Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt Advocates Extending PATRIOT Act to Domestic Terrorists

I watched last night’s Huckabee Presidential forum between thrilling plays in the Big 10.2 Championship game. Since each candidate appeared by him or herself, it lacked the entertaining in-fighting of other episodes of this reality show. But it was fascinating because some rising stars in the Republican Party–three far right Attorneys General, OK’s Scott Pruitt, VA’s Ken Cuccinelli, and FL’s Pam Bondi–served as co-moderators. As such, I think the forum provided some indication of where the leading edge of Republican crazy is.

Which is troubling, because in a question directed to Congressman Ron Paul, Pruitt endorsed applying the PATRIOT Act to purely domestic terrorists. [Update: bob johnson, who is from OK, says this wasn’t an endorsement. A pity, then, that Pruitt not only extended the discussion of PATRIOT to domestic grounds but also set up Bondi for more fearmongering.] After raising the specter of Tim McVeigh’s attack on the Murrah Federal Building, Pruitt asked,

Pruitt: What thoughtful alternative do you have to the PATRIOT Act to prevent acts of domestic terrorism in the future?

Paul provided the same kind of answer he has provided when he has gotten asked similar questions in the context of foreign terrorism in other debates, noting that the PATRIOT Act should have been called the repeal of the Fourth Amendment. To which Priutt doubled down:

So Congressman, you don’t believe that there needs to be a comprehensive law at the federal level equipping law enforcement to prevent domestic terrorism in this country?

Now, as I said, Paul gets asked a similar question at just about every debate. The authoritarian streak of today’s GOP party likes to call out Paul’s libertarianism so as to mock it as outside acceptable bounds of GOP ideology (usually just before everyone applauds torture).

Which is why I find it so troubling that Pruitt did so with regards to domestic terrorism.

Don’t get me wrong: I begrudge no Oklahoman a real concern about domestic terrorism. Oklahomans know as well as anyone in this country that domestic terrorism can be just as deadly as Islamic terrorism. And we do need to have a conversation in this country about why the FBI gets so much stronger tools to entrap aspirational Islamic terrorists than it does to stop white supremacists stockpiling explosives.

But investigations into “domestic terrorism” in the last decade have focused on environmental groups, perhaps only recently focusing on right wing terrorism.

Moreover, the PATRIOT Act already did include a number of provisions applying to domestic terrorists. It defined domestic terrorism to include the use of “coercion.”

(5) the term `domestic terrorism’ means activities that–

(A) involve acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State;

(B) appear to be intended–
(i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population;

(ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or

(iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and

(C) occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States.

And it included the authority to seize the assets of “any individual, entity, or organization engaged in planning or perpetrating any act of domestic or international terrorism.”

Furthermore, as was made clear on this year’s decade anniversary of the PATRIOT Act, many of the provisions in it, like sneak and peeks and NSLs, have primarily been used in the pursuit of drug or money laundering convictions rather than international terrorism ones.

But it seems Pruitt wants more. He seems to want a full PATRIOT Act for what gets called domestic terrorism, presumably allowing wiretaps and other surveillance to “prevent” “crimes” that have not yet been committed (yet presumably never infringing on the right to bear semi-automatic machine guns). While I welcome some consistency about how we treat brown terrorists and white ones, I’m sure applying the authorities in the PATRIOT Act to domestic “terrorists” is not the answer.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

11 replies
  1. dakine01 says:

    While Oklahomans may be more attuned to domestic terrorism thanks to Timothy McVeigh, why do I have this feeling that Pruitt, Bondi, and Cuccinelli would see the actions of the #Occupy folks as more terrorism than say the actions of an Eric Rudolph, or yes, a McVeigh (prior to blowing up a federal building of course)?

  2. Timbo says:

    Why doesn’t anyone in the press just ask these folks who they fear are domestic terrorists? It really is that simple. I mean, it’s not like they’d have to jump through political rings of fire if they were asked the question straight up, right?

  3. EH says:

    If Oklahomans get to determine domestic terror policy, Californians should get to determine federal drug policy.

  4. rugger9 says:

    WEll, as with many things, the devil is in the details. As with the definitions, and one only has to see the scorecard on OWS arrests vs. bankster arrests to see who will be viewed as terrorists [~2500 – 0].

    There won’t be any objectivity to this at all, and it’s another step to Soviet-style dictatorship.

  5. JohnLopresti says:

    This note is rather off-topic, but maybe somewhat accurate about the Virginia attorney general. He was taking notably anti-Federalism views in the press, and in the courts, when the healthcare with mandate passed. There are several cases involving Virginia. One of those cases got tossed out of EDVA 4th circuit apeals court September 2011; note: the case caption and list of attorneys on the case consume 40 pages! of the 52 page vacate and remand order. Republicans in the VA legislature had rallied after Cuccinelli’s 2010 public rhetoric against the mandate provision, and tried to concoct a mix, doubtless coordinating with the RNC and a bevy of Republican governors elsewhere, which would whet the conservatives on the Scotus bench’s appetite. In November 2011 Lyle Denniston wrote a short review of Scotus’ likely appetites for adjudicating the VA case along with a few dozen similar actions, there; a few constitutional law profsessors wrote a 30 pp technical treatise in June 2010 there. As for the terrorism matter, it appears to be a similar partisan thicket of not-so-accurate rhetoric, as in EW’s second excerpt in which Pruitt formulates an attributive conjecture in the guise of a followup question.

  6. dustbunny44 says:

    Another BushCo legacy, the billions in Homeland Security money finally being used … to suppress dissent. Makes me wonder if that wasn’t in the plans all along.

  7. gardener1 says:

    To concern yourself with the argumentative details of candidate political debates and legislative tyranny, is to be sucked into the vortex of the players who have crafted these barbarous games.

    I too rail against these inhuman overlords, imagining how they can be outgamed and defeated. But it is impossible of course. As soon as one set of overlords and their ideas are routed and deposed, and new breed of tyrant will move in to replace the banished old breed. But inevitably the result is the same–the few stealing the wealth and well-being of the many.

    The only real way to defeat this circle of power and theft–is to walk away. They will not be defeated, but the individual will be saved. One must live inside one’s own [spiritual] limits and imagination eschewing much of the common realm, and taking just enough from the mass culture to survive.

    To wit: In the midst of the current Greek financial and national catastrophe, there are still plenty of Greeks TODAY who spend their afternoons in the shade of olive trees smoking, drinking ouzo, playing checkers, and selling trinkets. They have friends and family and enough food to live. It is a life. It was a life 2,000 years ago and it will be a life 2,000 years from now.

    It is those caught up in the tempest and technologies of current events who suffer most. The real winners are the people who walk away from the front stage to have a picnic on the hill overlooking the stage, and can pack up their things at the end of the show to return to the obscurity from whence they emerged.

    Take with you that what is good. Leave behind you that which is destructive. Live a life that benefits you and the things in your immediate reach. It is the only way to endure these treacherous times.

  8. bob johnson says:

    I understand your concerns — but you are a little off-base in your assessment of Pruitt. Being an Oklahoman and active here, I have known Pruitt since he first ran for State Senate and defeated an establishment Republican. Pruitt has been a critic of the Patriot Act for quite some time. And you might recall at the forum he told Paul he shared some of his concerns. Sometimes you ask a question so someone can espouse a positive view. Using your logic here to say Pruitt is some advocate of eliminating our fourth amendment rights would be the same as saying Bondi and Cuccinelli are pro-choice because they asked about Roe v. Wade.

  9. emptywheel says:

    @bob johnson: I’ll note your comment above. But Pruitt didn’t just ask about PATRIOT. He reframed it, using your example, to effectively say, “You don’t think in addition to ending access to abortion, we also have to end access to birth control?”

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