A Washington State House bill was voted out of committee last week that would create a 13-member commission within the office of the Attorney General to develop a data collection process on incidents of “domestic violent extremism (DVE).”
Domestic violent extremism is not defined in the legislation but according to State Attorney General Bob Ferguson's description, it would include noncriminal activities and speech.
HB 1333 sponsored by Democratic Rep. Bill Ramos would create the Domestic Violent Extremism Commission to develop ways to combat “disinformation and misinformation.”
The legislation was pushed by Ferguson following a “Domestic Terrorism” study by his office in 2022 which plans to implement, “effective State intervention to address these threats has the potential to implicate speech or association that may be protected by the First Amendment, or the individual right to bear arms protected by the Second Amendment.”
The report also recommended adding a definition of DVE to state law even though there are already statutes addressing hate crimes, and the FBI already defines “domestic terrorism” within the context of actual crimes or intent to commit a crime.
The attorney general's 2022 report argues “rather than exclusively address ‘domestic terrorism’ per se, these recommendations seek to best support Washington State to respond to this panoply of challenges, which together combine to create the threat of—and indeed, are often precursors to—acts of domestic terrorism.”
The commission would also use the category of domestic violent extremism with regard to public health. According to the legislation the commission would have a member with “an expertise in public health” who would be appointed by the attorney general, and is not required to be a member of the state’s Department of Health.
Critics have slammed the legislation citing in 2021 when the National School Boards Association, sent a memo to the Biden Administration asking that parents protesting during public comment at local school board meetings be treated as “a form of domestic terrorism.”
Attorney General Bob Ferguson who has been pushing the bill described DVE in his office’s 2022 Domestic Terrorism study as, “Various forms of extremist and political violence like threats, coercion, and intimidation, online disinformation, extremist recruitment and government infiltration efforts, and the general spread of extreme white supremacism and anti-government ideologies.”
One of the slides created by the Anti-Defamation League used during the presentation of the bill claimed that “election fraud narratives,” “anti-mask and anti-vaccine narratives,” “anti-critical race theory narratives,” and “anti-LGBTQ ‘Grooming’ narratives'” lead to “Increased threats against election officials, medical professionals and school board members” as well as “Protests and disruptions at school board meetings, pride events and drag queen story hours.”
There is no mention in the legislation of the violent BLM and Antifa riots that rocked the Seattle Metro area in the summer of 2020, not of the deadly Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, for which the city just settled a multi-million dollar lawsuit from business owners affected by the domestic extremists.
The DVE commission would also be made up of four legislators, one appointed by each of the two largest caucuses of the Senate, and one appointed by each of the two largest caucuses of the House of Representatives, one representative from the Governor's office, appointed by the Governor; one representative from the AGO, and one representative from the Anti-Defamation League.
Additionally, six representatives from organizations representing groups protected under the state's hate crime statute, would be appointed by the state attorney which may include but is not limited to: a representative from the black/African American community; a representative from the Muslim community; a representative from the Jewish community; a representative from the Asian or Asian American community; a representative from the Sikh community; a representative from the Latino/a/x community; a representative from the LGBTQ community; a representative from the general immigrant/refugee community; and a representative from the African community.
In addition to those listed above, the commission must also extend an invitation to participate in, or provide feedback; a representative from the FBI; a representative from the DHS; a representative from a federally recognized tribe; and “nonmember groups and individuals with relevant experience, as needed.”
In the original bill, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) was guaranteed a spot on the commission but was removed by a committee amendment.
Part of the commission’s work would be developing ways to track data incidents of DVE, “including how data is collected, what triggers data collection, and how to ensure data is not disproportionately used against black, indigenous, and people of color communities or other communities.”
Live Finne, Director of Education for the Washington Policy Center said the legislation “would criminalize certain forms of expression based on what members of a state commission consider to be their definition of ‘domestic extremism.' Creating a state-level ‘Ministry of Truth' would not only undermine democratic norms, but it would have a chilling effect on public debate, freedom of speech, and civic participation in Washington state.”
According to her key findings, she wrote that the bill would allow government officials to “decide whose words and whose speech would be subject to criminal prosecution” and that the “Attorney General’s office would increase surveillance of citizens for perceived violations of words and speech prohibitions.”
“Citizens would be encouraged to report friends and neighbors to the state for officially-banned phrases, thoughts, and expressions,” Finne added.
If the legislation passes, Democrat Governor Jay Inslee is expected to sign it into law.