House enacts the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act after the Buffalo shooting

WASHINGTON — The House of Representatives passed legislation late Wednesday night that would bolster federal resources to prevent terrorism domestically in response to the racist mass shooting in Buffalo, New York.

The nearly bipartisan vote of 222 to 203 was a response to mounting pressures on Congress to address gun violence and white supremacist attacks — a crisis that escalated after two mass shootings over the weekend. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., a member of the congressional committee investigating the attack on the US Capitol, was the only Republican to vote for the measure.

But the Democrats’ legislative efforts are not new. The House of Representatives passed a similar measure in 2020, only to have it sulked in the Senate. And with Senate lawmakers lacking the support to push any kind of gun control legislation they deem necessary to stop mass shootings, Democrats are instead focusing on a broader federal focus on domestic terrorism.

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“We in Congress cannot stop people like (Fox News host) Tucker Carlson from spreading hateful, dangerous replacement theory ideologies over the airwaves. Congress was unable to ban the sale of assault weapons. The Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act is what Congress can do this week to try to prevent future buffalo shootings,” said Rep. Brad Schneider, D-Ill., who first introduced the measure in 2017, on the House floor.

The replacement theory is a racist ideology that claims whites and their influence are being intentionally “replaced” with people of color through immigration and higher birth rates. It is being studied as a motivating factor in Saturday’s supermarket shooting that killed 10 people in Buffalo, New York, all black. Police say an 18-year-old white man drove three hours to livestream a racist killing spree at a crowded supermarket.

Supporters of the House bill say it will fill the gaps in information sharing between the Justice Department, Department of Homeland Security and the FBI so officials can better track and respond to the growing threat of white extremist terrorism.

The three federal agencies are already working to investigate, prevent and prosecute acts of domestic terrorism under current law. But the bill would require every agency to open offices specifically dedicated to these tasks and establish an interagency task force to combat the subversion of white supremacy in the military.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates the bill would cost about $105 million over five years, with most of the money going to hiring staff.

“Since we took 9/11 seriously, we must take this seriously. This is an indigenous form of the same terrorism that killed the innocent people of New York City, and now this attack in Buffalo and many other places,” said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who is supporting an identical Senate bill .

Senate Democrats are promising to put the bill to a vote next week. But his prospects are uncertain as Republicans oppose increasing the Justice Department’s domestic surveillance powers.

Republican lawmakers allege that the Justice Department abused its powers to conduct more home surveillance when Attorney General Merrick Garland issued a memo in October aimed at tackling statewide threats against school officials. They described the memo as targeting concerned parents.

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GOP lawmakers also say the bill does not place enough emphasis on tackling domestic terrorism perpetrated by far-left groups. Under the bill, agencies would have to produce a joint report every six months that assesses and quantifies domestic terrorism threats at the national level, including threats from white supremacists and neo-Nazi groups.

“This law blatantly ignores the ongoing terrorist threat posed by the far left in this country and instead assumes it’s only about the whites and the right,” said Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif.

The divergence underscores the persistent divide between Democrats and Republicans over domestic terrorism in the US and how it should be defined and prosecuted.

For decades, terrorism has consistently involved attacks by foreign actors, but as domestic terrorism, often perpetrated by white men, has flourished over the past two decades, Democratic lawmakers have sought to clarify it in federal law.

“We’ve seen it before in American history. The only thing missing between these organizations and the past is the white robes,” Durbin said. “But the message is still the same hateful, divisive message that drives people to do outrageously extreme things and violent things to innocent people across America. It is time for us to take a stand.”

Copyright © 2022 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved. House enacts the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act after the Buffalo shooting

Dais Johnston

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