Hate crimes and extremist right-wing violence are on the rise, according to a majority of experts who are observing the trends.
In the United States in 2018, there were at least 50 murders that could be linked to perpetrators with ties to white supremacism. That was a 35 percent increase from the year before, according to reporting from CBS News earlier this year.
Yet in spite of the rise in right-wing extremism, President Donald Trump has stated quite plainly that he doesn’t believe that white supremacists acting out in violent ways is an issue that requires his attention. “I think it’s a small group of people that have very, very, serious problems,” Trump has said.
The FBI feels differently.
Michael McGarrity, the Assistant Director of the Counterterrorism Division of the FBI, spoke before the House Committee on Homeland Security on Wednesday about the issue of domestic terrorism. McGarrity told the committee there are at least 850 cases of what they would say qualify as individuals or groups that could qualify as domestic terrorists.
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Despite being known to law enforcement, there’s not much that can be done about their potential actions, McGarrity said. Unlike groups or individuals with ties to foreign terrorist organizations, right-wing domestic terrorists slip through the loopholes of current law.
“A white supremacist organization is an ideology, it’s a belief. But they’re not designated as a terrorist organization,” McGarrity explained, according to reporting from NPR.
It all dates back to the Patriot Act, which was passed into law shortly after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. While defining terrorist organizations from abroad (and how to act upon them) is discussed in that document, the law doesn’t allow for agencies like the FBI to act in the same way when it comes to domestic terrorism.
Law enforcement agencies are allowed to investigate right-wing extremists, but there isn’t definitionally a law that one can be charged with on the basis of them being domestic terrorists, according to the ACLU.
Lawmakers are discussing the possibility of updating the law to make allowances for dealing better with domestic terrorism. But not everyone is on board with the idea, especially because there are First Amendment issues to consider.
“[D]esignating domestic groups as domestic terrorist organizations and picking out particular groups that you say you disagree with their views and so forth is going to be highly problematic,” Brad Wiegmann, Deputy Assistant Attorney General, said to the same Congressional committee.
Those types of concerns existed when the original Patriot Act was being debated, according to reporting from the Oregonian. But as right-wing extremism continues to rear its ugly head across the nation, lawmakers are struggling to come up with a solution that can reduce violent acts, including incidents like the Poway Synagogue shooting that occurred in late April.