News Release

Adam Schiff Trying to Empower Barr in Targeting Protests

MICHAEL GERMAN, germanm at brennan.law.nyu.edu, @BrennanCenter
German, a former Special Agent with the FBI specializing in domestic terrorism and covert operations, is a fellow with the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty and National Security Program. He is the author of Thinking Like a Terrorist: Insights of a Former FBI Undercover Agent and Disrupt, Discredit, and Divide: How the New FBI Damages Democracy.

He just wrote the piece “What in the world is Adam Schiff thinking with his domestic terrorism bill?” for The Hill, which states that Representative Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, “recently called Barr ‘the second-most dangerous man in the country,’ for his expansive view of executive power and his apparent willingness to serve President Donald Trump’s personal interests rather than the nation’s. So why has Rep. Schiff introduced a bill that would give Attorney General Barr arbitrary discretion to lay domestic terrorism charges against political opponents of President Donald Trump for conduct as inconsequential as mere threats and vandalism?

“The ‘Confronting the Threat of Domestic Terrorism Act,’ which Schiff introduced last week, would dangerously expand the types of crimes that the federal prosecutors could charge as domestic terrorism if the Attorney General certified they were intended to intimidate a civilian population or influence government policy. Protesters, by their nature, attempt to influence government policies. Given the Justice Department’s history and President Trump’s recent rhetoric, such groups will be the most likely target of this law if it passes.

“Schiff cited three white supremacist attacks — the 2015 murder of nine African Americans at the Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston, the 2018 murder of eleven Jewish worshipers at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, and last month’s slaying of 22 mostly Latinx shoppers at an El Paso Walmart — as incidents that justified this legislation. But federal prosecutors don’t need a new law to prosecute these cases or other deadly white supremacist crimes, as I explained in a report published last year. …

“Where the Schiff bill does expand the law is in giving the Attorney General the power to charge any threat of violence or damage to property that creates a substantial risk of serious bodily injury as an act of domestic terrorism. So using heated political rhetoric during a planning meeting or breaking a window during a protest could result in charges carrying a 30-year prison sentence.

“If you think this possibility is absurd, keep in mind that in 2012 the Justice Department put two political activists in jail for months for refusing to testify before a grand jury about colleagues who may have participated in a Seattle May Day protest in which a federal courthouse window was broken.

“In 2017, the Justice Department charged more than 200 protesters at an anti-Trump rally with felony charges for allegedly conspiring to riot because someone broke windows and lit a limousine on fire while they were in the general vicinity.”