Attorney General William Barr issued a statement Saturday decrying the rioters who have violently hijacked peaceful protests over the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. The attorney general made explicit reference to “groups of outside radicals and agitators” who are pursuing a “separate and violent agenda.”
Barr added: “In many places, it appears the violence is planned, organized and driven by anarchist and far left extremists, using Antifa-like tactics, many of whom travel from out of state to promote the violence.”
The mention of Antifa is significant. It is a loosely-knit, interstate movement whose objective is to wage a terrorist war against the United States, using violence against the government and our civilian infrastructure.
Equally salient is the attorney general’s assertion that the radical groups involved in the rioting are pursuing a specific, violent agenda. That obviously refers to the ongoing campaign to coerce acceptance by the country of these groups’ counter-constitutional totalitarianism. Barr vowed that the Justice Department will take enforcement action across the nation.
This is worth pausing over, particularly because when these uprisings occur, as they do with disturbing frequency, there are inevitable calls for the enactment of domestic terrorism laws.
I’ve investigated and prosecuted terrorists – jihadists who adhered to foreign terrorist organizations but operated domestically, as well as those who attacked American interests overseas. I can thus tell you that the laws we already have are more than adequate to the task.
There is no need for new laws. Calls to enact them are either ill-conceived or the usual case of preening politicians sensing the need to look like they’re doing something in response to a crisis.
Rioters can and will do immense damage if, as some foolishly suggest, we wait for them to exhaust themselves.
I led the 1990s prosecution of the jihadists who bombed the World Trade Center and then planned a more ambitious campaign – which, fortunately, we thwarted – to bomb such New York City landmarks as the Lincoln and Holland Tunnels, the United Nations complex, the FBI’s lower Manhattan field office, some military installations, and so on.
Concurrently, the terrorists plotted political kidnappings and assassinations, as well as jailbreaks of imprisoned jihadists. They were unable to execute these ambitions schemes, but it was not for lack of preparation, including extensive paramilitary training.
This is why Attorney General Barr’s mention of the violent agenda of the rioters pinged my antennae. We prosecuted the so-called Blind Sheikh (the late Omar Abdel Rahman) and his subordinates using a Civil War-era statute that criminalizes “seditious conspiracy.”
This rarely invoked penal law targets conspiracies to levy war against the United States, or to forcibly oppose or overthrow our government. The key element is violence – either its use or planned use. That is the attribute that fundamentally distinguishes legitimate protest from insurrection.
The attorney general also pointed out in his statement that it is a federal crime to cross state lines or use interstate facilities in order to incite or participate in rioting. Indeed it is, and this also raises the specter of federal racketeering laws.
We think of these principally as a vehicle for prosecuting organized crime groups. But they actually apply to any “enterprise,” which is simply an association of some kind. It could be informal and secretive, like a Mafia “family” or a drug cartel; or it could a more formal entity (racketeering laws have been applied to corporations, guilds, political parties, labor unions, and so on).
The racketeering enterprise must affect interstate commerce through a pattern of criminal activity. This would enable the Justice Department to investigate outfits like Antifa, which are organized around a nihilistic vision and which dispatch members throughout the country to commit mayhem, seriously injuring Americans and destroying property.
Our existing laws, at both the federal and state levels, are more than adequate to the task of dealing with terrorism and seditionist violence. The Justice Department and the FBI, including the bureau’s Joint Terrorism Task Forces (partnerships with police authorities in major cities throughout the country), are highly experienced and adept in this area, and they have the resources to get the job done.
The job needs doing. The ravaging of our major cities right now is a violation of the rights of peace-loving Americans, both those who are legitimately exercising their First Amendment rights to protest, and those who are going about their lives expecting the governmental protection to which the Constitution entitles them.
For society to flourish, the rule of law must assert itself. Justice must be done, which means bringing anti-American domestic terrorists to heel. Rioters can and will do immense damage if, as some foolishly suggest, we wait for them to exhaust themselves.
The failure to confront radicals only increases their energy and appetite to do harm. Order does not happen spontaneously. It takes a commitment to enforce the laws.