U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer is urging the U.S. State Department to label the Proud Boys and other violent extremist groups involved in storming the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 as domestic terrorists.
In a Feb. 23 letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Gottheimer, a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, wrote that such a designation would provide the tools needed “to prosecute, financially counter and defeat these groups.”
The call comes nearly two months since the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol by several right-wing groups. Gottheimer was among the lawmakers forced to flee to safety before rioters smashed their way into the building.
Failure of Insurrectionists
Gottheimer said the “vigilante mob” was “nothing but lawless thugs and the very definition of extremists who sought to harm our country and attempted to shred our inalienable rights—life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” at a press briefing at Sussex County Community College in Newton Feb. 23.
“In the end, they failed miserably,” said the Democratic congressman, adding, “but they did succeed in tearing us further apart.”
Of the 200 arrests made since then, at least ten of the people charged are from New Jersey and 18 of the 22 individuals charged with conspiracy crimes have ties to either the Proud Boys or the Oath Keepers.
Healing the nation, Gottheimer said, will require “accountability and investigation…(doing) everything in our power to protect our country going forward from any extremists, whether they are Proud Boys or ISIS-inspired, lone wolf terrorists.”
“Federal prosecutors have already warned that Proud Boys members could plan further attacks on the federal government,” the North Jersey lawmaker stated. “Now, it’s time to make sure these groups that threaten the security of our communities and nation are specially designated as the terrorist groups that they are.”
Doing so would cut them off from funding, disrupt networks, deter the private sector from doing business with them and stop their ability to train new recruits, Gottheimer believes.
NJ Homeland Security Designation
The Proud Boys, an organization with several international chapters, has been classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Canada has declared the Proud Boys and three other far-right groups as terrorist entities as well.
Last year, the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness said the threat posed by white supremacists rose from “moderate” to “high” and flagged the Oath Keepers, Proud Boys and Three Percenters as potential dangers.
Shortly after, Gottheimer, along with other congressional representatives from New Jersey, urged the Federal Bureau of Investigation to increase the federal response related to white nationalist group activity in the state.
Legislative Efforts Underway
Gottheimer noted that designating extremist groups as terrorists is only one aspect of the fight. He pointed out that hate crimes, extremism and discrimination “have disturbingly risen in recent year,” which has led to a nation that is “more polarized than ever.”
The congressman has introduced several legislative efforts in response, including the Freezing Assets of Suspected Terrorists and Enemy Recruits Act and the Online Terrorism Prevention Act, which imposes financial and criminal penalties on social media companies that fail to eliminate terrorist content from platforms.
Earlier this year, Gottheimer and Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-1) led a bipartisan initiative urging the Biden administration to restore the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Community Partnerships so the U.S. “has a designated lead on efforts to counter violent extremism nationwide.”
“With all of these initiatives, I’m confident that we will give law enforcement and the U.S. intelligence community the tools necessary to protect us from violent extremists that threaten our freedom, our democracy and our communities,” Gottheimer said.