Posted on January 29, 2021

Civil Rights Groups Oppose Expanding Laws to Target Domestic Terrorists

Rupa Shenoy, The World, January 26, 2021

The Biden administration — prompted by the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol by extremist supporters of Donald Trump — has announced a sweeping review of how the federal government deals with threats of domestic terrorism.

Leaders in the House and Senate have also introduced legislation that they say would strengthen law enforcement efforts to address domestic terrorism. But 135 human rights groups have written a joint letter to lawmakers opposing an expansion of terrorism laws.

“As well-intended as it is, we’re pretty confident that when those laws get put in place, they’re not necessarily going to be going after, you know, the Proud Boys per se,” said Maya Berry, executive director of the Arab American Institute, one of the organizations that signed the letter to lawmakers. “It’s much more likely that it would be, Arab Americans, American Muslims, Black Lives Matter protesters. It’s just a pattern that we regrettably are quite familiar with.


Some proposed legislation would put a review board in place to help prevent law enforcement abuses like those that occurred in the past, said Jason Blazakis, former director of the State Department’s counterterrorism office. He is now the director of the Middlebury Institute’s Center on Terrorism, Extremism and Counterterrorism.


As things are now, he said, white suspects aren’t called “terrorists” as often as Black people and other people of color. Blazakis said that creates an optic that exacerbates existing racial inequities.

“So, I think there is an important symbolic value to a domestic terrorism update that would allow for the United States to start considering, quite frankly, white people as terrorists, to not just brown or Black people or people who may worship a certain faith,” he said.

That doesn’t persuade Berry of the Arab American Institute.

“I appreciate when people are saying, ‘We want to call it the same thing to kind of, in some ways, vindicates your community.’ OK, I mean, fine, if you feel strongly about that, that’s great,” she said. “For me, though, it’s about doubling down on a deeply flawed and highly discriminatory counterterrorism regime that we’ve had in place.”