A Chorus of Voices Warns Against Creating a “Domestic Terrorism” Charge

Civil Society Groups Warn Against Anti-Protest Legislation Following Siege of US Capital
January 9, 2021
Civil Liberties After the Insurrection
January 22, 2021

UPDATED 1/22/21 

Leading civil rights and civil liberties groups (including Defending Rights & Dissent) yesterday urged members of congress to abstain from passing any additional domestic terrorism laws in response to the January 6 mayhem at the Capitol.

“We are concerned that a new federal domestic terrorism statute or list would adversely impact civil rights and — as our nation’s long and disturbing history of targeting Black Activists, Muslims, Arabs, and movements for social and racial justice has shown — this new authority could be used to expand racial profiling or be wielded to surveil and investigate communities of color and political opponents in the name of national security,” our letter noted.

Read the full letter here. [Note: on January 21, an additional coalition letter was sent to the Hill, see below]

In the House, Rep. Rashida Tliab (D-MN) and eight colleagues sent a letter to House Speaker Pelosi and (now former) Senate Majority Leader McConnell urging that national security powers not be expanded.

“The Trump mob’s success in breaching the Capitol was not due to a lack of resources at the disposal of federal law enforcement, and in this moment we must resist the erosion of our civil liberties and Constitutional freedoms, however well-intentioned proposed security reforms may be,” the lawmakers wrote. “We firmly believe that the national security and surveillance powers of the U.S. government are already too broad, undefined, and unaccountable to the people.”

The letter pointed to our nation’s history of initiatives that were sold as being necessary to fight extremism but quickly devolved into tools used for the mass violation of human and civil rights, including House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) Counterintelligence Program (COINTELPRO), the USA Patriot Act, and the FBI’s anti-Black Lives Matter Operation Iron Fist. 

Read the full letter here.

The letter from civil society organizations was led by The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the Arab American Institute, Bend the Arc: Jewish Action, Muslim Advocates, and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Defending Rights & Dissent joined 135 other organizations signing the letter.

Indications are that a domestic terrorism bill will be introduced in Congress in the next week or two.

“It is ironic, but no surprise that Congress is poised to respond to an attack on our democracy with legislation that will further undermine our democracy. Any new domestic terrorism charge will quickly turn into a tool to silence dissenters and harm marginalized communities,” said Sue Udry, DRAD’s executive director.  “We, and others, are ready to fight that bill, along with any other legislation that would grant money and new authorities to the very agencies that proved their disutility on January 6.”

Defending Rights & Dissent also joined another letter that expressed opposition to any new domestic terrorism charge, but also warned against granting law enforcement any new surveillance authorities:

After major national tragedies, Congress has frequently considered legislation that would add to the surveillance authorities and capabilities that law enforcement officials already have. However, new surveillance authority is not needed to prevent an assault like the one that occurred on January 6. The attack on the Capitol was planned and executed in plain sight, and was splashed all over social media as the insurrectionists published pictures and video clips of themselves and each other breaking into the Capitol, invading members’ offices, and parading through corridors with the Confederate battle flag. Within a few days of the event, the FBI said it had received over 130,000 videos and photos associated with the attack. The Bureau has commenced one of the largest investigations in U.S. history, and it is being inundated with information, not starved of it.