U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas Erin Nealy Cox testified before the Senate Judiciary Subcommitee on the Constitution on Tuesday, Aug. 4. You can watch the full hearing — entitled “The Right of the People Peaceably to Assemble: Protecting Free Speech by Stopping Anarchist Violence” — here.
Below is the U.S. Attorney’s prepared opening statement for the subcommittee:
Good afternoon Chairman Cruz, Ranking Member Hirono, and members of the Subcommittee. I’m Erin Nealy Cox, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Texas and Chair of the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee.
Thank you for inviting me here today to discuss the Justice Department’s efforts to counter violent anti-government extremism. For me, it’s a topic that hits close to home.
A little over a year ago, in June, a gunman clad in military gear and carrying an AR-15 style rifle opened fire on the federal courthouse in Dallas, which houses not only the federal judiciary, but also the United States Attorney’s Office and many other offices. The sudden violence ripped through the morning, just as we were arriving for work that day. Several of my prosecutors and others were caught in the midst of the attack. They resorted to hiding behind a cars in parking lot and one was pushed into the doorway by a FPS officer just as the bullets whizzed past them both.
Our office will be forever grateful to the FPS officers who engaged the shooter, ending the attack before innocent lives were lost. But to this day, we remain rattled by the gunman’s anti-government motives. He chose his location for a reason: A courthouse is one of the essential nodes within the body politics. It’s where laws are upheld, where justice is meted out. To target a courthouse, and those who work there, is to target the core of our lawful society.
And Dallas is no stranger to assaults on the rule of law. Three years prior – just blocks from the federal courthouse – a gunman, targeting law enforcement, ambushed police during a Black Lives Matter protest. Five officers were killed. Eleven others were injured, including nine officers. This was deadliest single incident for law enforcement in the United States since 9/11.
That day in July 2016 is certainly something etched in our memory. Just as the bullet holes still etched into the federal courthouse remind us daily: Anti-government fanaticism didn’t emerge with the 2020 protests.
But as our citizens have organized lawful demonstrations across this country following the tragic events in Minneapolis, anarchists have continue to exploit this lawful First Amendment activity as a shield for their violent behavior. Somehow, the notion of committing violence in the name of an anti-government dogma – be it Antifa, Boogaloo, or any of the other espoused ideologies – has been gaining traction at an alarming rate.
Unlike the lawful protestors whose demonstrations they undermine, these anti-government extremists aim to tear down the rule of law in America, not improve it. In fact, in resorting to violence, they are drowning out the voices of the protesters that this country wants to hear.
We’ve seen the anti-government violence making headlines across the nation. Just a few examples:
In Seattle, during the anarchist occupation of the Capitol Hill area, an individual allegedly set fire to a Police Precinct. Thankfully, protesters rushed in to extinguish the blaze.
In Portland, a would-be anarchist outside the Federal Courthouse allegedly attacked a Deputy U.S. Marshal with a large hammer, landing blows on the officer’s neck and shouting expletives and as other deputies pulled him off. On the courthouse barricade were scribbled the letters, A.C.A.B. – an acronym for “all cops are bastards.”
In Oakland, a violent extremist allegedly used a peaceful protest as cover to murder an FPS Officer stationed at the Federal Courthouse, firing at the officer and his partner before taking off.
In response to this type of violence, Attorney General Barr directed U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito in the District of New Jersey and me to stand up a Task Force to Combat Violent Anti-Government Extremism.
Working in close collaboration with the FBI, the Task Force aims to investigate, prosecute extremists of all persuasions.
We will follow where the evidence leads us, investigating any person or group who plans to commit or commits violence in the name of anarchist ideology.
Our goal is to focus on cases where violent extremists commit federal crimes and to seek ways to disrupt these criminal acts before they harm Americans.
Of course, let me be very clear with this final point — adhering to repugnant ideologies is not a crime, nor is expressing those beliefs. The right to freedom of speech is enshrined in our First Amendment. But committing violence or inciting violence in order to further that dogma is a criminal act, and it’s one that we should all take very seriously.
Extremist violence endangers our community. It endangers law enforcement. But as importantly, it also interferes with citizens’ right to speak freely and assemble peaceably.
I look forward to taking your questions.
In addition to servinga as the chief federal law enforcement officer for the Northern District of Texas, U.S. Attorney Nealy Cox chairs the Attorney General’s Advisory Commitee and was recently tapped to stand up his Taskforce on Violent Anti-Government Extremists.