An FBI counterterrorism official said Wednesday at a Senate hearing that it would be helpful to have a domestic terror statute to defend the country against domestic terrorists.
At a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee hearing, Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri asked the question of whether the FBI would find it useful to have a domestic terror statute on the books. Currently there is a criminal statute for international terrorism, but not domestic terrorism — an issue that has come to the forefront in the wake of antifa violence, the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va., and Stephen Paddock’s massacre in Las Vegas.
Nikki L. Floris, who serves as deputy assistant director for counterterrorism at the Federal Bureau of Investigation, answered in the affirmative.
“Regarding domestic terrorism, you are absolutely correct, there is not a statute. We cannot charge someone with material support to a domestic terrorism group, and we actually do not have designated domestic terrorism groups,” Floris said. “Whether or not that statute would help, I would certainly defer to my colleagues at the Department of Justice. But absolutely I believe that would help as another tool to defending the nation against domestic extremists.”
For domestic extremists with no connection to overseas organizations, usually federal authorities pursue charges like using a weapon of mass destruction or straight weapons and murder charges.
FBI Director Christopher Wray said in September there was a discussion about the creation of a domestic terror statute. At the time, Wray hinted at support for such a statute, saying the FBI “can always use more tools,” but shied away from explicit support.
The discussion of a domestic terror statute in September emerged out of the aftermath of a white nationalist car attack in Charlottesville on Aug. 12, that left one person dead. Attorney General Jeff Sessions called the incident an act of “domestic terrorism,” however, there technically is no such statute to prosecute individuals, though the idea was brewing in former President Barack Obama’s Department of Justice.
There is a significant debate surrounding the issue.
Domestic terrorists would undergo the same legal treatment as Muslim terrorists animated by foreign organizations, but having a formal list of domestic terrorist organizations would enable the full intelligence and legal apparatus of the state to be deployed on a much wider scale. This includes surveillance without a warrant and detention in a military prison without being charged or put on trial.
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