By Scott Blair
Earlier this month, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, reintroduced a previously proposed bill that would punish any white supremacist whose message or actions cause white supremacy-motivated violence, whether in person or online.The legislation is called the Leading Against White Supremacy Act (LAWS).
Lee originally introduced the bill last summer. She put forth the legislation after some top law enforcement officials testified that the biggest threat to US National Security are white supremacists.
In May of 2021, US Attorney General Merrick Garland and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas met with the Senate Appropriations Committee. Garland told the committee, “Domestic violent extremists pose an elevated threat in 2021, and in the FBI’s view, the top domestic violent extremist threat we face comes from racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists, specifically those who advocate for the superiority of the white race.”
LAWS intends to “expand the scope” of hate crimes to include people whose white supremacist rhetoric can be directly linked to acts of violence. It would also punish those who partake in a “conspiracy to engage in white supremacist hate crimes.” It defines a conspiracy as crimes involving two or more people who “engaged in the planning, development, preparation, or perpetration of a white supremacy inspired hate crime,” or at least one who of whom who did so and at least one other person who essentially published propaganda that might have evoked that criminal behavior.
As you can imagine, conservatives, especially those on the far right, have a problem with Lee’s proposal. Most notably, Fox News personality Tucker Carlson. On Jan. 17, during Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight, the conservative host said, “Sheila Jackson Lee doesn’t want to protect a country she despises from national security threats. Why would she want to do that? No, that’s not the point. What she’s doing here, every day is leveling a racial attack, a blood libel against an entire group of Americans while simultaneously pretending to be the victim of attacks from that same group. Stop hitting me; she howls as she punches you in the face.”
Lee represents Houston’s 18th district and says, “We have found hateful bags, hateful information in Mission Bend, we’ve found it in Northwest Houston, anti-Semitic materials – we’ve found hateful materials in Montrose and the Heights – my district.”
She also says many opposed to the bill believe it violates the first amendment. However, she reiterates, “It amends the hate crime bill and it has race, ethnicity, and religion, and it has white supremacy motivated crimes – that is distinctive from speech,” she said. ” I can read what the first amendment says – you have the right to association, you have the right to freedom of religion, speech…it is protected.”
Jackson Lee’s Rebuttal
Ms. Jackson Lee appeared on MSNBC’s The ReidOut and said, “This does not criminalize speech,” disputing conservative claims of oppression. “It is a crime bill,” adding that intent and proof of actual violence are both needed in order for anyone to be tried under her statute. She says, The LAWS Act is designed to “prevent and prosecute white supremacy-inspired hate crime, and conspiracy to commit white supremacy-inspired hate crime, and to amend Title 18, to expand the scope of hate crimes.”
Lee also stated that she’s attempting to help prevent hate crimes like the shootings in Buffalo, New York, and El Paso from happening again while saying, “As a legislator, I have worked to do what’s best for America and how to keep America safe.”
Unfortunately, the bill doesn’t stand much chance in a Republican-controlled house; however, Lee is hopeful other lawmakers will help her gain bipartisan support.