Echoing the concerns expressed by many activists and several Democratic lawmakers worried that the deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol by a pro-Trump mob will be used as an excuse to enlarge the national security state at the expense of civil liberties, 135 rights groups on Thursday wrote a letter to Congress voicing their opposition to the "proposed expansion of terrorism-related legal authority."
"We must meet the challenge of addressing white nationalist and far-right militia violence without causing further harm to communities already disproportionately impacted by the criminal-legal system."
The letter was spearheaded by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a diverse coalition of more than 220 national organizations committed to promoting and protecting the rights of the American public; 134 additional groups supported the effort.
"We must meet the challenge of addressing white nationalist and far-right militia violence without causing further harm to communities already disproportionately impacted by the criminal-legal system," the letter states.
Arguing that law enforcement already has more than enough power to hold right-wing extremists accountable if the federal government prioritizes combatting white supremacist violence, the Leadership Conference wrote:
The Justice Department (DOJ), including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), has over 50 terrorism-related statutes it can use to investigate and prosecute criminal conduct, including white supremacist violence, as well as dozens of other federal statutes relating to hate crimes, organized crime, and violent crimes.
The failure to confront and hold accountable white nationalist violence is not a question of not having appropriate tools to employ, but a failure to use those on hand. To date, DOJ has simply decided as a matter of policy and practice not to prioritize white nationalist crimes. Congress should use its oversight and appropriations authorities to ensure that law enforcement appropriately focuses investigative and prosecutorial resources on white nationalist crimes.
Congress should use its oversight and appropriations authorities to ensure that law enforcement appropriately focuses investigative and prosecutorial resources on white nationalist crimes.
"We urge you to oppose any new domestic terrorism charge, the creation of a list of designated domestic terrorist organizations, or other expansion of existing terrorism-related authorities," the letter continues.
More domestic terrorism laws on top of what we already have WON'T help address white supremacist violence. It WILL further harm communities that are already disproportionately impacted by these laws.
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Reiterating that "federal prosecutors have many existing laws at their disposal to hold violent white supremacists accountable," the Leadership Conference warned that "a new federal domestic terrorism statute or list would adversely impact civil rights."
"As our nation's long and disturbing history of targeting Black activists, Muslims, Arabs, and movements for social and racial justice has shown," the letter notes, "this new authority could be used to expand racial profiling or be wielded to surveil and investigate communities of color and political opponents in the name of national security."
"Federal prosecutors have many existing laws at their disposal to hold violent white supremacists accountable... a new federal domestic terrorism statute or list would adversely impact civil rights."
Acknowledging that the "magnitude" of the January 6 insurrection warrants a response from lawmakers, the Leadership Conference made the following recommendation: "Members of Congress should not reinforce counterterrorism policies, programs, and frameworks that are rooted in bias, discrimination, and denial or diminution of fundamental rights like due process."
Instead, the human rights advocates explained, "Congress should focus on its oversight and appropriations authority to ensure that the federal government redirect resources towards the ever-growing white nationalist violence plaguing our country."
The Leadership Conference also urged Congress to "identify ways to address the white supremacist infiltration of law enforcement" and "hold hearings featuring communities that are experiencing white nationalist violence in an effort to encourage accountability and transparency."
Here is the full list of signatories:
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
Act To Change
Advancement Project, National
Alabama State Association of Cooperatives
American Civil Liberties Union
American Friends Service Committee
American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC)
Americans for Democratic Action (ADA)
Amnesty International USA
Andrew Goodman Foundation
Arab American Institute
Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF)
Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC
Augustus F. Hawkins Foundation
Autistic Self Advocacy Network
Bend the Arc Jewish Action
Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI)
Brennan Center for Justice
Bridges Faith Initiative
Brooklyn Defender Services
Center for Constitutional Rights
Center for Democracy & Technology
Center for Disability Rights
Center for International Policy
Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP)
Center for Popular Democracy/Action
Center for Security, Race and Rights
Center for Victims of Torture
Center on Conscience & War
Charity & Security Network
CLEAR project (Creating Law Enforcement Accountability & Responsibility)
Color Of Change
Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)
Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), Washington Chapter
Defending Rights & Dissent
Detention Watch Network (DWN)
Drug Policy Alliance
Durham Youth Climate Justice Initiative
End Citizens United / Let America Vote Action Fund
Equal Justice Society
Federal Public and Community Defenders
Fight for the Future
Free Press Action
Freedom Network USA
Friends Committee on National Legislation
Government Information Watch
Human Rights Campaign
Human Rights First
Human Rights Watch
Immigrant Defense Network
Immigrant Justice Network
Immigrant Defense Project (IDP)
In Our Own Voice: National Black Women's Reproductive Justice Agenda
Japanese American Citizens League
Justice for Muslims Collective
Kansas Black Farmers Association/Nicodemus Educational Camps
Labor Council for Latin American Advancement
Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
Legal Aid Society of Metropolitan Family Services
Louisiana Advocates for Immigrants in Detention
Matthew Shepard Foundation
Montgomery County (MD) Civil Rights Coalition
Muslim Justice League
Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC)
NAACP LEGAL DEFENSE AND EDUCATIONAL FUND, INC. (LDF)
National Alliance for Partnerships in Equity (NAPE)
National Association of Social Workers (NASW)
National Council of Jewish Women
National Education Association
National Employment Law Project (NELP)
National Equality Action Team (NEAT)
National Immigration Law Center (NILC)
National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild (NIPNLG)
National LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund
National Network for Immigrant & Refugee Rights
National Organization for Women (NOW)
National Partnership for Women & Families
National Women's Law Center
New America's Open Technology Institute
North Carolina Association of Black Lawyers Land Loss Prevention Project
Open MIC (Open Media & Information Companies Initiative)
Open The Government
Partnership for Civil Justice Fund
People's Parity Project
Presbyterian Church (USA)
Progressive Turnout Project
Project On Government Oversight
Public Advocacy for Kids (PAK)
Restore The Fourth
Rethinking Foreign Policy
S.T.O.P. – The Surveillance Technology Oversight Project
Sisters of Mercy of the Americas Justice Team
South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT)
Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC)
SPLC Action Fund
TASH: equity, opportunity and inclusion for people with disabilities
Texas Progressive Action Network
The Human Trafficking Legal Center
The Sentencing Project
The Sikh Coalition
True North Research
Union for Reform Judaism
United Church of Christ, OC Inc.
US Human Rights Network
Veterans for American Ideals
Voices for Progress
Win Without War
Wind of the Spirit Immigrant Resource Center