Given the tragic terrorist attacks on Paris, we must remain vigilant against the knee-jerk reaction to associate the law abiding, peaceful Muslims living in our communities with the criminals who are terrorizing civilians and governments throughout the world. Doing otherwise, further putting “us against them,” would be a victory for the terrorist and a defeat against the principals of our Constitution.
Since 911, the Muslim America community has been under constant pressure from law enforcement scrutiny, surveillance and harassment with its intelligence gathering programs. Hundreds of thousands of Muslim Americans have been targeted for “voluntary interviews” by the FBI and Joint Terrorism Task Force for no reason other than their religion or family’s country of origin. Fear mongering by our elected officials to secure greater police powers and allegiance to war time politics has put Muslims in the target sights of well meaning Americans who live in a state of continual fear.
American Muslims Targeted in Abusive Counter-Terrorism Investigations
Last year Human Rights Watch and Columbia Law School’s Human Rights Institute issued a 214-page report that charged the U.S. Justice Department (DOJ) and the FBI have, since 9/11, targeted American Muslims “in abusive counterterrorism ‘sting operations’ based on religious and ethnic identity …”
Titled “Illusion of Justice: Human Rights Abuses in U.S. Terrorism Prosecutions,” the report examined 27 of the more than 500 federal terror-related prosecutions in this country since September 11, 2001. It describes the abusive treatment American Muslims in these cases received from the initial investigation to sentencing into post-conviction conditions of confinement.
Domestic Terrorist, Hate Groups get Attention of DOJ
After significant human costs to American Muslim communities, the DOJ has now announced, what attorneys who represent individuals investigated or charged with national security crimes or terrorism crimes have long known, that domestic terrorist pose a greater risk to Americans than do foreign terrorist organizations.
The DOJ now believes that white extremists like Dylan Roof, who slaughtered nine people in a Charleston church this past June, and the two anti-government extremists who gunned down two Las Vegas police officers last year pose a greater threat to Americans at home than “Islamist extremists,” as they are unfortunately referred to by the DOJ.
Domestic Terrorism Counsel
This new DOJ policy shift will be led by a new Domestic Terrorism Counsel—a position created, according to Assistant Attorney General John Carlin, the head of the DOJ’s national security division, in response to the many violent attacks and plots against this country by people who are motivated by “anti-government views, racism, bigotry and anarchy, and other despicable beliefs.”
We find it ironic that Carlin used the term “racism” to describe the motivations of domestic terrorists when the DOJ’s own anti-terrorism efforts targeting American Muslims, without reasonable justification, were, and still are, often motivated by racist and religious bigotry.
More Americans Killed by Domestic Hate Groups than International Terrorist
Carlin told media outlets, like CNN, that more Americans have been killed by domestic terrorists than by “international terrorists groups.”
“Looking back over the past few years, it is clear that domestic terrorists and homegrown violent extremists remain a real and present danger to the United States,” the Assistant AG said. “We recognize that, over the past few years, more people have died in this country in attacks by domestic extremists than in attacks associated with international terrorists groups.”
Criminal Law Doesn’t Criminalize Support of Domestic Hate Groups
Slowing the new DOJ policy position are limitations in federal criminal law. It is not a federal offense to support a domestic terrorist organization, as it is a Foreign Terrorist Organization, so the government cannot prosecute the Ku Klux Klan or other anti-government extremists groups as easily it can international terrorists groups and those who support or assist them.
“What causes some confusion is that ‘domestic terrorism’ is not an offense or a charge,” Carlin acknowledged, adding that domestic terrorists must be prosecuted under firearms or explosives offenses, hate crimes or murder.
Federal prosecutors need evidence of actual conspiracies or completed criminal acts before federal criminal charges can be filed. And that is the way it should be. But, it does prevent radical hate groups from being prosecuted until actual crimes are committed or acts in furtherance of criminal conspiracies have begun.
DOJ Lacked Vigilance in Monitoring Hate Groups
Significantly, Carlin said, without mentioning American Muslims, that the DOJ’s previous obsession with “Islamic extremists” can result in the government being less vigilant toward “white supremacists” who are the nation’s “most violent of the domestic terror groups.”
The Assistant AG added: “I do worry sometimes that the coverage hypes the threat in such a way that it induces the fear that the terrorist is attempting to accomplish. Yet, while we continue to address this evolving international threat of violent extremists, we have not lost sight of the domestic terrorism threat posed by other violent extremists.”
We welcome the DOJ’s new policy shift. We have represented too many American Muslims who have done nothing wrong and have fallen under the government’s suspicion for no reason other than their country of origin, religious beliefs and protected political expression. Far too many young Muslim malcontents have been ensnared in FBI “sting operations” that encouraged these individuals to engage in criminal conduct they would never have undertaken had it not been for FBI informants and undercover operatives urging them to do so.
We are hopeful there will be fewer of these types of sting operations if the DOJ’s investigative emphasis shifts from the general American Muslim population to real criminals from violent hate groups with real plans to do harm and terrorize our increasingly diverse population.