Like Countable?

Install the App
TRY NOW

You Can’t Charge Someone With Domestic Terrorism?

by Countable | 8.15.17

What’s the story?

We asked you, our CountaUsers, if the killing in Charlottesville on August 12 was terrorism. The vast majority of you said yes. Monday Attorney General Jeff Sessions agreed, but that doesn’t actually mean the federal government can charge the man responsible for the attack with "domestic terrorism."

Why does it matter?

The New York Times reports Sessions stated clearly Monday morning during an interview with "Good Morning America" that the attack on Saturday was domestic terrorism and would be fully investigated:

"It does meet the definition of domestic terrorism in our statute...You can be sure we will charge and advance the investigation toward the most serious charges that can be brought because this is unequivocally an unacceptable evil attack."

But that doesn’t mean the attacker will be prosecuted for "domestic terrorism". According to the Lawfare blog, “Domestic terrorism does not exist as a substantive offense under federal law....There is no such crime.” The state has primary legal authority in the case and will bring the final charges.

At the same time, the Department of Justice investigating the attack as an "act" of domestic terrorism establishes the federal government’s jurisdiction and the scope of the inquiry. The Times puts it this way:

"Domestic terrorism is not, itself, a criminal offense that prosecutors could charge. But portraying the attack in Charlottesville that way could help enable federal jurisdiction for what would normally be the state crime of vehicular manslaughter. It could also trigger certain enhanced powers to obtain records or seize assets that are available in security investigations. Since Virginia has the death penalty, however, federalizing the prosecution might not trigger any greater set of penalties for a conviction.”

The addition of federal jurisdiction deepens and widens the security investigation, but doesn’t change the prosecution.

Whether or not the Department of Justice names the attack as an act of domestic terrorism also says something important about who the government is willing to protect and who they are willing to prosecute. Following a terrorist attack in June where a man ran a van into a crowd outside a London mosque Max Fisher wrote in the Times:

"Calling an attack terrorism has become a way of asserting that the targeted community feels terrorized and of asking society to take that threat as seriously as it does other forms of terrorism. The debate is less about legalistic definitions than a way to examine which groups society is willing to protect, and what kind of violence it is willing to tolerate.”

Legally, there are potential dangers if domestic terrorism were to become a crime unto itself. In the Lawfare blog Susan Hennessey argues that laws constructed to criminalize "domestic terrorism" as a separate charge might well lead to an infringement on civil liberties.

What do you think?

Should domestic terrorism be considered a federal crime? Or is the current designation, which triggers a federal investigation but leaves the formal charges up to the state, adequate? What more should the federal government be doing, if anything, to combat domestic terror organizations and attacks?

Use the Take Action button to tell your reps what you think!

— Asha Sanaker

(Photo Credit: ABC7News via Twitter)

Countable

Written by Countable

Leave a comment
(77)
  • Gh annie
    08/15/2017
    ···

    What concerns me more than a federal charge of domestic terrorism when protesters are run down by someone with a car are the various states now considering laws where a driver who "feels threatened" by a protester won't be charged with murder. This is yet another means to protect everyone except peaceful protesters, and yet another step towards making all protests illegal. That's a very dark path for America to consider walking down. We need to stop this at the state levels so that it never reaches the federal level.

    Like (45)
    Follow
    Share
  • Monica
    08/15/2017
    ···

    There is no difference between Isis walking around with guns intimidating , spewing hate, driving into crowds killing people and white supremacist doing the same thing.. It's terrorism! You know all that stuff about "support and defend the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic " ya do that!

    Like (28)
    Follow
    Share
  • Joanne
    08/15/2017
    ···

    Definition Terrorism: • the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purposes. •the state of fear and submission produced by terrorism or terrorization. •a terroristic method of governing or government. TERRORISM is just that regardless of who has committed this horrific crime and should be charged and tried for the crime that was committed.

    Like (22)
    Follow
    Share
  • Resisting
    08/15/2017
    ···

    This event was a total display of domestic terrorism and if ISIS is not okay for the lands they currently infiltrate or abroad, neither is this white supremacy shit! When is enough enough?! We are supposed to be the country that makes the examples and now we are a friggin mockery of a free, CIVILIZED, and progressive country. Terrorism is terrorism. Skin color does NOT determine the level of terror. If that were the case, white Nationalist should've been at the epicenter of terror targets to be sanctioned against following the Holocaust! DO BETTER [Republican Party] at handling the trash in your department. It's effecting everyone and has been for decades!

    Like (20)
    Follow
    Share
  • Nicole
    08/15/2017
    ···

    What were the charges for the OK City bombing?

    Like (15)
    Follow
    Share
  • PLD
    08/15/2017
    ···

    We have a right of free speech and freedom of assembly that MUST be safeguarded even if it provides those rights to those who hold "deplorable" ideas. However, the rights to speech and assemble do NOT give individuals the right to arrive at protests with guns, bats, tear gas, and other weapons of violence as was evident in Charlottesville and, thus, must be stopped. It also is concerning that calling such activities as we've seen as "domestic terrorism" if it allows the government to limit individual rights protected by the US Constitution. With the current administration already willing to reach beyond safeguarded rights, allowing such infringement is a dangerous precedent not worth the risk. Consequently, its best to leave it to states to prosecute crimes such as murder or attempted violence against individuals or properties. Today's current administration have lost the unquestionable trust of citizens so must be considered.

    Like (9)
    Follow
    Share
  • Phillip
    08/15/2017
    ···

    The media and government need to get off the "terrorism" band wagon and start calling it what it is and treating it as such, murder! By labeling these people domestic and otherwise as terrorists I think gives them a certain standing in their minds and the public. They should be called as they are, murderers, rapists, arsonists, thugs etc etc. and prosecuted as such.

    Like (6)
    Follow
    Share
  • Jbev
    08/15/2017
    ···

    As a Florida resident, I too worry that a law is about to be passed giving permission to run protestors over with a car if someone feels threatened. This is carrying "stand your ground" to a whole different level.

    Like (6)
    Follow
    Share
  • Luke
    08/15/2017
    ···

    Good to see that Sessions is calling a rock a rock. This is domestic terrorism that caused injury and death, and the perpetrator needs to be charged at the full extent of the law.

    Like (6)
    Follow
    Share
  • Ike
    08/15/2017
    ···

    Yes it appears to have been an act of domestic terrorism and the defendant should be charged accordingly.

    Like (6)
    Follow
    Share
  • Vanessa
    08/15/2017
    ···

    These people are just clueless pawns in a deadly game seeking their 15 minutes of fame. Go after the source. That's the true evil....

    Like (3)
    Follow
    Share
  • Mark
    08/15/2017
    ···

    Although concerning, I am more disturbed by our presidents lack of response regarding Nazis, klansmen and the alt right. The man stood up on national TV and essentially made excuses for Nazis. I cannot and will not support Nazi sympathizers nor do I support those who commit treason or obstruct justice. Our grandparents didn't fight and die during world war 2 to have the President of the United States of American defend these fascists. If you are truly a patriotic American you will take steps to remove this Donald "Twitler" from office.

    Like (3)
    Follow
    Share
  • Patty
    08/16/2017
    ···

    Domestic terrorism should be a federal crime and prosecuted as any other terrorism.

    Like (3)
    Follow
    Share
  • Brian
    08/15/2017
    ···

    The playing field must be leveled on all fronts. This includes punishing American extremist for domestic terrorism. But regardless this man and others like him deserve every ounce of punishment that ISIS and their ilk do.

    Like (3)
    Follow
    Share
  • James
    08/15/2017
    ···

    If it had been a person of any color other than white, they'd call it terrorism without a doubt.

    Like (3)
    Follow
    Share
  • Kathy
    08/15/2017
    ···

    Legally we have the right to a peaceful protest, but when you have bus loads of Paid Protesters with weapons of sticks, bats spray and other means to hurt or possibly kill someone. Then that is PLAN Terrorism and those Organizations that are funding these Terrorist Acts should be held accountable for them. To have an organized march or protest Permits must be gotten from the City or State. There is a Law on protesters blocking Traffic in Highways it's against the Law. You have no right to denied someone else their Rights.

    Like (2)
    Follow
    Share
  • Cristian
    08/15/2017
    ···

    Well then in good timing...start working on introducing a bill that prosecutes domestic terrorism to the fullest extend of the law. Just because the law it doesn't exist doesn't mean that it CAN'T exist.

    Like (2)
    Follow
    Share
  • Gabriele
    08/15/2017
    ···

    How can, domestic terrorism, not be in the books as a crime? And then charging the driver only with vehicular manslaughter? Means he gets a slap on his hand and a few months in jail, means an easy ticket for the next ones to kill a few in one swoop without big punishment! I don't understand the law in America!!! This is just crazy what people can get away with!

    Like (2)
    Follow
    Share
  • Jill
    08/15/2017
    ···

    If we can't prosecute domestic terrorists then we need to change our laws. Why this hadn't already been done seems odd.

    Like (1)
    Follow
    Share
  • Kathy
    08/15/2017
    ···

    Of course this is domestic terrorism. And murder.

    Like (1)
    Follow
    Share