The NY State Senate Just Passed a Bill That Reads Like a Parody of Reactionary Terror Laws
It has been two weeks since 49 people were murdered at the Orlando LGBTQ Pulse club’s Latin night, and lawmakers at the state and federal level have already seized on public fear of “terrorists” to advance a spate of reactionary bills that expand police powers and erode civil rights. Perhaps the most draconian of them all is the proposed New York State Terrorist Registry Act modeled after controversial sex offender registry legislation.
Under the provision, which has so far passed the NY state Senate but not the assembly, the list will collect photographs, fingerprints, employment information and even DNA analysis of so-called terrorists. Unlike with sex offender watch lists, all of this information will be available to the public, according to lawmakers.
Republican New York State Senator Thomas D. Croci directly invoked the Orlando massacre to accelerate the proposal, which looks alarmingly similar to Donald Trump’s outrageous call for a Muslim registry. “The deterioration of the security situation overseas and the growing number of attacks at home, including the barbaric attack this week in Orlando,” said Croci on June 15, “it is clear we are under attack.”
Who exactly would be publicly “outed” in this registry? Croci’s office was unable to provide a clear answer. AlterNet had numerous back-and-forth conversations with Croci’s spokesperson, Christine A. Geed, who first said that only “convicted terrorists” would be included on the list but later proclaimed the following over the phone: “This is giving law enforcement the opportunity to say that a person might not have been convicted of a crime but all the earmarks of this person having allegiance to ISIS are there so you probably want to watch. This is not necessarily for people being convicted, if there is information and documentation that associates them with a terrorist act. I am just assuming those are the type of people they would be looking for.”
According to the text of the proposed legislation, a “terrorist” would mean anyone who is “convicted of a terrorist offense” and/or has “engaged in a verifiable act of terrorism.” However, this category would include anyone who is designated by the Departments of Homeland Security, State, Justice Defense, CIA and/or the office of the director of national intelligence as “a person who has committed a terrorist act against the United States or any of its citizens.”
The New York Civil Liberties Union explained in a one-pager, “The legislation relies in large part upon overbroad definitions of terrorism that persist in state and federal law, and are most often reflected in lower-level ‘crimes of terrorism.’”
“This definition of ‘terrorist’ can capture individuals who ‘provide support for terrorism,’ however unwitting or however attenuated,” the organization continued. “This can include such scenarios as giving a ride to a friend, or providing lodging for a family member, either of whom is even loosely affiliated with an organization labeled as terrorist or with that organization’s members; or contributing to educational/community service activities of an organization associated with terrorism on some entirely separate basis, even without knowledge of the association.”
This terrorist watch list is being aggressively advanced even as numerous questions remain about the mass killing perpetrated by Omar Mateen, including whether the FBI itself helped shape the killer’s mindset by dispatching an informant to attempt to lure him into a terror plot. The heads of the CIA and FBI both say there is no evidence that Mateen has material connections to terrorist groups outside of the United States, and authorities continue to withhold the full transcripts detailing the shooter’s communications with law enforcement and emergency dispatchers.
A narrative of a foreign terrorist threat has emerged, with comparatively little examination of homegrown homophobia and mass shooting violence. Lawmakers across the spectrum are now exploiting this climate to advance extreme legislation. Indeed, Croci’s statement to the press reads like a pitch for TV time rather than someone genuinely concerned with keeping people safe.
The press release is full of baseless fear mongering:
There is a real threat that ISIS is imposing and they are now strategically activating Americans to commit heinous acts of terrorism, such as the Boston bombing and the recent terrorist attack in Garland, Texas. Although they will face jail time, these domestic terrorists face no deportation could eventually return to the streets to strike again.
The Garland attackers were American. Where, one might ask, does Sen. Croci presume we “deport” them? Also, in the two examples he lists, the perpetrators are either dead or have been sentenced to death. As is common with legislation proposed after a collective national trauma the law itself wouldn’t have even applied to the case in question—the devastating attack in Orlando—or any of the examples Croci cites. It’s anti-terror law for anti-terror laws sake.
In a follow up email, AlterNet asked Croci’s staff to cite one example of a terror attack the bill would have prevented. They did not respond.
Another other major concern worrying civil libertarians is the provision that allows for Americans to be put on the registry for terror convictions in other countries. In response to this concern Croci’s office insisted that “the Division of Criminal Justice Services would make determinations regarding which foreign offenses are consistent with the applicable state and federal terrorism laws.” Given the opaque and due-process free nature of many foreign jurisdiction—especially on the issue of “terrorism” which has a broad and oft-abused definition—it’s unclear how this would affect civil liberties stateside.
While the terrorist registry has not yet passed into law, the fact that it has advanced at all is alarming Muslim-American communities, which are already weathering a spike in Islamophobic hate crimes. Darakshan Raja, founder of the Muslim American Women’s Policy Forum, told AlterNet that if the bill were to pass, people included on the registry would face “employment, housing, and other forms of discrimination, virtually leaving you in internment." Raja added, "Muslims are seeing one of the worst policies I have seen for a while post Orlando.”