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Mass Violence Motivated by Hate: Are New Domestic Terrorism Laws the Answer?

In the aftermath of a white supremacist mass shooting targeting “Mexicans” in El Paso, Texas and similar attacks, political leaders have introduced new domestic terrorism laws at the state and federal levels. In New York, for instance, Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) introduced the Hate Crimes Domestic Terrorism Act treating mass violence motivated by hate as terrorist crimes. Additionally, Senator Martha McSally (R-AZ) and Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) recently spearheaded similar initiatives in Congress. Under the proposed laws, attacks like the one in El Paso, the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, and the Emanuel African Episcopal Church in Charleston can be prosecuted as terrorism.

Previously, federal law defined domestic terrorism but failed to include corresponding criminal penalties. According to federal law enforcement, this gap prevented them from pursuing domestic terrorism charges. Instead, they charge suspects with murder, assault, unlawfully possessing firearms and/or under a federal hate crimes statute when there is evidence of the requisite bias motive. In fact, in the last two decades, federal terrorism prosecutions have centered on foreign actors and organizations rather than on white nationalists. Significantly, many Americans applaud the newly proposed laws, arguing that we should draw no distinction between mass violence perpetrated by white supremacists versus that of foreign actors.

Yet, civil libertarians are sounding the alarm. They warn that law enforcement - who have prioritized ‘Black Identity Extremists’ as terrorist threats over white nationalists and al-Qaeda, according to leaked documents - may later misuse these laws to silence non-violent dissent. Do these laws put Black Lives Matter supporters, anti-war protestors and/or animal rights activists at risk? Do they presently incorporate sufficient safeguards against such misuse and abuse? Our panel of experts discusses these issues and allied questions.


  • Hina Shamsi, Director, National Security Project, American Civil Liberties Union
  • Michael German, Fellow, Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty and National Security Project, NYU School of Law
  • David Schanzer, Professor, Duke University Sanford School of Public Policy; Director, Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security


  • Engy Abdelkader, Chair, Rights of Immigrants Committee, ABA Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice

Co-Sponsors: ABA Center for Public Interest Law, ABA Commission on Immigration, ABA Criminal Justice Section, ABA Government and Public Sector Lawyers Division, ABA International Law Section


Presentations: David Schanzer, Hina Shamsi, Michael German

Engaging Communities To Prevent Violent Extremism:  A Review of the Obama Administration’s CVE Program
Courtesy of David Schanzer

The Challenge and Promise of Using Community Policing to Prevent Violent Extremism
Courtesy of David Schanzer

Anti-Terror Lessons of Muslim Americans
Courtesy of David Schanzer

White Supremacist Violence Is On the Rise. Expanding the FBI’s Powers Isn't the Answer.
Courtesy of Hina Shamsi

ACLU Written Statement of the Record --The Emerging Domestic Terrorism Threat
Courtesy of Hina Shamsi

Wrong Priorities on Fighting Terrorism
Courtesy of Michael German

Fighting Far-Right Violence and Hate Crimes
Courtesy of Michael German

The Hill Op-Ed: What in the world is Adam Schiff thinking with his domestic terrorism bill?
Courtesy of Michael German

Coalition Letter RE: Domestic Terrorism Legislation
Courtesy of Michael German

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