Editors’ Note: This is excerpted from a New York Times op-ed, written by Thomas T. Cullen, US Attorney for the Western District of Virginia, February 22, 2019.
Last week, federal agents in Maryland arrested a United States Coast Guard officer and said he was plotting to assassinate Democratic members of Congress, prominent television journalists and others. The officer, Lt. Christopher Hasson, apparently was inspired by a right-wing Norwegian terrorist who slaughtered 77 people in 2011, stockpiled firearms and ammunition and researched locations around Washington to launch his attacks, according to investigators. Fortunately, the F.B.I. arrested him before he could act.
This frightening case is just one of several recent reminders that white supremacy and far-right extremism are among the greatest domestic-security threats facing the United States.
Regrettably, over the past 25 years, law enforcement, at both the federal and state levels, has been slow to respond. This is in part because of the limited number of enforcement tools available to prosecutors. But there are steps that can be taken to help the police and prosecutors address this growing threat — including, on the federal level, a domestic terrorism law.
In 2017, hate crimes, generally defined as criminal acts motivated by the victim’s race, ethnicity, religion, or gender, increased by about 17 percent nationally, to 7,175 from 6,121 (the number of police agencies reporting crimes also rose, by about 6 percent); in my state, Virginia, they were up by nearly 50 percent, to 202 from 137. . . .
The following day, some of these Unite the Right enthusiasts attacked and injured counterprotesters in Charlottesville. Their violence culminated when a white supremacist from Ohio drove his car into a crowd of people, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring about 30 others. . . .
State officials can update and strengthen existing hate-crime laws, many of which do not include protections for some of the categories of people listed in the federal hate crimes law. Although many states have expanded these protections, the Indiana State Senate this week moved to weaken a proposed hate crime bill. In addition, states can authorize localities to place reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions on demonstrations that will likely result in widespread violence and other criminal activity, like the rally in Charlottesville.