Domestic terrorism should be a federal crime


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Becky Driscoll (German-born actress Dana Wynter) and Dr. Miles Bennell (American actor Kevin McCarthy) hold hands and run from unseen terror in a film still from the horror motion picture ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers,’ directed by Don Siegel, 1956. The film concerns tells the story of a doctor who returns to his small town home to discover that some of his neighbors seem to have been replaced by alien duplicates. (Photo by Allied Artists/Getty Images)

Olivia Platt, Staff Writer

2021 has just begun, but Jan. 6 will go down as one of the ugliest days in American history.  As thousands of Donald Trump loyalists stormed the United States Capitol, members of Congress hid under desks to avoid being attacked.  They stripped their identification pins from their lapels and then escaped through secret passageways.  Rioters ransacked the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.  Flag-waving protesters smashed windows and assaulted police inside the nation’s precious symbol of democracy.  Many questions have surfaced as to how to classify this attack, and how to handle its perpetrators.

“The definition of terrorism is the use of a threat of force or violence to influence the policy of a government.  You had people who physically and violently broke down doors and stopped a legislative action.  This is an act of domestic terrorism, in my opinion,” said retired FBI agent Thomas O’Connor in an interview with  The CT Mirror.

This invasion of the United States Capitol is a clear cut act of domestic terrorism.  However, the crucial issue at hand is that there is no specific federal crime covering acts of terrorism inside the U.S. that are not connected to al Qaeda, ISIS, other officially designated international terror groups, or their sympathizers.  In order to uphold our nation’s democracy and safety for civilians, there must be federal legislation to hold domestic terrorists accountable for their actions.  

First and foremost, prosecuting domestic hate-motivated attackers as terrorists would send the message that the threat of extremism is just as significant when it is based on domestic political, economic, religious, or social ideologies as it is when based on violent jihadism.  The majority of domestic terrorism investigations are focused on racially-motivated individuals, and in the attack on the Capitol, white supremacists were the force behind the violence and terror. 

While the FBI arrested fewer domestic terrorism suspects in 2019 than in 2017, that number is expected to rise higher thanever this year, with more than 120 such suspects charged by the U.S. government in 2020, according to recent congressional testimony from FBI director Chris Wray.  And the FBI currently has more than 1,000 domestic terrorism investigations underway.

“Domestic terrorism has skyrocketed throughout 2020 in the U.S.  It is really important for our government to adopt stronger rules to prevent this trend from continuing.  It is shocking that we don’t have more direct laws against domestic terrorism; it needs to be unambiguously made a federal crime,” said junior Meiling Laurence.

Another major reason for specific federal legislation regarding domestic terrorism is that many terrorists can slip through legal cracks and avoid felony charges.  Washington, D.C. police officers arrested Henry “Enrique” Tarrio, the leader of the right-wing Proud Boys group, soon after he arrived in the city.  However, he could only be charged with a misdemeanor, destruction of property, and the possession of high-capacity firearm magazines in relation to the burning of a Black Lives Matter banner at a local church in December.   A federal felony charge would allow the federal government to prosecute and punish these extremists for crimes across state lines and to carry harsher penalties. 

“Ensuring that the criminals who swarmed the Capitol are treated as such is vitally important; they stepped far over the line of decency and created violent and upsetting chaos,” said junior Natalie Parker.

Making domestic terrorism a federal crime could potentially decrease the amount of hate that takes place online.  It would give the FBI more latitude to monitor the internet activity of people posting racist or violent content.  Following the seditious riot at the U.S. Capitol, two-thirds of Americans support more action from government and social media companies, according to a newly released survey by the Anti-Defamation League, an organization that fights anti-Semitism and hate on the internet.   

“There is a vast entity at the federal level that can and should be tapped to address the severity of the threat that we face today,” said ADL Senior Advisor George Selim to ABC when asked how to handle acts of domestic terrorism.  

Overall, federal legislation regarding domestic terrorism can be carefully crafted in ways that protect civil rights, while giving federal authorities the tools they currently lack to prevent ideologically motivated violence that appears to be growing more lethal.  Domestic terrorism is a threat that has been ignored and understated for too long.  Now, it is even more vital that our government take action against violent extremism within our country.