Acts of Politically Motivated Violence Are Already Illegal. Making 'Domestic Terrorism' a Federal Crime Won't Help

A domestic terrorism law is bound to threaten liberty more than it hampers terrorists.


Adding its voice to the growing chorus demanding stronger laws targeting politically motivated violence, the FBI Agents Association called on Congress to make domestic terrorism a federal crime. The members of this chorus are, to various degrees, sincere, panicked, and self-serving, but they all have something in common: they're advocating a very bad idea that's bound to threaten liberty more than it hampers terrorists.

"Domestic terrorism is a threat to the American people and our democracy," said FBIAA President Brian O'Hare in a statement. "Acts of violence intended to intimidate civilian populations or to influence or affect government policy should be prosecuted as domestic terrorism regardless of the ideology behind them. FBIAA continues to urge Congress to make domestic terrorism a federal crime. This would ensure that FBI Agents and prosecutors have the best tools to fight domestic terrorism."

Coming is it does from a labor union representing law enforcement agents who would gain another law to enforce if heeded, the statement can fairly be interpreted as an answer to the question: "Siri, what's an example of rent-seeking?"

But there are other objections to creating a new federal crime of domestic terrorism that also need to be addressed, given the real fears of many of the people making the call, and the serious concerns such a law could raise.

For starters, it's not clear that there's any need to pass more laws against crimes like the mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton that occurred over the weekend. Murder and related forms of mayhem are already illegal in every state, and there's no reason to believe that the federal government is better prepared to prosecute crimes than state and local authorities, who have long experience investigating such acts and bringing their perpetrators to trial.

Some advocates of a federal domestic terrorism statute concede this point, but still want a new law for largely symbolic value.

"To be clear, it is not that there are inadequate criminal statutes on the books," writes former Acting Assistant Attorney General for National Security Mary B. McCord, who is now with the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection at Georgetown University. "But neither state-law murder charges nor hate crime charges call what happened in Charlottesville what it was—domestic terrorism—and they fail to equate it under federal law, as it deserves to be equated, with the actions of ISIS-inspired terrorists who engage in violence in pursuit of their equally insidious goals."

McCord does acknowledge First Amendment concerns that would prevent the designation of domestic groups as terrorist organizations the way the United States government tags foreign groups. For example, even while ruling that the government could penalize assistance given to foreign groups designated as terrorist organizations, Supreme Court justices noted in 2010 that they "do not suggest that Congress could extend the same prohibition on material support at issue here to domestic organizations." But she still thinks it right to pass a law if only to put domestic terrorist acts "on the same moral plane" as those committed by largely Muslim attackers overseas.

But if we're just sending messages, it might be cheaper, and safer, to issue press releases. The feds already have a sketchy track record when it comes to investigating allegations of terrorism under existing laws.

"The United States government considered Nelson Mandela a terrorist until 2008," the American Civil Liberties Union pointed out in 2017. The organization went on to note that political protesters in Portland were being tagged as "domestic terrorists" by the Department of Homeland Security, which was then including that label in reports distributed to Fusion Centers which share information with federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies. In the absence of a specific statute against domestic terrorism, that meant little more than extra scrutiny of the sort authorized under the Patriot Act. But having your name associated with the word "terrorist" in police files comes with its own risks.

"The surveillance, labeling, and incarceration of protesters, especially Black protesters, because of their alleged criminal or terrorist activity is a well-worn trope. And while it may not surprise, it should still shock," the ACLU continued.

Not to pick on McCord here—well, not too much—but she's been a steady and specific advocate of domestic terrorism legislation. And the continued mislabeling of political protesters by law enforcement authorities for the sake of special treatment raises doubts about assurances that "to the extent that fear about possible abuses remains, any domestic terrorism statute should come with appropriate oversight requirements."

That's what she and Jason M. Blazakis, a professor at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, offer as a safeguard for "including domestic terrorism among the list of crimes that one is prohibited from materially supporting (such as through the stockpiling of weapons)."

That's a hell of a leap of faith to place in government agencies that have rarely, if ever, earned reputations for restraint and good judgment. Are we really supposed to believe that "appropriate oversight" by federal employees will prevent their colleagues from wrongly interpreting gun collections, stored chemicals, and random tools as material support for planned terrorist actions? These are the same federal employees who are also lobbying for domestic terrorism laws, on the rather transparent grounds that it will give them more important work to do.

Or… We could go with the admission that "it is not that there are inadequate criminal statutes on the books" and keep using existing laws as needed. By whatever name, the crimes committed by terrorists are already illegal and harshly punished. Additional laws against already criminalized activity promise to be more of a jobs program for feds than a step toward improved security, and a greater threat to our freedom than to terrorists.

NEXT: No Jail Time for 79-Year-Old Woman Who Fed Stray Cats

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. But how satisfying would it be to try domestic terrorists twice for the same acts? And it’s not like federal prosecutors don’t have ambitions that require big resume-building convictions.

    1. That’s what I was thinking about this.

    2. The only thing we need to do is criminalize the practice of Marxism. That would ultimately fix most things. As a lot of,problems would factor themselves out.

      1. do you want to love me more than world ???

        then visit my site at dpoker

  2. Domestic terrorism, red flag laws and hate speech are all of a piece – the cult of Government Almighty are smugly confident that finally their God will have the tools to go after the heretics and apostates and unbelievers who dare speak unclean words and think unclean thoughts. And when their false God turns on them and bites them in the ass, they shall gnash their teeth and wail with one voice, “This isn’t what we meant!” And the heretics and the apostates and unbelievers shall laugh say unto them, “Your bitter tears are as the sweetest nectar to our tongues, for surely we have told you so, you dumbass sons of bitches.”

    1. Testify!

  3. Waddaya mean “won’t help”?
    I’ll buy some votes from some low-watt constituents who want the congress-vermin to “do something”.

  4. How do we fight toxic whiteness without this law?

  5. Name an act of terrorism that is not currently illegal under one or more federal and/or state laws.
    Just name one.

    1. You miss the point, L. Some of these acts are not currently illegal *enough*. Think “doubleplusungood”.

    2. Well, John once told me that boycotting businesses that refused gay people was “economic terrorism”.

      So there’s that, if you consider John to be a reliable source.

  6. But “something must be done”. Even if that something does nothing.

  7. Ditto for more gun laws.

  8. Yup. Prosecution of ‘domestic terrorism’ will actually create the problem it’s trying to solve. If you want to make someone angry, then surveil them. Nik Cruz (Parkland shooter) had his backpack checked every day before school. Of course that’s humiliating and it’s a wonder more kids don’t go on shooting sprees. (Also end autism ‘treatment’ which is really indoctrination at age 2 into ‘impulse control disorder’ – I shit you not.)

  9. the statement can fairly be interpreted as an answer to the question: “Siri, what’s an example of rent-seeking?”

    A competitor to Jeopardy!

    Instead of thinking up the canned question which goes with the answer, see which contestant can come up with the right question to get Siri (or Alexa) to duplicate the answer.

    Man, Tuccille, you are on your way to Hollywood!

  10. The material support to terrorism laws are so nasty, this would be a complete nightmare. You would have cases of people contributing to what they thought were legal and peaceful organizations only to then find themselves guilty and subject to prosecution for “material support of terrorism” after some nut in the group goes out and shoots a bunch of people or even I think claims he is doing it for the cause. The potential for abuse is just extraordinary. Totally foolish idea.

    1. “The potential for abuse is just extraordinary.”

      “There’s no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren’t enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws.” ― Ayn Rand

    2. The upside is that we can make all right wing groups illegal since they’re the only ones who contribute to domestic terrorism /PB

    3. I’ll say the same thing I always say. If we get rid of the progressives, most of our problems go away with them.

  11. ‘”…it is not that there are inadequate criminal statutes on the books” and keep using existing laws as needed. By whatever name, the crimes committed by terrorists are already illegal and harshly punished.”‘

    Every “bad thing” a person can do to another has been illegal, well, forever. This does not keep the CA legislature from passing about 1000 new laws (1217 in 2018) every single year.

  12. It is nothing but a call to brand white people terrorists for the sole purpose of feeling good about oneself.

  13. >>>no reason to believe that the federal government is better prepared to prosecute crimes

    the deepest pockets of all.

  14. The point isn’t to do anything helpful, remember. People want emotion driven responses after mass shooting. It doesn’t matter if it will help, do “Something!” Or else you’re a cold-hearted sociopath with no compassion.

    It’s like the ending of Network. Don’t try to come up with rational responses to your problem, just get mad. Scream and rail against the sky. That way we’ll know you care.

    1. I have a good friend who was in politics. He says when he first got into politics a very wise man told him, “if it takes more than 30 seconds to explain, you have lost”. Never were truer words spoken. It is all about the soundbite and the therapeutic response.

  15. When the Justice Dept can give the people an accurate count of all the laws on the books already then I’ll listen that they need a new law.

  16. Making ‘Domestic Terrorism’ a Federal Crime Won’t Help

    What if we sentence them to MULTIPLE death sentences? Will that help?

    1. But of course, the first execution will surely scare the bejeezus out of them. They will have plenty of time to “reconsider” future violent actions.

    2. Since approximately two-thirds of all gun deaths are suicide, we need to make suicide by gun a death-penalty offense to be swiftly carried out.

      That has to stop these gun deaths, right?

      1. There it is!

    3. Iran does that sort of thing.

  17. “A domestic terrorism law is bound to threaten liberty more than it hampers terrorists.”

    But isn’t that the real point?

  18. From my experience, here is how you know the law will be a spectacularly bad one: It is named after someone. Those laws are usually the worst.

    What we do not want: another PATRIOT Act ‘wannabe’ that takes away more of our individual liberties.

    1. Government can’t help itself.

      When you elect people who want to rule, you get rulers and they will use the legislative process to their ends. This is why you can’t give them an inch.

      1. Exactly. I’ve been wondering if coercing random raffle winners into government service for a few years might not be the way to get less coercion overall, cuz the whole self-selection thing seems like positively looking for the most effective sociopath…

    2. You’ve just restated Kirk’s Law:

      “Any law named after the victim, or whose title spells a cutesy acronym, is certain to be a bad law.”

  19. Terrible set of proposed laws. How about enforcing the ones we actually have, first?

    Weird looking Glock 19. Almost looks like a 19 slide on a 26 frame. That or the guy in the photo has gigantic hands.

  20. Have any mass shooters escaped after the crime and crossed state lines? No, they all either die during the commission of the crime or give themselves up. The states do a pretty good job of prosecuting them.
    This just another blatant attempt to federalize anything and everything in this country.

  21. My only question is why Reason decided to use a picture of a gun which has a representation of the Texas flag. Like similar tattoos, it is painted to look as if flag is flying. What is the point? Domestic terrorism is a problem in Texas? El Paso was terrible but the rhetoric from Dem politicians and the media has been far worse than anything the lunatic who killed so many ever wrote or posted online. He will get exactly what he deserves. A date with the needle.

    1. “He will get exactly what he deserves. A date with the needle.”

      If only. I can see the Feds demanding first crack at that asshole, convicting him, and stashing him away in Terre Haute for 20 plus years of appeals. While he’s there, I don’t think Texas can get at him.

      The only reason Tim McVeigh got executed is he waived most of his appeals. Otherwise he’d probably be sitting in Florence like the rest of the ‘world’s weirdest tea circle’, as a wag called the conversations the Unabomber, Ramzi Yusef, and Eric Rudolph would have with each other.

    2. I’m not sure the editor pegged it as a Texas flag, I sure didn’t. I just thought it was a typical patriotic red/white/blue style

    3. Eh, now that you’ve called out the Texas flag, i can see it, but at first I thought it was just another shitty “patriotic” paint job.

  22. But it’s better if it is double-plus-illegal!

  23. Here’s an idea.
    Enforce existing laws against violence instead passing new and unneeded ones.
    Oh, that’s right.
    Then the politicians wouldn’t have a reason to be in office.
    Gee, what a tragedy that would be.

  24. Praise the lord and pass the ammunition*

    *government permission and photo ID required in CA.

  25. The latest talking point: it is weeds fault. Appearently most of the perpetrators of domestic terrorism have smoked weed. Just like half of the people I know.

    Unstable people use drugs and unstable people obviously are the ones that commit mass murders. A classic chicken-and-egg issue.

    I bet most of the mass murderers drink water too…

    1. My wife read somewhere recently that vaping causes violent behavior too, and because she doesn’t like me doing it, now thinks it causes me to yell at our kids when they misbehave. I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before vaping gets one labeled a terrorist.

  26. “If you thought this sort of thing was illegal before, wait until we make it even illegal-er-er.”

  27. That’s what I was thinking about this.

  28. on Saturday I got a gorgeous Ariel Atom after earning $6292 this – four weeks past, after lot of struggels Google, Yahoo, Facebook proffessionals have been revealed the way and cope with gape for increase home income in suffcient free time.You can make $9o an hour working from home easily……. VIST THIS SITE RIGHT HERE
    >>=====>>>> ONLINE WORK

  29. the best thinking idea for all the situs poker onlinepokercc

  30. the best of the best in town poker boya

  31. Looking for the best Indonesia Bitcoin and Blockchain info site ???? go to Berita Bitcoin

    1. Jazz hands!!!!

  32. or you looking for best football magazine site ??? berita bola terbaru

  33. A crime is a crime is a crime. Same thing with “hate crimes”. Seems charging people with hate crimes has not stopped hate crimes, so why would you think charging people with ‘Domestic Terrorism’ would stop terrorism? Politicians at work doing nothing but trying to look like they are doing something. Elections are coming soon you know.

  34. “”The United States government considered Nelson Mandela a terrorist until 2008,””

    It was probably just all that commie-funded bombing stuff. I mean, South Africa had more civilians where those came from, amirite?

  35. Yes but passing a law only takes raising a hand one time. Actually doing something about it takes a plan and real work. No time for that nonsense in congress.

  36. Nice

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.