Today, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, introduced legislation – The Confronting the Threat of Domestic Terrorism Act – that would create a federal domestic terrorism crime. It would cover, among other things, terrorist acts by domestic actors without links to foreign organizations; and thus ensure that attacks like the one in El Paso, the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, and the Emanuel African Episcopal Church in Charleston can be punished for what they are – terrorism.
Even though Americans today are more likely to be killed by white-supremacists than international terrorism organizations while on American soil, treating these terrorist acts, including racist or anti-Semitic shootings, differently than other acts of terrorism makes the public take it less seriously. This legislation will tackle that challenge by providing new and necessary tools to prosecutors and investigators to respond to the rising threat of domestic terrorism.
Schiff stated: “The attack in El Paso by a white supremacist is only the most recent in a disturbing and growing trend of domestic terrorism, fueled by racism and hatred. The Confronting the Threat of Domestic Terrorism Act would for the first time create a domestic terrorism crime, and thus provide prosecutors with new tools to combat these devastating crimes. When violence fueled by homegrown, hateful ideology poses a more immediate threat to the safety and security of Americans on American soil than an international terrorist organization, it’s time for our laws to catch up. The bill is also narrowly tailored to violent terrorist acts, and includes a variety of civil liberties protections to ensure against its misuse.”
The legislation is narrowly crafted and includes protections to ensure it is not misused. Among other things, it requires that before any charges may be brought, the Attorney General or their deputy provide a written certification that in their judgement the crimes committed meet the standards of the statute – including the requirement that the offender intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population or to influence government policy through coercion or intimidation. It further requires the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) to prepare a public report on the civil liberties implications of the statute within four years of passage. Finally, unlike the international terrorism context, it does not establish a list of domestic terrorism organizations, something that potentially raises serious First Amendment issues.
A copy of the bill can be found here.