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Rashida Tlaib and the ‘Squad’ lead charge against expanding national security powers after Capitol riot

Ten progressive Democrats in the House of Representatives are calling on congressional leaders to refrain from any attempts to expand the United States government’s national security powers in the wake of the Jan. 6 riot in the Capitol.

The lawmakers, led by Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) warning that an expansion of national security powers could threaten American civil liberties. The letter comes as a bipartisan group of lawmakers will re-introduce the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act to give federal law enforcement more powers to act against domestic terrorism.

“The Trump mob’s success in breaching the Capitol was not due to a lack of resources at the disposal of federal law enforcement, and in this moment we must resist the erosion of our civil liberties and Constitutional freedoms, however well-intentioned proposed security reforms may be,” the Democrats wrote. “While we are not necessarily opposed to reforms to address the law enforcement and intelligence communities’ inability or unwillingness to seriously confront domestic white nationalist violence, we firmly believe that the national security and surveillance powers of the U.S. government are already too broad, undefined, and unaccountable to the people.”

The letter comes as some politicians and national security experts have characterized the Capitol riot as an act of domestic terror and described the participants with terms once reserved for ISIS and Al Qaeda. The events of Jan. 6 have even been compared to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

“Don’t dare call them protesters,” President Joe Biden said the day after the riot, speaking in Wilmington, Delaware. “They were a riotous mob. Insurrectionists. Domestic terrorists. It’s that basic. It’s that simple.”

Last Wednesday, as she presided over impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump, Pelosi also called the rioters “domestic terrorists.” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said that the “insurrectionists” who invaded the Capitol building should be added to the federal “no fly” list. “It is an attempt to stop democracy as we know it, using domestic terrorism to assault our system of government, thereby qualifying these insurrectionists for the No-Fly List,” Schumer wrote in a letter to the FBI and the Transportation Security Administration. Other Democrats have made similar remarks.

Commentators in the media have called for a new “Domestic War on Terror” and for law enforcement to adopt tactics used against Islamic terrorism abroad to fight “white supremacy” and extremism in the United States. CNN national security analyst Juliette Kayyem labeled Trump the “spiritual leader for domestic terrorists” before becoming their “operational leader” on Jan. 6. She called for the U.S. government to implement counterterrorism strategies against those Trump supporters who went to the Capitol.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) is leading the effort in Congress to expand national security powers by passing the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act. The legislation would establish new offices in the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice, and the FBI to investigate domestic terrorism in the U.S.

“It is not enough to just condemn hate, we need to equip law enforcement with the tools needed to identify threats and prevent violent acts of domestic terrorism,” said the bill’s sponsor in the House, Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.). “The Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act improves coordination between our federal agencies and makes sure they are focused on the most serious domestic threats.”

In response Tlaib, joined by other members of the progressive “Squad,” Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), and Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), wrote to express their opposition to any effort to expand the government’s national security powers.

“To expand the government’s national security powers once again at the expense of the human and civil rights of the American people would only serve to further undermine our democracy, not protect it,” their letter states.

The letter goes on to cite the House Un-American Activities Committee, the FBI’s Counterintelligence Program, the USA Patriot Act, and the FBI’s Assessment Authority and Operation IRON FIST programs as examples of “tools used for the mass violation of human and civil rights.”

They propose the following initiatives instead of new legislation to expand the government’s power:

  1. Fully investigate the violent Jan. 6, 2021, attack in a non-partisan, transparent manner.
  2. Commit today to release all findings from any investigations into the attack to the public.
  3. Recognize white nationalist and QAnon groups as the national security threat that they are and take action to combat them through existing laws, powers and regulations.
  4. Recognize that the reason that the threat posed by these groups hasn’t already been adequately addressed is because of a deeply ingrained unwillingness and/or hesitancy to act against these groups within all three branches of government, especially in the law enforcement community, including the Department of Justice, FBI, Department of Homeland Security, and intelligence agencies, not the result of insufficient domestic national security and/or surveillance powers.

“In the face of great tragedy, we call on you to reject reactionary demands to further erode the rights and liberties of the American people,” the letter concluded. “For our part, we pledge to oppose any attempts to expand the domestic national security or surveillance powers of the United States government at the expense of the rights of the people with every tool available to us as duly elected Members of Congress.”

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