Senate Republicans on May 26 filibustered controversial House-passed legislation designed to combat “domestic terrorism,” but critics say that the bill is a thinly-veiled effort to create “Thought Police” for members of the military and law enforcement officers.
The 47–47 vote comes as little surprise, as Republicans have long been skeptical of efforts by Democrats to expand the reach of federal intelligence and law enforcement agencies. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) voted with Republicans to filibuster the bill to open up the possibility for reconsideration of the legislation at a later date.
H.R. 350, dubbed the “Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act of 2022,” would “authorize dedicated domestic terrorism offices within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Department of Justice (DOJ), and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to analyze and monitor domestic terrorist activity and require the Federal Government to take steps to prevent domestic terrorism.”
The legislation would establish a new “Domestic Terrorism Unit” in DHS, which the bill says will “be responsible for monitoring and analyzing domestic terrorism activity.”
More specifically, the Domestic Terrorism Unit would be responsible for “investigating and prosecuting incidents of domestic terrorism … [and coordinating] with the Civil Rights Division on domestic terrorism matters that may also be hate crime incidents.”
Further, the bill would establish a new “Domestic Terrorism Section” within the Counterterrorism Division of the FBI.
This proposed expansion of the FBI’s power comes as the federal agency faces scrutiny for alleged overreach under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in light of a report showing that the agency spied on over 3.3 million Americans, in several cases without a court-approved warrant.
The DHS secretary, the attorney general, and the director of the FBI would be required under the Democrats’ bill to “ensure that each office authorized under this section in their respective agencies shall … have not less than one employee dedicated to ensuring compliance with civil rights and civil liberties laws and regulations; and require that all employees undergo annual anti-bias training.”
In addition, the leaders of DHS, the DOJ, and the FBI would be required to submit an annual “assessment of the domestic terrorism threat posed by White supremacists and neo-Nazis, including White supremacist and neo-Nazi infiltration of Federal, State, and local law enforcement agencies and the uniformed services.”
The bill would also institute new training programs purportedly designed to root out “white supremacist and neo-Nazi infiltration” of the military and law enforcement.
“[DHS] Secretary, the Attorney General, and the Director [of the FBI] shall review the anti-terrorism training and resource programs of their respective agencies that are provided to Federal, State, local, and Tribal law enforcement agencies, including the State and Local Anti-Terrorism Program that is funded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance of the Department of Justice, and ensure that such programs include training and resources to assist State, local, and Tribal law enforcement agencies in understanding, detecting, deterring, and investigating acts of domestic terrorism and White supremacist and neo-Nazi infiltration of law enforcement and corrections agencies,” reads the text of the bill.
Foreseeing First Amendment challenges to the bill, its sponsors included at the bottom of the text a disclaimer that, “Nothing in this Act, or any amendment made by this Act, may be construed to authorize the infringement or violation of any right protected under the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States or an applicable provision of Federal law.”
The bill does not appropriate a set sum to carry out enforcement of the act, but rather simply authorizes the DHS, the DOJ, and the FBI “such sums as may be necessary to carry out this Act.”
Sen. Rand Paul: Bill Would Create ‘Thought Police’ for Military, Law Enforcement
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who has made a name for himself in the Senate for long-held opposition to civil liberties violations by federal agencies, blasted the bill in a speech on the Senate floor prior to the vote.
Though the bill is “ostensibly” about domestic terrorism, Paul said, the bill “would be more accurately called ‘the Democrat plan to brand and insult our police and soldiers as white supremacists and neo-Nazis.'”
“These are young men and women who have given arms and legs and … I don’t know of an example of some guy who says ‘Oh yeah we were blown up by an IED but we’ve gotta leave that guy because he’s of a different race,'” Paul continued. “How insulting!”
“So you’re going to have a task force to investigate our soldiers, this is going to be a federal agency that’s going to go in and investigate our soldiers for white supremacy,” he said. “I guess, read their emails, read what websites they go to, because the implication is they’re guilty until they can prove themselves innocent.
“That’s what this will set up, it will set up more government agencies that presume your guilt. But it’s an insult to our armed services, to our police, and to anyone who works in law enforcement.
“This bill is an insult to every police officer in this country. This bill is an insult to everyone in our armed services.”
The new departments created by the bill, Paul said in a reference to George Orwell’s “1984,” “are essentially going to be the ‘Thought Police’ of the military.”
He continued, “We just took down the Ministry of Truth, which was in the Department of Homeland Security. It took them a couple weeks to be finally be ashamed that they were going to censor speech, and the Biden administration has canceled it—or at least put it on pause.”
Paul also ridiculed the bill for creating new departments at the DOJ and FBI while also implying that these offices have been “completely infiltrated” by white supremacists and neo-Nazis.
“But again, none of the bill makes sense. It doesn’t make sense because it was never a bill that was intended to become law, and won’t. It’s a dumb Washington talking points memo masquerading as legislation, but it’s also a grave insult to anyone involved in law enforcement, anyone involved in the military.
“Congressional Democrats have gotten so extreme, so radical, so out of touch with the American people that when they read it, they think this is something worthwhile to do.
“It’s a messaging bill for today,” Paul concluded. “This bill will fail today though, because the Democrats’ message—hate the police, defund the police, the police are terrible people, the military are terrible people’ … it has been roundly rejected by the American people and will continued to be.”