During his inauguration speech today, Joe Biden talked about unity but he also said it was necessary to confront white supremacy and domestic terrorism. Politico reports that was, in part, a reference to the riot at the Capitol.
People close to the transition say the Capitol insurrection drove home the acuteness of the threat for the new administration, which has already decided to elevate the issue by making it a top priority for the National Security Council.
But what exactly is the Biden administration going to do about this? One thing he’s considering is a new domestic terror law. Some on the far left are already calling that effort misguided and suggesting it could lead to a second version of the Patriot Act:
Biden’s purported plan to introduce a new domestic terrorism law gives us plenty of reason to worry. As in 2001, the ground currently looks fertile for such legislation to find a big (and potentially bipartisan) constituency even if its contents prove repressive or heavy-handed. The Trump era, with its incessant valorizing of security and intelligence officials and general atmosphere of emergency, has worryingly seemed to lay the groundwork for something resembling a second Patriot Act to find support among liberals — especially if they’re encouraged to believe its sole targets will be figures associated with the likes of QAnon. Against this backdrop, the deep (and understandable) sense of shock in the wake of this month’s Capitol storming will probably act like gasoline poured on an open flame.
However such legislation may be justified with liberal-sounding language, there’s absolutely no reason to believe authorities wouldn’t use new powers to target groups that have nothing to do with Donald Trump or Trumpism.
Or maybe they would use those new powers as intended. The broader point is, that might not be such a good thing. If you are on the left and thought it was a bad idea before, then maybe it’s still a bad idea even if the targets are the right ones this time around. NBC News published a piece from an ACLU director saying something similar, i.e. we’ve seen this before:
Already in response to the attack on the Capitol, President-elect Joe Biden and some members of Congress are joining calls for new domestic terrorism legislation that would give even greater power to law enforcement. It’s a predictably misguided part of a decades long pattern. When white supremacist violence escalates, politicians often look to give law enforcement agencies more authority — whether it was President Bill Clinton in response to the Oklahoma City bombing or Biden today.
A new law isn’t all that Biden plans to do. He also plans to make this a focus of his national security efforts by first assessing the threat:
President-elect Joe Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, is expected to conduct an early, comprehensive assessment of the threat to develop strategies for countering it, another source familiar with the plans told CNN.
The incoming administration is expected to make a series of early announcements of NSC personnel focused on the threat, the first source said.
All of that sounds pretty vague and maybe that’s on purpose. A comprehensive assessment gives some more time for things to cool off. Maybe whenever that assessment is done, several months from now, the urge to create a new law will have waned a bit. And maybe that’s a good thing.
I’m not saying any of the people who rioted at the Capitol this month should be given a pass. I’m for arresting everyone who participated. But that’s the point. We can punish the people who were involved using laws already on the books. Over 100 people have already been arrested. The riots were bad but we seem to already have what we need to deal with them.
The same was true last summer. We didn’t need new laws to punish rioters and looters in cities across the country. What they were doing was already illegal. What was lacking was the will to arrest them and, in some cities, a prosecutor willing to prosecute them after the arrest. That willingness is clearly in place with regard to the Capitol rioters so I don’t see the need for a new law.