Top security and law enforcement officials in Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s administration on Friday told lawmakers New Mexico’s domestic terrorism laws are too weak to address modern-day threats from extremist groups and mass shooters, such as the man who killed 22 people in El Paso in August.
In a presentation to lawmakers on a counterterrorism panel on an upcoming proposal for reforms, New Mexico Deputy Attorney General Clara Moran and intelligence analyst Vince Salazar with the Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management also said penalties for domestic terrorism are not tough enough and need to be updated.
They argued state law needs to be amended to make it easier for investigators to track and prosecute extremist groups and potential mass shooters.
“We have what could be deemed the weakest law in the nation,” Moran said. “It does not really address threats to public safety in this age.”
Moran said investigations of cybersecurity threats and online networks will be central to combating domestic terrorism in the 21st century. The bar is currently too high for prosecutors to secure convictions under state terrorism laws — so high, she said, that “in 15 years, I have never seen anyone prosecuted under the act.”
The state needs to increase penalties for violations to its domestic terrorism law, create new and more specific terrorism categories to make prosecution easier and update cybersecurity laws to include new threats, including targeted terrorist cyberattacks, she said.
The Attorney General’s Office is working to finish more specific draft recommendations it will share with the Governor’s Office and lawmakers once they’re complete.
Salazar listed groups that are active in New Mexico and have had members linked to domestic terrorist activity, including militias along the Mexico border: the Three Percenters, Oath Keepers and United Constitutional Patriots.
He also listed as potential domestic terrorists “anarchist extremists” and some “single-issue extremists” who focus on animal rights, environmental issues or abortion.
Nora Meyers Sackett, a spokeswoman for the governor, clarified in an email that none of these groups has been officially listed as a domestic terrorist organization, but they have had members who “have been involved in criminal activities related to domestic terrorism type planning, training and execution.”
The two officials’ testimony comes after the governor, lawmakers and members of law enforcement in August — following the El Paso shooting — vowed to make state laws aimed at preventing hate crimes and domestic terrorism more robust.
The shooter there posted an anti-immigrant manifesto online before opening fire at a Walmart.
Lujan Grisham called on state officials and lawmakers to recognize “that we are in crisis” because “domestic terrorism presents a critical threat to New Mexicans,” Moran said.
“It could happen anywhere. It could have happened in Las Cruces,” Salazar said.
In September, New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas’ office said it would create a cybercrime and counterterrorism unit to help law enforcement identify potential threats. Balderas’ office has asked for more than $500,000 to hire five staff members for the unit.