On January 6th, 2021, a crowd of people, mostly supporting Donald Trump, congregated at the US Capitol after a political rally in front of the White House. Police officers were immediately overwhelmed as they were forced to converge on the Citadel of Democracy as protests broke the barriers surrounding the complex. Although most people peacefully exercised their right to protest an allegedly illegitimate election, a small group of so-called patriots forcefully entered the Capitol building to disrupt the certification of electoral votes that was presided by Vice President Pence. They smashed windows, attacked police officers with fire extinguishers and bear spray, forced congress members and staffers to barricade themselves, and recorded the first intrusion of the Capitol since the Civil War. Some of the intruders threatened the lives of senior government officials like Nancy Pelosi and Mike Pence, while others appeared to have planned the intrusion, as indicated by their body armor, gas masks, and zip ties.
Fast-forward to hearings with FBI Director Christopher Wray, I was astonished that the United States did not have a domestic terrorism list or framework for punishing violent domestic extremism in the United States. The Capitol Intrusion was the largest and most consequential event for law enforcement officers but a slew of terrorist acts occurred throughout 2020 that should have prompted lawmakers to renovate domestic terror statutes. These events include targeted killings of police officers and arson on government buildings from the far-right and far-left. As the premier law enforcement agency that is apolitical, I agree with the FBI’s assessment that some of the January 6th protests were domestic terrorists; I appreciated Director Wray’s nuance that divided those present at the Capitol into three groups, or a triangle; the vast majority of Americans who were peacefully protesting, some who became violent and entered the Capitol building as a result of becoming riled up in emotion, and those who planned and intended to violently challenge a cornerstone of our democracy, which by the way, was declared legitimate by multiple US courts. This minority of people who justified their actions for democracy prompted me to try and solve the problem of weak domestic terrorism laws while preserving constitutional liberties.
Before diving into my proposal, let me acknowledge the potential critiques. I understand there have been instances of government overreach from the Nixon Administration’s enemies list to the National Security Agency’s illegal wiretapping of US citizens after 9/11. I understand many libertarians’ concerns that if they give an inch, the government will take a mile. Civil liberties groups oppose any potential legislation that would potentially infringe on individual rights. These concerns are understandable and can be supported with historical examples. However much of these concerns attempt to idealistically preserve rights that might be gone if another January 6th succeeds in overturning democratic principles in support of an ideology or candidate. And in an increasingly polarized nation where there is little compromise and where democracy is eroding across the world, giving up some rights preserves most other rights. Think about it, our rights have never been absolute. And keep in mind, many of the infringements people worry about occur sporadically and are not daily occurrences. As much as I’d love to propose punishments for those who choose to unlawfully use a domestic terrorism list, accountability just would not be possible. That’s where the American people come in; because the list and criteria are public, they can question the courts’ decisions and express their opinions non-violently. A public list will not compromise secret operations against violent domestic extremists while providing a level of accountability for the government. Now my proposal in three parts: 1) Create a domestic terrorist list that includes mostly individuals. This will prevent overextending the list in the government’s favor. 2) Criminalizing domestic terrorists. This will enable the country to use the stigma of terrorism to its advantage and deter people from making purely emotional decisions as we saw on January 6th. 3) Forming a government-wide framework to define domestic terrorism and empower law enforcement to prosecute domestic terrorists, like the minority in January 6th, to the fullest extent of the law. This is so important to preserve our country’s democratic experiment and allow our children to enjoy the institutions we love…with a little compromise.