The House passed a bill mostly along party lines on Wednesday that seeks to create domestic terrorism offices throughout the U.S. government, just days after a gunman fatally shot 10 people in Buffalo, N.Y., in an incident that President Biden called “domestic terrorism.”
The bill, dubbed the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act, passed in an 222-203 vote, with one Republican, Rep. Adam Kinzinger (Ill.), bucking party leadership recommendation and voting for the legislation. Four Republicans did not vote.
The legislation specifically calls for the formation of domestic terrorism offices within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Department of Justice (DOJ) and FBI that would be tasked with monitoring and scrutinizing potential terror activity.
A vote on the bill was scheduled after Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.), the sponsor of the legislation, called on Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to bring the legislation to the floor. He pointed to the Saturday shooting at a grocery store in Buffalo, where 13 people were shot, 11 of whom were Black.
The suspected shooter — identified as 18-year-old Payton Gendron of Conklin, N.Y. — reportedly embraced ideas that are connected to the “great replacement theory,” a racist, far-right conspiracy that liberal elites are encouraging immigration to replace white voters.
Some Democrats referenced the fatal shooting during debate on the bill prior to its passage.
“Here we are again, reeling from another horrific domestic terrorist attack. This week, a racially motivated shooting in Buffalo, N.Y., perpetrated by an avowed white supremacist,” Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-Texas) said on the House floor.
She mentioned previous mass shootings carried out by individuals with ties to white supremacy, including the 2018 attack at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, which is in her district.
“H.R. 350 will give communities like mine a fighting chance the next time an angry racist shares a deranged screed online and decides to drive hours to attack vulnerable and innocent people at our grocery stores or our houses of worship,” Escobar said.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) pointed to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol as reason the legislation is needed.
“I know, as I believe every member of this house knows, that extremist violence can reach anyone, anytime, anywhere, whether it be a place of worship, a grocery store or, as we learned last year, this very hall,” the Maryland Democrat said.
Republican leaders had recommended that their members vote against the legislation. In a memo to House GOP offices, Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) said the bill “would create unnecessary and duplicative domestic terrorism offices” in departments throughout the government, among other qualms.
Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) on the House floor said the bill was about “empowerment of the federal bureaucracy to target Americans.”
“This is nothing more than empowering the federal government to police thought and speech in the United States of America, and we should oppose it roundly,” he later added.
The legislation was initially slated to be passed through a fast-track process late last month, but Democratic leaders pulled it from the calendar after some progressive lawmakers voiced opposition to the bill.
Schneider told reporters on Monday that the legislation was adjusted to specify that none of its tenets would undermine First Amendment rights. It previously passed in a voice vote in 2020.
The bill calls for establishing a Domestic Terrorism Unit in the Office of Intelligence and Analysis at the DHS, which would be tasked with observing and examining domestic terrorism activity, in addition to a Domestic Terrorism Office in the Counterterrorism Section of the National Security Division of the DOJ, which would look into and prosecute domestic terrorism incidents and communicate with the Civil Right Division about occurrences that may be considered hate crimes.
The bill also encourages the establishment of a Domestic Terrorism Section of the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division, which would probe activity tied to domestic terrorism.