A bipartisan group of lawmakers came out in support of new domestic terror laws this week, despite earlier opposition from over 150 civil rights groups that were concerned about the implications for minority communities.
Experts said domestic terrorist groups could pose a continuing threat after the Capitol riot on Jan. 6, leading to a bipartisan majority of the House Homeland Security Committee to agree on considering new laws to address potentially harmful groups, The Washington Post reported Thursday.
But 156 civil rights groups, including the NAACP, the Human Rights Campaign and the Council on American-Islamic Relations, had sent a letter to Congress on Jan. 19 describing concern about expanding legal authority related to terrorism.
“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 Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights wrote.
The letter said new counterterrorism laws would be used against minority communities and people participating in First Amendment demonstrations instead of their intended targets. Congress should instead hold federal agencies accountable for how they use their allocated resources to counter domestic terrorism, the groups wrote.
“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,” groups wrote. “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.”
The House Homeland Security Committee held its first hearing Thursday related to its investigation of the events that unfolded at the U.S. Capitol building on Jan. 6, The Post reported. The probe could result in legislation that includes regulating environments that foster extremist ideologies such as social media sites where groups distribute information.
“We have to do something,” Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat, said. “I’m sure somewhere there will be agreement on specific legislation.”
Rep. Michael McCaul, the committee’s former chair, agreed with other lawmakers that legislation was needed to prosecute domestic terror cases in a similar manner as violent extremism that originates abroad, The Post reported.
“I think it sends a strong message about where Congress is, that we’re going to treat domestic terrorism on an equal plane as international terrorism,” McCaul said, The Post reported.
McCaul, Thomas and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights did not respond to requests for comment.