Domestic Terrorism Cases on the Rise in February Following the January 6 Breach of the Capitol Building
In February 2021, according to federal internal case-by-case records on prosecutions obtained after successful court litigation by TRAC, there were 57 prosecutions of domestic terrorism filed in the federal district courts. The majority of these prosecutions—54—were filed in the District of Columbia following the storming of the Capitol on January 6. With a total of 144 charges of domestic terrorism filed in just the first five months of FY 2021, this year continues the sharp uptick in domestic terrorism cases that began last year when a record high of 183 were filed across the country.
While concern about domestic terrorism has heightened recently, in fact government internal case-by-case records indicate that except for three years following the attack on the twin towers, domestic terrorism prosecutions have outpaced those for international terrorism since federal prosecutors began systematically tracking terrorism cases twenty-five years ago. Over this span of time there have been over a thousand more domestic terrorism prosecutions than those for international terrorism. Prosecutions of international terrorism in the latest full fiscal year were among the lowest since before 9/11. See Table 1 below.
Figure 1. Number of Domestic Terrorism Prosecutions by Fiscal Year
FY 2000 though February 2021.
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High numbers of domestic terrorism charges in FY 2021 already follow on the heels of record numbers of similar prosecutions during FY 2020. Last year, in a report titled Domestic Terrorism Prosecutions Reach All-Time High in FY 2020, TRAC found that 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. The largest single cohort of cases—78—in FY 2020 were filed in Oregon, in contrast to more recent charges which have been concentrated in Washington, D.C.
Fiscal year 2021 may even exceed record numbers of domestic terrorism prosecutions in FY 2020 as filings arising out of the Capitol Breach continue to climb. As these data show, quite of few of these prosecutions have been classified by federal prosecutors as domestic terrorism.
In February 2021, by far the most common lead charge in domestic terrorism cases were 34 for knowingly entering or remaining in any restricted building or grounds (18 U.S.C. 1752), followed by civil disorders (18 U.S.C. 231) with 10 cases, and tampering with a witness, victim, or an informant (18 U.S.C. Section 1512) with 6 cases.
The growth of domestic terrorism prosecutions comes at a time when international terrorism charges are at an all-time low. In FY 2021 so far, just 14 such charges have been filed in federal court. In FY 2020, just 21 prosecutions were filed—on par with FY 2014 for being one of the lowest annual number of international terrorism prosecutions since before the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.
Figure 2. Number of International Terrorism Prosecutions by Fiscal Year, FY 2000 though February 2021.
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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.