Durbin Chairs Hearing on Hate Crimes and the Threat of Domestic Extremism

Experts Testify about "Upsurge" in Domestic Terrorism

[WASHINGTON, D.C.] - Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights, chaired a hearing today on hate crimes and the threat of domestic extremism. Today’s hearing, which comes just a month after the mass shooting by a white supremacist at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, asked what the federal government is doing to prevent hate crimes from taking place and whether sufficient resources are being devoted to combating the threat of violent domestic extremists and to protecting vulnerable communities.


“The recent shooting at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, was a tragic hate crime that played out on TV around the country,” Durbin said. “It was not the first tragedy based on hate and, sadly, it won’t be the last. But it should cause all of us to redouble our efforts to combat the threat of domestic terrorism.”


Hate Crimes


Last month’s shooting in Oak Creek was not an isolated incident. More than 6,600 hate crimes were reported to the FBI in 2010 – the most recent year for which statistics are available. A 2005 study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that that actual number of hate crimes may be more than 20 times higher than the number reported to the FBI each year.


In just the week after the Oak Creek shooting, there were numerous attacks on mosques around the country. A mosque was burned to the ground in Joplin, Missouri; a man shot at mosque with over 500 worshipers inside in Morton Grove, Illinois; and an improvised explosive was thrown at an Islamic school in outside Chicago.


At the same time, African-Americans continue to be the targets of the vast majority of racially-motivated hate crimes; Jewish Americans continue to be the victims of most religiously-motivated hate crimes; Latinos are the victims of most ethnically-motivated hate crimes; and hundreds of LGBT Americans are the victims of violent hate crimes every year.


In 2009, Congress passed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act, a bill that expanded federal hate crime laws to include crimes motivated by a victim’s gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.


Domestic Extremism


According to a study by the New America Foundation and Syracuse University, 18 people have been murdered in 10 right-wing terrorist attacks since 9/11, while 17 have been killed in 4 attacks by violent Muslim extremists.  And, since 9/11, 16 domestic extremists have acquired chemical or biological weapons that they intended to use against the public or government employees.  As one public FBI report warned, “right-wing terrorists pose a significant threat due to their propensity for violence.”


Daryl Johnson, who authored a 2009 DHS report on rightwing extremism and headed the DHS unit on violent domestic extremists, testified, “We are currently seeing an upsurge in domestic non-Islamic extremist activity, specifically from violent rightwing extremists. … the federal government must do more to combat domestic terrorism within the U.S.  Our failure to act now will assuredly embolden the enemy.”  


Harpreet Singh Saini, an 18-year-old college freshman whose mother was killed in the Oak Creek shooting, testified, “I ask that the government pursue domestic terrorists with the same vigor as attackers abroad.  The man who killed my mother was on watch lists of public interest groups.  I believe the government could have tracked him long before he went on a shooting spree.”


Since 9/11, Congress has held dozens of hearings on the threat posed by Al Qaeda and its affiliates.  But today’s hearing was the first in recent years on the threat of violent domestic extremists.  While the fight against Al Qaeda continues, the federal government cannot ignore the threat of homegrown non-Islamic terrorists.


Two panels of witnesses testified at today’s hearing. The first panel was made up of government witnesses including: Scott McAllister, Deputy Under Secretary, Office of Intelligence & Analysis, U.S. Department of Homeland Security; Roy Austin, Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Civil Rights Division, U.S. Department of Justice; and Michael Clancy, Deputy Assistant Director, Counterterrorism Division, Federal Bureau of Investigation.


In addition to Harpreet Saini and Daryl Johnson, the second panel included testimony from James Jacobs, a law professor at New York University who was invited by Senator Lindsey Graham, the Ranking Member of the Subcommittee.


Copies of witness testimony are attached. Video from today’s hearing can be found at www.judiciary.senate.gov