A series of bombings this month has sent communities in and around Austin, Texas, reeling from what three U.S. representatives say must be treated as acts of domestic terrorism.
In a statement on Monday, Democratic Reps. Bennie Thompson (Miss.), Cedric Richmond (La.) and Sheila Jackson Lee (Texas) said the bombings have “become a national security issue.”
“To be clear, these bombings must be classified as ongoing terrorist attacks and should be investigated as such,” the members of Congress wrote. “Also, we need to understand if these attacks are ideologically or racially motivated.”
Four bombs have gone off in neighborhoods around Austin this month, killing two people and injuring four others.
The first bombing occurred on March 2 and killed Anthony Stephan House, a 39-year-old black man. On March 12, a second bomb killed Draylen Mason, a 17-year-old African-American teenager, and injured his mother. Later that day, a third bomb injured a 75-year-old Hispanic woman, who has not been identified.
All three initial attacks involved packages left at the front of residences that exploded after the unsuspecting victims handled them.
The latest of the attacks occurred on Sunday and injured two men who set off a tripwire on a sidewalk in a suburban neighborhood. The victims in Sunday’s explosion were white, according to Austin police.
Police have said there are investigating the bombings as possible hate crimes. Austin Police Chief Brian Manley told reporters during a news conference Monday morning that authorities are not ruling out “domestic terrorism.”
U.S. code defines domestic terrorism as life-threatening acts that appear intended to intimidate civilians; influence government policy through intimidation or coercion; or affect the conduct of government through mass destruction, assassination or kidnapping.
Law enforcement officials have been reluctant to label many attacks that fit this description as domestic terrorism, arguing that the statutes federal prosecutors typically use against apparent domestic terrorists don’t include the word terrorism.
But some say officials only seem willing to label violent acts carried out by Muslims as terrorism ― a claim federal law enforcement authorities reject.
“The notion that the government takes Islamic extremism more seriously than domestic terrorism is, frankly, not true,” Thomas Brzozowski, who serves as the Justice Department’s counsel for domestic terrorism matters, told HuffPost in January.
Thompson, Richmond and Jackson Lee, however, suggested there might be merit to that argument, saying in their statement: “For too long we have focused only on certain sources of terrorism and violence while ignoring others.”
Thompson is the ranking Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee, and Jackson Lee leads Democrats on the Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations. Richmond also serves on the Judiciary subcommittee and as chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus.
They urged the FBI to brief congressional leaders on the bombings before Thursday, when the House is set to adjourn for spring recess. They also called on the chairmen of the Homeland Security and Judiciary committees “to recognize the gravity of the domestic terrorism threat and work with us on developing concrete and common sense solutions to counter it.”