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Legislation Needed to Protect Religious Institutions from Domestic Terrorism, Lawmaker Says

A request for a comprehensive oversight hearing on the ongoing domestic terrorism threat to our nation’s religious institutions – including Jewish Community Centers – and to request a markup to pass the Securing American Non-Profit Organizations Against Terrorism Act (HR 1486), was made by Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS), ranking member of the House Committee on Homeland Security to committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX).

Thompson’s bill would authorize $30 million in grants for non-profits that the Department of Homeland Security deems to be at risk of a terrorist attack to improve their security. The legislation would authorize the Non-Profit Security Grant Program at the Federal Emergency Management Agency at a level of $30 million a year from Fiscal Year 2018 through Fiscal Year 2022. To ensure that non-profits across America are eligible for funding,the program would not exclude non-profit organizations outside Urban Area Security Initiative jurisdictions from eligibility.”

In his letter to McCaul, Thompson said, “an issue that must … be addressed is the availability of grant funding to harden non-profit organizations against terrorist threats.”

Thompson’s announcement said, “In just the first three months of 2017, there has been a spate of threats in 32 states against 71 of the nation’s 151 Jewish Community Centers, five Anti-Defamation League locations and several Jewish day schools. In recent years, attacks and threats to religious institutions of all faiths have increased dramatically. This increase is occurring as the Southern Poverty Law Center has announced the number of active hate groups in the United States last year rose to 917 – including 514 anti-Semitic groups, 547 White Nationalist groups and 605 anti-Muslim groups."

“Last Congress, in the wake of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church massacre in Charleston, South Carolina, in which nine victims were killed while exercising their religious freedoms, I wrote to you requesting a hearing on the threat of domestic terrorism. Unfortunately, your response and the committee’s oversight activities showed a lack of willingness to address all forms of violent extremists, especially from terrorist groups founded on racist, anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim principals who have all targeted our nation’s religious facilities,” told McCaul in a letter requesting the hearing.

Thompson said, “The threat posed by violent extremism is not limited to a single ideology and that groups and individuals inspired by a wide range of religious, political or other ideological beliefs have promoted and used violence against the United States. There are no easy solutions to this security challenge, as the paths to terrorism are as diverse as the perpetrators. Nonetheless, our committee has a moral obligation and a Congressional responsibility to ask the tough questions and move forward legislation in an effort to protect our Nation from terrorism – no matter the source …”

He reminded McCaul that, “As you know, the Committee on Homeland Security’s bipartisan Oversight plan for the 115 Congress callsfor the Committee to ‘continue to conduct rigorous oversight of the federal government’s counterterrorism efforts, including monitoring ongoing and emerging terror threats to the United States …”

Thompson pointed out that, “In recent years, many domestic terrorist attacks and threats to United States have targeted our religious facilities and institutions and have extended to churches, mosques and other religious centers.”

For example, he cited:

  • In February and January 2017, a series of bomb threats were called into Jewish Community Centers across the country in 26 states;
  • In January 2017, a mosque was burned in Victoria, Texas. The current suspect reportedly has an apparent hatred of Muslims;
  • In January 2017, an armed masked man was arrested after protesting outside a Bozeman Islamic Center;
  • In October 2016, Wooddale United Methodist Church in Monroe Co., Pennsylvania saw their church damaged by vandals with displays of anti-Semitic, political and sexually explicit messages;
  • In October 2016, authorities in California arrested an individual with an arsenal of firearms who had previously made terror threats against the Islamic Center of Southern California;
  • In October 2016, Trinity Lutheran Church and St. Rose Catholic Church in  Longview, Washington saw their properties damaged with images of swastikas and other anti-Semitic and racist graffiti;
  • In August 2016, a Charleston, South Carolina woman received a letter that said "Charleston – The Sequel – coming soon to a mosque near you [u]nless Roff [sic] is released;”
  • In July 2016, the Islamic Community of Bryan-College mosque in Station, Texas was targeted and hit with repeated gunfire;
  • In December 2016, individuals dropped a dead pig at the Islamic Center of Lawton, Oklahoma;
  • In October 2016, a Tucson man inspired by ISIS pled guilty to charges related to a conspiracy targeting the Tucson Jewish Community Center;
  • In November 2016, "Heil Trump," a swastika, and a gay slur were spray-painted on a wall of St. David’s Episcopal Church in Bean Blossom, Indiana;
  • May 2016 bombing plot on an Aventura, Florida synagogue;
  • In 2015, there was a record number of threats, harassment and vandalism at mosques, including three incidents of vandalism in Omaha, Nebraska, two incidents of vandalism in Spokane, Washington, two incidents of vandalism and one incident of harassment in Oklahoma and one incident of vandalism in Rochester, New York, among many others;
  • In November 2015, a white supremacist plotted to attack synagogues and black churches in the Richmond, Virginia area before being arrested;
  • In July 2015, the New Shiloh Christian Church was set on fire and vandalized in Melbourne, Florida;
  • In June 2015, a 21 -year-old white gunman hoping to start a "race war" shot and killed nine black churchgoers at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina;
  • In April 2014, a white supremacist in Overland Park, Km1sas targeted and murdered three individuals at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City;
  • In August 2012, a white supremacist murdered six individuals and wounded others at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin; and
  • In July 2009, a pipe-bomb was thrown inside the predominantly African American Redeeming Fire Fellowship Church in Buffalo, New York, among others.
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