Domestic Terrorism Prosecutions Reach All-Time High in FY 2020
Because of the January 6 attack on the Capitol, the public is highly interested in government's wider enforcement response to acts of domestic terrorism. In fact, last year in the wake of protests surrounding the death of George Floyd at the hands of police, there has been a large jump in federal prosecutions classified as domestic terrorism.
FY 2020 saw 183 domestic terrorism prosecutions filed by U.S. Attorneys' offices around the country—the highest total since government tracking began a quarter of a century ago. This compares with 69 such prosecutions in fiscal 2017, the first year of the Trump Administration, 63 domestic terrorism prosecutions during FY 2018, and 90 such prosecutions during FY 2019.
Figure 1. Criminal Domestic Terrorism Prosecutions over the last 20 years
(Click for larger image)
Domestic terrorism prosecutions in FY 2020 greatly outnumbered the 21 cases on international terrorism. Federal prosecutors also labeled as terrorism prosecutions some cases brought to safeguard critical infrastructure to protect national security, terrorism-related financing offenses, and terrorism-related export enforcement. They also categorized others as "internal security offenses." But despite the diversity of categories, the 183 domestic terrorism prosecutions during FY 2020 accounted for the majority. Prosecutions under the broad terrorism/internal security label altogether totaled 301.
These figures are based on case-by-case government records obtained and analyzed by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University after successful court litigation. The data show that cases U.S. Attorneys' offices categorized as domestic terrorism were brought using a variety of lead charges, including 18 U.S.C. 111 for assaulting, resisting, or impeding officers or employees; 18 U.S.C. 871 for threats against the President and successors; 18 U.S.C. 1752 for knowingly entering or remaining in any restricted building or grounds; 18 U.S.C. 844 involving the importation and storage of explosives; 18 U.S.C. 231 civil disorders; 18 U.S.C. 875, interstate communications; and 18 U.S.C. 876, making threatening communications. In addition, regulatory violations were sometimes the lead charge, such as failure to comply with official signs or creating any hazard on property to persons or things.
U.S. Attorneys' offices vary greatly in their numbers of domestic terrorism prosecutions. The largest during 2020, a total of 78 prosecutions, were brought in Oregon federal courts. The U.S. Attorney there issued a public statement "Regarding Ongoing Violence in Portland".
Federal prosecutors in the District of Columbia filed 16 domestic terrorism suits, the second most in the country (although the largest per capita rate). In third place in number of domestic prosecutions (but only 57th in per capita rate) was the Northern District of Ohio (Cleveland) where federal prosecutors brought six domestic terrorism prosecutions, followed by Utah with five.
At the other extreme, many U.S. Attorneys' offices across the country brought no domestic terrorism suits, or just a single suit in all of FY 2020. This includes the U.S. Attorney in the Western District of Washington (Seattle) who was recorded as bringing only a single domestic terrorism suit, although protests there similar to those in nearby Portland, Oregon, had figured prominently in the news.
For a complete listing of domestic terrorism prosecutions by federal judicial district see Table 1 below.
TRAC offers free monthly reports on program categories such as white collar crime, immigration, drugs, weapons and terrorism and on selected government agencies such as the IRS, FBI, ATF and DHS. For the latest information on prosecutions and convictions, go to https://trac.syr.edu/tracreports/bulletins/. In addition, subscribers to the TRACFed data service can generate custom reports for a specific agency, judicial district, program category, lead charge or judge via the TRAC Data Interpreter.