In the wake of last month’s massacre of nine congregates at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., a group of six senators is advocating for domestic terrorism hearings. In a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA), the senators—Judiciary Committee members Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Chris Coons (D-DE), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Al Franken (D-MN) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the ranking member of the committee—wrote that while the shooting should be investigated as a hate crime, it should also be viewed as an act of domestic terror:

Domestic terrorism is defined in the U.S. Code as a criminal act dangerous to human life that is intended to “intimidate or coerce a civilian population” or “to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction [or] assassination.” 18 U.S.C. § 2331(5). Here, it appears that the suspect, Dylann Roof, through public and private acts filled with racial animus, sought to intimidate African Americans and discourage them from asserting their rights…. 

If this same act had been perpetrated by someone claiming a desire to harm Americans in the service of Islamist principles, it would immediately be labeled an act of terror. A violent act motivated by a racist desire to intimidate a civilian population falls squarely within the definition of domestic terrorism…. 

We urge you to hold hearings in the Senate Judiciary Committee on the threat posed by domestic terrorism and homegrown hate groups. In the past, mass violence in our country has been explained away as an act of insanity to be treated as a mental health issue. What we saw in South Carolina is about hate, and it is about evil. We must address the reality of domestic terrorism spurred by racial hatred head on. The Senate Judiciary Committee has the jurisdiction and expertise to shed light on this important topic. 

Last week, the New America think tank released numbers that show that since September 11, 2001, more citizens have been killed by people they describe as “right-wing terrorists” than people they classify as “jihadists.” The “right-wing terrorists”—which includes white supremacists, antigovernment zealots and other non-Muslim extremists—have been responsible for 48 murders on American soil since 9/11. The Charleston shooting is currently being investigated as a hate crime. The senators want it to also be addressed as an act of domestic terrorism.

The Judiciary Committee holds hearings “to conduct oversight, consider legislative proposals, consider judicial and executive nominations, and to consider pending business.”

Read the full text of the letter here