WASHINGTON — The House on Wednesday passed legislation aimed at increasing the federal government’s efforts to fight domestic terrorism, cracking down on opposition Republicans, days after a gunman motivated by a white supremacist ideology killed 10 black people in a grocery store in Buffalo.
Lawmakers pushed forward the bipartisan legislation by a nearly partisan vote of 222 to 203, reflecting deep polarization over tackling white supremacy and other racially motivated extremism now considered the country’s greatest internal threat.
The vote came as the Buffalo massacre spotlighted how racist conspiracy theories, such as the one that motivated the shooter, have increasingly permeated Republican politics and right-wing media, where prominent voices, including some members of Congress, have subtly reverberated or embraced them. openly. Only one Republican, Illinois Representative Adam Kinzinger, voted in favor of the bill.
The measure would establish three new offices — each at the FBI, the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security — to monitor, investigate and prosecute domestic terrorism. It would require bi-annual reports assessing the domestic terrorism threat posed by white supremacists, with a particular focus on combating “white supremacist and neo-Nazi infiltration of the uniformed services.”
Still, it would stop creating new federal powers to crack down on domestic terrorism; it would not create new offenses or new lists of designated domestic terrorist groups, nor would it give law enforcement additional investigative powers.
From opinion: The Buffalo Shooting
Times Opinion commentary on the massacre at a supermarket in a predominantly black neighborhood in Buffalo.
Proponents said that in a Congress long paralyzed on anti-gun violence legislation, the bill was the best they could to address the root causes of the racially motivated shooting in Buffalo.
“The rise of racially motivated extremism is a serious threat to Americans across the country,” said Illinois Democrat Representative Brad Schneider and the bill’s lead sponsor. “We can’t stop people like Tucker Carlson from spewing hateful, dangerous, substitute theory ideology into the airwaves. Congress has failed to ban the sale of assault weapons. The Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act is what Congress can do to prevent future shootings in Buffalo.”
New York Democrat and Majority Leader Senator Chuck Schumer said he would try to raise the bill in the Senate next week. But Republicans are expected to block it because they worry it would give the Justice Department too much power. House Republican leaders on Wednesday recommended that their members oppose it.
“This legislation expands federal bureaucracy, ignores new and evolving terrorist threats and makes it more difficult for law enforcement officers to recruit and retain qualified candidates,” said Pennsylvania Republican Representative Guy Reschenthaler.
Originally introduced in 2017, the bill was passed unanimously by the Senate in 2020. It faced headwinds earlier this year after progressive Democrats in Congress, led by Missouri Representative Cori Bush, said they would oppose the bill, citing concerns from groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union and the Council on American-Islamic Relations that would increase surveillance of people of color, especially activists.
The ACLU opposed an earlier draft of the legislation, stating in a 2019 letter that it “would entrench long-standing problems and result in the continued unwarranted and discriminatory surveillance, investigation and prosecution of people of color and other marginalized communities, including those engaged in First Amendment protected activities.”
But the measure has gained momentum since Saturday, when an 18-year-old white gunman opened fire at the Tops supermarket in East Buffalo, authorities said, in an attempt to premeditately murder black people, driven by the belief that white Americans were on the run. risk of being replaced by people of color.
Democrats have negotiated internally to amend the bill to allay the concerns of progressives, narrow the definition of domestic terrorism and add a provision to ensure that individuals cannot be placed under surveillance just by participating in a protest.
Attorney General Merrick B. Garland and Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas testified before Congress last year that the greatest domestic threat to the United States came from what they termed “racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists.”
In a separate warning last year, the Department of Homeland Security said for the first time publicly that the United States was facing a growing threat from “violent domestic extremists” emboldened by the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
Senate sponsors of legislation drafted the bill last year as a way to respond to the attack on Congress.
“After the violence of the Capitol riots, it’s time to fight domestic terrorism,” Illinois Democrat Richard J. Durbin wrote in an op-ed promoting the legislation.
But with the Buffalo killings fresh in the nation’s consciousness, Congressional Democrats have taken a turn to portray the legislation as a response to the spate of racist shootings across the country. They have cited the attack on the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, the Atlanta shootings that targeted women who worked in Asian spas, and the 2019 shooting in El Paso, in which authorities say 22 people were killed at a Walmart. by a white gunman, claiming he was carrying out the attack in “response to the Spanish invasion of Texas.”
“The longer we wait to get the resources and resources from the FBI, DOJ and DHS,” said Mr. Schneider, “the more likely we are to have more events like in Buffalo.”