The Mountain West is home to dozens of far-right extremist groups. In the wake of the U.S. Capitol riots on January 6, lawmakers are mulling how to protect the nation from domestic terrorism. Some have pushed for Congress to create a new domestic terrorism charge.
But this week 135 civil rights organizations came out in opposition to expanding terrorism-related legal authority.
"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," the groups wrote.
After 9/11, lawmakers included a definition of domestic terrorism under criminal law, but – and this is a huge but – you can't be charged with that specific crime. There are no penalties.
Becky Monroe, the Fighting Hate and Bias program director for the nonprofit Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, one of the letter's signees, wants to keep it that way.
"We know that these charges, while they may be well-intentioned, end up being used in ways that actually harm the very same communities that are targeted for hate and violence," she said. "These kinds of charges can actually be used against Black and brown communities and Muslim communities. Rather than making us safer they could put more lives at risk."
Monroe adds that there are already robust, existing laws that the federal government can use to track and prosecute domestic terrorists like those who staged a violent insurrection earlier this month.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers have reintroduced an act that would strengthen federal law enforcement efforts to prevent and respond to incidents of domestic terror without creating a new charge, something Monroe supports.
This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.