In the wake of the El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio shootings, Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang took to Twitter to call for a federal domestic terrorism statute.
"We need a clear federal domestic terrorism statute," he tweeted. "The majority of terrorism deaths in the past ten years have been the result of domestic terrorism. A proper statute would help law enforcement and the FBI investigate and utilize appropriate resources."
Although the motives of the Dayton, Ohio shooter Connor Betts still aren't clear, The Daily Beast reports that the El Paso shooting carried out by Patrick Crusius was foreshadowed on the forum 8chan. In addition, Crusius reportedly wrote an "anti-immigrant manifesto" that used "white supremacist terms" as justification for violence against Hispanic people.
USA Today reports that Crusius' actions, which led to the death of 20 and the injury of dozens, fall into the category of domestic terrorism. Even still, no universal definition of this type of terrorism exists, although a commonly used one is Title 22 of the United States Code. This code defines domestic terrorism as "premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against non-combatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents."
But in addition to domestic terrorism, the El Paso shooting is also being investigated as a hate crime. According to Virginia Tech sociologist James Hawdon, the difference between the two is that the latter aims to influence policy, although he says the two often overlap. Not only that but Brian Levin, director of Cal State San Bernardino's Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, claims that the motives of mass shooters are becoming more difficult to categorize since they often aren't part of organizations with a straightforward mission or ideology.
Attacks like the El Paso shooting are reportedly not typically prosecuted as such, and U.S. Attorney John Bash told reporters Sunday that federal law enforcement was examining the case with a focus on federal hate crimes and firearms charges.Yang isn't the only one to call for a more stringent focus on domestic terrorism law. Buzzfeed News reports that some legal scholars and national security experts believe that the lack of a federal statute is a big problem — not just in terms of semantics.
Mary McCord, a former senior national security official at the Justice Department, highlights that defendants with white supremacist ties that are charged with hoarding weapons prior to enacting violence might face lesser charges of firearms offenses. She also highlights the fact that domestic terror attacks with racist or anti-Semitic connotations aren't treated the same as attacks carried out by foreign actors.
"Americans tend to equate terrorism with Islamic extremism, and, in today's polarized environment, with Muslims. But don't they tend to associate white supremacist violence with terrorism and they should," said McCord.
"You can't prevent what you don't understand."