Capitol riot leaves Democrats split over domestic terrorism law and criminalizing dissent

Democrats are divided over a new domestic terrorism bill that would establish new government offices to monitor suspicious activities within the country and combat terrorism, with a specific focus on White nationalists and neo-Nazis.

President-elect Joe Biden is making a domestic terrorism bill a priority, the Wall Street Journal reported in November, and Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who sponsored such a bill in 2019, plans to reintroduce it after the new administration takes office. The bill has generated discussion since violent protesters stormed the Capitol building on Wednesday in protest of the certification of Biden’s election victory.

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“A Biden administration will … work for a domestic terrorism law that respects free speech and civil liberties, while making the same commitment to root out domestic terrorism as we have to stopping international terrorism,” Biden’s campaign website says.

The 2019 bill calls for establishing offices in the Justice Department, FBI and Department of Homeland Security that would “analyze and monitor domestic terrorist activity.” While it focuses on terrorism from right-wing extremists, white supremacists, and neo-Nazis, it has seen substantial opposition from the left.

The ACLU vehemently opposed it when it was introduced, writing in a letter to House Judiciary Committee leaders Reps. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., and Doug Collins, R-Ga., that the bill was “unnecessary because the offenses it creates largely duplicate existing crimes, and harmful because it expands authorities that law enforcement has abused to target marginalized communities.”

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The organization said that “marginalized communities have long been targeted under domestic terrorism authorities for unfair and discriminatory surveillance, investigations, and prosecutions” and that “[l]aw enforcement agencies already have all the authorities they need to address white supremacist violence effectively.”

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., opposes the concept of a domestic terror law and pushed back against a suggestion that Biden make passing one a priority.

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“As the Vice Chair of the Oversight subcommittee who ran investigations into domestic terror laws, I respectfully disagree,” she tweeted Saturday. “Our problems on Wednesday weren’t that there weren’t enough laws, resources, or intelligence. We had them, & they were not used. It’s time to find out why.”

Durbin told Chicago’s Fox32 he plans on discussing domestic terrorism with Biden’s nominee for attorney general, Judge Merrick Garland.

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