There’s A Good Reason Feds Don’t Call White Guys Terrorists, Says DOJ Domestic Terror Chief

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Story by Ryan J. Reilly

WASHINGTON ― Every time a white man tries to kill Americans en masse, people ask law enforcement officers, politicians and journalists the same question: Why isn’t this terrorism?

The question came up last year when a young neo-Nazi in a muscle car mowed down a crowd of anti-racist demonstrators. It was asked after after an abusive young white man decked out in tactical gear killed 26 churchgoers, and when a white supremacist stabbed two men to death because they intervened as he berated a woman in a hijab. People wondered about the answer when a left-wing zealot who railed against Republicans opened fire on GOP congressmen practicing softball, and when a wealthy white man unloaded an arsenal on an outdoor concert, slaughtering 58 and injuring more than 500.

All of the attacks certainly looked like acts of terrorism. Most of them even meet the federal definition of domestic terrorism. So why wouldn’t federal law enforcement officials use that term? Where are the federal terrorism charges against the suspects who survived?

In many instances, the government is going to be constrained, to a certain degree, from stepping in front of a podium and saying, ‘Ladies and gentleman, we’re revealing domestic terrorism here.’
Thomas Brzozowski, DOJ counsel for domestic terrorism matters
Thomas Brzozowski is well aware of the criticism. The former judge advocate general officer and FBI lawyer is now the Justice Department’s counsel for domestic terrorism matters, a counterterrorism position created within the DOJ’s National Security Division in 2015.

Americans who are wondering why federal law enforcement officials seem so hesitant to call attacks by domestic extremists terrorism should take a look at the law, Brzozowski says. Although the U.S. code defines domestic terrorism as dangerous acts that appear intended to intimidate civilians, influence the government, or affect the conduct of government, there’s no broad criminal statute that outlaws those acts.

“In many instances, the government is going to be constrained, to a certain degree, from stepping in front of a podium and saying, ‘Ladies and gentleman, we’re revealing domestic terrorism here,’” Brzozowski said this week, speaking at an event hosted by George Washington University’s Program on Extremism.

“The department is going to be somewhat reluctant to come out in front during litigation in these types of cases and name someone as a domestic terrorist,” Brzozowski added, explaining that the statutes federal prosecutors often use against domestic terrorists don’t include the word terrorism.

“The notion that the government takes Islamic extremism more seriously than domestic terrorism is, frankly, not true,” Brzozowski argued. But federal prosecutors have “fewer tools” for charging domestic terrorists with criminal conduct than they have for terrorists affiliated with or inspired by foreign terrorist organizations like the Islamic State group who might commit the very same act, he added, though he noted there are a variety of other federal statutes not explicitly terrorism-related that might be applicable.

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