Posted by Arab American Institute on January 24, 2020 at 1:19 PM

On Jan. 24, the Arab American Institute (AAI), along with Bend the Arc: Jewish Action, Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Muslim Advocates, Sikh Coalition, and SPLC Action Fund, sent a letter to members of Congress encouraging bipartisan support of the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act (S. 3190|H.R. 5602).

The bill, which was reintroduced in both chambers of Congress on Jan. 14, 2020, would promote increased oversight of domestic counterterrorism efforts and generate much-needed data on the incidence of white supremacist violence. 

You can download the letter, which is also copied below, here.


January 23, 2020

Coalition Letter Encouraging Bipartisan Support for the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act (S.3190|H.R.5602)

Dear Member of Congress,

On behalf of the undersigned civil rights organizations that represent communities experiencing an increase of white supremacist violence, including African Americans, Arab Americans, American Jews, American Muslims, and Sikh Americans, we urge you to support the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act (S. 3190|H.R. 5602). If signed into law, this bill would promote increased oversight of domestic counterterrorism efforts and generate much-needed data on the incidence of white supremacist violence and the federal government’s approach to investigating, classifying, and prosecuting such violence. At a time of great concern about white supremacist violence and significant confusion about the federal government’s use of existing counterterrorism authorities and resources, Congress must come together and pass this legislation.

In June 2015, an armed white supremacist entered a historically black church in Charleston, SC, and shot nine worshippers to death. That same year, the Federal Bureau of Investigation recorded an increase of hate crimes reported by law enforcement agencies across the United States. Since then, violent white supremacists have targeted communities in cities like Charlottesville, Va., Pittsburgh, Pa., Bloomington, Minn., and El Paso, TX, while hate crimes have continued to rise nationwide. In 2018, federal hate crime statistics showed the deadliest year on record and the greatest number of violent hate crime offenses reported since 2001. This scourge of white supremacist violence and hate requires an improved response from the federal government.

Despite repeated requests from Republican and Democratic members of Congress, the federal government has not produced sufficient data on the use of counterterrorism authorities and resources to combat white supremacist violence. This lack of information has limited the ability of Congress to make informed decisions about the problem and has contributed to widespread confusion about the nature and extent of the threat facing impacted communities, the federal government’s response to that threat, and, crucially, whether additional resources are needed to improve that response. The recalcitrance of federal agencies notwithstanding, Congress has the power to enact legislation that would require the Department of Justice, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and other relevant components of the federal government to produce information that would promote more effective decision-making and a more informed policy response.   

Among the requirements of the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act is a biannual report that includes an assessment of the threat posed by white supremacist violence and a comprehensive accounting of domestic counterterrorism efforts. This includes the number of domestic-terrorism-related investigations, disaggregated according to the specific type of investigation, and the number of domestic-terrorism-related incidents, arrests, indictments, prosecutions, convictions, and weapons recoveries that transpired over the preceding year. The data required under this report would be separated into discrete classifications and subclassifications, including a specific classification for white supremacist violence. The report would therefore provide meaningful information about not only the incidence of white supremacist violence, but also the federal government’s approach to investigating, classifying, and prosecuting such violence. Because the report would feature data related to other classifications and subclassifications, it would also enable members of Congress and the public to scrutinize how the federal government uses its counterterrorism authorities and resources with respect to different threats, including those real and purported.

This level of oversight is necessary to ensure that the federal government is prioritizing the threat of white supremacist violence and not misusing its robust counterterrorism powers in a manner that undermines the civil rights and civil liberties of vulnerable communities. Indeed, the current lack of information about the federal government’s response to white supremacist violence has contributed to widespread confusion about whether additional counterterrorism authorities, such as a federal criminal statute establishing a new domestic terrorism charge, are needed to improve that response. Enacting an additional domestic terrorism charge would be duplicative, misguided, and potentially exacerbate existing inequities within domestic counterterrorism efforts and the criminal justice system. In fact, the federal government has no shortage of powers to effectively investigate and prosecute white supremacist violence. The challenge is one of priorities and a lack of oversight, not a lack of powers.

By passing the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act, Congress can help solve this problem and improve the federal government’s response to white supremacist violence without undermining the civil rights and civil liberties of the very communities we are trying to protect. We urge you to support this important legislation.

Thank you in advance for your consideration. Your staff may direct all questions to Ryan J. Suto, Policy Counsel at the Arab American Institute, at (202) 652-4984, or rsuto@aaiusa.org.

 

Respectfully,

 

Arab American Institute

Bend the Arc: Jewish Action

Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law

Muslim Advocates

Sikh Coalition

SPLC Action Fund