Politicians push for legislation to combat domestic terrorism

A white man sets fire to a Walmart in El Paso Texas, killing 22 people and targeting Mexicans.

08 July 2022 Friday 16:30
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Politicians push for legislation to combat domestic terrorism

A white man sets fire to a Walmart in El Paso Texas, killing 22 people and targeting Mexicans. Another gunman kills 11 Jewish worshippers at a Pittsburgh synagogue.

Two mass shootings and a tweet by the president put the spotlight on "domestic terrorist" and spurred a debate over whether such attacks should also be classified and tried in a similar manner as other crimes against America committed by foreign extremist groups or their supporters. While a Republican senator and a Democrat from the House of Representatives are drafting legislation to do this, some Republicans want a left-wing group to become a terrorist organization.

"Domestic terrorist acts in our backyard," stated Senator Martha McSally of Arizona, a Republican who plans to introduce legislation in September when Congress returns to Washington.

McSally's proposal would allow federal police to indict suspects for acts of domestic terror, and increase punishments, including the death penalty.

California Democrat Congressman Adam Schiff introduced legislation on August 16 which he called a "very high prioritization."

"The goal is for domestic terrorism to be treated as a priority alongside ISIS- and al-Qaeda-inspired terrorism. Since Americans living on American soil are now just as likely to die at the hands of a domestic terrorist motivated with hateful ideologies like white supremacy," Schiff stated in a telephone interview.

Fran Townsend, a CBS News senior national security analyst, stated on "CBS This Morning," August that the U.S. must begin using the strategies used in fighting terrorism abroad at home.

It is an epidemic. Townsend stated that there is no doubt about the rise in anti-Semitism and racism. "Many of the lessons from fighting international terrorism can be applied here, which is what we need to grasp."

However, these same tactics can pose some difficulties. Townsend states that international agencies have different resources than domestic law enforcement. This is primarily due to surveillance and subpoena capabilities.

"No question...that when we were fighting international terrorist, we had all these powers. That's why we asked ourselves, 'Well, are we really going to use those here in America?' There are privacy and civil liberties concerns. First Amendment concerns are also present. We need to move past that concern. I believe there is a balance. However, we must give law enforcement the resources and authorities they require.

Two Republican senators have called for antifascist group known as Antifa to be classified as a domestic terrorist organisation. This push comes after antifa clashes in Portland, Oregon between white supremacists, and antifa. Trump tweeted that domestic terrorist designation should be given to antifa, but not white supremacists. This designation is not currently in place.

Although a push to reconsider what should be considered terrorism gains momentum, there are concerns about constitutional rights being violated. Although McSally stated this week that she has received positive feedback from both sides, it is not clear if the debate will be held in a bipartisan manner.

Schiff stated that he would like bipartisan support to make sure the federal government is able to prosecute those who commit hateful acts of domestic terror.

His spokeswoman Maria Jeffrey, a Republican Senator from Texas, said that Ted Cruz is currently working on "legal mechanisms" to allow domestic terrorist groups to be treated as those on the State Department’s list of foreign extremist organizations.

On July 18, Senator Bill Cassidy (Republican from Louisiana) introduced a resolution condemning antifa and calling for it be declared a domestic terrorist organisation.

Antifa activists were preparing to face off against far-right demonstrators at Portland, Oregon in mid-August. President Trump posted that he considered antifa terrorist organization.

"Major consideration has been given to naming ANTIFA "ORGANIZATION of TERROR." Portland is being closely monitored. We hope the Mayor can do his job properly! Trump tweeted.

Antifa members used the familiar chants "Go home, Nazis!" at the Portland rally. ", "No Trump. No KKK. no Fascist USA." -- which condemned Trump.

At the moment, terrorist organizations can only be classified as foreign groups. This list is maintained by the U.S. State Department and currently includes 68 groups. None of them are white supremacist. A person from the United States can knowingly give "material support or resource" to a terrorist organization.

Oregon Democrat Senator Jeff Merkley said he does not believe Congress should allow the executive branch to identify domestic terrorist groups.

Merkley stated that he would not trust the administration to exercise such power in an impartial and judicious way.

Anti-Defamation League claims that antifa is not accused of murders and there is no comparison between loosely organized movements and white supremacist organizations it clashes with. The ADL stated that antifa uses "unacceptable techniques" but rejects racism while white supremacists resort to more extreme violence to intimidate minorities.

Schiff called Trump's tweet "a disservice for our efforts to fight domestic mass terror."

Schiff stated, "I see it like the same destructive political posturing that we've come to accept from the president. That would argue white supremacists hate isn't the problem, antifa's the problem."

Mary McCord, former head of the Justice Department's National Security Division said that labeling domestic groups terrorist organizations would violate First Amendment rights like freedom to express oneself. She advocates for domestic terrorism to be a federal crime. This would allow prosecutions for material support. This support could include the provision of funds, weapons or safe haven.

McCord stated that the most common international terrorist charge is providing material assistance. This account accounts for almost half of federal terrorism-related prosecutions after Sept. 11, 2001.

Schiff stated that his bill would allow for the prosecution of material support to domestic terrorists.

Jeanne Theoharis is a Brooklyn College political science professor who has written many books on civil rights and worries about such a provision.

Theoharis stated that material support allows for the pursuit of people with beliefs and associations that are outside the mainstream. It allows the government to pursue people who don't agree with their politics.



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