Lawmakers probe funding sources for domestic terrorist organizations

Domestic terrorism experts told members of Congress that homegrown extremist groups are going online to raise money as they plan attacks like the one at the U.S. Capitol.

“As we all saw last month, we can no longer afford inaction,” said Lecia Brooks, Executive Director for the Southern Poverty Law Center.

A House subcommittee held a hearing Thursday to explore how the dangerous groups are funded.

“We need to better understand their financing,” said Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.).

Experts told lawmakers many hate groups are raising money through online livestreaming platforms and crowdfunding sites.

They said some of the groups are also raising money through charity fundraising tools because they are tax-exempt.

“Over one-third of the militia groups that we identified, including the Oath Keepers, whose leadership was recently indicted on charges related to January 6., have tax-exempt status,” said Daniel Rogers, Co-Founder and Chief Technical Officer for Global Disinformation.

Lawmakers said the challenge is that some of the laws are different for investigating domestic terrorists compared to international terrorists.

There is now a debate over whether the current laws need to be changed so that law enforcement can better investigate the financial activity of domestic terrorists in the same way they can investigate international terrorist groups like ISIS.

“We have the responsibility to target those groups with the same determination, creativity and sense of purpose that we displayed in the years following 9/11,” said Daniel Glaser, Global Head of Jurisdictional Services at the Washington, D.C. Office for the U.S. Department of Treasury. “Practical and constitutional constraints give the U.S. government far less ability to apply targeted financial measures against domestic groups.”

But some human rights groups cautioned against creating new laws.

“Such a statute could be used to expand racial profiling, or even be wielded to surveil and investigate communities of color and political opponents,” said Brooks.

Instead, they urged the fed to use the tools already at their disposal.

“The Treasury Department and other federal law enforcement agencies already have vast administrative and statutory authority at their disposal which they routinely use to disrupt financing related to clandestine activity by freezing bank accounts and stopping those transactions,” said Iman Boukadoum, Senior Manager for The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

Witnesses also called for industry-wide changes for tech companies so that they are held more accountable if extremists use their platforms to finance criminal activity.

“Tech companies must create and enforce terms of service to ensure that they do not become platforms for hate,” Brooks said. “These companies should commit to much more transparency and regular outside audits to measure financial harms caused by their platforms.”