The Justice Department’s counsel for domestic terrorism said the DOJ is “leveraging every tool that we have” in the absence of a domestic terror statute to bring in violent domestic extremists, though “there are going to be instances where we can’t, and it presents a real challenge.”
In a presentation Wednesday at The George Washington University Program on Extremism, Thomas Brzozowski said that the domestic terror threat “remains undiminished” and has “metastasized to a degree,” with ideologies and training taking on an “increasingly transnational nature.”
There is no standalone domestic terrorism crime, so suspects could face charges instead for hate crimes, threats, weapons violations, explosives, etc. But hate speech alone is “kind of in the eye of the beholder,” he said, and “you can’t send someone to jail for engaging in hate speech alone because it has no legal significance.” Similarly, no agency “dictates what is and is not a hate group.”
Brzozowski slammed a “pervasive but false narrative that somehow the government is paying more attention to the Islamist extremist threat than the domestic terror threat,” as “every single day” related statutes are brought in the absence of a domestic terror law in a “solid disruption” of domestic extremist actions against Jewish community centers, Islamic centers, elected officials, etc.
Bringing related charges against a suspected domestic terrorist “doesn’t really generate the press coverage you hope it would,” he said, noting that even though Al Capone got nailed on tax charges “does that mean he’s not a bloodthirsty gangster?”
“The KKK is not a banned organization in the United States. If you want to hold a fundraiser and dance around with a cross or whatever you can do that … standing alone, that’s not a criminal violation,” Brzozowski continued. Material support charges are also tailored toward international terrorism; one of the rare instances when a domestic terrorist met the stipulations was the August 2015 conviction of Glendon Scott Crawford, a Ku Klux Klan member who plotted to build a radiation dispersal device with the intent of killing Muslims and President Obama.
Brzozowski noted how “some people still labor under the impression that you have to be a card-carrying member of some organization to be a domestic terrorist.”
In addition to “racially motived violent extremists,” the DOJ’s preferred term, Brzozowski cited early 20th century threats from anarchists, the “super-weird ideology” of the 1970s Symbionese Liberation Army, and the involuntarily celibate “incel” movement. “There’s a super weird ecosystem out there that people are trafficking on in the online environment,” he said, with “folks kind of feeding off each other.” The “bulk of deaths ” from domestic terrorism “have been attributed to racially motivated violence.”
Some domestic terrorists are traveling overseas to train, and coming back home. “We’re trying to leverage all of our existing authorities that have traditionally been focused internationally to see if we can’t reconstitute them a little bit with a view toward addressing some of these transnational threats,” he said. “That process is ongoing.”
Brzozowski said there’s “a degree of concern associated with that we are going into an election year,” and later clarified that “going into any presidential election cycle there’s going to be an elevated concern” with terrorism.
“Not suggesting that there’s a specific concern going into the cycle; there’s always a concern in any cycle,” he added.