Last March, Texas Democrats demanded that Rep. Chip Roy resign after the Texas Republican made blatantly hateful statements during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on hate crimes against Asian Americans. Just days earlier, a racist gunman targeting Asian women had gone on a killing spree in Atlanta that left eight people dead. Roy called for bringing the “bad guys” to “justice” — and favorably invoked the legacy of lynching in Texas, where a white supremacist campaign of organized terror led to the extrajudicial murders of more than 600 people between 1882 and 1945.
Asian American lawmakers were outraged. Rep. Ted Lieu of California tweeted about a Los Angeles lynch mob that murdered 17 to 20 Chinese immigrants in 1871. Meanwhile, Roy was angered by advocates who warned Republicans that calling COVID-19 the “China virus” put Asian people in danger. He refused to apologize for favorably invoking the legacy of lynching, insisting in a statement to the Austin-American Statesmen that his critics were “thought policing” like “Communist China.” Roy’s stunt, of course, had not been censored; it was picked up by media outlets and presumably put into the congressional record.
This week, Roy was going on again about “thought police” — this time, in a speech against the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act of 2022, which Democrats rushed to update and pass in the House in the wake of the racist massacre at a supermarket in Buffalo. The bill would require federal agencies to document and report domestic terrorism threats, including white supremacists and neo-Nazis inside law enforcement agencies. Roy said the legislation would “target us for what we believe.”
All but one House Republican voted against the domestic terror prevention bill, including lawmakers who supported a previous version back in 2020, just a few months before former President Trump’s lies about a stolen election would inspire a right-wing mob to invade the U.S. Capitol and call for Vice President Mike Pence to hang in the gallows (which apparently pleased Trump). Senate Republicans unanimously blocked the bill, and with it, any debate on gun safety and hate crimes in the wake of the mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, where an 18-year-old gunman killed 19 students and two teachers before police finally entered the school and killed him.
The domestic terrorism bill would not provide law enforcement with new powers or authority to surveil and make arrests; instead, it would direct federal agencies to establish offices focused on the threat of white supremacist terrorism and report any findings to Congress. Republican opposition to the bill appears to have been triggered by its focus on white supremacists, who are widely considered the greatest domestic terror threat. Thanks to Trump and others on the far right, white supremacist ideologies such as “replacement theory” that motivated the Buffalo gunman are going mainstream among GOP voters.
Like other Republicans, Roy argued the anti-terrorism bill would be used by the Biden administration to target right-wing activists. He repeated a debunked conspiracy theory about the FBI investigating parents who speak out at school board meetings. (The FBI said it only looked into credible threats of violence against educators, which ballooned last year as Trump and the GOP whipped conservatives into a frenzy over what they erroneously call “critical race theory” and other issues.) Since the bill focuses on extremists on the right, the argument goes, Democrats would have used it to target political opponents while ignoring violence on the left.
It’s no secret white supremacists and far right extremists have claimed far more lives with violent attacks in the U.S. than leftists. Trump and other Republicans attempt to obfuscate this fact by conflating property damage during left-wing protests with “terrorism,” even if no one gets hurt.
Meanwhile, progressives rightly scrutinized the anti-terrorism bill, given the government’s long history of using “anti-terrorism” efforts as a cover for spying on Black activists, anti-war groups and Muslims. Abolitionists and others on the left argue white supremacy is a dangerous feature of modern law enforcement, not a bug that can be stamped out by more police. Black and Brown communities are notoriously overpoliced, and critics say policing has always been necessary to uphold white supremacy in the U.S.
Citing opposition from civil liberties groups to a previous version of the legislation, progressives in the House amended the terrorism prevention bill to protect activists, protesters and anyone exercising their constitutional rights. They also narrowed the definition of “domestic terrorism.” The amended language is broad, and there is intense debate over how to define “violent” speech that is not protected by the First Amendment. However, the additional language was meant to protect Americans of all political stripes.
Whether the civil liberties amendment would have protected activists from the prying eye of the government is still up for debate, as is the efficacy of relying on federal law enforcement to prevent white supremacist violence. Law enforcement routinely fails to prevent mass shootings, even when perpetrators were previously flagged by police. The Uvalde school district has its own police and a plan for responding to active shooters, but police who were at the scene are under intense scrutiny for waiting more than an hour to bust into a classroom where the gunman took most of his victims.
However, given that the white supremacist attack in Buffalo was premeditated (and, according to some of the bill’s advocates, may have been prevented if white supremacist activities were more thoroughly tracked), it’s not a surprise that groups such the NAACP supported the legislation and hoped it could prevent the recruitment of more white supremacists into police ranks.
The American Civil Liberties Union, one of the groups that opposed a previous version of the bill in 2019, said experts were not available to comment before this story was published. The office of Rep. Cori Bush of Missouri, a Democrat who championed the civil liberties amendment, did not respond to follow-up questions over email.
Of course, GOP opposition to the bill had nothing to do with its potential impacts on marginalized groups. Instead, Roy and others argued that the legislation would target their supporters for what they think and believe, even after Democrats added civil rights “guardrails” to the bill to protect people on any end of the political spectrum. And Republicans rejected the focus on identifying white supremacists working in law enforcement.
A close reading of the failed legislation shines some light on the GOP’s actual intentions. The legislation would have directed an inter-agency effort through new offices at the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security and the FBI. Those offices would be required to document domestic terror threats, including the threat of overt white supremacists infiltrating the military and the police at every level of government. These are very real and well-documented threats. White supremacists and neo-Nazis in law enforcement are trained to use weapons and wield the violent power of the state and the authority it brings. Activists also argue that lynching is not a thing of the past, and police departments, the Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Services are already sources of racist terror whether or not avowed whites supremacists are wearing the uniform.
Under the bill, terrorism prevention offices would have been required to produce reports on their findings and turn them over Congress on a biannual basis. Democrats would undoubtedly have made the reports public, which could have helped expose how deeply overt white supremacy is burrowed into the uniformed services. In the age of Trump, fascist gangs and far right militias that recruit cops and soldiers — including groups like the Oath Keepers who stormed the Capitol and now face charges — are proud members of the GOP base.
Republicans have vocally supported “anti-terrorism” efforts in the past, when Muslims or racial justice activists were the targets. The GOP’s nearly universal opposition to the latest anti-terrorism legislation, which focuses on white supremacists, is a clear signal to armed extremists and racist police that the Republican Party has their backs.