Lawmakers in Oregon are debating a plan to make domestic terrorism a felony punishable by ten years in jail, a fine of $250,000, or both. After the publication of an Oregon Secretary of State study in 2022 proposing similar legislation, Democratic Representative Paul Evans of Monmouth submitted House Bill 2772 in January.
The measure has been sent to the Joint Committee on Ways and Means for review. Despite having the 27th largest population, the research found that Oregon placed sixth in the US for “domestic violent extremist occurrences” between 2011 and 2020. The study also notes that Oregon is one of 16 states that lacks legal definitions or criminalization of such acts.
Several “significant events” are mentioned in the report, such as the 1984 bioterrorism attack in The Dalles by cult leader Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh that poisoned 751, the 2016 armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge by far-right extremists, the violent clashes between left- and right-wing protesters in Portland during the summer of 2020, and the armed far-right demonstrators who breached the Oregon State Capitol in December of that year.
The research suggests that Oregon might benefit from legislation that defines and criminalizes such acts to avoid future events of this kind. If a person willfully destroys or seriously damages essential infrastructure to cause widespread disease, injury, de@th, or interruption of services provided by such infrastructure, they would be guilty of first-degree domestic terrorism under the proposed legislation.
For a crime to be classified as domestic terrorism, at least 50 individuals must be directly affected. Bridges, highways, dams, airports, pipelines, fiber optic cable networks, data centers, electric substations, and gas or water utility systems are just a few examples of vital infrastructure included in the measure.
Possession of a hazardous chemical or destructive device to harm or damage essential infrastructure constitutes an offense of the second degree.
Many Oregonians, including environmentalists, civil defense attorneys, and the American Civil Liberties Union, oppose the measure because they believe it overreaches and criminalizes conduct already prohibited by state law.
First-degree criminal mischief applies when someone is accused of harming or destroying property, such as public utilities, railways, or public transit infrastructure.
Nick Caleb, a climate energy attorney for Breach Collective, an Oregon climate justice organization, said that opponents are worried law enforcement could abuse the potential legislation by targeting protesters and communities over-policed, such as Black, Indigenous, and other Oregonians of color.
Caleb argued that individuals would be discouraged from engaging in ordinary kinds of protest, such as obstructing traffic on key motorways or bridges if they were only charged with domestic terrorism rather than convicted.
“Legislators are understandably and justifiably careful of this kind of stuff, and at Breach Collective, we’re also fearful of such things – we see it, and we experience it, and these are real problems,” he said. “But the bill is capable of being abused.”
On Monday(April 3, 2023), only Representative Farrah Chaichi (D-Tigard) voted against forwarding the measure to the Joint Ways and Means Committee, citing concerns that it was “too broad” and may be exploited.
For example, Chaichi mentioned a lawsuit filed in December 2021 against the Oregon Department of Justice by activists who claimed the state’s intelligence agency, the Oregon TITAN Fusion Center, improperly monitored their protests of the $10 billion Jordan Cove natural gas pipeline.
“I am also concerned at labeling things that are already illegal domestic terrorism — terrorism is shorthand to vilify people,” Chaichi said Monday(April 3, 2023) during the House Judiciary Committee meeting.”
“Having that kind of moniker attached to the crime makes it easier to dehumanize people who are going to be accused of this crime, meaning that they don’t have the same rights and we shouldn’t consider them the same as other defendants.”
According to Evans, the bill’s text prioritizes “purposeful efforts to cause catastrophic harm” to infrastructure – not on accidental or incidental damage that may happen during a protest, such as a broken fence or a scuffed car. And while there are crimes like criminal mischief on the books, Evans said domestic terrorism belongs in its own “distinct class.”
“I’m not trying to prevent freedom of expression – I’m trying to make sure that people who have a very warped sense of the world are clear that blowing up a bridge, an electrical station, or poisoning a reservoir is not a legitimate protest but criminal behavior,” Evans said.
“If you think blowing up a bridge or an electrical grid is a legitimate protest, then we probably have a larger problem.”
There have been infrastructure damage during the last several months. According to Oregon Public Broadcasting, between November 2022 and December 2022, the electrical systems in both Oregon and Washington were assaulted six times, at least twice with weapons, resulting in the loss of electricity for some people in both states.
He warned that assaults like this might have fatal implications, such as severing electricity to a hospital if a patient is on dialysis or life support. Those in low-income neighborhoods, he added, are especially vulnerable because they lack the “economic resilience” to weather a power outage or a disruption in transportation that prevents them from getting to work.
Communities and cities around the United States have been traumatized by mass sh**tings recently, yet the law does not address this issue. Evans said he avoided mentioning major sh**tings to not “muddy the waters” and make it more difficult to approve the measure.
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Yet, he stressed that mass sh**tings should still be considered when crafting new legislation. House Bill 2005, a g^n control bill that Evans is the chief sponsor of, would make it illegal to produce, sell, or have a firearm without a serial number in one’s possession.
It would also ban g^n ownership by anyone under 21 except for certain hunting rifles. It would also permit municipalities and counties to prohibit citizens from carrying firearms in public buildings and on adjoining grounds.
“Under what I thought could be passed in a reasonable, bipartisan way, we tried to keep ideology out of it – tried to keep it simple and tied to spaces and things,” he said. “We’re trying to keep the conversations separate and trying to keep focusing on critical infrastructure, so it wasn’t too big of a bite at one time.”
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