The FBI says it is investigating 2,700 cases of domestic terrorism, double the number from spring 2020 — and that has triggered Republicans' concerns the hunt is becoming politically charged.
In an interview with the Washington Times, Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Ark., said in the wake of the Jan. 6 storming of the Capitol, some terrorism probes run the risk of threatening civil liberties.
"Our concern is that the FBI being a preeminent counterterrorism agency, along with the CIA [and National Security Agency], that those assets could be turned inward to target U.S. citizens without a foreign nexus," Crawford told the news outlet.
"You have people that are ramping up the rhetoric on domestic violent extremism … to sort of make the case for and essentially justify the misuse, potentially, of intelligence assets that are specifically authorized for foreign threats."
Fears of a burgeoning police state were raised last month when Attorney General Merrick Garland issued a memorandum directing federal law enforcement officials to discuss strategies "for addressing threats against" local school boards and administrators, and to "open dedicated lines of communication for threat reporting, assessment and response."
The memo came in response to a National School Boards Association letter to President Joe Biden requesting "federal assistance to stop threats" from parents against public school officials.
Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee, however, told Garland they were worried about "policing the speech of citizens and concerned parents," the Washington Times reported.
"It's exactly this kind of intimidation of private citizens by government officials that our federal civil rights laws were designed to prevent," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., wrote in a separate letter to Garland.
The NSBA later apologized, saying there was "no justification for some of the language included in the letter."
But Garland defended the school board memo.
"The obligation of the Justice Department is to protect the American people against violence and threats of violence and that particularly includes public officials," he told a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Oct. 27, the Associated Press reported.
Crawford said the episode is a red flag.
"We're playing fast and loose with the definition of what constitutes a domestic terrorist and that's the danger of going down this road without the appropriate safeguards," he told the Washington Times.
Crawford also told the news outlet he fears the increasing threat of domestic terrorism – combined with increased polarization – could lead the nation on on a path toward more intrusive methods for infiltrating and rooting out groups and individuals considered to be domestic terrorists or extremists.
"We're kind of treading on thin ice here with regard to just sort of cavalierly throwing this term around," Crawford said, the Washington Times reported. "I think we've gone a step too far — well beyond a step too far. I think this is dangerous."
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