Merrick Garland, President Joe Biden’s attorney general nominee, vowed Monday to fight domestic terrorism. Here’s what both sides are saying. To have stories like this and more delivered directly to your inbox, be sure to sign up for our newsletter.
Top Story: Domestic Terrorism
A trio of writers at the Associated Press report: “Merrick Garland, President Joe Biden’s attorney general nominee, vowed Monday to prioritize combating extremist violence and said his first focus would be on the insurrection at the US Capitol as he sought to assure lawmakers that the Justice Department would remain politically independent on his watch.”
Rebecca Beitsch of The Hill adds: “… Garland called the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol ‘the most heinous attack’ on American democracy he has seen, pledging an increased role for the Department of Justice (DOJ) in fighting domestic terrorism.” Here’s what both sides are saying:
On The Right
Conservatives are concerned about civil liberties and privacy rights. Most believe labeling the events that unfolded on January 6th an “armed insurrection” is a politically-driven exaggeration. Even those highly outraged by what happened at the US Capitol warn against using the event to justify increased domestic surveillance based on political ideology.
Writing for The New York Post, Miranda Devine finds it “disturbing that Garland is embracing the rancid lie that the Capitol riot was racially motivated, an uprising by ‘white supremacists’ which rivaled the Islamist terror attack of 9/11 in which 3,000 people were slaughtered.” Devine says this lie fuels “Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s narrative, which she has driven with escalating hyperbole until it no longer resembles anything that happened on January 6.” Devine also paints Pelosi as a hypocrite since she had “no problem with violence” that occurred during the “BLM/Antifa riots last July.” Devine continues, noting that President Biden also mischaracterized the summer riots as “peaceful,” while VP Harris exclaimed they were “not going to stop . . . and they should not [stop].” Devine finds it absurd that Democrats are trying to turn “a few hours of madness one day in January” into “every Trump supporter in the country is to be treated as if they flew a plane into the World Trade Center.” Devine views these events as “creating a two-tier justice system that punishes only the political enemies of the left.”
While not traditionally a right-leaning group, the USA Today Editorial Board also warns against enacting new domestic terrorism laws. They cite the Supreme Court for support, which they note “has already indicated that though the government can declare an organization based outside the USA a terror group, the same declaration of an organization inside the USA would risk violating First Amendment speech and assembly protections.” They ask, “What if tomorrow that label is applied to a Black Lives Matter, an environmental or a guns rights activist?”
Writing for The Wall Street Journal, Rachael Levy agrees that the First Amendment restrains “sweeping surveillance powers against US citizens that [the government] can use overseas.” In written Congressional testimony, a senior official from a major Washington DC think-tank says “there are hundreds of extremist groups on both ends of the political spectrum” and the term “‘organization’ in the domestic context is a slippery term. Some organizations are definable groups. Others are mind-sets.”
Writing for The Spectator, Roger Kimball sees a “chasm-like discrepancy between the events of January 6th and the 9/11 comparisons Democrats have been making.” In his view, “Democrats instantly seized upon the riot, elevated it into an ‘armed insurrection,’ and bewailed the assault on ‘our democracy.’” After all, he writes, the “president’s instructions” were “to proceed to the Capitol ‘peacefully and patriotically.’” Kimball writes that while “it is never a good thing when a crowd tips over into a mob, which is what happened that day, [they] did far, far less damage than did the scores of mobs rampaging through America’s cities — including Washington DC — this summer. To observe that the BLM/Antifa anti-Trump rioters were given a free pass by the media and nearly all Democrat politicians is not to condone the behavior of the pro-Trump crowd on January 6. But it is to highlight a discrepancy” and maybe even label it “a double standard.” It is for this reason that Kimball supports a truly bipartisan inquiry into the matter.
The right sees the “battle against extremism” as one fueled by political bitterness and warns against stripping constitutional rights from citizens based on political ideology.
On The Left
The left is united in deeming the events of January 6th an insurrection, at the very least. However, they are split on whether to go even further and apply a “terrorism” label, which would broadly expand the government’s surveillance and punishment capabilities.
In USA Today, Jason M. Blazakis argues in favor of a ”domestic terrorism law” that is “narrowly tailored and fused with accountability and oversight safeguards that ensure civil liberties are preserved.” He believes the country needs a fresh set of rules because “while there is a US definition for domestic terrorism, prosecutors generally can’t charge individuals for the federal crime of terrorism unless there is an international nexus.”
In The Washington Post, Richard B. Zabel agrees that the current law is too limited. He writes that “by requiring such acts to be ‘dangerous to life,’ the definition excludes common tools of terrorism such as criminal threats, non-life-threatening physical assaults, damage to property, and other acts intended to intimidate or coerce.” Blazakis does concede that there are legitimate civil liberty concerns as domestic terrorism laws run afoul of the First Amendment. He recounts the Smith Act, which was enacted in 1940 to prevent militant communists from overthrowing the government. That Act, he writes, is “tainted — rightly — by its overzealous use as a tool of the Red Scare.”
Editors at Scientific American argue for a three-pronged approach. First supporting the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act, which “authorizes the creation of offices in three agencies—Homeland Security, the Justice Department, and the FBI—to monitor, investigate, and prosecute cases of domestic terrorism.” They also back an anti-lynching law “aimed at conspiracies by two or more people to cause bodily harm in connection with a hate crime.” Lastly, they want to “root out extremism in law enforcement and the armed forces,” rounding out their appeal.
With a different perspective, in her Vox column, Nicole Narea opposes employing a blanket application of the term “terrorist,” which she sees as potentially harming “dissidents across the political spectrum.” She writes that “criminalizing support for groups comes perilously close to prohibiting membership, which would not stand under First Amendment law” and goes on to explain that “especially in this very politicized environment, and with the increasingly politicized nature of terrorism analysis, it would be very easy for a US administration to potentially invite partisan abuse of this kind of designation.” Instead, Narea believes that “law enforcement could put more resources toward using existing legal authorities to prevent terrorist attacks and prosecute those responsible.”
While the left views the events of January 6th as emblematic of a larger problem that must be addressed, they are split about how far to expand federal law enforcement powers to accomplish this goal.
Flag This: Domestic Terrorism Hearing
Tomorrow, a House Judiciary Subcommittee will hold a “hearing on the rise of domestic terrorism in America.” Here is the witness list.