STATEMENT: Congress Should Not Enact a New Criminal Law Against Domestic Terrorism

STATEMENT: Congress Should Not Enact a New Criminal Law Against Domestic Terrorism

The sun rises over the U.S Capitol Building on Election Day, November 3, 2020, in Washington | Getty/Chris McGrath

Washington, D.C. — As lawmakers consider how to respond to the rising threat of domestic violent extremism, including white supremacist violence, Mara Rudman, executive vice president for Policy at the Center for American Progress, issued the following statement urging Congress not to pass a new criminal domestic terrorism statute:

Support is building in Congress to take meaningful action against the rising tide of white nationalist violence and other forms of domestic extremism. This push has grown dramatically since the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol that resulted in the deaths of several people, including Capitol police officers. Since then, we continue to learn about the role that white supremacy played in motivating those extremist groups, including the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, self-described Nazis, and others. However, lawmakers should not respond by enacting a new criminal domestic terrorism statute. Such a law is not needed given the broad reach of existing criminal statutes. It will not solve the problem of domestic extremism and is likely to lead to unintended harms.

The politicization of law enforcement during the past four years provides a cautionary tale of what can happen when legal authorities such as a criminal domestic terrorism statute are abused. History is replete with examples of such laws being weaponized and used against vulnerable citizens, especially Black Americans, and against individuals who criticize the government. Additionally, many faith communities and communities of color have witnessed firsthand how efforts to combat terrorism can trample on civil rights and religious liberties. As lawmakers explore options for cracking down on these lawless and hateful acts, they should take care to ensure that the solutions do not create new risks for the communities they are trying to protect.

Instead, it is time for the government to use the tools it already has more effectively to stop white supremacist violence. This includes fully implementing existing criminal laws; making greater use of financial tools and other authorities; and increasing the priority for hate crimes, including white supremacist violence, in existing law enforcement and national security priority frameworks. Improved research, data collection, and reporting can also help. Next month, CAP will be releasing a detailed policy blueprint to end white supremacist violence, developed in partnership with the McCain Institute for International Leadership, which will offer even more ideas for action.