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Domestic Terrorism Laws and Civil Liberties

But in a nation that already incarcerates more of its population per capita than any other in the world, critics have pointed out that more laws would only contribute to the problem—especially when those laws are redundant and could be easily manipulated for political ends.

Faiza Patel of the Brennan Center for Justice fought against an attempt at passing similar legislation in 2019.

“The FBI already has all the authority it needs to investigate and prosecute perpetrators of white nationalist violence,” Patel said. “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.”

Those in favor of further legislation have admitted the new bill is less about criminalizing certain acts than it is about sending a message.

“To be clear, it is not that there are inadequate criminal statutes on the books,” stated Mary B. McCord, former acting Assistant Attorney General for national security. She argued the proposed law would put the actions of the Capitol rioters and others on par with “ISIS-inspired terrorists who engage in violence in pursuit of their equally insidious goals.”

The trouble with such legislation is its potential to be weaponized against free speech, civil rights activists, and political protesters. Which individuals of groups fit the definition of “domestic terrorists” will depend on the administration currently in power.

Former Representative Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), who called the proposed bill “a very dangerous undermining of our civil liberties,” pointed to past abuses of similar laws that could be targeted at political opponents. “[T]his is an issue that all Democrats, Republicans, independents, Libertarians should be extremely concerned about,” she said, “especially because we don’t have to guess about where this goes or how it ends.” 



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