Opinions / Op-eds

Are You a Domestic Terrorist?

In 2021, the National School Board Association (NSBA) wrote a letter to the president asking that “the classification of these heinous actions (by parents at school board meetings) could be the equivalent to a form of domestic terrorism and hate crimes” and be “reviewed by the U.S. Departments of Justice”, later apologizing for that letter. Aided by the White House, the Attorney General did respond

Along with the January 6, 2021 incident, both events have caused concern that Americans, exercising their right to free speech and peaceful assembly, could possibly fall under the definition as a domestic terrorist, or domestic violent extremist. Of particular concern is the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) terminology of domestic terrorism, “Anti-Government or Anti-Authority Violent Extremism: This threat encompasses the potentially unlawful use or threat of force or violence in furtherance of ideological agendas, derived from anti-government or anti-authority sentiment, including opposition to perceived economic, social, or racial hierarchies, or perceived government overreach, negligence, or illegitimacy (pg 2).”

Under the 1992 18 U.S. Code § 2331, the United States defines international and domestic terrorism. The 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, (NDAA) defined domestic terrorism as “acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws”, “intended to: Intimidate or coerce a civilian population; Influence the policy of government by intimidation or coercion; and Affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination or kidnapping. 

This similarly follows the Homeland Security Act definitions of terrorism. Both agencies extend definitions to the term “Domestic Violent Extremist (DVE)”, an individual who “seeks to further their ideological goals wholly or in part through unlawful acts of force or violence”, clarifying that “mere advocacy of ideological positions and/or the use of strong rhetoric does not constitute violent extremism…threats of violence must be present to constitute a violation of federal law”. Also, “Both the FBI and DHS use the term “domestic violent extremism” to refer to DT threats (pg 4)”, not individuals.

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Domestic terrorism is differentiated from the law on Foreign Terrorist Organizations, 8 U.S. Code § 1189, a foreign organization that engages in terrorist activity or terrorism, or that is capable of and intends to engage in terrorist activity, and threatens…the national security of the United States.

According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), “Federal criminal law defines domestic terrorism as acts“, “federal law does not have a crime of domestic terrorism”, and that “Prosecutors can seek to convict a person for these crimes without having to prove that their motive was to commit domestic terrorism (pg 66-67)”. Also, “states may

choose to enact statutes providing for a state specific definition and crime of domestic terrorism (pg 69)”.

There are many Idahoans who are ideologically bound to the Constitution and Bill of Rights. When there is government misconduct should the defense of those ideologies under the First Amendment be construed as terrorism? According to the DHS, only when there is “potentially unlawful use or threat of force”, both of which fall under criminal law. Indeed, the Constitution is a major stumbling block for the government to label patriotic groups as extremists, even though that term is abhorrently used by journalists.

In reality, there is no federal law that uses the term domestic terrorist. However, the term domestic terrorist is used only in cases of Foreign Domestic Terrorism. If an individual engages in terrorist acts and is connected to a federally identified foreign terrorist organization, then the term domestic terrorist is properly applied. This is reiterated by Micheal McGarrity, FBI Counterterrorism Division Assistant Director.

In fact, “The federal government does not designate domestic terrorist organizations. In other words, there is no official open-source roster of domestic groups that the FBI or other federal agencies target as terrorist organizations.” As noted, this has led “to confusion among the public as well as policymakers regarding exactly who is a domestic terrorist (pg2).”

Even in the Idaho Terrorist Control statute the term domestic terrorist is not used. Both federal law and Idaho law speak to the “acts” that are considered terrorism, whether internationally or domestically. This FBI and DHS report defines more acts that are considered domestic extremism from pages 6 to 10.

However, a bill sponsored by Sen. Anthon, SB1220, changes the language in Idaho statute to “prevent an Idahoan from being labeled a domestic terrorist or terrorist in Idaho without constitutionally protected due process.” In SB1220, a domestic terrorist is defined as “a person who pleads guilty to or is found guilty of domestic terrorism”. It does not negate any individual from being prosecuted for committing unlawful acts that fall under domestic terrorism laws. More Senators than not voted in favor of this bill.

Ever the traitor to the Republic, former Attorney General Jim Jones has written an opinion, claiming SB1220 will “neuter” the Terrorist Control Statute. Mr. Jones claims SB1220 “would decriminalize any such criminal acts that were not done in cooperation with a “foreign terrorist organization.” It would behoove Mr. Jones to read the bill, which explicitly does not state that.

Mr. Jones also purports that the current statute, as written, could not be used to prosecute school patrons, “unless the patrons committed criminal acts that were dangerous to human life and intended to intimidate or coerce the public or school board.” He just negated his own argument against SB1220. It is the involvement of defined criminal acts of terrorism that are prosecuted. And although he claims SB1220 would “decriminalize any such criminal acts that were not done in cooperation with a “foreign terrorist organization”, he clearly does not understand the bill outlines what criminal acts an individual can be charged with, defined acts of terrorism. SB1220 does define what is considered acts of domestic terrorism that violate the law, including involvement with foreign terrorist organizations.

The passage of this bill is even more important as a June, 2021 Executive Order only strengthened the work of the DHS (pg 84) on domestic terrorism. As Mr. Jones stated, the belief is that domestic terrorism in on the rise, and it is very concerning how the White House is responding to these alleged threats. More than ever, it is critical that Idahoans are protected from false, and unlawful accusations of being a domestic terrorist.

So, while an individual can commit acts of domestic terrorism, they cannot be charged as a domestic terrorist. SB1220 only reinforces that stance. And, as previously noted, states may choose to enact statutes providing for a state specific definition and crime of domestic terrorism.

When confronting the government as a right for redress of grievances on its “perceived government overreach, negligence, or illegitimacy”, be alert to what that same government is defining as a terrorist act (pg 2). 

One note to pretentious journalists, you might want to think twice about sensationally identifying someone you ideologically disagree with as a domestic terrorist or extremist as was done to an Idahoan. That might just be an act of slander on your part.

Contact the House of Representatives before February 13th and tell them to vote yes in support of SB1220, the bill safeguards the ability to prosecute any individual for committing criminal acts that fall under the definition of terrorism and protects Idahoans from being labeled a domestic terrorist without due process of the law.

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