We were all surprised by the Christmas blast in Nashville. What did it mean? Why was it done? Because we all want to make some sense of it, to place it in the context of our understanding of the world. Why would someone do such a thing?

Is it a foreign threat? Is it a splinter of some nefarious domestic group? Is it the act of some lone, crazy person? In short, is it terrorism, or is it vandalism (albeit an over-the-top level of vandalism.)

There’s big money betting on the result of these investigations. Because, depending upon the answer, is the question of who will pay. Already, the City of Nashville has requested federal assistance. An incident of this magnitude is beyond the locals ability to cope. The FBI has taken the lead. If this is a terrorist plot, federal dollars may follow.

You may recall the terrorism exceptions to coverage that became part of the lexicon of insurance following the attacks of September 11, 2001. The Insurance industry mobilized to make it clear that they would not cover losses caused by terrorism, or riot or civil disturbance. We all received BIG PRINT notices with our insurance renewals, making it clear that this new hazard, terrorism, was not a covered event.

Depending upon the results of this investigation we may well spend the next decade litigating the definition of terrorism. Our government defines it as, “…activities that involve violent …or life-threatening acts…that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State and …appear to be intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (II) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and (C) occur primarily within the teritorial jurisdiction of the United States.” (Federal Criminal Code. Title 18 USC)

It seems, in short, that the turning point of terrorism is whether or not there’s some underlying ideology or objective. So, “lone crazy” may equal insurance coverage. Coordinated, conspiratorial or ideological attack would invalidate coverage, providing, at best for some FEMA type relief.

There are vested interests at stake in this investigation. Does Petula Clark’s “Downtown” make it more likely or not, to be terrorism? (Just wait for the parodies.) Does a pre-recorded announcement to evacuate make it more or less likely to be terrorism? Would it be terrorism if it were merely a disgruntled customer of AT&T?

Stay tuned for answers. Watch the free for all of vested interests. And wait for the new round of disclaimers from an insurance company near you.