U.S. Prosecutions for Domestic Terrorism Outnumber International Cases

Print More
counter terrorism

Photo by Andre Pierre du Plessis via Flickr.

In 2019, prosecutions for domestic terrorism have so far outnumbered those for acts of international terrorism by a 2 to 1 margin, according to records from the Justice Department.

During the first 10 months of fiscal year 2019, the government reported that 204 terrorism-related prosecutions had been filed, said Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) of Syracuse University, which gathers data on federal enforcement and spending.

Of these, 71, or one in three, were for acts of domestic terrorism. In contrast, just 34, or one in six (16.7 percent), were classified by federal prosecutors as international terrorism.

The Justice Department includes other offenses under its broad category of terrorism- related prosecutions. These additional cases “compromise critical infrastructure protection, terrorism-related financing, terrorism-related export enforcement, as well as terrorism hoaxes.”

Such categories could be broadened even more.

The “Confronting the Threat of Domestic Terrorism Act,” which Rep. Adam Schiff, the Democratic Chairman  of the House Intelligence Committee, introduced last month, would expand the types of crimes that the federal prosecutors could charge as domestic terrorism if the Attorney General certified they were intended to intimidate a civilian population or influence government policy.

According to The Hill, Schiff cited three white supremacist attacks — the 2015 murder of nine African Americans at the Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston, the 2018 murder of eleven Jewish worshipers at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, and last month’s slaying of 22 mostly Latinx shoppers at an El Paso Walmart — as incidents that justified this legislation.

Schiff’s bill is raising some concerns, however. The Hill article argued, “We don’t have to guess how the Trump administration would use the new powers provided in Schiff’s bill. The president has shown an eagerness to use the tools of state to punish his political enemies. His administration previously pressed Congress to make it easier to prosecute oil and gas pipeline protesters who engage in civil disobedience.”

Prosecutions for terrorism reached a height in 2002, with 1,200 as the annual total, according to TRAC.  “While terrorism prosecutions during the first two years of the Trump Administration fell below the levels during the preceding years of the Obama Administration, if terrorism-related prosecutions continue at the same pace during the remaining two months of FY 2019, the annual total of prosecutions will be 245 for this fiscal year,” according to TRAC.

In most cases the Federal Bureau of Investigation was the lead investigative agency. So far during FY 2019 in over six out of ten prosecutions the FBI played the lead role.

A “surprisingly diverse array of federal statutes” have been used in charging defendants for terrorism-related crimes, the TRAC report said. The most common lead charge was providing material support to foreign terrorist organizations. But this accounted for only 11.3 percent of prosecutions. The next most commonly used lead charge was conspiracy to commit offense or to defraud the U.S., more commonly used to prosecute white-collar offenders rather than terrorists. In fourth place were claims of providing false information and hoaxes, followed by offenses related to the importation and storage of explosives.

Farther down the list were harboring or concealing terrorists and posing an unusual and extraordinary threat under the War and National Defense provisions. Other lead charges involve mailing threatening communications, entering restricted buildings or grounds, and smuggling goods from the United States.

Four districts had 10 or more terrorism-related prosecutions: the District of Columbia with 18, the Southern District of Ohio (Cincinnati) with 12, the Southern District of Florida (Miami) with 11, and the Central District of California (Los Angeles) with 10.

The full report from TRAC can be read here.

This summary was prepared by TCR Deputy Editor Nancy Bilyeau

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *