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Taylor Michael Wilson pleads guilty to domestic terrorism, but a federal law is still lacking for far-right extremists

Neo-Nazi Taylor Michael Wilson pleaded guilty to a federal domestic terrorism charge for pulling the emergency brakes on an Amtrak train in October 2017.

Wilson entered the plea July 12. Sentencing for the 26-year-old St. Charles, Missouri man is scheduled for Oct. 5 before Judge John M. Gerrard in Lincoln, Nebraska.

After breaking into a secure area aboard the train and pulling the emergency brakes, Wilson was subdued by Amtrak staff and arrested. In January 2018, Wilson was indicted on two counts of terrorism in federal court and pleaded guilty to one charge of terrorism in July.

The domestic terrorism statute Wilson pleaded guilty to, 18 US 1992, specifically protects trains and other mass transportation systems. While there are federal laws characterizing these kinds of specific attacks as domestic terrorism, there is no federal statute outlawing general acts of politically motivated violence as domestic terrorism.

As such, violent criminals with clear links to extremist ideologies, like Dylann Roof and Timothy McVeigh, are often charged with many counts of murder and illegal possession or use of firearms and weapons of mass destruction, but not domestic terrorism.

Since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the U.S. government has overwhelmingly focused on threats of terrorism from international extremist groups, such as al-Qaeda, Daesh and other affiliated organizations.

However, the resurgence of violent domestic terrorism, particularly from the far right, has shed light on the critical lack of a general domestic terrorism statute in U.S. law, as well as the lack of an official list identifying domestic terrorist organizations.

The Congressional Research Service published a report highlighting the inconsistency in this approach to terrorist attacks on U.S. soil, quoting an unnamed Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officer who reported that “unlike international terrorism, there are no designated [domestic] terrorist groups. Subsequently, all the legal actions of an identified extremist group leading up to an act of violence are constitutionally protected and not reported on by DHS.”

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