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Teen Twitter Threats: A New Forum For Stupid?


I'm Celeste Headlee and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. And it's time yet again for a visit to the Beauty Shop, where our panel of women journalists and commentators take a fresh cut on the week's news.

Sitting in the chairs for a new 'do this week - Gayle Trotter, senior fellow at the Independent Women's Forum, Bridget Johnson, Washington, D.C. editor of PJ Media. They're both here with me in Washington. And in Philadelphia, we have Veronica Miller, a fashion and pop culture writer for xoJane and The Grio. And Deonna Kelli Sayed, writer and editor of the website Love, InshAllah, joins us from Winston Salem, North Carolina. Welcome to everyone.

DEONNA KELLI SAYED: Thanks for having us.

BRIDGET JOHNSON: Thank you for having us.


GAYLE TROTTER: Thanks for having us.

HEADLEE: We want to start off with terror threats - very much on everybody's mind right now because, obviously, this is the first anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing this week. But let's talk about a terror threat coming from a much more innocuous place - to some extent. A 14-year-old girl recently sent this tweet to American Airlines.

Hello, my name's Ibrahim. I'm from Afghanistan. I'm part of Al Qaeda, and on June 1, I'm going to do something really big. Bye.

This is a 14-year-old Dutch girl. American Airlines, not surprisingly, did not find it funny. They told her they were passing her information and IP address to the authorities. She then apologized on Twitter saying, she's just a white girl, not a terrorist, adding, I always wanted to be famous, but I meant, like, Demi Lovato famous, not Osama bin Laden famous. Authorities have taken her in for questioning. So, Deonna, one of the reactions we're hearing is that there's a real double standard here. As a Muslim American, what do you think - would it have been different if she were not, as she describes, just a white girl?

SAYED: Well, of course it would've been very different. And, you know, I'm a mother of a son named Ibraheim, who is part Afghan. So I - I mean, that really hits me in the gut when someone makes such assumptions like that. It is very much a double standard. And I think that's what bothers me is - just assumes if you are - if you're white, then somehow you're not capable of horrific acts or even poor judgment on Twitter.

HEADLEE: Well, I mean, I think we can all agree it's poor judgment on Twitter. But let's go to our mother of six - your thoughts about this? I mean, my first one was that, you know, maybe her parents should be looking over her Twitter feed.

TROTTER: It's impossible as a parent to totally monitor your children on social media. And when you think about teenagers, they engage in pranks all the time. And we have harmless pranks, and we have dangerous pranks.

And I think this prank falls in-between harmless and dangerous, and I think the authorities were completely correct to vigorously investigate this. The problem is, it's not - it's not just a harmless prank because material resources were expended.

First responders, law enforcement were distracted from other threats that might've been out there. So this is serious. The authorities need to take into account that she is a teenager, but they need to respond appropriately to discourage other teenagers from doing this.

HEADLEE: Well, Gayle makes a good point. And it's been worse because since this, dozens of teens in other places have tweeted their own, we assume, fake threats as well. So, Veronica, what do you think? Is it just - this is just one of those things where social media kind of brings out the stupid in people?

MILLER: I think it is. I mean, I'm still finding myself trying to wrap my head around this whole thing because I am still afraid to even type the word terrorism into Google when I'm researching things. So the fact that, you know, these teenagers think it's OK or it's funny to, you know, make these - they're empty threats, but, you know, to make these threats is just mind-boggling to me.

And I think there needs to be a serious conversation about the implications of saying something publicly that, you know, sets alarms off because it's not just a joke. Like, people take these things very seriously. There's a person at Twitter whose job is to make sure people aren't in danger of being killed or being threatened. And, you know, people, even when you're 14 years old, have to be mindful of these things.

HEADLEE: And yet, Bridget, people are saying, come on, she's 14 years old. She's just, you know, don't make - give her some penalties that'll last the rest of her life. What do you think?

JOHNSON: Well, I think she lost a lot of people with the, I'm white. I can't be a terrorist part. I mean, Al-Qaida 2.0 is recruiting white people who will not arouse suspicion at checkpoints, etc. And also, there are plenty of terrorists on Twitter. You know, I followed, you know, once, you know, somebody from Al-Shabaab, and Twitter suggested new terrorists for me to follow. I researched the background of all of them.

So this is something that they have to take seriously, and so what I would do with this girl - she's Dutch, she's not far from Scotland. I would make her go and sit down with some Pan Am Flight 103 families and realize this is the real world. This is not a game.

HEADLEE: Of course the flight that was taken down by terrorism. Let's turn to another very serious story that touches on terrorism as well. A gunman killed three people last weekend outside two Jewish centers near Kansas City last week. Frazier Glenn Cross, he's now under arrest for the shootings. And authorities plan to charge him with a hate crime, although none of the victims were in fact Jewish. Here's the Overland Park police chief, John Douglass, speaking at a press conference on Monday.


JOHN DOUGLASS: Now yesterday, it became fairly apparent that it was probably a hate crime. But as we told you yesterday, we needed the verification of some investigation to make this determination. It's more than just an opinion. It's actually a legal status. And it took us a while to reach all of the triggers which allow us the opportunity to say, officially, we believe this to be a hate crime.

HEADLEE: Frazier Glenn Cross has been on the radar of some hatewatch groups for years. He's believed to have strong connections to the Ku Klux Klan. Look, all kinds of questions come into my mind over this story. Deonna, let me start with you. My first question is, why is this a hate crime and not terrorism? What do you think?

SAYED: Well, I actually think it is terrorism, and maybe it's time we start to interrogate the language around these two concepts. You know, there is a stream of fundamentalist thought that this man seems to embody that isn't completely dissimilar from the type of fundamentalism that we sometimes attach to the concept of terrorism. So I think we have to revisit that. I mean, to me, it is a case of domestic terrorism.

HEADLEE: And, well, Gayle, let me take this to you. Often, one of the things that we associate with terrorism is religious extremism. Though, if you're targeting Jews, maybe this particular crime fits that.

TROTTER: Well, it's fascinating. If you look at the statistics behind the hate crimes laws, I think people would be surprised to find out that 65 percent of victims of hate crimes are male, and 61 percent of victims of hate crimes are white. So it's a very...

HEADLEE: Does that come from the FBI crime stats?

TROTTER: Yes. That's from the Bureau of Justice statistics. In the DOJ, they have a table, Table 8 of page 7, which has these statistics. And I think people would be surprised about that because the idea of a hate crime is a very powerful rhetorical device.

But the truth is, if you're a victim of crime and you're getting abused, or hurt, or injured, or killed, when that happens to you, does it really make a difference that it's labeled as a hate crime or terrorism? We're talking about the types of punishment that result from whether it's labeled a hate crime or terrorism. But terrorism, in general, really deals with more international threats, not as much on the domestic front.

And some of the organizations that identify these hate crime, or hate organizations, like the Southern Poverty Law Center in the south, has looked at putting these descriptions on their website. And they were implicated in the hate crime that happened at the Family Research Council a few years ago, and the District of Columbia Court recognized that this terrorist, who went on to the Family Research Council's office and shot the guard there, he found out about the Family Research Council from the Southern Poverty Law Center. So it has applications beyond...

HEADLEE: Right, which tracks hate groups. I got to correct you for second. Actually, terrorism, they don't connect whether it's international or domestic with (unintelligible). Timothy McVeigh, for example, was a domestic terrorist. But I wonder if it matters, Bridget? Does it matter, this label, whether we put - I mean, as Gayle said, you're just prosecuting somebody for a crime?

JOHNSON: You know, I think that it could matter with terrorism statutes. You know, we tend to generally define terrorism as a fear-generating attack or plot that has some sort of geopolitical or ideological goal, like the Unabomber...


JOHNSON: ...Like Al-Qaida's goal of establishing a caliphate. But white supremacist groups who use attacks to further their goal of a white country, of a pure white country, absolutely, I think should be classified as terrorists.

HEADLEE: Let me get your thoughts on this, Veronica, as well.

MILLER: Yeah. I think it definitely matters because in terms of - it matters in terms of the public consciousness of, you know, the discussion about - the discussion around these crimes - I'm sorry. But it matters in terms of how we talk about about what we care about, you know...


MILLER: ...We have a war on terror. There's no war on hate. And I think that those labels are important because terrorism, in our public consciousness, applies to something very specific. It often applies to a very specific group and a very specific threat. And we can all, you know, kind of stand together and say, we care about, you know, fighting it. But when it comes to hate...


MILLER: ...Well, we have to prove that somebody hates somebody, and, you know, it doesn't seem like there's much of a public investment in stopping hate on the home front.

HEADLEE: Right. You're listening to the Beauty Shop roundtable. We're talking about some of the weeks news. Our guests are Bridget Johnson of PJ Media, pop culture writer Veronica Miller - who you just heard - Deonna Kelli Sayed, of the website, Love, InshAllah and Gayle Trotter of the Independent Women's Forum. Let's turn to some family issues, including an effort to change how and when divorces are granted. Not sure if this story is about love or hate, maybe both.

HEADLEE: Some social conservative leaders - including former presidential candidate Rick Perry and Rick Santorum - they want to put the brakes on divorce, or at least reduce the number of divorces we have. Law makers in about a dozen states have introduced bills to make it harder to get unhitched.

They either impose longer waiting periods, they make couples go to a long period of counseling, as well. Deonna Kelli Sayed, let me go to you first. North Carolina is actually one of the states where spouses have to wait a year before divorcing, on the average. What do you think about this?

SAYED: I think it's amazing that it's quite easy for people, basically heterosexual people, to get married, but it's very hard to get a divorce. And, you know, in North Carolina, if you are - you know, if you don't have a lot of income, you can't even file for legal separation.

So a lot of people end up being trapped in relationships that are not only unhealthy, but sometimes abusive, and they don't have the resources to get a divorce. And then, if you add these extra impediments to being free of a relationship that's not good for you, it's going to cause an increasingly difficult cycle of rebuilding lives...


SAYED: ...And resentment.

HEADLEE: Bridget, some of the statistics after no-fault divorce was established show that, actually, women were safer from both domestic violence and murder after no-fault divorce came into play. What are your thoughts on this? You're a divorcee.

JOHNSON: Yes, I'll get a little personal here. I lived in California, where Reagan signed the no-fault divorce law before I was born...

HEADLEE: 1969, I think. Yeah.

JOHNSON: ...And when I needed out of a bad marriage in my 20s, thanks to a summary dissolution and, you know, not needing to prove any sort of fault in court, I was able to come out of this very, you know, unstable situation and be able to slip away without needlessly aggravating him even more, setting off more abuse, etc., that I think would've happened if I had to go into court and start proving things.


JOHNSON: So it - I think it does save lives.

HEADLEE: Gayle, you're a conservative.

TROTTER: Yes, I am.

HEADLEE: So what do you think of this effort?

TROTTER: The important thing about our federal system is that it left the states with the power to define marriage. So rather than engage whether any particular possibility that they're looking at considering - you mentioned some of the statutes that they're considering, bills they're considering.

It should be left to the states because the states are supposed to be laboratories. And they're, traditionally, have the control over the definition of marriage. So if the state is going to be in the marriage business at all, which is a matter of debate right now - and I think it's important for the state to continue to be in the marriage business because the impact on our communities - then we have to let the states decide for themselves, through their elected representatives, what they think the rules for marriage should be.

And we see that the effects of this no-fault, easy divorce, that have been in effect for almost 40 years in various states, they have unintended consequences on the children of unilateral divorce. They are less well-educated. They end up having lower family incomes. They usually marry earlier and separate more often. And they're more likely to be victims of adult suicide. So there are effects of having no-fault divorce that also harm people. And I see these efforts by these state legislators to try and slow down the process because most marriages are low-conflict situations that end up in divorce. They're not high- conflict situations like she was describing.

HEADLEE: Although, why - I mean, I assume the question comes - we have to move on, but I would assume people would say, why slow down the divorce and not slow down the marriage?

JOHNSON: Absolutely.

HEADLEE: And if we had more time to talk, I'm sure we could all respond to that. But let's move on to our last subject here - also a story of family strife, of one way or another. Social media has been literally abuzz with reports about Beyonce not reaching out a helping hand to a member of her family. Years ago, her father, Matthew Knowles, had a child with a woman who was not his wife that led to his divorce from Beyonce's mom. That's in the past. The current drama is his child support payments have been reduced.

The child and his former mistress may be headed to a homeless shelter. They are supposedly homeless. So people arguing about whether or not Beyonce has a responsibility to help out her half-brother. Let's go to you first, Veronica Miller. Pop-culture is your milieu - what you think here?

MILLER: Well, the easy answer is Beyonce didn't have a baby with this woman. You know what I mean? She didn't have the affair with this woman. Those two did not create a baby. This is the responsibility of her father, and it seems very suspicious because when this woman, Alexsandra Wright, gives interviews, the first name she mentions is Beyonce...


MILLER: ...Even though this child is related to numerous other members of the family - Beyonce's sister, Solange, you know, why not ask Ms. Tina, you know...


MILLER: ...Matthew Knowles' ex-wife for some help. Why not ask Matthew for more help? But it feels very opportunistic. It feels very slimy, and it makes me feel really sad for the child in the middle of all this.

HEADLEE: I totally agree with that. Bridget, what do you think here?

JOHNSON: Yeah. I mean, what kind of lifestyle has she brought up where she needs $12,000 a month in child support? You know, I think that...

HEADLEE: That's been reduced to only $2,400 a month.

JOHNSON: And, you know, I'm thinking, OK, so maybe if Beyonce wants to step in and help, you know, maybe it can be conditional on a network of steps that Wright has to meet, as far as, you know, getting a job, setting up quality childcare, setting up rental housing and not looking to married guys for a meal ticket anymore.

HEADLEE: There's a good point. I mean, although, Beyonce could set up a trust fund with very strong legal limits on...


HEADLEE: ...What that money could go for. Gayle, what do you think here?

TROTTER: This is not a proper use of the public eye. I mean, this is for Beyonce to handle in her...

HEADLEE: You shock me.


TROTTER: Yeah. It's her family situation, and just because she's an amazing artist, and obviously, I don't share her politics, that shouldn't be an excuse for all of us to jump in and say how she should order her family relationships.

HEADLEE: Oh, come on, we all should jump in forever. Right, Deonna?


HEADLEE: I mean, nothing's safe.

SAYED: Well, I don't feel like - I don't know those family dynamics, but I do think that just because someone has money, they can't pay for the acts of the father.

HEADLEE: There you go. OK. Well, we'll leave it...

MILLER: I can jump in - sorry.


HEADLEE: Veronica...

MILLER: ...I can jump in and say that because I'm the Beyonce expert. But she has gone on record to say she doesn't have a relationship with her father anymore. So, you know, that can play a part in that, too.

HEADLEE: And one of the reasons the child-support went down is 'cause he lost his job as her manager.

MILLER: As her manager.

HEADLEE: So - yeah. Right. All right, you just heard Veronica Miller, fashion and pop culture writer for xoJane and The Grio. Also, Deonna Kelli Sayed is a writer and editor of the website Love, InshAllah. Here in D.C. with me, we had Bridget Johnson, Washington, D.C. editor of PJ Media, and Gayle Trotter, senior fellow at the Independent Women's Forum. Thank you all so much.

JOHNSON: Thanks, Celeste.

MILLER: Thank you.

TROTTER: Thank you.

HEADLEE: Next time, Gayle, we won't talk about Beyonce.


HEADLEE: That is our program for today. I'm Celeste Headlee. You've been listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News, and we will talk more tomorrow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.