On Monday, I reported that Rep. Brad Schneider’s Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act (HR 350) had reached the 166 cosponsor milestone. Today, it stands at 173…and it has an even more expansive Senate companion: S. 963, the Domestic Terrorism and Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2021. Joining Senate Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin (D-IL) as original cosponsors on the bill are Senators Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL).
Like Schneider’s bill, Durbin’s creates new “Domestic Terrorism” bureaucracies inside the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security, with related staffing requirements, semi‐annual report requirements, etc. However, S. 963 an important wrinkle. With respect to COVID-19, it includes the following language in Section 7(a):
Not later than 14 days after the date of enactment of this Act, the Attorney General shall designate an officer or employee of the Department of Justice whose sole responsibility during the applicable period shall be to facilitate the expedited review of COVID–19 hate crimes and reports of any such crime to Federal, State, or local law enforcement agencies.
You’d have to have been living under a rock not to have seen the coverage of violent attacks on Asian Americans in connection with the racialized “China virus” rhetoric that has poisoned our public discourse and threatened the safety of our fellow Americans of Asian heritage. I understand the emotional impulse to include language like this in Durbin’s bill, even as I doubt it will do anything to stop such race‐based attacks on that segment of our population.
What I can’t understand is why Hirono and Duckworth didn’t insist on including language that would end the Department of Justice’s own racist “China Initiative”–a program that explicitly targets Chinese American students, researchers and scientists with known ties to China as part of what can only be described as a racially motivated “counterintelligence” activity.
The DoJ “China Initiative” is premised on the same fallacy that prior “countering violent extremism” (CVE) programs suffered from: the idea that people from a particular religious or ethnic group are more likely to violate the law (in the case of Arab or Muslim Americans, support ISIS; in the case of Chinese Americans, act as spies for the PRC) than other Americans.
So even as Chinese Americans and other Asian Americans are being attacked on the street by hate‐filled racists, Chinese Americans in the medical, engineering, technology and mathematics fields are being targeted and prosecuted–often on dubious, or outright false, grounds–by the very department Durbin, Duckworth, and Hirono want to give still more power and money to. It’s a move that literally defies common sense and our collective lived experience.
What’s also odd about the Durbin bill is a requirement regarding the first report on domestic terrorism incidents:
(B) (i) in the first report, an analysis of incidents or attempted incidents of domestic terrorism that have occurred in the United States since April 19, 1995, including any White‐supremacist‐related incidents or attempted incidents;
The date in question is of course the day Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols used a truck bomb to destroy the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. But white supremacist terrorism has been with us since the creation of the Ku Klux Klan in December 1865, and other violent white supremacist groups have been with us since at least the early 1970s (see the CSA, for example).
If Durbin and his colleagues want a fuller history of those kinds of movements, they don’t need an FBI/DHS report to learn about them. Plenty of scholars have written books about the various groups and movements and would make excellent witnesses for a Congressional hearing on the topic…just one more reason why Durbin and Schneider should do their homework before proposing sweeping new legislation that will inevitably have unintended consequences they, and the rest of us, will likely have reason to regret.