January 19, 2021

Dear Members of Congress:

On behalf of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights (The Leadership Conference), a coalition charged by its diverse membership of more than 220 national organizations to promote and protect civil and human rights in the United States, and the undersigned 151 organizations, we write to express our deep concern regarding proposed expansion of terrorism-related legal authority. 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 Justice Department (DOJ), including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), has over 50 terrorism-related statutes it can use to investigate and prosecute criminal conduct, including white supremacist violence, as well as dozens of other federal statutes relating to hate crimes, organized crime, and violent crimes. The failure to confront and hold accountable white nationalist violence is not a question of not having appropriate tools to employ, but a failure to use those on hand. To date, DOJ has simply decided as a matter of policy and practice not to prioritize white nationalist crimes. Congress should use its oversight and appropriations authorities to ensure that law enforcement appropriately focuses investigative and prosecutorial resources on white nationalist crimes.

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. 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. As Acting U.S. Attorney Michael Sherwin for the District of Columbia stated on January 12, 2021 regarding the January 6 insurrection attack on the Capitol, federal prosecutors have many existing laws at their disposal to hold violent white supremacists accountable.

The magnitude of last week’s attack demands that Congress focus on ensuring that our government addresses white nationalist violence as effectively as possible. Members of Congress should not reinforce counterterrorism policies, programs, and frameworks that are rooted in bias, discrimination, and denial or diminution of fundamental rights like due January 19, 2021 process. Rather, as highlighted below, Congress should focus on its oversight and appropriations authority to ensure that the federal government redirect resources towards the ever-growing white nationalist violence plaguing our country, and hold law enforcement accountable in doing so.

Law Enforcement Has the Tools to Hold White Nationalist Insurrectionists Accountable

White supremacist violence goes back to our nation’s founding, and has never been appropriately addressed—and it manifested last week in an unprecedented way. On January 6, 2021, thousands of pro-Trump supporters, many of them radical, right-wing, white supremacists, unlawfully and violently broke into the nation’s Capitol. The rioters, some with “Camp Auschwitz” shirts, others carrying confederate flags, and some who hung a noose on the Capitol grounds, were intent on blocking the ratification of President-elect Biden’s electoral win. Some carried weapons and zip ties, reportedly to kidnap or kill members of Congress and the Vice President. Because of the violent mayhem that ensued, at least five people lost their lives and countless others were wounded. As this historic event on the nation’s legislative branch by violent white nationalist insurrectionists is being investigated thoroughly, we know that our federal law enforcement officials have more than enough tools at their disposal to address the attack on the Capitol.

According to the federal government’s own research and reports, white nationalist violence has been on the rise for years with the F.B.I reporting that more murders motivated by hate were recorded in 2019 than any year before. This 2019 data included the El Paso massacre, when a white supremacist targeted the Latino community and shot and killed 23 people after publishing a manifesto in which he embraced white nationalist and anti-immigrant hatred. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the FBI have repeatedly testified before Congress, stating that the greatest threat to US national security emanates from white supremacist violence.

Yet, despite overwhelming evidence making clear the source of the threat, the federal response has failed to prioritize an effective policy to combat white nationalist violence. Instead, the federal government has disproportionately targeted and surveilled Black and Brown people, including increasingly targeting Arabs and Muslims since 9/11, treating them as threats to US national and homeland security. This has led to the over-policing of these communities, including intrusions into community centers, mosques, and almost every aspect of their lives. US counter-terrorism policy has January 19, 2021 devastated communities of color and religious minorities, and by failing to rein in white nationalist violence in a serious way, those same communities suffer twice over: first by being over-criminalized and securitized and second, by having the state not respond to white nationalists who target them.

What Should Congress Do?

Congress should not enact any laws creating a new crime of domestic terrorism, including the Confronting the Threats of Domestic Terrorism Act (H.R. 4192 in the 116th Congress) or any other new charges or sentencing enhancements expected to be introduced in the 117th Congress “to penalize acts of domestic terrorism.” These bills and others with similar provisions are the wrong approach because, as we have seen, they will continue to be used as vehicles to target marginalized communities as they have done since their inception. The federal government has no shortage of counterterrorism powers, and these powers have been and will be again used to unjustly target Black and Brown communities, including Muslim, Arab, Middle Eastern, and South Asian communities, as well as those engaged in First Amendment-protected activities. The creation of a new federal domestic terrorism crime ignores this reality and would not address the scourge of white nationalism in this country.

Instead, Congress should use its oversight and appropriations powers to demand that federal agencies make public how they have and are now using resources to fight white supremacist violence. Moreover, Congress should support other efforts to address the white supremacy at the core of these violent attacks. At the outset, Congress should identify ways to address the white supremacist infiltration of law enforcement that was documented by the FBI. This a clear and present danger, which was highlighted at an Oversight Committee hearing last year, puts lives at risk and undermines the criminal legal system. Hate crimes data should be mandated and made publicly available so federal leaders, as well as those at the state and local level, can address the threat in a manner best suited to their community. Finally, the Leadership Conference encourages Congress to hold hearings featuring communities that are experiencing white nationalist violence in an effort to encourage accountability and transparency. This would allow Congress to provide communities impacted by white supremacist violence support to develop and lead their own programs to meet the needs that they identify.

Please contact Becky Monroe at monroe@civilrights.org and Iman Boukadoum at boukadoum@civilrights.org to further discuss this matter or if there are questions or concerns.

Sincerely,

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

Arab Resource and Organizing Center (AROC)

Access Now

Act To Change

Advancement Project, National Office

Alabama State Association of Cooperatives

Aleasa Word

America’s Voice

American Civil Liberties Union

American Friends Service Committee

American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC)

Americans for Democratic Action (ADA)

Amnesty International USA

Andrew Goodman Foundation

ANYAHS Inc.

Appleseed Foundation

Arab American Institute

Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF)

Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus

Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC

Augustus F. Hawkins Foundation

Autistic Self Advocacy Network

Bend the Arc Jewish Action

Black Alliance for Just Immigration

Borderlands for Equity

Brennan Center for Justice

Bridges Faith Initiative

Brooklyn Defender Services

Center for Constitutional Rights

Center for Democracy & Technology

Center for Disability Rights

Center for International Policy

Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP)

Center for Popular Democracy/Action

Center for Security, Race and Rights

Center for Victims of Torture

Center on Conscience & War

Charity & Security Network

CLEAR project (Creating Law Enforcement Accountability & Responsibility)

CODEPINK

Color Of Change

Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition

Common Cause

Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)

Council on American-Islamic Relations, Washington Chapter

Defending Rights & Dissent

Defender Impact Initiative

Demand Progress

Demos

Detention Watch Network

Drug Policy Alliance

Durham Youth Climate Justice Initiative

Emgage Action

End Citizens United / Let America Vote Action Fund

Equal Justice Society

Equality California

Federal Public and Community Defenders

Fight for the Future

Free Press Action

Freedom Network USA

Friends Committee on National Legislation

Government Accountability Project

Government Information Watch

Greenpeace US

Human Rights Campaign

Human Rights First

Human Rights Watch

Immigrant Defense Project

Immigrant Justice Network

In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda

InterAction

Interfaith Alliance

Japanese American Citizens League

Just Futures Law

Justice for Muslims Collective

Kansas Black Farmers Association/Nicodemus Educational Camps

KinderUSA

Labor Council for Latin American Advancement

Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law

Legal Aid Society of Metropolitan Family Services

Louisiana Advocates for Immigrants in Detention

Matthew Shepard Foundation

Montgomery County (MD) Civil Rights Coalition

MPower Change

Muslim Advocates

Muslim Justice League

Muslim Public Affairs Council

NAACP

NAACP LEGAL DEFENSE AND EDUCATIONAL FUND, INC. (LDF)

National Action Network

National Alliance for Partnerships in Equity (NAPE)

National Association of Social Workers (NASW)

National Council of Jewish Women

National Education Association

National Employment Law Project

National Equality Action Team (NEAT)

National Immigration Law Center

National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild (NIPNLG)

National LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund

National Network for Immigrant & Refugee Rights

National Organization for Women

National Partnership for Women & Families

National Religious Campaign Against Torture

National Women’s Law Center

NETWORK Lobby

New America’s Open Technology Institute

North Carolina Association of Black Lawyers Land Loss Prevention Project

Open MIC (Open Media & Information Companies Initiative)

Open The Government

Oxfam America

Palestine Legal

Partnership for Civil Justice Fund

Peace Action

PEN America

People’s Parity Project

Presbyterian Church (USA)

Progressive Turnout Project

Project Blueprint

Project On Government Oversight

Public Advocacy for Kids (PAK)

Public Citizen

Public Justice

Quixote Center

Radiant International

Restore The Fourth

Rethinking Foreign Policy

Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network (“RMIAN”)

Rural Coalition

S.T.O.P. – The Surveillance Technology Oversight Project

Sisters of Mercy of the Americas Justice Team

South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT)

Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC)

SPLC Action Fund

TASH: equity, opportunity and inclusion for people with disabilities

Texas Progressive Action Network

The Human Trafficking Legal Center

The Sentencing Project

The Sikh Coalition

Transformations CDC

True North Research

Tuskegee University

UnidosUS

Union for Reform Judaism

United Church of Christ, OC Inc.

UNITED SIKHS

US Human Rights Network

Veterans for American Ideals

Veterans For Peace

Voices for Progress

Win Without War

Wind of the Spirit Immigrant Resource Center

Workplace Fairness