Suppose that you "threaten" to blow up a mall, how will the authorities tell whether you were joking or serious? What sets a joker and a terrorist apart? Well, if your neighbor hears you making those threats and reports you to the authorities, then the latter will have to prove the following elements to charge you with terrorism.
Willful and Serious
The threat must be willful, meaning you must have made it under your own volition. Also, it must be a serious enough threat to injure others or destroy significant property. It is up to the authorities to determine what is serious. For example, threatening to break a mall's windowpane may not be a terrorist threat, but threatening to blow it up with a petrol bomb is.
Note that the categorization of your threats will also depend on your state's laws. For example, some states consider non-verbal threats while others may only charge you if make it verbal. Also, the mere threat is enough even if you have no intention or plans for carrying out the threat.
Only reasonable threats can be considered as terrorism. If an average person may not believe or get scared by the threat, then you may not be charged with terrorism. For example, threatening to blow up a mall with petrol bombs is reasonable because it can happen; people know this and will be scared. However, threatening to destroy it by calling upon your dead ancestor's spirits is not reasonable.
A terrorist threat must be specific and identifiable. For example, saying that something bad will happen to the mall because it doesn't treat people right is not specific enough. What if you just meant that its sales will go down, that is something "bad," right? However, you don't have to specify how you intend to actualize your threat.
Many people believe that a threat can only be considered as terrorism if it causes fear or "terrorizes" others. This isn't strictly true in all states. According to some state's laws, you will be charged with a terrorist threat as long as it might harm others or damage property. In short, it is not how others react to it, but what you are threatening to do, that matters.
These are some of the elements the court may examine when determining whether you were blowing hot air or making a terrorist threat. Note, however, that states have different laws and what may seem innocuous in one place may be extremely dangerous in another. Also, don't forget that terrorist laws are constantly changing so don't go around "threatening" malls! For more information, contact criminal lawyers at firms like Alexander & Associates, P.C.