The Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act narrowly passed in the U.S. House of Representatives last week after U.S. Representative Cori Bush (D-St. Louis) led a push to revise language in the bill.
The act seeks to create offices in the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Department of Homeland Security and Department of Justice to monitor and track potential domestic terrorism threats. If signed into law by President Joe Biden, the bill would direct the FBI to assign a special agent at each field office to investigate hate crimes related to domestic terrorism. Federal agencies would also be required to produce biannual reports on white supremacy and neo-Nazis infiltration of federal, state and local enforcement agencies.
A previous version of the bill, first introduced in 2017, never made it past the senate, and it seemed the bill would fail again after it drew criticism from Bush and a few of her colleagues earlier this year.
Bush, and a group of progressive Democrats in the House, had argued that the bill’s broad definition of domestic terrorism could be twisted to target people of color, and she worried it could be used to infringe on protesters’ First Amendment rights.
Bush’s small revision removed a list of exceptions to domestic terrorism and added a provision to ensure nothing in the bill could be construed to authorize infringement on a person’s First Amendment rights. The revised language requires federal agencies to provide certification that their assessments and investigations comply with civil rights and civil liberties regulations.
“People like me are too often criminalized and prosecuted as a result of these types of investigations,” Bush tells the RFT. “We wanted to make sure this legislation could not be weaponized against Black and brown communities — folks that we know historically are the ones who are most often targeted when it comes to talks of domestic terrorism.”
The American Civil Liberties Union and Council on American-Islamic Relations also opposed the bill’s initial draft. In a 2019 letter to the senate, the ACLU stated the bill would “double down” on a framework that has “long targeted marginalized populations.”
Backers of the bill insisted the draft from earlier this year created no new statutes or surveillance lists, despite claims from opponents, as reported by Punchbowl News.
“We want to make sure that in the midterms, and in the midst of new districts, we aren’t politicizing this thing for opportunistic ends,” U.S. Representative André Carson (D-Indiana), a supporter of this legislation, told Punchbowl when asked if he spoke with Bush about her opposition.
The House’s vote of approval followed this month's shooting in Buffalo, New York, where 13 were wounded and 10 killed. Passage of the bill followed a near party-line vote with most Republicans opposed.
When asked if she thought the bill would make it past the senate, Bush decried the senate’s filibuster. The filibuster requires 60 votes for debates to end and votes to be held, which is tough in a starkly divided senate.
“Hopefully, those folks in our U.S. Senate realize that in the wake of even the most recent Buffalo shooting, they have to first save lives — even if those folks are not their donors,” Bush says.
Republican Missouri Senator Josh Hawley thinks the bill is “terrible.”
“I’m completely opposed to this idea that we would be giving the federal government and federal law enforcement power and authority to surveil Americans, to engage in any kind of monitoring of speech that is directed toward censorship,” Hawley told The Hill.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has said he will bring the bill to the Senate floor this week.