Would President Trump Let Law Enforcement Monitor White Nationalists and Antifa?

In the aftermath of the El Paso shooting rampage carried out by a white nationalist last weekend, many former national security advisers and politicians are calling for a reallocation of post-9/11 resources to focus on white nationalist terrorism.

Since 2002, the number of people killed in white nationalist attacks and by Islamist radicals has been nearly equal—109 to 104—according to data from New America, a think tank. Yet, it's incredibly difficult to prosecute a white nationalist as a terrorist in the United States. That's because there is no law makes an act of domestic terrorism that is motivated by prejudice or hatred a federal crime.

"It's a big blank spot," Mary McCord, a former national security prosecutor, told the New York Times.

After the attacks of September 11th, President George W. Bush introduced the controversial Patriot Act, which was passed by Congress and allowed for an unprecedented amount of government spying and intrusion on citizens believed to be terrorists. Today, some lawmakers are calling for a similar act with a focus on far-right hate crimes.

President Donald Trump has acknowledged the need for some sort of policy change, but said Wednesday that he wanted to include groups on the left and right, including the Antifa (a leftist group that has not perpetrated any act of national terrorism).

"I am concerned about the rise of any group of hate. I don't like it...Whether it's white supremacy, whether its any other kind of supremacy," the president said to reporters from the White House lawn. "Whether it's Antifa. Whether it's any group of hate. I am very concerned about it and I'll do something about it."

El Paso
People pray at the makeshift memorial for victims of the shooting that left a total of 22 people dead at the Cielo Vista Mall Walmart, in El Paso, Texas, on August 7, 2019. MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty

Earlier this year, Democratic Senator Dick Durbin introduced the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act. But members of the ACLU spoke out against the bill and urged members of Congress to reject it.

"Enacting 'domestic terrorism' legislation would not only entrench a system that lacks meaningful oversight, transparency, and legitimate standards, but also codifies a framework that is used to target and discriminate against the very communities Congress hopes to protect," the ACLU wrote in a letter.

The ACLU also strongly objected to the Patriot Act, but Congress wasn't quite as willing to listen back in 2001. And the political price of focusing on possible Islamic radicals wasn't all that high.

"If they did the same thing [with white nationalists] that they did with the Muslims, they'd say every white guy is a potential terrorist," Martin R. Stolar, a New York civil rights lawyer, told The New York Times. "You can't do that with white people. The blowback would be outrageous."

The provisions of the Patriot Act have largely expired, but below are some of the allowances they made for federal agents.


This section of the Patriot Act allowed the FBI to procure secret court orders to obtain any business records or other "tangible things" so long as they're obtained "for an authorized investigation . . . to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities." The FBI also did not need proof to obtain a court order, their word was enough.

Here are some "tangible things," that could be investigated: Internet history, apartment history, books owned, car-rental history and more.

If someone was investigated under this provision, they were also legally prohibited from telling anybody about it.


This provision of the Patriot Act allowed an agent to raid any suspects house without telling them that they had been raided for months. Warrants were allowed to be obtained for any possible crime, not just terrorism. That includes those suspected of a misdemeanor crime.


This part of the Act allowed the FBI to issue a demand for any number of records including bank account information without any court order or approval. Those who received the letter also received a gag order preventing them from telling anyone about it. They were allowed to issue the letters to any American they suspected, regardless of criminal history.