AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Gov. Greg Abbott says the reason for the first Domestic Terrorism Task Force is broader than the mass shooting in El Paso that killed 22 people and injured more than two dozen others.
“We need to come to grips with the fact that there has been an increasing number and frequency of mass shootings as well as terroristic attacks,” he said during his opening remarks at the task force’s first meeting Friday.
“Just as an example, people can no doubt remember the shooting that took place in downtown Dallas just a couple of years ago with the attacker instilling terrorism among the people all across downtown Dallas and especially the attack on law enforcement,” he added.
Gov. Abbott also pointed to the series of package explosions by the Austin bomber in 2018.
The Texas Department of Public Safety is currently working with the Joint Terrorism Task Force and there is also a network of fusion centers providing suspicious activity reports, according to the Governor.
“We have in place a working model that is good,” Abbott said. “But we know that we need to both expand and improve on those efforts.”
Following the first Texas Safety Commission meeting, which was also organized in response to the El Paso shooting, Gov. Abbott stated he wanted the commission to work together with the Domestic Terrorism Task Force.
“In the state of Texas, we already have a law that at least facially seems to address domestic terrorism,” Abbott said during his closing remarks of the first commission meeting. “Substantively, it doesn’t really provide much power or many tools to law enforcement or to prosecutors to be able to prosecute domestic terrorism like what we saw happen in El Paso.”
The FBI defines domestic terrorism as acts that are “perpetrated by individuals and/or groups inspired by or associated with primarily U.S.-based movements that espouse extremist ideologies of a political, religious, social, racial, or environmental nature.”
It’s also defined by the U.S. Patriot Act as activities that “involve acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State” and “appear to be intended—to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States.’’
Members of the task force will study and provide advice on strategies to maximize law enforcement’s ability to protect against acts of domestic terrorism. Some of the other objectives of the task force include analyzing current and emerging threats, studying ways to increase interagency cooperation and collaboration and providing relevant legislative recommendations regarding state homeland security strategic planning.
“We must begin with a process of deciding how we are going to identify domestic terrorism is and then begin to work on solutions toward it,” Abbott said to reporters and task force members.
The task force is comprised of the governor, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Attorney General Ken Paxton, Speaker of the House Dennis Bonnen, Texas Department of Public Safety Director Col. Steve McCraw and Texas Division of Emergency Management Chief Nim Kidd. Texas Military Department Major General Tracy Norris, Texas Department of Information Resources Executive Director Amanda Crawford and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Executive Director Carter Smith are also on the task force.
Federal members of the task force include those from the FBI, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, U.S. Secret Service, U.S. Attorney John Bash and Jeff Murray from the Department of Homeland Security.
Hidalgo County Sheriff Eddie Guerra hopes to engage his community in the process of identifying solutions to combatting domestic terrorism.
“If you looked at it as far back as 10 years ago, it wasn’t a buzzword,” he said. “Now I believe domestic terrorism is going to be a buzzword and something we’re going to be faced with here.
El Paso Police Chief Greg Allen, who is also on the task force, said looking at solutions to address mental health should be a priority. He spoke with reporters after a business luncheon earlier this week.
“I think the issue that is confronting us, and you see it time and time again, is the fact that we have a mental health crisis in this country that no one’s really looking at,” he said. “Killing someone is not an easy thing to do. When you see the fact that someone was able to kill numerous people, the fact that guns were involved with high capabilities as far as magazine capacity or the type of firearm is not the issue. It’s the person because the person is what we should be looking at. I’m hoping these types of events will eventually get down to what I think are real needs and that is helping people who have issues deal with those issues.”