WASHINGTON (CN) --- Militias in America are infested with white supremacists and pose a danger to national security while infringing on the everyday person’s constitutional rights, extremism experts told members of Congress on Wednesday.
Over five sessions and many weeks, members of the House Oversight Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties have met to talk about the rising level of hate in the U.S. and the threat posed to all Americans by domestic fundamentalists, extremists, racists and white supremacists.
This threat, long present in the nation’s history, has been etched into sharper relief in recent years from the shooting of Black worshippers at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in 2015 to the murder of a protester at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017 to the mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh and more recently, to the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol where five were killed as extremists --- with paramilitary help and in some cases, real military experience --- attempted to overturn the results of the 2020 election.
A vote in the Senate to approve a formal commission investigating the security failures of that attack in January has been proposed but to nearly uniform opposition from Republicans in both the House and Senate.
They mostly peg the commission as superfluous and argue it will be used as a political weapon against the GOP in the upcoming midterms. For Democrats, the commission has widespread support among members and is considered a natural outflow of an attack on the seat of federal government that was extensively planned and even advertised for on social media.
Politically charged divisions over what terrorism or homegrown extremism can be defined as or how it is authentically assessed --- just among lawmakers --- has made reaching some sort of compromise on how to legislate and reduce the growing violence while protecting lives and rights a challenge.
During Wednesday’s hearing, that dichotomy was on stark display as Republican Representatives Andy Biggs of Arizona and Pete Sessions of Texas, both of whom objected to certifying results of the 2020 election, used their time for questioning experts about the rise of militias in America to call for an end to violence from “both sides.”
For Biggs and Sessions, the outsized problem is antifa. Though the lawmakers repeatedly discussed it as if it were an organized group, antifa is not a group but an ideology that rejects fascism, according to the FBI. Incidentally, most of the violent domestic terror incidents in 2020 --- 66% of them, according to a recent report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies --- were committed by white supremacists and other far right extremists, not those identifying with antifa ideology, anti-capitalist ideology or with the individuals who are a part of the civil rights movement Black Lives Matter.
“This is consistent with what the FBI has said,” committee chairman Jamie Raskin, a Maryland Democrat, said Wednesday. “That’s two-thirds of all instances of violent domestic terror incidents. I don’t know why we seem to feel if we are pointing out extremist activity by violent right wing groups, they have to somehow say, ‘antifa did this’ or whatever. We’re trying to deal with real problems impacting state legislatures and the U.S. Congress as recently as January.”
Representative Ayanna Pressley, a Massachusetts Democrat, after listening to Republican lawmakers make comparisons between groups like the Oath Keepers and Black Lives Matter said those who would do that, "spit on Dr. Martin Luther King's name."
"You are in fact spitting on Dr. King, on his name and his legacy, an original architect of Black Lives Matter. He was protesting police brutality, poverty, racism and militarism and doing it non violently and was affirming that Black lives matter and was murdered because of it," she said.