Politics

Schmidt: These days, even domestic terrorism is swept into election politics | Lynn Schmidt

On Memorial Day, Americans remember those who gave their lives fighting for the freedoms we enjoy. Those we lost had joined all their other military brethren in swearing an oath to the Constitution. While the U.S. Constitution is just a document, it is the values for which it stands that make it so meaningful.

This oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic” is also professed by civil servants, intelligence officials, as well as members of Congress.

And because almost everything is now viewed through the lens of partisanship, even the threats to our security have become political.

In 2019, FBI counterterrorism official Michael C. McGarrity defined domestic terrorism for the House Homeland Security Committee as “any act dangerous to human life that violates U.S. criminal laws and appears to be intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population, influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion, or affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping. The act in question must occur primarily within the jurisdiction of the United States.”

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FBI Director Christopher Wray told a congressional panel in March 2021 that domestic terrorism is one of the greatest threats to the United States. Wray stated “The problem of domestic terrorism has been metastasizing across the country for a long time now and it’s not going away anytime soon. At the FBI, we’ve been sounding the alarm on it for a number of years now.”

FBI national security chief Jill Sanborn told lawmakers in January that “the threat posed by domestic violent extremists is persistent and evolving. The most lethal threat from domestic violent extremists is posed by white supremacists and antigovernment militias.”

She added: “Racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists are most likely to conduct mass casualty attacks against civilians, and militia violent extremists typically target law enforcement and government personnel and facilities.”

Rep. Brad Schneider, D-Illinois, introduced a bill to combat domestic terrorism that “establishes new requirements to expand the availability of information on domestic terrorism, as well as the relationship between domestic terrorism and hate crimes.” It authorizes domestic terrorism components within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Department of Justice (DOJ), and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to monitor, analyze, investigate, and prosecute domestic terrorism. The domestic terrorism components of DHS, DOJ, and the FBI must jointly report on domestic terrorism, including white-supremacist-related incidents or attempted incidents. DHS, DOJ, and the FBI must review the anti-terrorism training and resource programs of their agencies that are provided to federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies. Additionally, DOJ must make training on prosecuting domestic terrorism available to its prosecutors and to assistant U.S. attorneys.

It creates an interagency task force to analyze and combat white supremacist and neo-Nazi infiltration of the uniformed services and federal law enforcement agencies. Finally, it directs the FBI to assign a special agent or hate crimes liaison to each field office to investigate hate crimes incidents with a nexus to domestic terrorism.

The House vote on Schneider’s bill, on May 19, was split 222-203 in favor. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Illinois, was the only Republican to join with all the Democrats in favor of the proposal. Four Republicans didn’t vote.

The vote came just days after a homegrown extremist killed 10 people in a Buffalo supermarket. House Republican leaders urged members of their party to vote against the bill, arguing that the legislation is unnecessary. But back in September 2020, the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act of 2020, a previous version of the same legislation, won unanimous House approval.

What was the difference between the 2020 and 2022 votes? The 2022 midterms.

I will not speculate on the reason for the unwillingness of Republicans to address the threat within our boundaries. That said, there are issues that should transcend the partisan divide. Our collective safety is one of them.

As a nation, we should be able to agree that fighting our enemies, whether they live on foreign soil or right here in the United States, should be a top priority — and a nonpartisan one at that. The quest to obtain or hold power seems to be tainting that commitment.

Lynn Schmidt is a Post-Dispatch columnist and Editorial Board member. lynnschmidtrn@outlook.com On Twitter: @lynnschmidtrn


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