Beheading Someone Isn’t Just “Workplace Violence”



On September 25th, Alton Nolan, a man who was just fired from his job at an Oklahoma food processing plant, drove to his former workplace and attacked two of his female coworkers, beheading one of them with a knife. He was finally stopped after an off-duty police officer shot him.

But what makes this atrocity different from any other gruesome murder is that Nolan is an Islamist extremist who had attempted to convert some of his co-workers to Islam.

Although all of the evidence suggests that the attack was an act of terrorism, the FBI has chalked it up as a case of “workplace violence,” stating that there is no indication that Nolan was copying the beheadings of radical Islamist groups and that they have found no links between him and terrorist organizations.

Heavy criticism of the FBI’s statements- criticism that has come from both liberals and conservatives- is completely warranted. In fact, it seems absurd that our justice department could call Nolan’s attack anything but act of terrorism.

First, the FBI’s statement that there was no evidence Nolan was copycatting beheadings similar to ones Islamist terrorists carry out is preposterous . One look his Facebook page and the crime he committed shoots that ridiculous notion out of the sky quickly.

Besides the fact that Nolan’s Facebook page was littered with terrorist themes, including a reference to a “day of judgment” and a picture idolizing Osama bin Laden, on March 7th Nolan posted an image on his profile of a man being beheaded with a knife. On the bottom of that image was text asserting that beheadings are justified. It read, “I will instill terror into the hearts of the Unbelievers…smite ye above their necks…”

Given Nolan’s online proselytizing, it appears clear that he was in fact copying the ISIS beheadings of people they perceive to be infidels.

Second, absence of association with ISIS, or any other radical Islamist terrorist group, does not negate the fact that a single person can carry out an act of terror. Our elected officials, even the FBI, constantly warn us that a “lone wolf” terrorist could attack us. So, why doesn’t Nolan’s case register as lone wolf terrorism?

Some have had trouble labeling this attack as terrorism because it was conducted on such a small scale. When we think of terrorism, we typically think of the attack on the World Trade Center, the Boston Marathon bombing or a 13 year long war. But acts of terror do not have to bring down massive buildings or result in the deaths of thousands of people. We must remember that acts of terrorism are committed on a smaller scale everyday.

Although there is no internationally recognized legal definition of terrorism, there is an unofficial consensus of what it is– the use of violence or threats to intimidate or coerce, especially to advance a political agenda. Under this definition, the murder Nolan committed is the epitome of terrorism.

There is no way we can dissociate religion from this attack. Religion, especially Islam as it is practiced today, too often serves as a destructive, dividing force in our world. But I wonder – would Americans so vehemently consider Nolan’s attack terrorism if he was a Christian and white? Or would Nolan merely be considered a disgruntled, mentally ill, ex-employee who went on a killing spree?

Answer: Eric Frein, a white 31-year-old survivalist, ambushed and killed a Pennsylvania state trooper on September 16th. He has yet to be apprehended, has shown no signs of wanting to surrender, and has stated that he wants to wage a war on the police. But not one major news network has called Frein a terrorist.


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About Eric Bates

Eric received his B.S. in political science with an emphasis in international relations from Santa Clara University in 2012. Upon graduating, he traveled and worked for a non-profit in Central America. He is a religious viewer of Conan O’Brien and also loves traveling. Eric is attending San Jose State University's graduate school program to receive a M.A. in Journalism and Mass Communications. He can be reached at
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