Capitol Siege Prompts Consideration of New Terror Laws, Reviews

  • House lawmakers weigh new criminal statute for domestic terror
  • Calls for bipartisan, independent review of Capitol attack

Lawmakers on the House Homeland Security Committee are grappling with how to address the domestic terrorism linked to the Jan. 6 Capitol siege without alienating one another or impinging on constitutional rights.

“I believe the post-9/11 era is over. I think January 6 was the cap of one era and the beginning of another,” Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.), chair of the panel’s Intelligence and Counterterrorism Subcommittee, said at a hearing on Thursday. “That makes clear that the most dangerous threat right now to us as Americans — physical threat — is the division between us and the way that some are exploiting those divisions.”

The House panel met at the same time their colleague Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) denied on the House floor that she espouses the conspiratorial beliefs held by many of the domestic terrorists involved in the Capitol attack. She also criticized Democrats’ support for Black Lives Matter protests and said the media was “just as guilty” as QAnon for spreading lies.

New federal statutes that would create criminal penalties for domestic terrorism and a bipartisan, independent commission are among the options House Homeland Security Committee members will consider in the 117th Congress.

“We need to establish an independent commission to explore the best ways to update our laws, policies and culture to address domestic terrorism. I believe we need to criminalize domestic terrorism and consider updating other statutes to ensure equal justice is applied,” Elizabeth Neumann, former assistant secretary for counterterrorism and threat prevention for President Donald Trump’s Homeland Security Department, told lawmakers.

Photo: Brent Stirton/Getty Images
Rioters clash with police and security forces as people try to storm the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

Statutes

One of the challenges facing federal law enforcement officials is that while the USA PATRIOT Act (Public Law 107-56) includes language about domestic terrorism, it doesn’t create any penalties, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) said during the hearing. McCaul in the last Congress proposed legislation that would set penalties for the existing domestic terrorism statutes.

Neumann, the Trump appointee turned outspoken critic of the former president, said federal law enforcement officials do the best they can with the tools they have, but the lack of penalties makes their jobs hard.

“It doesn’t make sense to me why if you commit a crime in the name of White supremacy or you commit a crime in the name of an ISIS ideology, that you get more jail time for ISIS versus a violent White supremacist act,” she said.

Slotkin told reporters after the hearing that she isn’t certain new laws are the answer.

“It’s an open question to me whether clear guidance from the Department of Justice from the Attorney General from the FBI leadership could could encourage law enforcement across the country to use authorities that are already on the books,” to go after domestic terrorists, she said.

“I hold open that we might need new law, we might.”

Commission

Several lawmakers called for an independent commission to review the events of Jan. 6 and provide recommendations to lawmakers and the federal government on how to address the root causes.

The committee’s ranking member, John Katko (R-N.Y.), has co-sponsored legislation (H.R. 275) that would do just that, and he called on the Democrats on the committee to sign onto it.

“This important, bipartisan commission would provide Congress with real answers to our questions and solutions to close critical homeland security gaps,” Katko said during his opening remarks.

Several Democrats said they wanted at least a deep evaluation of the domestic terrorism environment before Congress passes legislation.

“I don’t know if we need more legislation or we need more enforcement of existing legislation, and I look forward to that investigation — that kind of commission consideration,” Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.) said. “We need to know before we jump.”

Watson Coleman isn’t currently a co-sponsor of Katko’s bill.

To contact the reporter on this story: Shaun Courtney in Washington at scourtney@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Sarah Babbage at sbabbage@bgov.com; Robin Meszoly at rmeszoly@bgov.com

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