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December 06, 2019

Bill inspired by San Bernardino terrorist attack reintroduced by Redlands’ Rep. Pete Aguilar

Days after the fourth anniversary of the terrorist attack in San Bernardino, Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-Redlands, has reintroduced legislation meant to help local agencies deal with domestic terrorism and violent extremism.

The Preventing Radical Extremists’ Violent Endeavors Now and Tomorrow, or PREVENT, Act would provide federal resources, such as clinical social workers, psychologists, religious leaders and law enforcement personnel, to train local officials to prepare for and respond to threats by violent extremists and white nationalists.

Aguilar reintroduced the act Friday Dec. 6, a move that follows the reintroduction of his Reporting Efficiently To Proper Officials in Response to Terrorism, or REPORT, Act, in October. The REPORT Act would require federal agencies investigating domestic terrorist attacks to submit reports about the incidents to Congress.

The bills were drafted in the wake of the Dec. 2, 2015, shooting at Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino. Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, shot and killed 14 people, including 13 county employees, and wounded 22 others at a holiday work party.

“I was frustrated after the San Bernardino attack for a number of reasons: the lack of cohesion among intelligence agencies, federal law enforcement and congress,” Aguilar said. “I thought we could do better.”

Identifying individuals susceptible to propaganda, often through social media, from terrorist and other extremist organizations, has been difficult for law enforcement agencies.

If it passes through Congress and is signed by President Donald Trump, the PREVENT Act would help local communities, many of which lack the capability and experience to deal with such threats, at their request. Training would be developed with the FBI

New to the bill is the addition of violent attacks by white nationalists, which has been on the rise the past few years, Aguilar said.

“It’s countering violent extremism in general and then makes sure that we do everything we can to step the violent extremists’ behavior.”

Police-reported hate crimes in major cities across the country rose 9% in 2018, according to a report on hate crimes in the U.S. released in July by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at Cal State San Bernardino.

Extremist homicides overall were down in 2018. However, white nationalist or far-right-motivated homicides are on the rise. There were three in 2016, 13 in 2017, 17 in 2018 and 26 so far in 2019, center Director Brian Levin said.

The center supports Aguilar’s efforts, Levin said.

“What we’re seeing is a splintering of society and when that happens, certain movements will expand more quickly,” Levin said, adding that white supremacy has coalesced into the mainstream

The REPORT Act, meanwhile, calls for reports to be given to Congress on domestic terrorist incidents with input from the secretary of Homeland Security, FBI Director, Attorney General and head of the National Counterterrorism Center. These reports would include proposed changes in law and policy to help prevent future attacks.

The REPORT Act was introduced in 2017, but failed to get past the Senate. The PREVENT Act was introduced in 2018 and was sent to the Homeland Security Committee, but never was voted on.

Aguilar, who is now in the majority party, hopes the bills succeed this time.

“Before it was closer to the end of session, so hopefully we can give the Senate enough time to do this and get these through,” he said.