Counterterrorism, Florida Style: Civil Liberties Be Damned

Guest post by Jamie Klapholz

As compassionate Floridians react to the gut punch of Donald Trump’s Muslim travel ban, Florida Republican lawmakers have quietly introduced legislation to double down on state-sponsored harassment of our Muslim and immigrant communities under the guise of fighting terrorism.

The proposal, which would criminalize membership and financial support of federally-designated foreign terrorist organizations, is part of a Rick Scott-backed push to create multi-million dollar “counterterrorism squads.” Alarmingly, the power to designate foreign terrorist organizations rests in the hands of Donald Trump, who has already signaled that he will use this power to go after Muslim civic and advocacy groups within the United States.

House Bill 457, filed by Representative Julio Gonzalez (R-Venice), and its companion Senate Bill 476, filed by Senator Aaron Bean (R-Jacksonville), would make it a felony to:

  • Use, attempt to use, or conspire to use “military-type training from a designated foreign terrorist organization” with the intent to harm another person or “damage critical infrastructure facilities”;
  • Provide, attempt to provide, or conspire to provide “material support or resources” to a “designated foreign terrorist organization”;
  • Conceal or disguise the nature, location, source, or ownership of such “material support or resources”; and
  • Willfully become a “member” of a “designated foreign terrorist organization” and serve “under the direction or control of that organization with the intent to further the illegal acts of the organization”.

To fund investigation of these soon-to-be crimes, Governor Scott’s proposed 2017-2018 budget allocates $5,837,490 from the Operating Trust Fund to create “counterterrorism squads” in each Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) region. This $5.8 million allocation is intended to “increase vigilance and involvement in terror-related intelligence and investigative activities.”

These legislative and budget proposals were taken directly from FDLE’s wish list, which was presented to Governor Scott and his cabinet on September 20, 2016. FDLE sought to criminalize certain “terrorism-related activities” at the state level to expand state and local law enforcement investigative authority. By FDLE’s own admission, such “terrorism-related activities” are already being addressed at the federal level.

In addition to falling squarely outside the bounds of Florida’s authority under the Supremacy Clause, this proposed legislation has First Amendment violation written all over it. Governor Scott’s budget calls for hiring 46 new officers to staff the counterterrorism squads, who will have every incentive to knock down doors in pursuit of a lead that will solidify their place in future budgets. This amounts to an unnecessary duplication of efforts that are already being overzealously pursued by the Trump administration. Haven’t our Muslim and immigrant communities been harassed and marginalized enough?