In-Depth: Rep. Brad Schneider (D-IL) introduced this bill to address the growing threat of white supremacists and other violent right-wing extremists:
“It’s time we update our laws to reflect the growing threat of domestic terror. In the last decade, white supremacists and other violent far-right extremists have been responsible for more deaths than any other category. I am proud to partner with Senator Durbin on legislation strengthening coordination on monitoring these groups and preventing acts of violence. From a Sikh Temple in Wisconsin to a church in South Carolina to a synagogue in Pennsylvania, we have too many tragic examples of the dangers of domestic terrorism, and the recent tragedy in New Zealand shows the vile ideology of hate is growing beyond our borders as well. This legislation is a necessary first step to help our law enforcement contain the threat.”
Original sponsor Rep. Dick Durbin (D-IL) adds:
“Violent white supremacists and other far-right extremists are the most significant domestic terrorism threat facing the United States today. For too long, we have failed to take action to combat the deadly threat in our own backyard. While federal law enforcement agencies recognize that white supremacist extremism is on the rise, our legislation would require them to take the concrete steps needed to address it.”
Former DHS analyst Daryl Johnson, who now runs DT Analytics a firm providing analysis and consultation on domestic terrorism to law enforcement and academic institutions, expressed support for this bill, saying, “The Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act, I think, is the first step in developing a better strategy on how to combat these anti-government and white supremacist groups.” While at DHS, Johnson authored a landmark 2009 study on violent white-ring terrorism that noted that the economic downturn and the election of Barack Obama, the first African-American president, “present[ed] unique drivers for right wing radicalization and recruitment.”
When asked in March 2019 whether he believes white nationalist violence is a growing threat in the U.S., President Trump said, “I think it’s a small group of people that have very, very serious problems,” indicating that he doesn’t believe white nationalist violence is indicative of a broader issue.
Mary McCord, a former acting assistant attorney general for national security at the DOJ who worked on the Domestic Terrorism Executive Committee (DTEC), says this bill is a good start, but recommends adding a provision making domestic terrorism a federal crime in order to “add some real direction and resources and heft behind a proposal like this.”
Robin Simcox, a counterterrorism expert at conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation, says that while domestic terrorism is an indisputable threat to the U.S., it’s important for the Trump administration to not lose sight of the persistent and distinct danger posed by foreign extremist groups such as ISIS and al-Qaida, which he argues pose a bigger threat:
“When you look at the overall picture of what’s happening in the West, the scale of what’s been planned by Islamist terror outfits like ISIS and [al-Qaida] especially, to me it’s still way up there as a very vital part of the overall threat picture.”
This bill has five Democratic House cosponsors in the 116th Congress. A Senate bill, sponsored by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), has 14 Senate cosponsors, including 13 Democrats and one Independent.
In the 115th Congress, the House version of this bill had six Democratic cosponsors and didn’t see committee action. Last Congress, the Senate version of this bill had 14 Democratic cosponsors and also didn’t see committee action.
This bill has the support of Muslim Advocates, the Anti-Defamation League, and the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism.
Of Note: A May 2017 intelligence bulletin by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Dept. of Homeland Security (DHS) stated that white supremacist extremism poses a persistent threat of lethal violence. It also noted that white supremacists were responsible for 49 homicides in 26 attacks from 2000 to 2016 — more than any other domestic extremist movement.
According to the Global Terrorism Database at the University of Maryland, which tracks attacks on religious leaders and institutions by right-wing extremists, such attacks have been on the rise since 2014. There were 15 attacks in the U.S. in 2015, 25 in 2016, and 13 in 2017. The average number of annual attacks between 2004 and 2014 was three.
There have been long-standing concerns about right-wing extremists in the military and such groups seeking to infiltrate the armed services to gain tactical knowledge. There have also been concerns about such groups seeking to radicalize troops after they’ve joined the armed services. In a 2008 FBI assessment, “White Supremacist Recruitment of Military Personnel since 9/11,” the agency found just over 200 identifiable neo-Nazis with military training. The report found military experience “ranging from failure at basic training to success in special operations forces” throughout the white supremacist movement. It added:
“FBI reporting indicates extremist leaders have historically favored recruiting active and former military personnel for their knowledge of firearms, explosives, and tactical skills and their access to weapons and intelligence in preparation for an anticipated war against the federal government, Jews, and people of color.”
Summary by Lorelei Yang
(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / TheaDesign)