WASHINGTON— In the aftermath of the January 6 deadly attack on Congress by far right extremists, including white nationalists, 135 civil and human rights organizations led by The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the Arab American Institute, Bend the Arc: Jewish Action, Muslim Advocates, and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund called on Congress to ensure that the Department of Justice utilize the over 50 federal statutes already in existence to investigate and prosecute individuals who participated in the insurrection. The groups identified other actions Congress can take to address the long-standing and ongoing threat posed by white supremacists and urged them to abstain from passing any additional domestic terrorism laws.
In strongly opposing the creation of a new domestic terrorism charge, the organizations pointed out the harsh reality that counterterrorism practices are far too often blatantly misused to target and criminalize the very marginalized communities that white supremacists target for hate. “We are concerned that a new federal domestic terrorism statute or list would adversely impact civil rights and — as our nation’s long and disturbing history of targeting Black Activists, Muslims, Arabs, and movements for social and racial justice has shown — 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,” they noted.
“The government’s inadequate response to rising white nationalism is a disgraceful policy failure. The problem is hardly new, and prosecutors have long had a multitude of criminal statutes at their disposal to confront white supremacist violence,” said Wade J. Henderson, interim president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “The time is overdue to refocus resources, implement prosecutorial guidance, and prioritize combatting white nationalism as the grave threat that it is. Congress can support these efforts, not by passing additional counterterrorism laws, but instead by enforcing existing laws and using its formidable oversight and appropriations authority to demand a more effective response from federal law enforcement agencies.”
“We don’t lack the tools to hold white supremacists and anti-government actors accountable — we have lacked the political will to do so. At the same time, as part of the endless ‘war on terror,’ Arab Americans and American Muslims are treated as suspicious,” said Maya Berry, executive director of the Arab American Institute. “In an inherently biased criminal legal system, we know how additional legal authorities will be used — they will be used just as they have previously — to target directly impacted communities, including Black and Brown people and religious minorities.”
“For years, authorities have ignored or downplayed the threat that violent white nationalists pose not only to the individuals and communities they target, but to democracy itself. While there are many reasons why our justice system has failed to prosecute these groups, a lack of resources or laws is not among them — and must not be part of any rushed solution,” said Rabbi Jason Kimelman-Block, Washington director of Bend the Arc Jewish Action. “We need a thorough accounting of what resources are being allocated to target and contain these groups, as well as a full accounting of the extent to which these groups have infiltrated law enforcement agencies themselves.”
“American Muslims know all too well what happens when policymakers who want to look like they’re doing something expand terrorism-related authorities in response to extremist violence,” said Madihha Ahussain, special counsel for Anti-Muslim Bigotry at Muslim Advocates. “Giving law enforcement yet more power to surveil and criminalize people will ultimately hurt Muslims and communities of color. As the acting U.S. attorney in charge of the Capitol riot investigation made clear: Law enforcement already has all the tools they need and more to investigate and prosecute threats and criminal activity. The problem is that the government is not prioritizing preventing white nationalist violence, not that they don’t have enough power and resources.”
“The January 6 coup attempt led by white supremacist groups attempting to overturn the will of the American people to choose its leader is a clear example of how pervasive white supremacy is in our society and within the ranks of law enforcement itself,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. “Violence perpetrated by white supremacist groups has been allowed to increase because federal law enforcement officials have chosen not to enforce the investigatory and prosecutorial statutes already in place. What we do not need is for Congress to undertake an unnecessary expansion of federal domestic terrorism statues that will inevitably threaten the civil rights of Black communities and other communities of color.”
The full letter and signatories are available here.