Several new federal agencies will target domestic terrorism under a bill approved by the House of Representatives on Wednesday, while a new working group will investigate internally in the government to eradicate extremism.
The Law on the Prevention of Internal Terrorism of 2022 (HR 350) will instruct three agencies to monitor, investigate and prosecute such incidents. Democrats have been pushing for legislation for years, but have resumed efforts urgently after a white teenager killed 10 people at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York, as part of a racist plot to target black shoppers.
Although the measure initially had more support from both parties, only one Republican, Adam Kinsinger, R-Ill., Voted for it. Three Republicans, who were original co-sponsors of the bill, voted against the measure, saying it had become too divisive and Democrats had changed it significantly from the original language.
The Department of Homeland Security will set up an Internal Terrorism Unit within its Intelligence and Analysis Service. The Ministry of Justice will set up a Domestic Terrorism Service, while the FBI will set up a Domestic Terrorism Section with its own counter-terrorism unit. All three agencies will review related training and resources they provide to federal partners, as well as state and local authorities, and will train prosecutors in domestic terrorism cases.
An interdepartmental working group chaired by the Ministry of Defense will be asked to “analyze and combat the infiltration of whites and neo-Nazis” in both the uniformed services and the federal law enforcement agencies. DHS released internal review in 2021, which identifies only five employees who have been involved in domestic violent extremism in recent years, although the department said the lack of a definite definition of what qualifies or an incident tracking system makes a comprehensive calculation impossible.
Republicans have criticized the bill for giving federal agencies too much power, saying it would lead to targeting Americans for their political beliefs.
The bill “adds bureaucracy and adds bureaucracy to existing law enforcement resources, while completely ignoring new and evolving terrorist threats,” said Chip Roy, R-Texas.
Democrats objected that the measure did not create new crimes, investigative powers or penalties, but simply provided additional resources to allow agencies to investigate violations of existing laws.
“The passage of the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act sends a message that we support federal law enforcement, support the American community, and oppose domestic terrorism,” said Brad Schneider, D-Ill., Who drafted the bill. “The American people deserve to feel protected in their schools, in their supermarkets, in their churches, synagogues, temples and mosques.”
The Biden administration last year rolled its National Counter-Terrorism Strategy, which allocates funds to DHS and the judiciary to hire lawyers, officials and counter-terrorism agents. It seeks to strengthen interdepartmental co-operation, label more local groups as terrorist organizations, and better identify federal officials in order to eradicate government extremists. He also supported the Center for Prevention Programs and Partnerships within the DHS last year to help local jurisdictions prevent radicalization and acts of internal terrorism.
The White House said it hoped to implement the new bill to step up efforts to combat domestic terrorism while maintaining constitutional protection. He noted that the agencies are in the midst of implementing the president’s national strategy, but stressed that the FBI has highlighted the growing threat of domestic terrorism. The White House also promised to work with Congress to ensure that the interagency working group examined “all relevant federal agencies” in its investigation to “ensure that federal officials deserve their positions of trust.”
Several progressive members of the House initially opposed the legislation, which prompted the House leadership to postpone the vote on the bill a few weeks ago. Lawmakers said changes in the language of the law have allayed concerns about law enforcement that violates civil rights or targets certain groups.
The bill is now heading to the Senate, where Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Has said he will introduce accompanying legislation. However, he faces a steep climb, as at least 10 Republican votes will be needed to secure the passage.