‘Sharp Uptick’ in Domestic Terror Prosecutions Will Continue in 2021: Report

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Scene from Jan 6 insurrection at Capitol. Photo by Greenpeace USA via Flickr

Federal prosecutions arising from the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol are on track to push the number of domestic terrorism cases to a new record high this year, says the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University.

A total of 144 charges of domestic terrorism were filed in just the first five months of fiscal year 2021―continuing the “sharp uptick” that began last year, when prosecutors filed what was then a record number of 183 charges.

The previous high point occurred in 2002, in the immediate aftermath of the attack on the World Trade Center in New York City, when some 160 domestic terror charges were filed, according to figures obtained by TRAC.

TRAC noted that analyses suggesting that domestic terror threats had only recently overshadowed the danger of international terrorism were misplaced.

“Government internal case-by-case records indicate that except for three years following the [9-11] attack on the Twin Towers, domestic terrorism prosecutions have outpaced those for international terrorism since federal prosecutors began systematically tracking terrorism cases 25 years ago, TRAC said in its analysis Thursday.

“Over this span of time there have been over 1,000 more domestic terrorism prosecutions than those for international terrorism. ”

Concerns over domestic terrorism, however, have grown since 2016 and the election of President Donald Trump, who never rejected―and sometimes appeared to welcome― the fervent support of violent right-wing extremist groups.

The concerns culminated with the storming of the U.S. Capitol by pro-Trump mobs on Jan. 6, leading TRAC to predict that 2021 may “exceed record numbers of domestic terrorism prosecutions in FY 2020 as filings arising out of the Capitol breach continue to climb.”

In February 2021, according to federal internal case-by-case records on prosecutions obtained after successful court litigation by TRAC, there were 57 prosecutions for  domestic terrorism filed in the federal district courts.

The majority of these prosecutions—54—were filed in the District of Columbia following the January 6 riot, when somewhere between 800 and 1,000 people fought with police or breached the Capitol. More than 400 people have been charged with at least one crime so far.

In February 2021, “by far the most common lead charge in domestic terrorism cases” was for “knowingly entering or remaining in any restricted building or grounds” at 34 cases, followed by civil disorders with 10 cases, and tampering with a witness, victim or an informant with six cases, according to TRAC.

Researcher Austin Kocher, a faculty fellow with TRAC, says the data “show growing numbers of domestic terrorism prosecutions over the past two years, in particular cases in Washington, D.C., stemming from the Jan. 6 insurrection.

“…Federal prosecutors and judges have their hands full with an unprecedented influx of terrorism cases that may be complex and are, at the same, also highly political and controversial.”

While the number of domestic terror cases is showing a dramatic increase, the number of international terror cases in the U.S. is at “the lowest [point] since before 9/11,” according to the same TRAC report.

Kocher said the increase “challenges us all to rethink where terrorism is really coming from.”

“When it comes to terrorism, the threat is internal, not external,” he said.

Last year, in a report titled Domestic Terrorism Prosecutions Reach All-Time High in FY 2020, TRAC found that in the wake of protests surrounding the death of George Floyd at the hands of police, there has been a large jump in federal prosecutions classified as domestic terrorism.

The largest single cohort of cases—78—in FY 2020 were filed in Oregon, in contrast to more recent charges that have been concentrated in Washington, D.C.

The full report and tables can be read here.

Nancy Bilyeau is deputy editor of The Crime Report

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