Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon walked into the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday morning to sell his proposal to scrap the state’s Cold War-era subversive activities law.
But with the recent terrorist attack on a satirical Parisian newspaper fresh in their minds, Republican lawmakers recommended keeping the law. Some even suggested updating and reactivating it as a 21st century version that included foreign Muslim terrorist organizations and the Occupy movement.
Drafted in the early years of the Cold War, the Subversive Activities Act made it a felony to be a member of a subversive group. It also required state workers or job applicants to take a loyalty oath stating that they weren’t a Communist Party member. Despite being ruled unconstitutional in 1964 by the U.S. Supreme Court, the Subversive Activities Act has remained on the books.
“How about Al Qaida, ISIS, Hamas, Muslim Brotherhood, down the list,” said Rep. Larry Haler, R-Richland, who cited the attack on Charlie Hebdo. “You’re going to give these people a free skate by getting rid of this?”
“If we were to modify this to list organizations, whether it’s communist or not, would that be agreeable to you?” Haler later asked Fitzgibbon.
Fitzgibbon, D-Burien, suggested that wasn’t something he wanted in his proposal.
Haler also called out the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). As it has in several recent years, Washington’s state chapter of CAIR is scheduled Monday to hold its annual Muslim lobbying day at the Capitol.
“We do have a group in this country called CAIR, which is basically run by the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, they are a political entity” said Haler. “And their goal is to overthrow the country.”
Arsalan Bukhari, executive director of Washington CAIR, said he found Haler’s remarks disappointing.
“I know Rep. Haler has been very respectful to his Muslim legislative constituents,” Bukhari said. “I think they’ll be disappointed to hear that.”
When asked whether legislators should draft a new subversive acts law, Bukhari said lawmakers might instead spend their time funding education and solving housing issues.
Nevertheless, Rep. Brad Klippert, R-Kennewick, said he’d consider updating the law.
“I certainly don’t want to get rid of the old law as was proposed today,” said Klippert after the meeting. “And if we need to update it to protect our citizens, then I would be more than willing to look at that.”
Rep. Jay Rodne, R-Snoqualmie, asked Fitzgibbon why anti-terrorism laws should be weakened when “we know there are Al Qaida cells in Washington state.”
After the meeting, Rodne cited the 2004 arrest of a Fort Lewis soldier on charges of giving intelligence to Al Qaida.
The FBI declined to comment on whether Al Qaida cells are operative in the state, though a spokeswoman for the bureau cited a CNN news report of a plan to open a terrorism training camp in Oregon.
A spokeswoman for the Washington State Patrol’s Homeland Security Division also said she couldn’t speak to the existence of Al Qaida in the state.
“I don’t have any credible or solid information as to how many cells or where they’re located,” said Sgt. Christine Martin. “I don’t know that there are any, but I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if there were.”
Rodne also suggested the Occupy movement could be considered a subversive group. A message sent Wednesday to Occupy Seattle’s Facebook page was not returned.
Before running into the various offers to keep or expand the law he sought to repeal, Fitzgibbon said he wanted the change to send a statement about Washington’s commitment to free speech.
“And that is one of the great things that distinguishes us from communist countries,” he said.
Staff reporter Walker Orenstein contributed to this report.