FILE - In this Oct. 29, 2018, file photo, a person pauses in front of Stars of David with the names of those killed in a deadly shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue, in Pittsburgh. The two mass shootings and a presidential tweet put a spotlight on the idea of “domestic terrorism,” adding momentum to a debate about whether such attacks should be classified and tried in the same way as crimes against America by foreign terrorist groups and their supporters. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

ACLU criticizes bill criminalizing domestic terrorism

September 03, 2019 - 7:29 pm

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — The American Civil Liberties Union on Tuesday urged ranking members of the House Judiciary Committee to oppose a bill that targets white supremacist groups by criminalizing domestic terrorism.

The ACLU said the bill would unnecessarily expand authorities used by the Trump administration to target and discriminate against the very communities Congress hopes to protect.

"People of color and other marginalized communities have long been targeted under domestic terrorism authorities for unfair and discriminatory surveillance, investigations, and prosecutions," the civil rights group said in a letter to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a Democrat, and Rep. Doug Collins, the ranking Republican member.

Rep. Adam Schiff, a California Democrat, introduced the bill on Aug. 16 amid a growing number of mass shootings in America.

Schiff's office did not immediately comment on the ACLU's letter, but the congressman said in a recent interview that he kept the bill narrowly tailored to avoid civil liberties and privacy concerns.

"It does not give the president or anyone else the power to designate domestic organizations as terror organizations, for whatever reason," Schiff said.

Recent mass shootings have added momentum to a debate about whether such attacks should be classified and tried in the same way as crimes against America by foreign extremist groups and their supporters.

U.S. Sen. Martha McSally, an Arizona Republican, intends to introduce legislation this month that would allow federal law enforcement to charge suspects with acts of domestic terror and add punishments for those crimes.

Schiff's bill would allow for federal authorities to charge someone with providing criminal support for a domestic terrorist.

Jeanne Theoharis, a political science professor at Brooklyn College who has written extensively on civil rights, says such a provision provides a way for the federal government to go after people whose politics they don't like.

But Schiff says the fact that prosecutors would have to prove the crime beyond a reasonable doubt sets a high bar.

Mary McCord, who used to lead the Justice Department's National Security Division, says providing material support is the most frequently used international terrorism charge, accounting for nearly half of federal terrorism-related prosecutions since Sept. 11, 2001.

The ACLU said law enforcement agencies already have all the authorities they need to address white supremacist violence. The letter was signed by Ronald Newman, the group's national political director, and Manar Waheed, senior legislative and advocacy counsel.

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Follow Andrew Selsky on Twitter at https://twitter.com/andrewselsky

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