A bipartisan coalition of three Texas congressmen introduced a bill in the House of Representatives on Tuesday to create a distinct domestic terrorism criminal statute in the United States.
While the U.S. penal code currently contains a statute for the federal government to charge instances of foreign terrorism, no such statute exists for crimes that fall under the exclusive purview of domestic terrorism. The latter crimes can be categorized as domestic terrorism, and investigated as such, but the FBI presently charges any other relevant underlying crimes rather than the domestic terrorism charge itself.
“Unlike international terrorism, which has penalties, domestic terrorism exists in federal law but lacks penalties,” Rep. Randy Weber (R-TX), the bill’s sponsor, said in a statement. “As a result, individuals who commit crimes that constitute an act of domestic terrorism must be charged under non-terrorism statutes.”
“In some cases, the crimes committed by people the FBI describes as domestic terrorism suspects do not violate federal law,” he continued. “Thus, these individuals may never be federally charged as terrorists.”
The Domestic Terrorism Penalties Act (H.R. 4187) seeks to amend the Crimes and Criminal Procedures title of the United States Code to penalize individuals who kill, kidnap, assault, do damage to, or attempt or conspire to any of the above with the intent to influence governmental conduct.
Weber, along with co-sponsors Reps. Michael McCaul (R-TX) and Henry Cuellar (D-TX), introduced the bill in the aftermath of back-to-back deadly mass shootings.
In early August, a gunman opened fire in a shopping center in El Paso, Texas, murdering more than 20 bystanders and injuring over two dozen others. A second attacker took the lives of nine people and injured nearly 30 others after he gunned down people outside of a Dayton, Ohio bar in a separate incident.
Despite the timing, Weber has reportedly been crafting the legislation over the last few months.
“The attacks earlier this month in Dayton and El Paso are a stark and hideous reminder that the threat of domestic terrorism is very real. As a former prosecutor, I know our federal domestic terrorism laws are insufficient and lack any real recourse to charge domestic terrorists with the crimes they’ve committed,” McCaul said. “The bill we introduced today would change that. It provides the FBI and DOJ with tools to better identify domestic terrorism before it occurs and fully prosecute those responsible.”
“We need to do more than denounce the hateful ideologies that spur this type of violence,” he continued. “We have to take action to better prevent the spread of homegrown radicalization.”
Cuellar, who serves as vice chair of the House’s Homeland Security Appropriations subcommittee, emphasized his responsibility to keep Americans safe as part of his duty.
“The shootings in El Paso and Dayton demonstrate that we need to do more to stop terrorists in our own backyard,” Cuellar said. “Designating domestic terrorism as a federal crime will give law enforcement officials the necessary resources to effectively investigate suspects and fully prosecute criminals.”
Rep. Steve Stivers (R-OH) also recently signed on a co-sponsor to the legislation.