Let’s not render Idaho’s domestic terrorism law useless with new bill

Gun Rights

Idaho’s landmark Terrorist Control Act will be rendered useless if the Idaho House of Representatives passes a bill approved by the state Senate on Jan. 25. Among other things, the act made it a serious felony for those who commit criminal acts that are “dangerous to human life” and intended to “intimidate or coerce” either the public or governmental policymakers. Senate Bill 1220 would decriminalize any such criminal acts that were not done in cooperation with a “foreign terrorist organization.” Violent acts of intimidation, like the bombings by the Aryan Nations hate group in northern Idaho in 1986, could no longer be prosecuted under the Terrorist Control Act if no foreigners were involved.

Aryan Nations members exploded a pipe bomb at Father Bill Wassmuth’s home in Coeur d’Alene on Sept. 15, 1986, and set off three other bombs a few days later. Father Bill was shaken, but not physically injured, and there were no injuries sustained in the other blasts. The bombs were designed to intimidate and silence those like Father Bill who were exercising their constitutional right to speak out against the dangerous white supremacist group. Idaho law was not adequate at that time to deter and sufficiently punish such violent activity.

Idaho Senate passes bill to define ‘domestic terrorism’ as activity associated with foreign groups

It was clear that Idaho needed to take action against violent domestic terrorists. As Idaho’s attorney general, I proposed tough legislation in 1987, which failed in the House due to opposition from the National Rifle Association. I worked with the NRA and we were able to agree on strong language for the Terrorist Control Act, which remains on our law books today. The NRA proposed adding language from the federal Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871, which primarily targeted violent conspiracies by KKK members to prevent freed slaves from voting, speaking out, holding office and exercising other constitutional rights. The KKK Act language significantly improved and strengthened the Terrorist Control Act. 

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Senate supporters of SB 1220 seemed to think that the Terrorist Control Act, as written, could be used to prosecute school patrons. It simply would not happen, unless the patrons committed criminal acts that were dangerous to human life and intended to intimidate or coerce the public or school board. The KKK Act has been on the federal books since 1871, and I’m unaware of any case where non-intimidating, non-conspiring, non-violent school patrons have faced federal charges under that law. No inappropriate charges have been filed in Idaho under the Terrorist Control Act. In fact, the entire purpose of the act is to protect the constitutional rights of all Idahoans from violent conspiracists. 

The problem with SB 1220 is that it would require a prosecutor to prove beyond a reasonable doubt, even in an egregious situation like the Aryan Nation bombings in 1986, that the violent acts were “done in cooperation with any foreign terrorist organization.” Without that proof, the conspirators could not be held to account. The U.S. currently lists about 70 foreign terrorist organizations, including Hamas, al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, Boko Haram and ISIS-Mozambique. The chances that any of those groups would team up with conspirators in Idaho to commit the prohibited violent acts is almost nil. The foreign cooperation requirement essentially guts the Terrorist Control Act.

On the other hand, domestic terrorist incidents have increased dramatically in the United States in recent years. The Government Accountability Office reported last year that domestic terrorism-related cases increased 357% from 2013 to 2021. These are not cases involving foreign terrorist organizations.

The 1986 Coeur d’Alene bombings finally awakened the entire state to the serious threat the Aryans posed to the safety of those in the area and to the image of the Gem State as a whole. Out of concern for the economic impact on commerce, the Idaho business community rose up in opposition to the group and its poisonous agenda. The Terrorist Control Act was enacted in response. With the growing threat of domestic terrorism in the U.S. and the consequent endangerment to the constitutional rights of Idaho citizens, this is not the time to neuter the act. That law was passed to rid our beautiful state of violent white supremacists. Let’s not welcome them back into the state.

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