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For Our View, read “As Biden weighs domestic terrorism law, let's pause — and ask Merrick Garland.”
Our country is focused on fighting the varied threats of domestic terrorism, and that is a good thing. Many are considering a domestic terrorism law, but there are misconceptions about what such a law should do.
The FBI Agents Association supports a law that creates penalties for those violent acts that meet the definition of domestic terrorism already included in the federal criminal code.
As an FBI special agent, I have spent many of my 21 years investigating domestic terrorism matters. I know making domestic terrorism a federal crime is important. It would offer an additional tool and increase the effectiveness of law enforcement personnel dedicated to protecting the public.
Equally important, we are not seeking a law that would change or expand law enforcement’s investigative or surveillance authorities. And we do not support the designation of groups as domestic terrorist organizations. Making domestic terrorism a federal crime would not result in the targeting of specific ideas or groups. Rather, it would target acts of violence that have no place in the political discourse secured by our Constitution and Bill of Rights.
Law enforcement agencies are already authorized to investigate allegations and incidents of domestic terrorism. However, prosecutors can’t charge domestic terrorism the same way they’d charge kidnapping or bank robbery, because there is no penalty. Prosecutors are left searching for related violations where penalties exist, like weapons or narcotics violations.
Calling out domestic terrorism for what it is promotes deterrence. Imagine being a victim of domestic terrorism only to discover that it isn’t against the law. Victims deserve to have the crimes against them — and the trauma they cause — named accurately.
The federal government should establish a baseline principle for our democracy — political violence, regardless of origin, is unacceptable. Political violence creates victims, and laws are intended to protect those who could be victimized by dangerous conduct.
This view is widely supported by the public and leaders across the political spectrum. Making domestic terrorism a federal crime would be a logical and important affirmation of our shared values and would send a clear message about our country’s commitment to resolving political differences peacefully.
Brian O’Hare is president of the FBI Agents Association.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Make domestic terrorism a federal crime: FBI Agents Association