Feb 23, 2021
Why Merrick Garland won't call the Portland courthouse riots 'domestic terrorism'
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Judge Merrick Garland is set for easy confirmation as attorney general, but some Republican senators want to make sure he doesn't get a free pass.
They're concerned by Garland's comments Monday during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, in which he shied away from labeling as domestic terrorism riots at a Portland, Oregon, courthouse last summer that were instigated by left-wing activists.
During a Monday exchange with Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley, Biden's attorney general nominee said that because the riots occurred at night and while the courthouse was not in operation, it was questionable that they could be classified as "domestic terrorism." Garland's comments came after an opening statement in which he promised to make prosecution of people involved in the Jan. 6 riot inside the Capitol building his top priority.
Garland told Hawley that both the attacks on the courthouse in Portland and the Capitol building riot were serious crimes but that he believed the latter carried more weight.
"Both are criminal, but one is a core attack on our democratic institutions," said Garland, a federal appeals court judge since 1997.
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Garland, who led the prosecution against Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, later made similar comments to South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham when he revisited Hawley's question. In both cases, Garland promised to prosecute "any attack on a federal building or damage to a federal building [that] violates federal statutes."
Hawley, after the hearing, criticized Garland for his response to questions about domestic terrorism, saying that the judge had not been firm enough in his assurances that he would prosecute anyone who attacks federal property.
"I think he could have been firmer on that," Hawley told reporters.
The difference in attitude between Hawley and Garland toward the Portland and Washington, D.C., riots is likely political, said Max Abrahms, professor of political science at Northeastern University. Because there are significant disagreements in the legal world over what is technically "domestic terrorism," it makes sense why someone of Garland's political bent might argue that because the Portland courthouse was not open, the riot outside it was not terrorism.
"In general, people are more likely to code the event as terrorism when they oppose the political agenda of the perpetrators," he said.
For those on the Left, he said, that understanding sometimes means downplaying the George Floyd riots, which were largely instigated by racial justice activists. At the same time, those on the Right are more likely to see the Jan. 6 protest as more complicated than a terrorist attack because of the murky factors that led to the event.
"Those on the Left are less likely to see it that way," Abrahms added.
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Hawley last summer was one of the leading voices in the Senate against a wave of violence that erupted after the death of Floyd in Minneapolis police custody. Hawley, along with other Republicans, frequently accused then-candidate Joe Biden of not doing the same. Hawley himself came under fire after the Jan. 6 riot, with many Democrats claiming that he had egged on the protesters.
Hawley later denied those accusations and called for people who defaced the Capitol to be prosecuted.News Merrick Garland Josh Hawley U.S. Capitol Building George Floyd Terrorism Domestic Terrorism
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Tags: states states news merrick garland josh hawley u s capitol building george floyd terrorism domestic terrorism comments the portland courthouse the capitol building confirmation hearing domestic terrorism are more likely a federal building attorney general that because merrick garland the courthouse likely to see instigated portland george floyd last summer in which he josh hawley promised
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