FBI agents are pushing the government to enact a new federal terrorism statute, expressing disappointment that the domestic terror strategy released Tuesday by the White House stopped short of making such a recommendation.
While there is a federal terrorism statute, it doesn’t outline specific penalties for violent terror acts carried out in the U.S. Instead, perpetrators often face a mix of state and federal charges.
But civil rights advocates are concerned that any bill adding punitive measures or increasing surveillance powers would expand a national security and law enforcement regime that some say is already overpowered and often focuses its force on disadvantaged groups in the U.S., including Black and brown communities.
“Penalties are required for the definition to be an effective deterrent for would-be perpetrators and an effective tool for law enforcement. Making domestic terrorism a federal crime would not result in the targeting of specific ideas or groups. Rather, it would target acts of violence that have no place in the political discourse secured by our Constitution and Bill of Rights,” the FBI Agents Association said in a release.
“Making domestic terrorism a federal crime would ensure that perpetrators of political violence, regardless of ideology, face appropriate consequences."
In its new strategy for addressing domestic terrorism, the White House directs the Department of Justice to weigh in the matter.
“The president wanted his Justice Department and his new attorney general to take a hard look at the question of whether new authorities are necessary based on that analysis. And so the strategy requests that the Justice Department review this question and come back to him with a recommendation,” a senior administration official told reporters.
Margaret Huang, president and CEO of the Southern Poverty Law Center, previously told The Hill that domestic terror investigations have often targeted Black, Middle Eastern and South Asian communities.
“The worry is that these laws, which might allow infringement on freedom of speech or association, would target these communities who already are facing a lot of other discriminatory treatment and actually make things worse,” she said.