The House has passed a bill to authorize dedicated offices within U.S. federal government departments to monitor domestic terrorism and hate crimes.
H.R. 350 requires the departments of Homeland Security (DHS), Justice (DOJ), and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to monitor, analyze, investigate, and prosecute domestic terrorism, including hate crimes such as “white supremacist-related incidents.”
This comes after a spate of recent mass shootings, most recently by a white male at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York, by a black male in a New York City subway, and by a Chinese male at a Taiwanese church in California.
In a near party-line vote of 222-203, the House voted in support of H.R. 350, also known as the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act of 2022. One Republican crossed the floor to support the bill.
In opposing the legislation, Republicans said the divisive law would empower the federal bureaucracy to target Americans, The Hill reported.
“This is nothing more than empowering the federal government to police thought and speech in the United States of America, and we should oppose it roundly,” Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) told the House.
In calling for the bill to be brought to the floor, Rep. Bradley Schneider (D-Ill.), the bill’s sponsor, cited the Buffalo shooting of 13 people, of which 11 were black.
The shooting was carried out by self-described white supremacist Payton Gendron, 18, who had crossed the state to target black people at the Tops Friendly Market.
Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia told CNN that a 180-page document, purportedly written by the gunman, said the attack was intended to terrorize all non-white, non-Christian people to get them to leave the country, AP reported. The document’s authenticity is under investigation.
The shooter in the New York City subway, Frank James, 65, wounded 10. He pleaded not guilty to terrorism and weapons charges in Brooklyn federal court on May 13.
David Chau, 65, a Chinese immigrant and U.S. citizen, faces murder, attempted murder, and other charges for the shooting at a Taiwanese church in Las Vegas that killed one person and wounded five.
The prosecutor in that Chau’s case said he was motivated by hatred for Taiwan, where he was born after his family was forced from mainland China when communists prevailed in a civil war that ended in 1949.
Other Democrats who spoke in the House focussed on the Buffalo shooting, The Hill reported.
“H.R. 350 will give communities like mine a fighting chance the next time an angry racist shares a deranged screed online and decides to drive hours to attack vulnerable and innocent people at our grocery stores or our houses of worship,” Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-Texas) said.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) cited the events on Jan. 6 at the U.S. Capitol as another example in his view.
“I know, as I believe every member of this house knows, that extremist violence can reach anyone, anytime, anywhere, whether it be a place of worship, a grocery store or, as we learned last year, this very hall,” he said.
H.R. 350 will also create an interagency task force to “analyze and combat white supremacist and neo-Nazi infiltration of the uniformed services and federal law enforcement agencies.”
The DHS, DOJ, and the FBI will also be required to review their anti-terrorism training and resource programs that are provided to federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies.
Additionally, the DOJ must make training on prosecuting domestic terrorism available to its prosecutors and to assistant U.S. attorneys. Meanwhile, the FBI will be required to assign a special agent or hate crimes liaison to field offices to investigate hate crimes incidents with a nexus to domestic terrorism.