Domestic terrorism isn’t a separate crime under federal law. A GOP senator wants to change that

· August 14, 2019  
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Martha McSally speaks in Congress
Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call | Getty Images

Sen. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., has rolled out a draft of a bill that would make domestic terrorism its own crime under federal law and would also penalize those who provide “material support” to domestic terrorists.

Title 18 of federal law defines domestic terrorism as involving “acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State,” that occur primarily within the jurisdiction of the United States, and that “appear to be intended”:

(i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population;

(ii) to influence a state or federal government policy by intimidation or coercion; or

(iii) to affect such a government’s conduct by “mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping.”

But while domestic terrorism is defined by federal criminal law, there’s no specific criminal charge or distinct punishments to go with that definition, which is what McSally’s bill seeks to address.

A press release from McSally’s office says that the current legal setup “makes it more difficult to track acts of domestic terror and reduces uniformity in charging and sentencing.”

“For too long we have allowed those who commit heinous acts of domestic terrorism to be charged with related crimes that don’t portray the full scope of their hateful actions,” McSally — an Air Force combat veteran — said in a statement. “That stops with my bill.”

A discussion draft of the bill contains a long list of potential crimes — such as murder, assault, and kidnapping — that would be subject to federal domestic terrorism charges if they were committed “with the intent to intimidate or coerce a civilian population or influence, affect, or retaliate against the policy or conduct of a government.” It also creates specific federal penalties for “giving material support to domestic terrorists.”

The bill would also require the attorney general, FBI director, and homeland security secretary to published a joint report to Congress containing “an assessment of the domestic terrorism threat” and including numbers on domestic terror incidents and investigations. The bill draft stipulates that these reports should be “unclassified, to the greatest extent possible, with a classified annex only if necessary.”

The draft does not contain language about formally designating domestic terrorist organizations, as there currently is for Foreign Terror Organizations (FTOs). Last month two of McSally’s GOP Senate colleagues — Ted Cruz, Texas, and Bill Cassidy, La. — publicly called for designating the far-left Antifa organization as a domestic terror group, a designation for which federal criminal law currently has no formal process.

A report on the proposal at Politico calls McSally’s effort “the latest sign that Republicans are increasingly serious about crafting a legislative response to recent mass shootings in Texas, Ohio and California.”


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Author: Nate Madden

Nate Madden is BlazeTV’s congressional correspondent. Follow him @NateOnTheHill or send tips to nmadden@blazemedia.com.