LAW & PUBLIC SAFETY

Congress members call for added protections against domestic terrorism

BY Michael Hill, Correspondent |

Two days before America marks the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, perpetrated by a cadre of foreign terrorists, two North Jersey congressmen held a press conference to press for heightened action to protect the nation against domestic terrorism.

“It’s incredibly clear to me that we need to be using every tool in our arsenal to disrupt and defeat all home-grown terrorists,” said Josh Gottheimer, who was accompanied by fellow Democrat Bill Pascrell at a Ridgewood firehouse.

The two federal lawmakers, joined by state Homeland Security and Preparedness Director Jared Maples and Ridgewood Mayor Ramon Hache, pushed for action on a Gottheimer bill called the FASTER Act, which he said will help law enforcement battle the rising tide of hate and extremists who target and kill innocent men, women and children.

“When are we going to stop saying, ‘We pray it won’t happen again,’” Pascrell said. “Prayers are not enough!”

Gottheimer said his bill gives law enforcement the capability to freeze the domestic assets of all domestic terrorists when a suspect is arrested by or turned over by federal law enforcement.

“We simply can’t run the risk of funds being used by an ISIS-inspired terrorist or other nationalist or extremist to carry out another attack by friends, family or unknown accomplices operating in a small cell.” Gottheimer said.

Pascrell said a federal report a decade ago concluded that the Great Recession and the election of Barack Obama were fueling a resurgence in radicalization and recruitment of right-wing extremism in the country. Pascrell says the report upset Republicans and the administration buried it.

Pascrell also said that the Anti-Defamation League has documented that over the last decade, right-wing extremism accounts for 73 percent of all 427 domestic extremist killings.

He cautioned, however, against making assumptions. “We don’t want people to get the idea that everybody on the right is an extremist, they’re not” he said.

Also Monday, the lawmakers were asked where they stood on the renewal of calls in Congress to start an impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump. The Democratic-majority House Judiciary committee has scheduled a Thursday vote on formalizing impeachment procedures.

Gottheimer deferred to Pascrell, who said he was in favor.

The two Democrats split in a recent vote on impeachment. Gottheimer joined a solid majority, including 137 other Democrats, who voted on July 17 to table a motion to impeach Trump; Pascrell was among the 95 Democrats who voted to move forward.

During a separate interview, Pascrell described how he had come to that juncture.

“I said what we should be doing is gathering the information before we start the procedures,” he said. “And when we start the procedures, we’re basically gathering the information together, and we need information to decide what final direction we will go into. So, I think we’re at that point now. I’m not making pre-judgments. I’m just saying it’s time.”

Pascrell said it didn’t matter that the GOP Senate was unlikely to vote to remove the president.

“We have a responsibility,” he said. “And we need to do it in a responsible fashion. And we will do it in a responsible fashion.“

Gottheimer, in a statement released later, said he favored continuing to pursue the investigations already underway in Congress.

“I am supportive of the nearly 30 investigations currently taking place into these issues, especially those that are looking into foreign meddling in our elections and any coordination that might have taken place from within our own country,” the statement read.

The anti-terror bill proposed by Gottheimer, who is facing a primary challenger in his North Jersey district, has two basic provisions. The first allows the government to freeze the assets of anyone suspected of participating in an act of domestic terrorism or those of anyone who provides material support to terrorists.

Named for the acronym of its complete title — “The Freezing Assets of Suspected Terrorists and Enemy Recruits Act of 2017” — it also calls on the FBI to create a “clearinghouse” of information on domestic terror incidents, including those involving homegrown, “lone wolf” terrorists. The information would come from federal, state and local law-enforcement agencies, as well as foreign governments and incident victims, and the clearinghouse would be designed so that its information could be easily accessed by domestic law enforcement agencies.

It does not single out right-wing extremists or terror plots that are perpetrated or inspired by such groups.

The measure, first introduced in the last session of Congress, was referred to a subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee. It had two Republican co-sponsors, Tom Reed from New York and Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania.

Gottheimer said he would be introducing the bill again in coming weeks.

“We still run the risk of an arrested domestic terrorist’s accounts being utilized to carry out another attack by their friends, family, or other accomplices,” he said in a statement. “This legislation has bipartisan support and these concerns throughout our communities continue, which gives all the more reason for timely consideration of this bill.”