The House passed legislation Wednesday night that would devote more federal resources to preventing domestic terrorism in response to the racist mass shooting in Buffalo, New York.
The quasi-partisan 222-203 vote was a response to growing pressure on Congress to address gun violence and white supremacist attacks, a crisis that intensified after two mass shootings over the weekend.
The House passed a similar measure in 2020 only for it to languish in the Senate. Lacking support in the Senate to move forward with gun control legislation they say is necessary to stop mass shootings, Democrats are instead pushing for a broader federal focus on domestic terrorism.
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“We in Congress cannot stop people like (Fox News host) Tucker Carlson from spewing a dangerous and hateful replacement theory ideology over the airwaves. Congress has failed to ban the sale of assault weapons. The Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act is what Congress can do this week to try to prevent future shootings in Buffalo,” Rep. Brad Schneider, D-Ill., who first introduced the measure in 2017, said on the House floor.
The measure seeks to prevent another attack like the one that occurred in Buffalo on Saturday. Police say an 18-year-old white man drove three hours to carry out a live-streamed racist shooting at a crowded supermarket. Ten people were killed.
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Supporters of the bill say it will fill in the gaps in intelligence sharing between the Justice Department, the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI so they can better track and respond to the growing threat of white extremist terrorism.
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Under current law, the three federal agencies already work to investigate, prevent, and prosecute acts of domestic terrorism. But the bill would require each agency to open offices specifically dedicated to those tasks and create an interagency task force to combat white supremacist infiltration of the military.
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The Congressional Budget Office estimates the bill would cost about $105 million over five years, with most of the money going toward hiring staff.
“Because we take 9/11 seriously, we must take this seriously. This is a domestic form of the same terrorism that killed innocent people in New York City and now this assault in Buffalo and many other places,” said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who is sponsoring an identical bill in the Senate. .
Senate Democrats have pledged to bring the bill to a vote next week. His prospects are uncertain, and Republicans oppose strengthening the Justice Department’s power in domestic surveillance.
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Republican lawmakers say the Justice Department abused its power to conduct more domestic surveillance when Attorney General Merrick Garland issued a memo in October aimed at combating threats against school officials across the country. They labeled the memo as addressed to concerned parents.
Republican lawmakers also say the bill does not put enough emphasis on combating domestic terrorism by far-left groups. Under the bill, the agencies would be required to produce a joint report every six months that assesses and quantifies domestic terrorism threats nationwide, including threats posed by white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups.
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“This bill blatantly ignores the persistent threat of domestic terrorism from the radical left in this country and instead assumes that everything is in the hands of whites and the right,” said Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif. .
The divergence highlights the stubborn divide between Democrats and Republicans on domestic terrorism in the US and how it should be defined and prosecuted.
For decades, terrorism has been consistently linked to attacks by foreign actors, but as homegrown terrorism, often perpetrated by white men, has flourished over the past two decades, Democratic lawmakers have sought to clarify it in federal statute. .
“We have seen it before in American history. The only thing missing between these organizations and the past is white robes,” Durbin said. “But the message is still the same message of hate and division, driving people to do outrageously extreme and violent things to innocent people across America. It is time for us to take a stand.”
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