A new report that focuses on federal criminal cases has found that people convicted of crimes related to domestic extremism face far shorter prison terms than those convicted in international terrorism cases, even when the crimes are similar, The Associated Press reports. Completed by terrorism researchers at the University of Maryland, the first-of-its-kind analysis comes after federal officials and researchers have repeatedly identified domestic violent extremists such as white supremacists and anti-government groups as the most significant terror threat to the U.S. It also follows scrutiny of the outcomes of Jan. 6 cases, including for some Oath Keepers and Proud Boys who received sentences years lower than what was called for by prosecutors and sentencing guidelines. President Joe Biden called domestic terrorism a “stain on the soul of America” and the “ most urgent terrorism threat ” faced by the country, yet the new analysis shows that on average, domestic extremists receive more lenient penalties than their international counterparts.
Researchers at the University of Maryland’s National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, or START, and its Center for Health and Homeland Security examined federal criminal cases that were brought against people radicalized in the U.S. who were pursuing political, social, economic or religious goals. The analysis found the disparities are caused by multiple factors, including the charges federal prosecutors choose to file, the laws that are on the books, as well as the sentencing decisions made by judges. The largest disparities in prison terms were in cases where defendants plotted violent attacks that ultimately failed, where international defendants received an average prison sentence of 11.2 years, compared with 1.6 years for domestic defendants. Even terms of supervision after prison showed differences, with people charged in domestic cases getting less time compared to the length of supervision for international terrorism defendants. George Varghese, a former national security prosecutor, said prosecutors have been hamstrung by how the law treats international terror differently than domestic extremism, but that courts also bear some responsibility. “These domestic terrorists are being treated more like run-of-the-mill criminal defendants and receiving sentences far below those of international terrorism defendants,” he said.