Connecticut’s two U.S. senators, both Democrats, are urging passage of a bill that they say will help prevent incidents similar to the recent Buffalo mass shooting, though it actually narrows rather than expands federal anti-terrorism concerns.
At a press conference on Friday, senior Sen. Richard Blumenthal called the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act of 2022 a “chance to take a stand and an opportunity to send a message to the hate mongers that enough is enough.”
His junior colleague, Chris Murphy, stood with him, noting the measure would dedicate personnel in all of the federal Justice Department’s field offices toward “tracking and addressing hate crimes.”
Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives first proposed the legislation in January 2021. In so doing, they purported to aim for heightened focus on the threat of white supremacism to Americans’ safety. But the measure actually addresses “domestic terrorism” in a way that critics worry would shield Islamist terrorists and other violent extremists from proper federal scrutiny.
The current legal definition of domestic terrorism refers to actions that endanger human life, violate U.S. criminal laws and are apparently meant to either “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.” Such activities must “occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States.”
No exceptions, ideological or otherwise, apply regarding this definition. The Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act, however, focuses exclusively on “the domestic terrorism threat posed by White supremacists and neo-Nazis…” and neglects anti-police organizations like Antifa as well as violent Islamists.
U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA-01), a moderate Republican and erstwhile sponsor of the bill, said he cannot support its current version because it would give the Justice Department “too much leeway in picking and choosing what it considers to constitute domestic terrorism.”
The bill received a vote of the full House last week. Only one Republican congressperson, frequent intra-party gadfly Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), voted for it. The House tally otherwise came down along party lines with all Democrats in favor.
Another of the bill’s Republican cosponsors, Rep. Don Bacon (R-NE), said in a statement that he reversed his original support because the current version of the legislation would authorize “use of funds from the National Intelligence Program to ‘monitor’ and surveil American citizens, including our police, servicemembers, and parents.” He said “literally hundreds of constituents” told him they believe the Biden administration would misuse the bill to surveil Americans who are not members of violent organizations.
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Bradley Vasoli is managing editor of The Connecticut Star. Follow Brad on Twitter at @BVasoli. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy” by Lorie Shaull. CC BY-SA 2.0.