ACLU Deeply Concerned by Oregon’s Passage of Unnecessary and Overbroad Law Criminalizing Domestic Terrorism

Group Says HB 2772 is Latest Example of Law Enforcement Seeking to Suppress Public Protest Via Domestic Terrorism Authorities

Affiliate: ACLU of Oregon
August 7, 2023 10:00 am

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PORTLAND, Ore. – Last Friday, over the objections of the American Civil Liberties Union and its partners, Oregon Gov. Tina Kotek signed into law HB 2772, which creates a new and stigmatizing “domestic terrorism” label for an expansive list of crimes, and mandates harsher punishments for crimes that are already illegal.

“We are disheartened by the passage of this unnecessary domestic terrorism law,” said Jessica Maravilla, policy director from the ACLU of Oregon. “The law targets conduct that was already criminal, and adds a stigmatizing label and vague language that could enable law enforcement to mischaracterize protest actions as terrorist activity. We expect Oregon to be a national model in protections for speech and protest, and this law is an alarming step in the wrong direction. We will be watching its implementation closely.”

In a letter to Oregon’s House Judiciary Committee earlier this year, the ACLU of Oregon and 23 civil liberties and social justice groups explained that the new law would impose harsher, stigmatizing penalties on conduct that is already illegal, doing little to make Oregonians safer, and risking heavy-handed government application that chills legitimate speech and stifles lawful protest activity. Oregon lawmakers rushed to pass the law after the secretary of state issued a deeply flawed report that invoked and relied on federal “domestic terrorism and violent extremism” policies and analysis that rights groups have for decades criticized as unreliable, overbroad, and discriminatory.

Until lawmakers passed HB 2772, Oregon had a track record of challenging problematic federal policies and programs that invoke “domestic terrorism” to surveil and interrogate local activists. For example, in December, Indigenous rights and environmental advocates and a community organizer filed a lawsuit against the Oregon Department of Justice challenging an allegedly illegal spying operation run through the state’s TITAN fusion center directed at people who protested a proposed natural gas export facility in southern Oregon. And in 2019, the Portland City Council withdrew from a federal Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) after allegations of inadequate civilian oversight and criticisms that federal JTTFs have engaged in discriminatory surveillance of Muslims, Brown, and Black communities, and been used to shield local police from accountability for abuses.

Federal law enforcement agencies have a well-documented history of invoking national security laws and policies to surveil and target Black and Brown communities and silence those who engage in political dissent. During the civil rights movement, the FBI investigated and monitored leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. under the guise of national security. Congress created a federal definition of “domestic terrorism” in the Patriot Act that has been used to disproportionately and unjustly target Black and Brown people for surveillance, investigation, and prosecution. The Trump administration used these same authorities to monitor people protesting police brutality and protesting the administration's separation of immigrant families.

“We’ve repeatedly seen the federal government use vague and overbroad terrorism powers to spy on Black and Brown communities, activists, and other people dissenting against the government, and Oregon should not be replicating this rights-violating approach,” said Charlie Hogle, staff attorney with ACLU’s National Security Project. “Oregonians have a constitutional right to free speech, belief, and association, and we will be watching for any misuse of this law that constrains those rights.”

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