Rep. Alexandrea Ocasio-Cortez sparred with an FBI counterterrorism official over what she characterized as a double standard when law enforcement charges domestic terrorists inspired by global jihad differently than white supremacists unaffiliated with foreign terrorist groups.

In a congressional hearing last Tuesday, the freshman New York Democrat suggested Muslims are treated differently in the U.S., including being charged with terrorism for criminal acts, while white supremacists are not. Michael McGarrity, assistant director of the FBI’s counterterrorism unit, disagreed.

 

 

Ocasio-Cortez referred to the Dec. 2, 2014 mass shooting at a San Bernardino, California health department holiday party where 14 people were killed and another 22 injured. The perpetrators, Syed Rizwan, a U.S.-born citizen of Pakistani descent, and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, a Pakistani-born legal permanent resident, were referred to by the FBI as “homegrown violent extremists” inspired by foreign terrorist groups.

However, when Dylann Roof, then 21, killed nine African Americans on June 17, 2015 in a Charleston, South Carolina church during a prayer meeting, or when 20-year-old James Alex Fields Jr. careened his car into crowd of counter-protesters at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in which 32-year-old Heather Heyer was killed and another 19 were injured, neither incident was characterized as domestic terrorism, but rather as hate crimes.

“You’re not going to find a charge of domestic terrorism out there,” McGarrity said. With regard to the San Bernardino shooting, McGarrity added, “They were likely charged with, if there was a connection to a foreign terrorist organization, it would likely fall under 18USC23, A or B.”

 

 

“Doesn’t it seem like because the perpetrator [was] Muslim…that the designation would say it’s a foreign organization?” Ocasio-Cortez said

McGarrity repeatedly interjected, “No. No. That is not correct.”

“Homegrown violent extremists, who we, most of the people we arrest in the United States, homegrown violent extremists: self-radicalized, born in the U.S., doesn’t matter what religion…”

Ocasio-Cortez interrupted, “But the Orlando Pulse Club shooter meets those qualifications…he was homegrown and self-radicalized.”  

McGarrity ultimately admitted white supremacist violence is not considered domestic terrorism because “the United States Congress doesn’t have a statute for us for domestic terrorism like we do on a foreign terrorist organization like ISIS, Al-Qaeda, Al-Shabab.” McGarrity also agreed white supremacy was a global issue.

Ocasio-Cortez went on to ask if McGarrity could see how the discrepancy in how similar acts are codified differently in U.S. law based on the origin of the perpetrator, “even if unintentional,” may result in similar crimes being pursued in vastly different ways and ultimately resulting in differential outcomes.