Domestic extremism bill would criminalize free speech, create 'Ministry of Truth,' advocacy group warns
OLYMPIA, Wash. - A bill pushed by Washington's attorney general would criminalize free speech and lead to an Orwellian "Ministry of Truth" under the guise of preventing domestic terrorism, according to a regional think tank.
"This bill will create a two-tiered justice system where some people have free speech and others don't, and that is a dangerous path for us to be set upon," Liv Finne, director for education at the Washington Policy Center, told Fox News.
Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson's office released a 31-page report last year with recommendations on preventing domestic extremism. Now, a bill establishing a commission tasked with building upon the report and creating a first-of-its-kind public health approach to proactively fighting misinformation and early signs of radicalization is making its way through the state legislature.
Specifics on how the state might prevent radicalization and extremism are scarce in both the bill and the attorney general's report.
While SHB 1333 itself would not criminalize any speech or association, Finne said that is the natural next step of the commission, which is supposed to identify existing legal options and potentially new legislation for addressing extremism.
The attorney general's report singles out online disinformation, anti-government ideologies and the "general spread of extreme white supremacism" as examples of domestic violent extremism.
At the same time, the report cautions against implementing any laws that could be "disproportionately used against BIPOC" communities or other marginalized groups.
"It's obvious that this is targeting certain groups in our society without basis," Finne said. "Speech is not violence. Violence is violence. To equate the two is outrageous and wrong."
Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)
Ferguson's office told Fox News in a statement that the goal is to "reduce political violence, regardless of ideology," and that the commission must include an equal number of Republican and Democratic legislators.
"Rising political extremism is a problem," the statement reads in part. "Some may choose to stick their head in the sand, but it’s important that we examine the root causes of this problem and develop strategies to reduce violence."
Both the bill and the report are short on definitions for terms such as radicalization, extremism and disinformation. Neither specifies behaviors that may suggest someone is on the path to violence.
The report does recommend creating a statewide training module for employees to recognize red flags and warning signs and establishing a system in which friends and family members can refer individuals who "may be on the path of radicalization to violence" for voluntary intervention.
"The government will decide what is true and then prosecute those people who they believe are not telling the truth as criminals," Finne said. "It's a violation of the First Amendment."
The attorney general's report also asks the commission to propose steps to improve data collection on domestic violent extremism, "create a toolkit of legal options to respond" to extremism and create legislation barring anyone who engages in extremist activity from public employment — including law enforcement — or working as an armed private security guard.
Washington law already allows the state to revoke officers' law enforcement credentials if they are affiliated with extremist organizations. Under SB 5051, "extremist organizations" are defined as those that seek to undermine democratic processes or promote governmental change through violence, espouses intolerance of or violence against marginalize protected classes or advance racist ideologies, or believe that local law enforcement supersedes other governmental authorities.
There have been "no successful decertifications or denials of certifications" since legislators passed SB 5051 in 2021, according to the attorney general's report.
The attorney general's report asks lawmakers to create legislation barring anyone who engages in extremist activity from working in law enforcement or as an armed private security guard. (Seattle Police Department)
Efforts to create an extremism commission continue a concerning trend of high-ranking state officials trying to suppress opposing views, according to the Washington Policy Center. Last year, Gov. Jay Inslee supported a bill that would have made it a crime for public officials and candidates to spread misinformation about the outcome of a state or local election. That bill later failed in committee, but Finne said she's afraid Washington's leaders feel "emboldened" this year.
Ferguson "is using the power of his office to push his agenda," she said. "It's not mainstream, middle-of-the-road Democratic policies. It's a very radical vision of the world where he's in charge of speech and making it a crime to speak out against the government."