“My own definition, which is about the same as the statutory definition, is the use of violence or threats of violence in an attempt to disrupt democratic processes. So an attack on a courthouse, while in operation, trying to prevent judges from actually deciding cases, that plainly is domestic extremism, domestic terrorism,” Garland told the Senate during a confirmation hearing on Monday.
“An attack simply on a government property at night, or any other kind of circumstances, is a clear crime and a serious one, and should be punished. I don’t know enough about the facts of the example you’re talking about. But that’s where I draw the line. One is—both are criminal, but one is a core attack on our democratic institutions,” he added.
Portland’s U.S. Courthouse in the summer of 2020 was repeatedly attacked by rioters, some affiliated with the Antifa network and Black Lives Matter, prompting the federal government to send officers to defend it.
Federal code defines domestic terrorism as: “activities that— (A) involve acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State; (B) appear to be intended— (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and (C) occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States.”
Federal officials have not said what happened in Portland was domestic terrorism, but spoke out strongly about what happened.
“For more than 60 days, violent criminals, opportunists, and anarchists have attacked the federal seat of justice in Portland, Oregon: the Mark O. Hatfield Courthouse. For more than 60 days, criminals violently attacked federal law enforcement officers who carried out their statutory mission,” then-acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf told Congress in August 2020.
“Our law enforcement officers were assaulted with, among other weapons, mortar-style commercial grade fireworks, accelerants, IEDs, sledgehammers, concrete, and slingshots. Officers have suffered chemical burns, bloody wounds, and attacks with blinding lasers, leaving some of our colleagues with eye injuries. The security fence we installed to protect the Courthouse and our officers has been repeatedly attacked with power tools in a dangerous attempt to topple the barrier,” he added.
Former Attorney General William Barr said that same month that “highly organized violent operators have carried out direct attacks on federal personnel and property, particularly the federal courthouse in Portland.”
In another portion of the hearing, Garland vowed that anybody who attacks a federal building will be prosecuted.