ANALYSIS – During a recent grilling by the Senate Judiciary Committee, FBI Director Christopher Wray called the January 6 riot in the U.S. Capitol “domestic terrorism.” And many would agree. But was it really? And if so, what does that mean?
And how does it apply to other forms of violent domestic disturbances directed at federal buildings and law enforcement – such as those by BLM, Antifa and other groups?
In his testimony Wray said in reference to the Capitol riot: “That attack, that siege, was criminal behavior. It is behavior that we, the FBI, view as domestic terrorism.” Few will argue with Wray’s assessment of it being criminal behavior, I called it that immediately after the riot. But was it “domestic terrorism”?
Significantly, in contrast to crimes of “international terrorism,” there is no federal criminal offense for “domestic terrorism.” Acts of so-called domestic terrorism are charged under other specific criminal laws, such as killing federal agents or other criminal offenses. So, in U.S. federal law, the crime of domestic terrorism simply does not exist.
However, while not a designated crime, “domestic terrorism” is defined under the 2001 USA Patriot Act for purposes of authorizing federal law enforcement investigations. There it is described as:
…activities that (A) involve acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the U.S. or of any state; (B) appear to be intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and (C) occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the U.S.
Under that definition – or even the more common dictionary definition of “terrorism” as “the unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims” – the Capitol riot can certainly be called terrorism. This is something I noted in my analysis of earlier violent BLM/Antifa attacks against peaceful Trump supporters in Washington, DC.
I called those leftist attacks on civilians for political intimidation the textbook definition of “terrorism. And if applied equally, the term could definitely be used to describe the Capitol riot as well.
However, the problem is that it isn’t being applied equally. The term cannot be used selectively against one political group or ideology and not others, without appearing to be a biased witch hunt. And that is exactly what is occurring now.
The violent attacks by BLM and Antifa groups against peaceful Trump supporters in DC, or violent attacks targeting the White House, or federal officers and the federal courthouse in Portland, have not been labelled “domestic terrorism.” Neither have the violent leftist attacks against other federal buildings and monuments in numerous other cities nationwide.
And that is wrong, and needs to change.
Those months-long BLM/Antifa riots caused well over $2 billion in damages and injured over 2,000 police officers, some seriously. The Capitol riot, in contrast, injured about 140 officers, and caused relatively minor damage.
While one rioter was killed by Capitol Police, one Capitol Police officer died afterwards due to still unknown causes, and three protesters in the area died of pre-existing medical conditions, the mostly unarmed Capitol riot was not the “bloody insurrection” hyped by partisans and the media.
Bottom line is – until the term is applied evenly and impartially, perhaps the “domestic terrorism” label should not be used at all.