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What Is “Domestic Terrorism”? Is It A Crime?


Although the U.S. Code defines the phrase “domestic terrorism,” and many states and localities have adopted penalties for it as a crime, “domestic terrorism” is not an actual federal crime in and of itself under federal law because there are no federal penalties provided for.

However, that’s not to say that there aren’t plenty of people calling for legislators to make domestic terrorism a federal crime after the tragedies that occurred in Charlottesville and the reminder that there are people using violence and threats of violence to advance particular agendas.

Current Law

Currently, federal officials depend on city codes when it comes to deciding whether or not to prosecute domestic terrorists. This includes deciding whether the type of weapons used affects the charges brought as well as whether only pursuing non-terrorism charges (such as committing hate crimes) makes sense instead.

This is because U.S. Code defines terrorism as covering activities which occur primarily outside the territorial jurisdiction of the United States, or transcend national boundaries in terms of the means by which they are accomplished. However, New York law, for example, defines an “act of terrorism” differently as an act or acts constituting an offense in any other jurisdiction within or outside the territorial boundaries of the United States which contains all of the elements of a specified offense, such as intending to intimidate or coerce a civilian population, influence a government, etc. Similarly, New Jersey states that a person is guilty of the crime of terrorism if they commit, attempt to commit, conspire, or threaten to commit particular crimes with the purpose of promoting an act of terror, terrorizing five or more people, or influencing the policy or affecting the conduct of the government by terror. Both New York and New Jersey also assign penalties to the crime.

Proposed Changes

This has led some criminal justice reform advocates to argue for amending U.S. Code to make domestic terrorism a federal crime subject to very specific penalties, regardless of the weapons that were used while committing the crime. Specifically, the call is for legislation that makes it a crime for someone to commit, attempt to commit, or conspire to commit an act of violence intended to intimidate or coerce the civilian population or influence the governments, its policies, and/or its conduct. Those who advocate for such a federal crime to exist argue that it makes more sense, since acts of domestic terrorism are more frequently a threat to the entire country versus just one locality, and treating it as a federal crime would help resolve any jurisdictional inconsistencies.

Contact Experienced Criminal Defense

If you have been accused of a local or federal crime in the state of New York or New Jersey, contact one of our experienced criminal defense attorneys at the office of Phillip J. Murphy today for a free consultation. We are eager to assist you immediately.



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Phillip J. Murphy, Attorney At Law is located in New City, New York and serves clients in and around New York, New Jersey & Connecticut. Contact our experienced criminal defense law firm.
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