Blog of Rights

Commission Proposed to Police Ideas, Ignores Actual Violence

By Devon Chaffee, Legislative Policy Counsel, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 1:12pm

This morning 36 organizations sent a letter to Sen. Feinstein (D-Calif.) urging her to block a proposal to establish a commission on so-called "domestic radicalization." Instead of examining proven indicators of violent acts — a legitimate subject of government scrutiny — the proposed commission would focus on ideology, which, even if radical, is protected by the First Amendment.

When Rep. Frank Wolf (R- Va.) introduced the Commission proposal as an amendment to the intelligence authorization bill, his justification for the Commission focused on Muslims and Islam even though terrorism perpetrators have many religious and ethnic backgrounds. Congressman Wolf has long called for the creation of a "Team B" or a panel of outside experts tasked with second guessing the intelligence community's approach to counterterrorism. This Team B concept has received support from a number of commentators known for their anti-Muslim bias including the self-identified "Team B II" which issued a report last year entitled "Shariah: the Threat to America."

Rep. Wolf's proposal is based on a theory that radical beliefs are inextricably linked to violent terrorist action. Yet, empirical studies show that there is no discernable path, pattern or profile to becoming a terrorist. In fact, casting suspicion toward an entire faith or ethnic community may actually increase the likelihood of extremist violence.

Studying and understanding what provokes violence is no doubt an important element of crime prevention, including the prevention of acts of terrorism. But by focusing on radical ideas and ignoring other often more significant contributing factors, Wolf's proposed commission threatens to divert law enforcement resources from the real problem: actual criminal conduct.

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