Expansion of domestic terrorism laws profoundly threatens democracy

Someone I know recently described a strange and shocking situation they had with a neighbor they barely know. The neighbor tentatively came over to ask if they were in any way going to cause trouble with her because she voted for President Joe Biden and she believed based on the free speech bumper stickers on their car that they were Trump supporters.

She said she was terrified that someone could be a domestic Trump terrorist and target her home. She had been in her house since last March due to COVID-19 and had been watching the news 24-7.

It’s sad but true that the rhetoric since Jan. 6, from lawmakers is dangerous to how Americans perceive one-another, as well as civil liberties. It is in my opinion a mission creep to a surveillance society born out of fear and one in which American democracy is threatened.

One example was House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, when she said Trump was a “danger to the nation…We know that the President of the United States incited this insurrection, this armed rebellion against our common country. He must go, he is a clear and present danger to the nation that we all love.” She also said, those “insurrectionists were not patriots. They were not part of a political base to be catered to and managed. They were domestic terrorists and justice must prevail.”

What does this mean exactly? These are the terms that have been attributed to Trump supporters. It’s not just those that broke the law, committed criminal acts and were part of the destruction on Capitol Hill Jan.6.

And now, lawmakers are going much further, pushing to expand the powers of the DHS, FBI and DOJ. Those powers will allow law enforcement to more readily surveil Americans. It is an effort, they say, that is needed to root out the growing and alleged threat of domestic terrorism.

Strangely these so-called domestic terrorist groups, linked to white supremacists, surfaced predominately without warning in January. According to Democrats who are pushing for the expansion of surveillance powers, these groups are a direct threat to a democracy and the White House.

On Tuesday, the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs and Rules and Administration Committees, held the hearing on Capitol Hill regarding the Jan. 6, riots, including the issue of domestic terrorism. The discussions not only focused on the events of that tragic day and how they transpired but what is needed to prevent these American terrorists from acting again.

I recently sent an email to the FBI asking how their investigation into the crimes committed on Jan. 6 were conducted and if those authorities exceeded similar riots that occurred the summer before in Washington D.C. and Portland, Oregon. I also wanted to know under what authority did the FBI have to request the bank records of Bank of America customers on or around the day of the Capitol riots.

In a breaking report on Fox News’ Tucker Carlson’s show, bank records obtained by the network show that BofA turned over the financial data of 211 of its customers. Those customers were caught up in a huge dragnet the bank conducted of its clients who happened to use credit and debit cards on or around the Jan. 6 riots. Those records were turned over to the FBI without a warrant.

The response I received from the FBI is as vague as the legislation currently being proposed by lawmakers to expand the authorities to surveil American citizens.

“The FBI conducts investigations into violations of federal law regardless of who the actors are or their motivations using our existing legal authorities,” stated the FBI in an email to me. “Our focus is on individuals who engage in illegal activity. We do not focus on group membership or ideology. The FBI does not and cannot designate domestic terrorist groups.”

The FBI added that “the FBI can never initiate an investigation based solely on an individual’s race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, or the exercise of First Amendment rights.” 

The FBI’s answers did not address the very serious nature of the questions I sent to the bureau ( I have listed those questions below). Of course, the FBI cannot designate domestic terrorist groups but that doesn’t mean it won’t investigate those it believes are threats and under new proposed laws it can mean almost anyone. It also doesn’t mean that the FBI will not be given the authority to expand its surveillance powers of Americans by Democratic lawmakers.

“We are looking into the circumstances surrounding the Jan. 6 riots and the authorities used by the bureau to investigate Americans in or around the Capitol,” said a Congressional official, on condition of anonymity.

Those powers, however, are just the tip of the iceberg. One of the most profoundly concerning threats to American civil liberties is bill H.R. 350. It is the proposed Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act, introduced by Rep. Brad Schneider, D- Illinois.

He stated, that the “Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act gives our government the tools to identify, monitor and thwart their illegal activities. Combatting the threat of domestic terrorism and white supremacy is not a Democratic or Republican issue, not left versus right or urban versus rural. Domestic Terrorism is an American issue, a serious threat the we can and must address together.”

The bill was introduced on Jan. 19 and it says it aims to “strengthen law enforcement efforts to prevent, report on, respond to and investigate acts of domestic terrorism.” But all one needs to do is look at how broad the bill is and the details contained there-in.

It will go far beyond investigating criminal activity and instead will be used to monitor Americans. It will allow the FBI and other law enforcement to report on citizens they suspect may commit a crime in the future. The bill also designates the DHS, the Department of Justice and the FBI to monitor “domestic terrorism” threats, with a specific focus on white supremacists. I still haven’t seen any documentation suggesting there is an extraordinary threat to our nation from these groups or others.

Democrats pushing to expand domestic terror laws fail to explain what organizations are directly threatening the government. The rhetoric has focused mainly on Trump supporters and the incidents that occurred as the riot broke out on Jan. 6 at the Capitol Building. That rhetoric in my opinion has been used to ostracize the roughly 75 million Americans who voted for Trump from those who didn’t.

It is dangerous in so many ways. It pits neighbor against neighbor, Americans against the system and breeds distrust in the government. More concerning, is the appearance that once again – like was discovered in during the now debunked FBI Trump Russia investigation – the bureau is being weaponized for political purposes.

Rep. Michael Waltz, R-Florida, who sits on the House Armed Services Committee, and is familiar with intelligence threats, told me on a recent appearance with “The Sara Carter Show” that he will seek answers from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and other top Democrats, that claim there is a continuing threat to the nation’s Capitol. He says as of yet, Democratic lawmakers have not answered these questions clearly and he is deeply concerned with the expansion of surveillance powers being requested.

“I will continue to push, I can promise you,” said Waltz. “I’m on Armed Services Committee, I’m on the science space and technology committee we’ll continue to push because I know the right questions to ask having served in the Pentagon, served downrange, served in the White House. And now in Congress, I know how these things work. I know how they should work anyway. I know how things get hid, as you well know behind classifications. And I promise you, we’ll get to the bottom of it.”

As for my questions regarding Bank of America’s decision to share banking information with the bureau or if other banks participated in sharing similar information, the bureau asked me “to reach out to the Treasury Department.”

Treasury Department officials could not be immediately reached for contact but this story will be updated if and when they do.

Questions I Sent the FBI:

First question, was Bank of America the only bank the FBI obtained information from?  If not, what other banking institutions assisted the FBI with this investigation? 

Did the FBI request any other information from businesses connected to their ongoing investigation – for example, did the FBI obtain video surveillance from Airbnb’s customers or city wide surveillance footage associated with any businesses?

Moreover, did any of the banking institutions contacted by the FBI refuse at any point to turn over information on their customers?

Also, did the FBI obtain any warrants to conduct these seemingly intrusive investigations? If so, how did they determine what and who they would be collecting on? Did they use surveillance footage to determine who was in the crowds were that needed to be investigated – if so, were there any other methods in place – for example, did the FBI cast out a large net in an effort to determine who may have crossed the line on Jan. 6, from rally goer to rioter, or insurrectionist? 

Did the FBI employ the same investigative techniques and request the same information from banking institutions during the riots that led to the fire of St. John’s Epicopal Church across from the White House in June, 2020? 

Did the FBI open domestic terrorist investigations when people allegedly associated with BLM (Black Lives Matter organization), along with others connected to Antifa, as well as other left wing organizations rioted and clashed with police and secret service outside the White House during that month of June? If so, how many banking institutions provided the FBI information on their customers? 

Also, did the FBI request cellular data on these protestors, as was done on January 6, 2021? 

In Portland, Oregon – riots also erupted and held the city hostage (businesses were shuddered, looted and burned) in June, 2020. Did the FBI employ the same tactics of investigation in Portland to determine who pillaged the city and did the FBI investigators collect data from the banking institutions to monitor the activities of the people in the area in Portland at the time? 

If so, what banking institutions did the FBI request the information from and which ones agreed to provide the information? What information was provided? 

What banking institutions refused to provide information, if any? Also, what determines the FBI’s definition of a domestic terrorist group (what is the FBI’s definition of an insurgency) …

Is Antifa, for instance considered a domestic terrorist group, if not, why? 

What groups were behind the January, 6 insurrection? Have they been in existence for a long time and are there any new groups we are unaware of? 

President Biden said there is a rise in White Supremacist groups in the United States – can the FBI provide the detailed information to support these facts and where these groups are located? 

Is there still a serious credible threat against Capitol Hill and again, what groups are behind the threats?

Questions emailed to the FBI, Jan.19, 2021

You can follow Sara Carter on Twitter @SaraCarterDC