No, We Do Not Need New Anti-Terrorism Laws to Combat Right-Wing Extremists

After last week’s storming of the U.S. Capitol by a right-wing mob resembling a grown-up Halloween party that went wrong (bring your own fur and anti-Semitism), the war on the war is back on track Talked about terror. On Thursday, The Wall Street Journal reported President-elect Joe Biden would “prioritize the passage of a law against domestic terrorism” noting that “he has been asked to establish a post in the White House to oversee the fight against ideologically inspired violent extremists and increase resources to combat them “.

The emphasis on domestic terrorism is not new to Biden said This time, he decided to run for president after a neo-Nazi counter-protester, Heather Heyer, was killed during the infamous Unite the Right rally in 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia, with new laws pending to get into the seat Domestic terrorism likely around the corner.

But that’s a terrible idea.

In order to understand why, we must first consider the reasons this problem exists in the first place. It may come as a surprise, especially given that we are nearing the twentieth anniversary of September 11th, that there is no general federal law that punishes domestic Terrorism. While the USA Patriot Act redefined terrorism to include its domestic diversity, it did not provide specific penalties for such acts. In addition, while prosecutors can still use many of the comprehensive terrorism laws contained in the books to prosecute acts of terrorism domestically, particularly by far-right actors, they simply don’t. As Mike German from the Brennan Center writes “The Justice Department’s inattention to right-wing extremist violence is a matter of longstanding policy and practice, not a lack of authority.” The result is that the term “domestic terrorism” has become “practically irrelevant” from a legal point of view, according to the legal website

It is different when it comes to foreign terrorism. As soon as the government creates a weak link between a person and any of the 69 U.S. Designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs)this person can be exposed to all kinds of dubious law enforcement practiceswhat often leads to heavier criminal chargersand trigger increased penalties according to conviction. With most of the organizations on this list operating in Muslim majority countries, the connection between Muslims and terrorism has become entrenched in our legal thinking, not to mention our larger political and social perceptions. Even in cases where there is no direct connection to a foreign terrorist organization, these are American Muslims still characterized as international terrorists from the Justice Department.


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