Schiff offers bill to make domestic terrorism a federal crime

Schiff offers bill to make domestic terrorism a federal crime
© Aaron Schwartz

Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffTrump whistleblower complaint involves Ukraine: report Democrats to seek ways to compel release of Trump whistleblower complaint Whistleblower complaint based on multiple incidents; watchdog won't disclose info MORE (D-Calif.), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, introduced legislation Friday that would make domestic terrorism a federal crime.

The Confronting the Threat of Domestic Terrorism Act would create a federal criminal statute that would cover domestic acts of terror committed by those without links to foreign organizations.

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Schiff said the legislation was sparked by the recent mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, as well as attacks at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh and the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C.

Authorities believe the El Paso suspect warned of a “Hispanic invasion” and he reportedly told police he was targeting "Mexicans."

“The attack in El Paso by a white supremacist is only the most recent in a disturbing and growing trend of domestic terrorism, fueled by racism and hatred. The Confronting the Threat of Domestic Terrorism Act would for the first time create a domestic terrorism crime, and thus provide prosecutors with new tools to combat these devastating crimes,” Schiff said in a statement.

“When violence fueled by homegrown, hateful ideology poses a more immediate threat to the safety and security of Americans on American soil than an international terrorist organization, it’s time for our laws to catch up.”

Schiff’s bill includes numerous civil liberties protections to prevent misuse, including a requirement that the attorney general or a deputy certify that crimes committed were intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population or to influence government policy before charges may be brought. 

The legislation also requires the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board to compile a public report on the civil liberties implications of the statute within four years of passage and refrains from establishing a list of domestic terrorism organizations out of concerns over First Amendment violations. 

Any person found to have violated the law or conspired to do so would be punished under U.S. Code 2332b, which outlines penalties for acts of “terrorism transcending national boundaries.”

Schiff's bill comes amid growing calls to define domestic terrorism as a crime.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) proposed a new state law Thursday defining domestic terrorism as a crime punishable by up to life without parole. It would apply to anyone who kills people in mass attacks because of their race, religion or sexual orientation.