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Buffalo, N.Y. shooting puts pressure on Rep. Ilhan Omar to offer changes to bill aimed at fighting domestic terrorism

With Speaker Nancy Pelosi determined to win House approval of the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act this week, talks began Monday with recalcitrant Democrats like Omar, who represents Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District.

A Buffalo Police car is parked at the scene of a shooting at a Tops supermarket in Buffalo, New York.
A Buffalo Police car is parked at the scene of a shooting at a Tops supermarket in Buffalo, New York.
REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Following the racially motivated shooting in Buffalo this weekend, House Democrats are trying to revive a bill aimed at combatting domestic terrorism and to do so they are seeking the support of Rep. Ilhan Omar, who once called the legislation “horrible.”

Saturday’s mass shooting, which resulted in shooting of 13 people and the deaths of 10, has put pressure on Omar and other progressives who were concerned about the anti-terrorism’s bill reach. Ten of the people who were shot in a Buffalo grocery store  by 18-year-old Payton Gendron, who is white, were Black, and authorities say his rampage was fueled by racial animus.

With Speaker Nancy Pelosi determined to win House approval of the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act this week, talks began Monday with recalcitrant Democrats like Omar, who represents Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District.

“Negotiations are ongoing,” said Omar spokesman Jeremy Slevin. “The congresswoman had concerns about an earlier iteration of the bill, but is working to improve the legislation in the hopes her concerns can be resolved.”

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Pelosi told reporters the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act is “in play.”

The anti-terrorism bill once had bipartisan support in the House, but Republicans have turned against it, saying efforts to crack down on domestic terrorists could be misused to initiate investigations into conservatives who practice free speech. Many Republicans also say white supremacy and domestic terrorism are not the largest threats to the nation, even as the FBI reports rises in hate crimes against racial, ethnic and religious minorities.

Rep. Ilhan Omar
MinnPost photo by Craig Lassig
Rep. Ilhan Omar
Meanwhile, Omar and several other progressive Democrats opposed the anti-terrorism legislation because they were concerned it would target Muslims and minority ethnic groups. Among other things, the legislation would increase training of local police forces to detect, deter and investigate homegrown terrorism.

Opposition from Omar and other progressives stripped the bill of the  support it needed to pass the House.

“It’s a horrible bill,” Omar told Punchbowl in April after it had been approved on a partisan vote in the Judiciary Committee.

After Saturday’s shooting, the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Brad Schneider, D-Ill., urged quick action on his legislation.

“The rise of racially motivated violent extremism is a serious threat to Americans across the country,” Schneider said. “Congress hasn’t been able to ban the sale of assault weapons. The Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act is what Congress can do this week to try to prevent future Buffalo shootings – to prevent future California shootings, future El Paso shootings, future Charleston shootings, future Pittsburgh shootings, future Wisconsin shootings.”

The Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act would create permanent offices within the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice and FBI “to monitor, investigate and prosecute cases of domestic terrorism.” It would also require these law-enforcement agencies to issue biannual reports on the state of domestic terrorism threats and focus resources on fighting those threats.