Criminal Law Should Treat Domestic Terrorism as the Moral Equivalent of International Terrorism

In the in 2015, it appears that the vehicle has become a new “weapon option” for worldwide terrorists. Whether a freight truck intentionally driven into the crowds of people commemorating Bastille Day in Nice in July 2016, a tractor-trailer that raked into a Berlin Christmas market in December 2016, the car and van attacks in London at the Palace of Westminster and London Bridge in March and June of this year, or last Thursday’s van attack in Barcelona, this low-cost, low-planning method of spreading out horror has produced high-fatality, high-impact outcomes. The use of vehicles as weapons isn’t really restricted to terrorists acting on behalf of ISIS or other Islamist violent extremists. As we saw in Charlottesville on August 12, the vehicle was the most deadly weapon released by the white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and Ku Klux Klansmen who came down on this southern but progressive university town, invoking what they defined as their First Amendment rights to free speech and assembly as a guide to hide their real function of frightening and persuading not only the residents of Charlottesville but the whole U.S., with promises to reclaim the nation– strongly if required.

2 days later, Attorney General Jeff Sessions correctly identified the car attack in Charlottesville that left Heather Heyer dead and many others injured an act of “domestic terrorism.” Federal law specifies domestic terrorism as activities harmful to human life that happen mostly in the United States, break federal or state criminal laws, and are planned “to frighten or push a civilian population,” “influence the policy of a federal government by intimidation or browbeating,” or “impact the conduct of a federal government by mass damage, assassination, or kidnapping.” Based on what we understand now about James Alex Fields Jr., the 20-year-old who presumably rammed his car into Ms. Heyer and others on Saturday, his conduct easily appears to meet the federal meaning. The attack, which led to Ms. Heyer’s death and the injury of many others, was undoubtedly unsafe to human life and definitely in infraction of state criminal statutes. Offered the obvious function of Fields’s travel to Charlottesville to take part in the “Unite the Right” white supremacist rally, it appears fairly clear that his intent was “to frighten and persuade a civilian population.”.

While the Attorney General’s labeling of the attack as domestic terrorism was essential– and stands in plain contrast to President Trump’s unwillingness to use the terrorist label when referring to Fields and even more uneasy consistent ethical uncertainty in between the protesters on the best preaching and certainly using violence and the counter-protesters on the left speaking out versus them– it does not change the reality that there is no federal criminal acts of domestic terrorism with which Fields can be charged. Federal law would permit the United States to charge the terrorists who used their vehicles to eliminate and hurt ratings of people in France, Germany, the UK, and Spain with terrorism offenses if dedicated in assistance of a foreign terrorist company like ISIS– although these acts took place beyond U.S. area– but it does not attend to a terrorism charge versus James Fields for the very same kind of terrorist activity happening here in the heart of the United States. It is the time that our federal criminal laws acknowledge domestic terrorism for what it is: the ethical equivalent of worldwide terrorism.

To be clear, it is not that there are insufficient criminal statutes on the books to make sure that James Fields can be prosecuted properly and, if founded guilty, serve a prolonged time in jail for his abhorrent criminal activity. He is presently charged in Virginia state court with second-degree murder, exacerbated destructive wounding, harmful wounding, and other offenses for which, if found guilty, he might confront life jail time. Like other domestic terrorists before him, state law can guarantee just penalty for criminal activities like these. Scott Roeder, an anti-abortion extremist who in 2008 shot and eliminated an abortion company in a Wichita, Kansas, church, was founded guilty of first-degree murder in state court and sentenced to life jail time; Jim David Adkisson, who in 2009 eliminated 2 people and injured 7 others throughout a shooting rampage at a Knoxville, Tennessee church inspired by hatred of liberals and Democrats, pleaded guilty to state murder charges and got a life sentence without possibility of parole. There also are federal hate criminal offenses with which Fields might be charged after the Justice Department finishes the civil liberties examination revealed by the Attorney General recently. These have worked in cases such as that of Dylann Roof, who was founded guilty of 33 counts of federal hate criminal offenses and sentenced to death for butchering 9 black parishioners at a Charleston, South Carolina, church in 2015. Neither state-law murder charges nor hate criminal offense charges call what occurred in Charlottesville what it was– domestic terrorism– and they stop working to correspond it under federal law, as it is worthy of to be corresponded, with the actions of ISIS-inspired terrorists who engage in violence in pursuit of their similarly perilous objectives.

It is obviously real that, because of what would be a more complex interaction with the First Amendment’s defense of the rights to free speech and assembly, the United States does not designate domestic companies such as the Ku Klux Klan as terrorist companies in the way it designates foreign companies such as ISIS as terrorist companies. Our Constitution ensures the right to free expression of viewpoints, consisting of banding together with others of comparable views, even if those views stink to most of the population. That right, as analyzed, has been comprehended by some as a barrier to the enactment of the domestic equivalent to the most frequently used global terrorism charge: offering product assistance to a foreign terrorist company. This does not mean that the federal government cannot criminalize acts of violence that are dedicated for the functions specified in the federal meaning of domestic terrorism (which, by the way, are similar to the functions mentioned in the federal meaning of global terrorism): “to daunt or push a civilian population,” “influence the policy of a federal government by intimidation or browbeating,” or “impact the conduct of a federal government by mass damage, assassination, or kidnapping.” It is well developed that violent acts made with any of these functions are not secured by the First Amendment– they are not speech but, rather, violent acts. A federal criminal activity of domestic terrorism would put criminal offenses such as those supposedly devoted by James Fields on the exact same ethical aircraft as those devoted by the assaulters in France, Germany, the UK, and Spain, just as they should have to be.