Democrats are calling for a crackdown on domestic terrorism, but Republicans say their colleagues want to pass legislation that endangers the privacy of all Americans. 

Democrats’ proposed legislation is “nothing more than empowering the federal government to police thought and speech in the United States of America,” Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, says. 

The House last week passed the bill, dubbed the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act, days after a gunman in Buffalo, New York, shot and killed 10. The bill is now before the Senate, which is expected to vote on it Thursday. 

Lora Ries, director of The Heritage Foundation’s Border Security and Immigration Center, says the legislation should be of concern to all Americans. 

“I hope this bill fails this week because Americans, they don’t deserve this,” Ries says, adding that the bill “is just a tool to go after political opponents.”  

Ries joins this episode of “The Daily Signal Podcast” to discuss what exactly is in the bill and the effects it would have on Americans if it clears the Senate. 

Also on today’s show, we cover these stories:

  • A shooting at an elementary school in Texas leaves at least 14 children and one teacher dead.
  • An illegal immigrant and suspected terrorist is allowed to wander the country for over two weeks.
  • The insurance company State Farm quickly reverses course on a plan to donate books on transgenderism and gender identity to school children.

Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript.

Virginia Allen: Democrats say that they are trying to crack down on domestic terrorism, but Republicans say it’s nothing more than party politics. So, here with us to break it all down is Lora Ries. Lora is the director of the Border Security and Immigration Center at The Heritage Foundation. Lora, thank you so much for being here.

Lora Ries: Sure, my pleasure. Thanks for having me on.

Allen: So, last week, the House voted on and passed the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act. Just one Republican voted for it, Adam Kinzinger of Illinois. And now, the Senate has the opportunity to vote on this bill. We’re expecting that vote likely on Thursday. Now, it’s being put forward in response to this very tragic shooting in Buffalo, New York, that took the lives of 10 people. So, break down for us, what exactly is in this bill? How would it combat domestic terrorism?

Ries: What this bill is about is increasing the size of the government. It stands up not just one, not two, but three domestic terrorism offices in the departments of Homeland Security and Justice and the FBI. And what the bill focuses on is white supremacy. It is only an eight-page bill, I think white supremacy appears about 13 times. The issue is that the Democrats only are concerned with one type of domestic terrorism.

So, we had the Buffalo grocery store shooting and it was tragic. Ten people were killed. If you read the manifest of the shooter, very racist, antisemitic, it was disgusting, but all types of violence need to be condemned.

And the left is only focusing on the violence committed generally by white people and quickly ignoring, for example, the Christmas parade mass killing that happened in Wisconsin, the New York subway shooting, both racist acts in the other direction. And so, all such violence needs to be called out, but the left is only viewing one type.

Allen: Yeah. Well, and we’re hearing so much debate among lawmakers about this and about, OK, how do we move forward? Because some tragedies like this, they happen and there’s automatically this demand for response. And of course, people want to act, they want to do something. But the question is, what and how is that carried out correctly?

Sen. Josh Hawley called this bill “the disinformation board on steroids.” And of course, the disinformation board, that has been put on pause. It was an initiative from the Biden administration to investigate “disinformation.”

So, is Sen. Josh Hawley right, that this is essentially, again, this effort to try and somehow investigate what is truth, what is in truth, but in an even more extreme way?

Ries: He is right. And if you look at the national terrorism bulletin that the Department of Homeland Security puts out periodically, the most recent one lists three main concerns for the homeland. The first one it lists is misinformation, disinformation. The second that it lists is domestic terrorism, in part based on race. And it lists foreign terrorism third. That is completely backward. But the left is using a combination of what it dubs domestic terrorism.

And if we’re talking about parents going to a school board meeting, clearly this administration views that as domestic terrorism, because we’ve seen the memo by Attorney General [Merrick] Garland and the FBI has in fact been tagging parents going to such meetings.

The left is combining in this administration domestic terrorism with misinformation, disinformation, which they themselves get to determine what is or is not such information—as we saw with Nina Jankowicz—and using those to basically go after their political opponents.

Allen: Well, I want to ask you about the parents issue, because that’s a concern we’re hearing. Of course, also this week, we learned that this original draft letter from the National School Boards Association to the White House that they issued last year, that there was a draft version that included language asking for Army National Guard and military police to go to certain school districts.

This is on everyone’s mind right now, that parents have already been targeted for speaking out at school board meetings. Would this bill, specifically this bill, be used to target parents and call them domestic terrorists?

Ries: It could. I mean, it’s wide open, this bill, and creating three offices across two departments to pursue very vague standards and language that’s in this bill—it’s a tool and a weapon for this administration to use against political opponents, so they can shape it how they wish.

And Americans have to be concerned, given what has already been revealed in terms of the memo coming out of DOJ, the prior draft requested, and the use of military to go after parents. This is very scary stuff. This is tyrannical and Americans need to have their eyes wide open and be highly, highly skeptical of what this government is seeking to do.

Allen: Yeah. Lora, Republican Rep. Chip Roy of Texas, he said that the bill is nothing more than empowering the federal government, depletes thought and speech in the United States of America. Do you think that’s a pretty accurate assessment?

Ries: I do, I do. It involves more hate crime language and it’s never clear how you can see into someone’s mind about their intentions. Occasionally, we get these maniacs who leave behind these manifestos and it’s rather clear to see their intent, but not many people do that. And so, when you have very vague language and all sorts of infrastructure across multiple parts of our government to go after, to investigate, to prosecute, then they are weaponizing this, absolutely.

Allen: Now, we’re hearing mainly concerns right now from conservatives. Does the bill specifically target conservatives in any specific way?

Ries: Not by name, no, but like I said, it is very focused on white supremacists. And when we’ve seen this administration ignore mass killings based on race, and then try to tag their political opponents as being white supremacists who either support or provoke such mass killings, the intentions and the plans of this administration seem pretty clear.

Allen: OK, OK. Now, the bill specifically talks about white supremacy many times, as we’ve talked about. Are there any groups that you were surprised the bill doesn’t reference, that you thought maybe it should, if it’s talking about combating domestic terrorism?

Ries: Well, frankly, it should be silent on groups. Domestic terrorism, the act’s already defined in statute. And that’s also another overarching issue, is, I have yet to hear a good explanation from supporters of this type of bill as to what statute, what tool do they need to not investigate and prosecute legitimate acts of domestic terrorism.

And so, this just seems to be window dressing and truly increasing the bloated bureaucracy to be tools of the left, to go after their political opponents. And Americans just need to be very concerned. Meanwhile, their eye is completely off the ball in terms of what truly threatens this country. And just today, we have a great example of this, where we have news of FBI discovering an ISIS plot to assassinate former President George W. Bush.

Our border is wide open. The administration’s policies have opened the border and they are encouraging mass populations to cross that border. We’ve had four nationals from over 160 countries cross through that border and it is going to blow up in our face. That is what this administration should be most concerned about in securing the homeland.

Allen: So, then, is there a need for something like this legislation or do we pretty much already have enough teams or departments in place to be investigating domestic terrorism, or is that something we should be ramping up, but maybe just in a different way?

Ries: We do not need this bill. We have plenty of tools and bureaucracy in place to investigate domestic terrorism. It is the job of the FBI. The fact that the Department of Homeland Security seeks to focus on it more is really stepping on the toes of FBI. And DHS was not stood up to be another FBI. It was not stood up to focus on domestic terror. It was stood up in response to 9/11 and to protect the homeland from foreign terrorists. And that’s where it needs to refocus its priorities.

Allen: OK. Now, the vote is expected Thursday, is this bill going to pass?

Ries: I don’t know. It’s going to be close. I mean, the House vote was 222 to 203. So, I don’t know what the outcome is. It’s going to be very close. If it does pass, then we need very stringent oversight by Congress over how the Biden administration implements it.

If at least the House flips to Republican majority and perhaps the Senate after November, then they should be able to do a thorough oversight of these offices, of investigations of cases, and make sure that DOJ and the Department of Homeland Security are pursuing legitimate cases of terrorism, be it foreign or domestic.

Allen: Would this open up access for the government to have greater access into personal information of the average American, people like you and I? Do we know any of those details?

Ries: Well, I imagine. I mean, as you increase the bureaucracy and have more investigators and more resources, then sure, they can get access to surveillance tools that these departments already have to pursue other types of investigations or other types of work. So, it’s just putting more eyes on our data, our way of life, our information. So, absolutely.

Allen: Yeah. Lora, any last thoughts before we let you go?

Ries: I hope this bill fails this week because Americans, they don’t deserve this. And any type of crime, murder needs to be condemned equally across the board. And we can’t just be ignoring one subset of it in favor of another because really, this is just a tool to go after political opponents and that’s just un-American.

Allen: Yeah. Heritage Foundation’s Lora Ries. Lora, thank you so much for your time. We appreciate it.

Ries: Thank you.

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