GOP Sen. Martha McSally Is Seeking to Make Domestic Terrorism a Federal Crime

August 14, 2019 Updated: August 14, 2019

Sen. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) has drafted a bill that would make domestic terrorism a punishable federal crime in the wake of two mass shootings in Texas and Ohio that left over 30 people dead.

McSally’s bill, which was introduced on Aug. 14, seeks to close a gap that prevents federal authorities from charging and punishing specifically for domestic terrorism. Under the current law, domestic terrorism is not itself a distinct federal crime and authorities currently have to charge domestic terror suspects with other offenses, according to the senator’s statement.

“As someone who fought terrorism overseas, I understand the importance of calling out terrorism wherever it is,” McSally said in the statement. The Arizona senator served in the U.S. Air Force for 22 years.

“Domestic terrorism is in our backyard and we need to call it and treat it under the law the same as other forms of terrorism,” she added.

McSally’s draft bill would criminalize violent and destructive acts with political motives, focus resources to targeting domestic terrorism, recognize victims of terrorism, and allow federal authorities to charge suspects with acts of domestic terror.

“For too long we have allowed those who commit heinous acts of domestic terrorism to be charged with related crimes that don’t portray the full scope of their hateful actions. That stops with my bill. The bill I am introducing will give federal law enforcement the tools they have asked for so that they can punish criminals to the fullest extent of the law,” McSally said.

This comes more than a week after two mass shootings shook the nation and revitalized discussions surrounding gun violence prevention legislation. Following the shooting in El Paso, Texas, US. Attorney for the Western District of Texas John Bash said they were treating the shooting as a domestic terrorist case.

The shooter Patrick Crusius, left a manifesto that said the attack was carried out as “a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas.” Some people have tried to blame President Donald Trump for his ideology but Crusius said in the manifesto that his “opinions on automation, immigration, and the rest predate Trump.” Crusius has been charged with capital murder.

Last month, FBI Director Christopher Wray told a congressional hearing that they were taking domestic terrorism or hate crime extremely seriously and that they were “aggressively pursuing” these cases. Wray said that between October 2018 and June 2019 there were about 100 domestic terrorism arrests. An FBI spokesperson later corrected the number with ProPublica to 90 but the agency was unable to produce specific examples because domestic terrorism subjects “are charged under other federal, state, and local charges.”

According to Michael McGarrity, the assistant director of the FBI Counterterrorism Division, domestic terrorists are individuals who create “violent acts in furtherance of ideological goals stemming from domestic influences such as racial bias and anti-government sentiment.”

McGarrity said that there were currently 850 predicated domestic terrorism investigations during a congressional hearing in May.

“The threat of domestic terrorism exists in every region in the United States and it affects all walks of life,” McGarrity added.

McSally is not the only lawmaker who is pushing to make domestic terrorism a federal crime. House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) told CBS’s Face the Nation that he supports making it a federal crime.

“We need to make sure that the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security have the tools they need to go and root out whether it’s white supremacists, whether it’s radicals from the left that are committing some of these crimes,” he said.

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