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Originally Published: 10/31/2007


By The Issue Wonk



H.R. 1955, the Violent Radicalization & Homegrown Terrorism Protection Act of 2007, sponsored by Representative Jane Harman (D, CA), has passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 404-22.  Lots of support.  Must be good, huh?  Take a look at the text.


The bill addresses the problem of “homegrown” or “domestic” terrorism, particularly that inspired by ideology.  Is this a problem?  Apparently the House of Representatives thinks it is and that it’s serious enough they have to do something about it and spend a lot of money doing it.  (The Congressional Budget Office estimates it will cost $22 million during the 2008-2012 period.)


It establishes the National Commission on the Prevention of Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism within the legislative branch.  It’s job will be to:


Examine and report upon the facts and causes of violent radicalization, homegrown terrorism, and ideologically based violence in the United States, including United States connections to non-United States persons and networks, violent radicalization, homegrown terrorism, and ideologically based violence in prison, individual or “lone wolf” violent radicalization, homegrown terrorism, and ideologically based violence, and other faces of the phenomena of violent radicalization, homegrown terrorism, and ideologically based violence that the Commission considers important.


Other than the fact that whoever wrote this should be sent back to 8th grade composition, I find it nebulous at best, and deliberately broad at worst.  The proposal then goes on to direct the Secretary of Homeland Security to establish a university-based Center of Excellence for the Study of Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism in the United States.  The Center's purpose will be to “study the social, criminal, political, psychological, and economic roots of violent radicalization and homegrown terrorism in the United States and methods that can be utilized by Federal, State, local, and tribal homeland security officials to mitigate violent radicalization and homegrown terrorism.”  [Emphasis added.]


So far it doesn’t sound too bad, does it?  The problem is with the definitions.  “Violent Radicalization” is defined as “the process of adopting or promoting an extremist belief system for the purpose of facilitating ideologically based violence to advance political, religious, or social change.”  However, there is no definition of “extremist belief system.”  In effect, this can be whatever the government determines it to be.  The big problem is with the phrase, “for the purpose of facilitating ideologically based violence . . .”  What if an organization stages a peaceful demonstration to promote its ideology?  Could law enforcement determine that the peaceful demonstration was going to facilitate violence?  Many believe that could be the result of this legislation.


Many bloggers have interpreted H.R. 1955 as developing a new crime – a thought crime – and determining that it is “homegrown terrorism.”  (WordPress.com)  Some bloggers have claimed that it specifically targets “the growing patriot community that is demanding the restoration of the Constitution.”  (See Free New York Blog)  While I find these concerns rather extreme, the recent attacks on our Constitutional rights and the frightening growth of a police state certainly makes one more likely to view the bill with more than just skepticism.  Bloggers also note that this is the first time anti-terror legislation has been directed at the civilian population of the United States.  Why am I referring to bloggers?  Because I could find nothing on this bill in the mainstream media.  This could mean that people smarter than me don’t see a problem with the bill.  Or it could mean something else.


What will happen when this gets to the Senate is going to be interesting, especially considering the Senate tends to be “tougher” on terrorism than the House.  However, clearly some of this language needs to be cleaned up if, indeed, it does go on to become a law.  I find it so broad and nebulous as to wonder why 404 representatives voted for it in its current version.  To see how your representatives voted, go to GovTrack.


© The Issue Wonk, 2007


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