorial criticising dissidents for speaking out against
military action, This nation is at war. And in such an environment,
domestic political dissent is immoral (Parenti 2003: 8). Public con-
cern turned to public support for getting the evil that threatened our
values and interests. Rooted in the sense of individual vulnerability
and loss of national impunity, sentiments such as, If we go after
Bin Laden, my family or I will be safe, become prominent (Bennis
2003: 86).
As the political schema enlarged to include geo-political agendas of
imperialism, the level of public consensus and concern was even more
relevant. It was necessary to make the U.S. populace acutely sensitive to
the threat from a thousand cuts, so as to ensure their malleability and
concessions to the demands of the political elite (George 1991a). Fear
was continuously instilled in the public with escalations of terror alerts.
Notications of things to be weary of included household products
(bottles, suspicious mail, boxes). Air travel and public transportation
(particularly subways) became less popular as the Administration
warned that retaliatory attacks could occur due to the righteous
decisions of this Administration to rid the world of this terror. Smallpox
vaccinations were suggested as protection against a biological attack.
The Anthrax scare was immediately associated with terrorists, aiding
the heightened level of public concern. Similarly, media speculation
about possible terrorism immediately arose surrounding other acts of
violent crime, and was quickly discarded when the violence was linked
to traditional street criminals (the Washington Beltway snipers) or
determined to be tragic accidents (e.g., the corporate and State-cor-
porate criminality behind the Chicago nightclub stampede and the
disintegration of the Space shuttle Columbia respectively). The assertion
that there is no evidence of terrorist involvement accompanying
newsworthy violence became a strangely banal component of the
media lexicon.
Despite the ever-present threat of terrorism, and ongoing specu-
lation of possible terrorist involvement which abounded, the nation
was not to be paralysed by fear. Entrepreneurs opened stores tar-
geting the existing fears (Safe At Home Store).
The media continued to
grip America with stories of how to be prepared. Whether it was
updates about the status of the availability of plastic sheeting and duct
tape at the local hardware store or the appearance of the Homeland
Security Director Tom Ridge on NBCs Today Show showing the ration
of canned goods, bottled water, and a rst aid kit they keep in a
cardboard box in their home, the media continued to feed the
consuming public safety tips generated by the Administration.
The general public is one of the key actors in a moral panic. The
success of the politicians and media in generating and sustaining a
moral panic is contingent on how successfully they enrage the public
and marshal their support against the evil-doers (Muzzatti 2002). The
crusade against evil requires the public to express contempt for the folk
devil and support for the decisions from politicians on how the problem
is best solved.
Initially, public concern was not limited to domestic concerns.
Immediately after the event of September 11, 2001, the international
society united in condolences and support. The response to terrorism
and terrorists was felt throughout the world. Of course, each nation/
state had its own vested interests in sharing the immediate concerns of
the U.S. populace and politi. It is these vested interests that stood in the
shadows of international society as they grasped, used, or objected to
the Bush Administrations public and private reactions (e.g. Israeli PM
Sharon implemented Bushs jargon to diract his actions against the
Palestinians). Condemnation after condemnation of terrorism and ter-
rorists were publicly stated, domestically and internationally, while
counter-terrorism actions escalated. State criminality (and/or encour-
agement for human rights violations) was neutralised, and ceased to be
of concern; in fact, it disappeared through discursive strategies. What
international society had previously viewed as a state in violation of
human rights became redened as a State using self-defence against
terrorism. While international terrorism had been at the forefront of
many nations problems, after September 11th many utilised Bushs
jargon to transmogrify their own State criminality into a defence against
While overwhelmingly sympathetic and supportive of the U.S. in the
immediate wake of terrorist attacks, international society became
increasingly uneasy with the U.S. plan for addressing the evil-doers. In
the U.S., the concept of unilateral actions necessary to ensure victory
over the folk devil was being portrayed to the public as natural and
necessary; however, international society began to worry about the
hidden Imperialist agenda of the Bush Administration. Still, the pro-
paganda at home continued: We are in imminent danger and pre-
emptive measures are now necessary. Through prohibitive reliance on
State sources and terrorologists (who themselves are often substantially
supported by federal funding sources), the media reied terrorism
(Chomsky 1989; Herman and OSullivan 1989 ,1991; George 1991b;
Herman 1992).
Stage Four of a Moral Panic: Response from Authorities, Politicians,
and Moral Entrepreneurs: Disproportionate Reactions
A call to war and Legislative Responses section is perhaps the most
signicant part of this created moral panic. It is the disproportionate
reactions of politicians that can craft negative social ramications,
leaving long-term social consequences. Therefore, this section will be
divided into two separate types of responses from authorities, namely, a
call to war and legislative responses.
A Call To War and Legislative Responses
The initial response from the State took the form of a massive mobili-
sation of military, strategic, and diplomatic power: a call to war. The
media had made this connection for the State prior to the formal
announcement as headlines read War at Home (The Dallas Morning
News 9/11/2001), ITS WAR (Daily News, 9/11/2001), and ACTS
OF WAR (The Day 9/11/2001). Early coverage of the event by TV
Anchor Tom Brokaw declared, This is a war zone, we are at war. The
initial war on terrorism was portrayed to the public as the means to
capture those responsible for the events of September 11, 2001; how-
ever, the folk devil, terrorist, quickly grew to tens of thousands of ter-
rorists that remained at large, threatening our very way of life and our
fundamental values and interests. Bush stated, Tens of thousands of
trained terrorists are still at large. These enemies view the entire world
as a battleeld, and we must pursue them wherever they are (Bush 9/
September 11, 2001 was identied by President Bush as an attack of
all the civilised nations (Bush 2003: White House archived addresses).
The need to legitimise the war on terror was a concern for the
Administration, and hence it felt the need to escalate public fear at
home, muster pseudo-international support, and increase threat levels
to mask the global war that was under way.
The rst ocial response to the crisis of September 11, 2001 was on
September 13, when the Senate and House of Representatives voted to
approve the administrations Authorization for Use of Military
Force. The bill gave President Bush a virtually unlimited mandate,
To use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations,
organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, com-
mitted, or aided terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11,
2001, or harboured such organizations or persons in order to prevent
any future acts of international terrorism against the United States
(White House 2003).
This opened the doors for the utilisation of a moral panic to aid the
Administration in expanding its doctrine. Terrorology was employed
to neutralise those who might pose an impediment to the Adminis-
trations agenda by raising constitutional questions. When read, it
becomes clear why the connection of Iraq to Bin Laden was essential.
Without the acquiescence of the public and the legislative branches
regarding the connection between Hussein and Bin Laden, the Presi-
dent must have Congress make the Call to War according to the
U.S. Constitution.
On September 12, 2001 the US called the UN Security Council
(UNSC) into special session. The outcome was Resolution 1368 which
called on nations/states to work together to bring to justice the perpe-
trators and sponsors of the terrorist attacks. This was not an authori-
sation for war, nor did it invoke Article 51 of the UN Charter (self-
defence clause). On September 28th, 2001, Resolution 1373 was passed
and although it did not condone military force, it did provide economic
measures to cut terrorist access to funds (United Nations, 2003).
However, the disproportionate reactions by politicians and the rush to
declare war on unknown enemies overpowered the international
legalities of war. The Bush Doctrine of war was begun in a cloud of
illegalities and will continue on that course throughout the duration of
the Administrations ability to induce fear and inoculate the public from
the realities of its underlying political interests. A pre-emptive, unilat-
eral rst strike would set a terrible international precedent.
Along with the change of course doctrine comes the understanding
that history is irrelevant, the lessons of the past no longer matter and
conventional tactics can be disposed of (Chomsky 1988). As a nation,
we no longer need to adhere to previous studies and advice provided by
the Pentagons Defence Science Board (1997) that showed a strong
correlation between U.S. involvement in international situations and an
increase in terrorist attacks against the U.S. Instead, the U.S. must take
preventative measures against the imminent threat that terror, terror-
ism, and terrorists pose. The Axis of Evil must be contained. Especially
the one posing the greatest threat: Iraq.
Regardless of reality, the rhetoric of propaganda assured the U.S.
public that Iraq was among the existential terrorist threat. It would have
been dicult to convince the public that Saddam Hussein really was a
threat to the U.S. had Iraq not been included in the Evil Empire that
was poised to attack: amongst the evil doers the terrorists. Adminis-
tration ocials seemed to think that simply repeating the phrase Iraq
is a threat to America would somehow validate a war. Sadly, as
Benjamins (1936, 1968) sociological inquiry into demagoguery illus-
trated, saying something frequently and loudly through the conduit of
political power does often make it so.
During November 2002, British and U.S. warplanes attacked Iraqs
defences daily, and made practice runs on other targets, and U.S.
Special Forces were deployed in Western and Northern Iraq. In many
ways, the war on Iraq had already begun well before 19 March 2003. To
induce fear, the propaganda system was utilised to conjure up the new
Hitler/Satan. The inducement of fear to obtain the acquiescence of
the public to policies it may oppose was continually attempted by the
Administration through the use of inammatory rhetorical strategies
(Chomsky 1988).
Other disproportionate reactions by the polity included the crea-
tion of a large bureaucracy to ensure domestic security: the Oce of
Homeland Security. The Bush Administration also instituted an alert
system to keep the public informed as to what level or how much
fear we should be experiencing: The Homeland Security Advisory
System. The ocial purpose of the Homeland Security Advisory
System is a means to disseminate information regarding the risk of
terrorist acts to federal, state, and local authorities and to the
American people (White House, Division of Homeland Security
2003). However, the vague information (i.e., an unspecied threat)
given about changes in the alert is not adequate enough for other
agencies or the U.S. populace to know what to look for or expect. It
is however, an eective tool for maintaining fear and suppression of
its citizens.
Still other reactions included the legislation of the Uniting and
Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to
Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act (USA Patriot Act) and the
Homeland Security Act (2001). Both of these legislative documents were
a direct response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
A time for international justice for the perpetrators of September 11,
2001 had expired. The opposition to using the international society as a
forum for justice against the terrorists reinforced the disproportionate
reaction by political leaders: the perpetrators must be dealt with
immediately by the US in a unilateral position.
On November 13, 2001 President Bush signed an Executive Order
authorising military tribunals for suspected terrorists. This sets a new
precedent that is in violation of international law (Geneva Conventions
Article 5: International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the
UN Principles of Protection Under any Form of Detention of Impris-
onment). Under Bushs Executive Order, any foreign national who has
been designated as a suspected terrorist or as a terrorists aid could be
detained, tried, convicted, and executed without a public trial or
counsel, without the proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and
without right of appeal. Ironically, the State has enacted an order that it
has denounced. The State Department has routinely criticised the use of
military tribunals, practices of secret trials that do not adhere to fair
public trials, and omissions of due processes in similar situations
around the world. In the annual Human Rights Practices Country
Reports the US has condemned Burma in 1990, China in 2000,
Colombia in 1996, Egypt in 2000, Kyrgyzstan, Malaysia in 1975,
Nigeria from 1966 to 1999, Peru in 1996, Russia in 1999, Sudan in 2000,
and Turkey.
Direct legislation regarding terrorism is not the only response from
authorities to the events of September 11, 2001. Many other responses
include the expansion of the military budget. Major social aid cutbacks
were initiated (to fund the escalating military expenses, corporate crime
bailouts, and to oset the tax relief to the minute percentage of wealthy
Americans). Additionally, a renewed passion and support for the star
wars project suddenly overcame previous opposition. This occurred in
conjunction with President Bushs declaration that the U.S. was uni-
laterally breaking the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty with Russia. Bush
stated, It hinders us from developing an anti-missile shield that will
deter an attack from a rogue state (President Bush, quoted in the New
York Times 12/13/2001).
The Pentagon had become increasingly weary of any unltered media
exposure, which would lead to public awareness (especially interna-
tional awareness) of civilian casualties in the counterterrorism war. The
warnings given by reporters to remember the folk-devil did not have as
signicant of an impact when charred or mangled bodies were televised.
In response to this, the Pentagon established the Oce of Strategic
Inuence (OSI). The OSI purpose was to feed information to interna-
tional press; including news dissemination to the international public,
dropping leaets promoting rewards for information about the where-
abouts of Osama bin Laden, and radio scripts. The radio scripts,
according to Rumsfeld, counter the lies that this was a war against the
Afghan people or a war against the Muslims, which it isnt (Wash-
ington Post 2/25/2002). When a leak exposed this department, the
Administration shut it down. It was replaced, however, with the Coa-
lition Information Center (CIC). The CIC coordinates the public
information output by the State, providing sound bites for international
society (Bennis 2002).
The aforementioned examples of legislation and disproportionate
responses by the State to September 11, 2001 are not exhaustive. How-
ever, they do provide examples of the States use of terrorismto: (1) ensue
alternative political interests (the war on Iraq), (2) maintain legitimacy
for public concern, and (3) continue the generation of a moral panic
through intimidation, coercion, and induced fear. Just as the Communist
Boogeyman role aided US imperialism and military supremacy (and
while generating tremendous prots for military contractors, did little to
enhance national security) during the Reagan administrations, the Ter-
rorist Boogeyman is aiding the Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Wolfowitz
Doctrine of Imperialism and military supremacy.
Stage Five of a Moral Panic: Panic results in Social Changes
The nal stage in Cohens moral panic states that while the panic often
passes and is forgotten, it has serious and long lasting repercussions.
This moral panic was created in such a way that its diusion is
impossible. There are, undoubtedly, serious social ramications hitherto
be comprehended.
One of the earliest signs of negative social changes was reected in
the Uniform Crime Report (UCR) gures or hate crimes. Prior to
2001, the fewest number of hate crimes incidents resulted from ethnic or
national origin bias. Crime incidents motivated by bias against this
group became the second largest reported bias in 2001, more than
doubling the number of incidents. The anti-other ethnicity/national
origin category quadrupled in incidents, victims, oences, and known
oenders. Anti-Islamic incidents (once the second lowest) became the
second highest reported among religious bias incidents: a growth of
more than 1,600 Percent over the 2000 volume. The FBI Foreword
stated, The distribution changed in 2001, presumably as a result of the
heinous incidents that occurred on September 11 (FBI Hate Crime
Division-Uniform Crime Statistics 2002).
Controversy over antiterrorist legislation surfaces whenever a State
reacts to terrorism with the implementation of new laws. The laws give
rise to concerns about the infringement of civil liberties. Critics maintain
that anti-terrorist legislation is based on a political schema versus an
objective evaluation of the real threat (White 2003). Americans have
been lled with terrorist anxiety, fear, and panic, which is conducive to
the overregulation of society without opposition. Suce to it to say,
. . . the price of freedom is high when hysteria is the norm and morality
has gone on holiday (George 1991a: 91).
Legislation and the use of enemy combatant labels are also
problematic today and certainly in the future. The Bush Administration
set a new precedent using the Executive Order to classify any individual
as an enemy combatant the Administration deems a threat or danger to
the U.S. This includes U.S. citizens. A document led in the US District
Court recognizes citizens as possible enemy combatant: citizens who
associating themselves with the enemy and with its aid, guidance, and
direction, or enter into this country bent on hostile acts are enemy
belligerents (US v. Padilla 2002) (Rothe 2003). The Justice Department
states that individuals so labeled may be denied counsel, held incom-
municado, without due process, and without review of the designation
as enemy combatant by the US Court of Appeals. The implementation
of the label, enemy combatant, contradicts both International Law
(Geneva Conventions: Article 3) and the U.S. Constitution posing
momentous ramications for U.S. policy, constitutional guarantees, the
judicial processes, and the correctional facilities (Rothe 2003). The war
on terrorism has not been myopic in nature (Muzzatti 2003 (unpub-
lished); Rothe 2003).
New precedents have been set in the legal realm. Some of these are
reected in changes occurring in the prison facilities. Justice Depart-
ment Ocials have stated their concerns over the alleged recruitment of
potential terrorists among prison inmates. All though ocials have
stopped short of publicly proclaiming state and federal prison ocials
have been put on alert, they have warned that prison ocials should be
alert to internal conversations among inmates. This can lead to over-
stepping the bounds of monitoring conversations between inmates. This
explicit attention has been reected in the monitoring of religious
gatherings and religious groups that could be linked to terrorist activ-
ities (Rothe 2003).
The USA Patriot Act has many potential long-term negative social
impacts. The implications for the 20 million immigrants, non-citizens,
and short-term visa holders include potential subjection to military
tribunals, expedited deportation, and detention (for an undetermined
time) if they are suspected of having something to do with terrorism. It
is not only the non-US citizen that is at risk, but US citizens now face
the potential to be classied as enemy combatant and or stripped of
citizenship. The power given to the State to snoop on citizens over-
turns some previous restriction placed on the State from previous
abuses of such powers. As Nancy Chang, attorney for the Center of
Constitutional Rights, has stated, the Bush Administrations actions
since September 11th portend a wholesale suspension of civil liberties
that will reach far beyond those who are involved in terrorist activities
(Chang, quoted in Zinn 2002: 40). Legitimate political dissent may
qualify for criminal proceedings.
On November 1, 2001 President Bush signed yet another Executive
Order that allows a sitting president to keep secret the papers of a
previous president, even if any previous president wanted his papers
public (White House 2002). This too, has been legitimised under the
rubric of post-September 11th national security, as potentially being
dangerous information to give to any terrorist. In eect, what it has
done is rescinded many of the advances of the Freedom of Information
Act that were gained in the 1960s as a check for State power. The
motivations of and for presidential decisions are no longer available for
the public to scrutinise. This can have major social ramications and
carries a resemblance to Stalinism. Stalin also closed the books,
removed access to who was involved in the Russian Revolution, and
essentially attempted to wipe out traces of history (Zinn 2002). This
suggests that Bush is closing the door to citizens learning the motivation
behind decisions of presidents (ironically, his fathers records are
included in this).
Perhaps the most signicant social change that has and will occur is
the U.S. expansion of American hegemony and imperialism. The events
of September 11, 2001 (as horric as they were) provided the Admin-
istration with the excuse to act on its simmering geo-political agenda.
The orchestration of the Administrations intentions had begun prior to
the terrorist attacks. Prior to his appointment as Secretary of Defense
Rumsfeld told President Bush that US military power was needed to
discipline the world (Woodward and Balz, January 28, 2002, quoted in
Bennis 2002: 86). Then came the terrorist attacks. The time was perfect,
an excuse had been given to them, and the ease of creating and
enhancing a moral panic to ensure public conformity was ripe. Over-
looked by many, the intentions of the Administration were slightly
captured when Bush himself made reference to the attacks of September
11, 2001 as an opportunity to strengthen America. The media also
hinted at the opportune time given to this administration claiming Bush
should take advantage of the unique political climate and to assert his
leadership not just on security and foreign policy but across the board
(Wall Street Journal, quoted in Parenti 2002: 2). Clearly, the terrorist
inspired boundaries of the nations insecurity culture serve multiple
imperatives, both domestic as well as foreign.
The implications of the imperialistic agenda are far reaching,
heightens world tension, creates a further chasm within the
international community, and debases international laws, charters,
treatise, the United Nations, and the International Criminal Court.
Simply stated, it is pitting the U.S. against the rest of the world and
is proclaiming U.S. justice and values as the only ones with merit.
Remember the doctrine, your with us or against us. Many other
negative social ramications (both manifested and latent) are
hitherto be comprehended.
The use of a moral panic by the media and polity has been illustrated
according to Cohens (1972) stages; however, an argument could be
made that it is less a moral panic and more normative concerns. Goode
and Ben-Yehudas (1994) have provided ve characteristics that deter-
mine if a moral panic has taken hold which re-enforces our position: a
moral panic does exist. Indeed, heightened concern has been illustrated
by societal reactions and media coverage. The second characteristic,
hostility, abounds. Political agents and individual responses have suc-
cessfully generated intolerance, and contempt for terrorists and terror-
ism, and indeed even dissenters. The third characteristic, consensus that
the evildoers are real and pose a serious threat has been fullled. Again,
the consensus does not need to incorporate all of society, merely be
widespread in nature. The mass amount of media coverage coupled with
the Bush Administrations constant reminder to the U.S. public that we
are under a real and imminent threat has ensured a large proportion of
society unquestioningly accept this moral panic.
The fourth charac-
teristic, disproportionality, or over-reaction to a problem by severity,
frequency, and scope has undoubtedly been met. The scope of the
political decisions, war on terrorism, and overly stated imminent threats
meets this criterion. The mass mobilisation for a call to war concurrently
with enactments of legislation aimed at enhancing the Administrations
power while simultaneously limiting civil liberties reaches beyond dis-
proportionate reactions. The nal characteristic, volatility, has also been
met. Terrorism is not a new phenomenon, but the terrorist attacks of
September 11, 2001 brought terrorism to the forefront of American
consciousness resulting in a quick and extreme moral panic.
In lieu of the detrimental and traumatic eects a moral panic can
have on policy and levels of societal fear, the images, denitions, and
projections of terrorism should be presented in an integrated and multi-
positioned frame. The current use of terrorism by the polity and media
is one-dimensional: them or us. It is not until the media apply multi-
level factual coverage to terrorism and the potential threat will the U.S.
populace be able to make a broad assessment and to voice a knowl-
edgeable position on the reactions by social agents of control. Terro-
rology must be replaced by cultural readings of retail-terrorism which
situates it historically and geo-politically, and must involve . . . not only
an inquiry into the States archival accretions but also into its most
sensitive secretions (Der Derian 1989: 231). Peoples eorts should be
directed toward deconstructing political propaganda and demystifying
jargon rather than supporting with blind faith unsubstantiated threats
about evildoers.
The Bush Administration would be hard pressed to explain to the
public how its responses have or will destroy existing terrorist cells or
end terrorism. The reality of protecting the U.S. populaces from ter-
rorism is far reaching, leaving the creation of the Homeland Security
Department nothing more than a mask of appeasement and opportu-
nity to pass legislation fullling political agendas.
The September 11th crisis was seen as a great gift (Bennis 2002: xv)
for President Bush. It enabled him to strengthen his faltering credibility
and to implement the long-standing right wing agenda. September 11th
brought the opportunity to vastly enhance State power, erode civil
liberties, undermine environmental defences, reject and ignore foreign
policy imposed on the rest of the world, and establish an empire (Bennis
2002). The responses of the Administration were not solely about
bringing anyone to justice for the terrorist attacks. It was also about
expanding U.S. global power and conquest all in the name of righ-
teousness. Yet, the rhetoric gushed at the American people serves to
mask this reality:
America will always stand rm for the non-negotiable demands of
human dignity: the rule of law; limits on the power of the state;
respect for women; private property; free speech; equal justice; and
religious tolerance. America will take the side of the brave men and
women who advocate these values around the world, including the
Islamic world, because wee have a greater objective than eliminating
threats and containing resentment. We seek a just and peaceful
world beyond the war on terror (State of the Union Address, 2002).
Between the lines of propaganda and rhetoric, the generation of public
fear stands to suppress opposition to the legitimacy of a war against
enemies that have been so broadly dened, the end is not in sight.
Today, the moral panic continues: the Olympics of terror. Regrettably,
future research on negative latent and manifest social implications may
well abound with information.
1. The 50 days was added to encompass the coverage of the one-year anniversary of 9/
11 and the following days.
2. The three newspapers used in the content analysis were searched via the computer
database LexisNexis.
3. The social changes that occurred will include a detailed look at the eects of social
concern in the form of hate crimes.
4. Just blocks from ground Zero this store opened to sell survival tools (e.g. gas
5. Mass movements have begun to surface showing support for the administration and
admonishing protesters as dissidents and anti-American.
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