Would he have been stopped before the massacre if he were a Muslim radical instead of a white radical?
Had Crusius “been an Islamist extremist, the odds are higher that he would been interdicted before the tragedy,” George Selim, an Anti-Defamation League (ADL) senior vice president, told a hearing of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on Wednesday.
Crusius might have been detected before the attack if the government had a federal statute against domestic terrorism that allowed more policing tools, as is the case with international terrorism.
Civil rights organizations oppose such a statute because a domestic terrorism law could threaten constitutional rights. They argue that it is a matter of priority instead of authority that hinders the fight against domestic, generally white, terrorism.
“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,” he said when he introduced the bill in August. The bill “includes a variety of civil liberties protections to ensure against its misuse.”
Those protections are not enough for activists mindful of law enforcement abuses against black, brown and Muslim communities and protective of constitutional rights.
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights is blunt. “Congress should not enact any laws creating a new crime of domestic terrorism,” it said in a letter to senators that specifically cited Schiff’s bill.
Schiff’s legislation and others with similar provisions “could be used as a vehicle to target marginalized communities,” the Leadership Conference, a coalition of more than 200 national organizations, wrote, warning against “counterterrorism policies, programs, and frameworks that have inherent flaws rooted in bias, discrimination, and denial or diminution of fundamental rights like due process.”
The American Civil Liberties Union agrees, saying the Justice Department already has “an array of laws to prosecute white supremacist violence that falls under the federal definition of domestic terrorism — but in recent years has chosen not to prioritize these cases.”
Instead, in the name of anti-terrorism, the FBI has unfairly targeted “people of color, those engaged in First Amendment-protected activities, and other marginalized communities, for investigations and prosecutions, placement on watchlists, and surveillance,” the ACLU charged.
The FBI declined to comment on the ACLU’s assessment or on the need for new legislation. Other bills dealing with domestic terrorism include:
- ● Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act to create domestic terrorism offices in the Justice and Homeland Security departments and create a task force to combat white supremacist and neo-Nazi influence in the military.
● Disarm Hate Act to prohibit the sale to and possession of firearms by people convicted of misdemeanor hate crimes or who received enhanced hate crime misdemeanor sentences.
About 61 percent of domestic terrorism plots succeed compared with 22 percent of those attempted by international terrorists against Americans, according to William Braniff, the director of the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) at the University of Maryland. “It is much more difficult to disrupt domestic terrorists,” he said.
Law enforcement has more tools to use against foreign plotters. But some of those tools, such as the broad use of electronic surveillance, do not pass constitutional muster in the United States.
“The FBI is legally allowed to open investigations for anyone who is attempting to raise money for, recruit for, or join a group like al-Qaeda, but it is not legally allowed to open an investigation on a domestic terrorist engaging in the exact same behaviors in support of a neo-Nazi group like the Atomwaffen Division, and certainly not for the white supremacist movement generally,” Braniff told the Federal Insider.
There’s also a difference in political pressure. The Islamic State and al-Qaeda do not have lobbyists on Capitol Hill and politicians in their pockets.
Violent domestic terrorists share a political agenda with “a larger number of Americans who do not espouse the use of violence,” Braniff said. “This creates political pressure to handle domestic terrorism less aggressively than international terrorism, as aggressive investigations may be misperceived as attacks on the social or political agenda itself.”