New Laws Against Domestic Terrorism Are Unnecessary and Dangerous

Violent acts are already illegal, and new tools will inevitably be used against those who annoy the powerful.


There is no crisis, real or imagined, that government officials don't see as an opportunity to expand their authority and hurt their enemies. America's ongoing political tensions, which erupted on January 6 into the Capitol riot, have become an excuse for spurring the latest campaign against "domestic terrorism." But violent acts, it should be noted, are already illegal under existing law. New "anti-terrorism" tools will inevitably be deployed against those who annoy whoever is currently in office.

"I never expected that … when I returned to the Justice Department to be sworn in on my first day as Acting Deputy Attorney General, that to get to the building, I would have to pass through numerous checkpoints under escort of armed agents in a city under lockdown.  I never expected to have to walk through the Department of Justice hallways filled with hundreds of soldiers positioned to protect the Department from terrorists," Acting Deputy Attorney General John Carlin huffed during a February 26 briefing. "[W]e must make it known that the Department of Justice is prioritizing the detection, the disruption, and deterrence of the threat of domestic terrorism and violent extremism in all its forms."

That Carlin's statement came just days after Brian O'Hare, president of the FBI Agents Association, called for formally "making domestic terrorism a federal crime" provides ample evidence that those work in government see an opportunity to extend their reach and build in some job security. What could improve the prospects for such a law than the aftermath of a lethal outburst that frightened lawmakers? 

Sure enough, a proposed bill—the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act of 2021—would do the job.

"Following the terrifying attack on the Capitol this month, which left five dead and many injured, the entire nation has been seized by the potential threat of more terrorist attacks in Washington and around the country," says sponsor Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.). "Unlike after 9/11, the threat that reared its ugly head on January 6th is from domestic terror groups and extremists, often racially-motivated violent individuals. America must be vigilant to combat those radicalized to violence, and the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act gives our government the tools to identify, monitor and thwart their illegal activities."

But there's little evidence that new legislation targeting domestic terrorism is needed at all.

"The FBI already has all the authority it needs to investigate and prosecute perpetrators of white nationalist violence," Faiza Patel of the Brennan Center for Justice pointed out during a 2019 push for such legislation. "Congress has enacted 51 federal crimes of terrorism that apply to entirely domestic acts and further prohibited material support toward the commission of these violent crimes."

Even advocates of domestic terrorism laws admit the point.

"To be clear, it is not that there are inadequate criminal statutes on the books," concedes former Acting Assistant Attorney General for national security Mary B. McCord. With regard to the Capitol riot, she admits that "even though there is not a crime called terrorism that applies to this, this would certainly fit within the definition of crimes intended to intimidate or coerce and influence a policy through intimidation or coercion."

But McCord complains that existing laws against ideologically fueled violence "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."

So, the point of a new law is apparently to send a message. But it's a message that comes at a high cost.

"Throughout its history, the FBI has used its authorities to investigate and monitor political protesters and civil rights activists," Brenn Center's Patel added.

"The overwhelming tendency in domestic antiterrorism has been to use invasive and unconstitutional surveillance techniques to criminalize legitimate dissent," agrees former Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), who was the only member of the upper chamber to vote against the subsequently much-abused Patriot Act in 2001. "This history was a basis for the recent statement by 135 civil-rights and civil-liberties organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International and the NAACP, in opposition to any new domestic terrorism laws. I am proud to echo their call."

The potential for weaponizing efforts against domestic terrorism was illustrated when then-Attorney General Bill Barr insisted during last summer's riots that "the violence instigated and carried out by Antifa and other similar groups in connection with the rioting is domestic terrorism" and promised federal intervention—often over the objections of state and local officials.

Since then, of course, political fortunes have reversed, and the White House is now held by Democrat President Joe Biden. Instead of the left-wing radicals who troubled Barr, Schneider's bill calls out "White supremacists and neo-Nazis." In their statements, Schneider and his allies troublingly broaden their concerns, warning of vaguely defined "extremists."

"[T]his is an issue that all Democrats, Republicans, independents, Libertarians should be extremely concerned about, especially because we don't have to guess about where this goes or how this ends," cautions former Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii). She calls the proposed domestic terrorism bill "a very dangerous undermining of our civil liberties, our freedoms in our Constitution, and a targeting of almost half of the country."

Which half of the country is targeted will depend on who wields the authority to battle "domestic terrorism." Elections come and go, but laws remain to be turned by those in office against whoever is out of favor. And, if terrorists can't be found to justify expanded powers, perhaps they'll be made.

"Indeed, in some cases the Federal Bureau of Investigation may have created terrorists out of law-abiding individuals by conducting sting operations that facilitated or invented the target's willingness to act," Human Rights Watch reported in 2014 of existing laws against terrorism.

All of this to target acts that even advocates of new laws admit are already illegal under existing legislation. The United States doesn't need more laws against "domestic terrorism," it needs to prosecute those who violently attacks others, to respect the free speech rights of people who anger the powerful, and to reject government officials' self-serving calls for job security.

NEXT: Biden Should Nominate Judges Who Battled the Government in Court

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  1. Such is life in a banana republic. The best we can hope for is a series of military coups.

    1. Given who the current POTUS is, prune republic or tapioca republic may be more appropriate.

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    2. “The best we can hope for is a series of military coups”.
      A Ukrainian government official told me me that same exact thing in the 90s. They had broken off from the Soviet Union, but were still having trouble with the hardcore communists (college professors, politicians, government beurocrats) trying to remain in power. Who knew?

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  2. “Which half of the country is targeted will depend on who wields the authority to battle “domestic terrorism.” Elections come and go, but laws remain to be turned by those in office against whoever is out of favor.”

    No, not really. If the last four years taught us anything, it’s that, as who nominally wields the authority doesn’t matter, the permanent bureaucracy works for one party all the time. They leap to do the bidding of one party, “resist” the other.

    There is no symmetry here, and the Democrats know it. They will not be dissuaded by unrealistic concerns of their own weapons being turned against them; They know it would refuse to be used.

    1. Yep. The FBI has clearly become one of the enforcement wins of the DNC. The multiple Clinton an Biden coverups they were caught suppressing were bad enough. Then to openly pursue multiple Trump witch hunts while suppressing they knew the evidence they were using to justify them was false, is pretty irrefutable proof. Destruction of evidence, was it 37 cell phones? Setting interviews up with clear intentions of entrapment. The FISA warrants fiasco…

      That’s just one agency. There are so many DEEP BLUE DNC assholes in every branch of the Federal government!

      1. You’d think they got ole J. Edgar out of the freezer.

    2. This is true, at least in the last four years, but hypothetically it could shift over time. McCarthism was not that long ago.

      But that’s ignoring the actual cause of such effects. The executive institutions shill for whomever will hand them the most power and money. Right now, that’s the democrats. Even if that changes, it will always be whomever is against us libertarians, since we want executive institutions diminished.

      1. It would take quite some time for this to shift.

        Anyway, that prospect really is not of concern to the Democrats, they’ve been operating on the theory that they’re taking permanent control of the government with the next election for a LONG time.

    3. exactly

      and now under Biden DoD is explicitly political too

      vote chicanery

      political purges in the military

      Marxist thugs in the streets

      political purges in media and entertainment

      violent crime skyrocketing

      dissent denounced as extremism

      extremism officially sanctioned

      schools indoctrinating youth

      the Venezuelan slide into the abyss

  3. crimes intended to intimidate or coerce and influence a policy through intimidation or coercion

    You mean, like burning down cities to influence their governments to abolish their police departments?

    1. Tell it to Ron Desantis and the Republicans in state govt. They’ve actually already passed laws like this increasing penalties for activity like protesting pipelines or blocking a street.

      1. Leave it to you Shreek to complain about a Republican protecting you, like you’ve demanded, from insurrection and coups.

        1. There are just insurrections and coups, and unjust insurrections and coups. Good and bad revolutions. Honorable and dishonorable acts of violence. One you choose a side, the distinction becomes ever clearer and ever more correct.

          1. Honorable acts of violence are not at all what I saw this summer.
            Come to think of it, I didn’t see any in Iraq either. Or Afghanistan. Or Bosnia. Not even once during my childhood in Chicago during busing.
            I’ll keep my eyes peeled. Sooner or later I’m sure to see an honorable act.

      2. That won’t make me say it’s right. I’m not a Republican and attempts to shame me out of my position by citing their mistakes won’t work.

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  5. Yet another absurd pipe dream from Reason.

  6. I fee like the definition of “terrorism” has gotten expanded a lot.

    1. It seems that if these new laws go to the extreme of some proponents then the crime of “terrorism” is going to be a violation of the Free Speech Clause.

    2. Not unlike racism, white supremacy, and misogyny. Seems to be the nature of radioactive words to expand in order to fit the narrative du jour.

    3. Feeling like that is terrorism. I’ve reported you to the NSA.

    4. It had to expand to offset the over usage of the label “hero”.

  7. War on Terror 2: the home version!

    1. Lol, where’s the upvote button on this website?

  8. If you’re NOT a racist (calling skin color out on everything) and NOT a supporter of National Socialism (def;Neo-Nazism) expect to be labelled a “terrorist” by the Racist Neo-Nazi Party.

    The projection and idiocy of the Democratic party has become completely mind-boggling.

  9. “The National Hot Dog and Sausage Council recently came out in disapproval of adults using ketchup on hot dogs. In a guide to hot dog etiquette, the organization decreed that for those 18 years of age and older, acceptable wiener toppings include mustard, relish, onions, cheese and chili.”

    I think the FDA needs to formalize this rule.

    1. I think the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council can “eat the whole sausage.”

      1. Eat a whole bag of ’em.

    2. John Kerry: “Fuel up the G7, we are going to go bury those bastards at the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council”. “How dare they!” “I’ll have them branded climate deniers”!

    3. Food gatekeepers and elitists are fucking morons.

  10. Do we need more laws?

    Duh, not everything is illegal yet.

    1. Are you sure about that?

      The only thing on the face of the Earth that isn’t banned, regulated and/or taxed is masturbation.

      There’s your freedom. You are free to go fuck yourself.

      1. Masturbation isn’t regulated? Can it be done anywhere? I’m asking for a friend. PeeWee Herman needs answers.

        1. “Masturbation isn’t regulated? Can it be done anywhere? ”

          I believe the answer is yes, as long as you can manage to do so without exposing your genitals.

          Now if you are caught doing it on private property you might be asked to leave, but that’s not government regulation of masturbation.

  11. If Christian pastor Martin Luther King, Jr were alive today, he would meet the “extremist” label being floated by the FBI Director. Why didn’t he say “violent extremist” instead of a vague label that could be used against American?

    Director Wray may be well-intentioned but he took an Oath of Office to follow the 4th Amendment search warrant process and to protect the constitutional rights of all persons on US soil and American citizens on foreign soil.

    Title 5 US Code 3331, America’s supreme loyalty oath, was designed primarily to prohibit government officials from becoming “domestic enemies to the US Constitution”. This clause was designed for government servants, not private citizens.

    The 4th Amendment does not impede any legitimate search by any constitutional officer, of any agency. It simply minimizes abuses of unconstitutional authority. Congress should mandate annual Oath of Office training for the FBI and all other agencies , with an annual refresher exam. It’s designed to “restrain” unconstitutional authority by government officials.

    1. “Director Wray may be well-intentioned”

      He’s not.

      1. I think COINTELPRO was attempting to be gracious.

        But as my mother always pointed out, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.

  12. It’s almost like we’ve been screaming about this for 20 years at this point. The endpoint of the USA PATRIOT Act was a war on citizens.

    1. The PATRIOT act only let’s them spy on us and put us on unconstitutional no fly lists and the like. They still need the ability to drone strike your non COVID compliant BBQs and CPAC. I suggest we replace the PATRIOT act with the War On Kinda Everyone Act, that let’s top democrats do anything they want to anyone a panel of hipster socialists determine is a facist or white supremicist.

    2. Always was, always will be.

      I just wish all of the “conservatives” has stood up 20 years back and screamed bloody murder about the Patriot Act, TSA, TWIC, etc rather than beating the drum in support.

      But, as I’ve been saying here for some years, glad they’re coming to the party, even if a bit late.

  13. Doesn’t matter if such statutes are ineffectual or duplicate the effects of other pre-existing laws: Their purpose is to demonstrate how much legislators CARE.

    1. Like Senator Prune Face’s legislation against dressers. Only broader.

  14. Yeah a bunch of bearded ruffians taking selfies and waving flags, that was some surefire terrorism wasn’t it.

    Hey reason, you know some people are still in jail and denied bail for walking around the capitol taking selfies. No writeup on that still huh.

  15. McCord complains that existing laws…fail to equate it under federal law, as it deserves to be equated, with the actions of ISIS-inspired terrorists

    In case anyone missed it here is the progressive take on an assembly of individuals expressing discontent with their government.

  16. Extremist = anyone with whom you disagree over political, ideological or policy matters. In short, like beauty extremism is in the eye of the beholder.

  17. In 1837, when Britain liquidated all American bonds to finance an Opium War on China, there was massive civil unrest all over, though “we” had attacked nobody. Wrecking the economy via asset forfeiture is as clear a menace as the initiation of force. The 9/11 attacks showed thinking people how dangerous the retaliation resulting from attacks can be. But Nixon-subsidized media brainwashing for the Kleptocracy so addles voters that they consistently cast ballots for violent coercion and are repeatedly surprised by the terrible outcomes that policy triggers.

  18. The dehumanization of ordinary citizens marches on.

    First, they were bigots
    Then, racists
    Then, facsists
    Then, white supremacists
    Now, they’re terrorists

    What a disgusting display.

  19. We’re always one law away from utopia, according to statists. One day we’ll get there, one day. If only that evil team (insert color here) didn’t always get in our way.

    It’s all so tiresome. *sigh*

    1. The media accelerates that very process. Rwanda is a perfect example of that.

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  21. Being a prosecutor/cop must be great, the worse you do your job the more power you get!

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