Date April 12, 2023
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Combating domestic terrorism ‘is the fight of our generation,’ Seth Magaziner says at Brown

In his first campus visit since taking office, the new U.S. representative described the urgency of confronting domestic terrorism, and advised students to take advantage of their proximity to Rhode Island’s elected officials.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — The date is etched clearly into his mind — Jan. 6, 2021, marked the moment when U.S. Rep. Seth Magaziner knew he would run for Congress.

Magaziner, then serving as Rhode Island’s general treasurer, got a call about the siege on the United States Capitol from the state police colonel. Due to the violence in Washington, D.C., the colonel said, he planned to send several state troopers to keep watch over Magaziner and several other Rhode Island elected officials. 

“I had this surreal experience of watching a violent mob… storming the Capitol, attacking police officers to try to stop the counting of votes under our Constitution, while state police cruisers were circling outside my house,” the congressman said in a Tuesday, April 11, conversation at Brown University. “I thought, okay, this is what I want to do: I want to be on the front lines of trying to protect our democracy. This is the fight of our generation: to make sure we preserve our democracy, to make sure that there’s accountability for those who would attack our democracy… so that people can have faith in our democratic system of government going forward.”

Magaziner, a Class of 2006 Brown graduate who is three months into his first term representing Rhode Island’s second congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives, spoke during a wide-ranging conversation co-hosted by the Taubman Center for American Politics and Policy and the Brown Democrats, a student-run organization. Held at Brown’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, the event was Magaziner’s first appearance at Brown since taking office, and it drew dozens of students and Providence-area residents.

Magaziner said that while he is still finding his feet in Washington, he is determined to focus on understanding and combating the political extremism that is, he said, fueling a growing number of violent and sometimes fatal incidents in the nation. After campaigning for a spot, he was appointed the Democratic ranking member of the Counterterrorism, Law Enforcement and Intelligence Subcommittee within the House’s Homeland Security Committee, where he has the opportunity to invite and learn from experts on international affairs and security. 

That position has allowed the congressman to better understand what legislative, and even academic, action is needed to reduce domestic terrorism, which is now killing more Americans than international terrorism.

Magaziner said that at the moment, he’s focused on advancing gun-safety legislation. He shared that House Democrats are mulling bringing a discharge petition on legislation that would ban the sale, import and manufacture of assault weapons. If the petition gets 218 signatures from his congressional peers, he said, it would force Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the speaker of the House, to bring the bill to the floor for a vote. 

“The fact that 70% or 80% of gun owners support common-sense gun safety legislation [shows that] some cracks are starting to show in that wall of Republican opposition,” Magaziner said. “There are 18 districts Republicans [represent] where Joe Biden won [in 2020]. They’re going to have to answer to their constituents [who ask], ‘Well, why aren’t you signing that petition?’”

But Magaziner insisted that lawmakers weren’t the only ones who could help reduce incidents of domestic terrorism. He urged scholars at Brown and other colleges and universities to kickstart research into why an increasing number of young people are becoming radicalized and taking up arms against fellow citizens. According to the congressman, almost all recent domestic terrorists have been either racially motivated or fueled by anti-government sentiment.

“We as a society need to get a stronger idea of, if someone has become radicalized and they believe… this charged rhetoric… how do you get people away from that ledge, both as individuals and en masse?” Magaziner asked. “I don’t think there’s enough of a roadmap on how… we do that on a core personal level. That’s what we need researchers at Brown to dig in on.”

“ This is the fight of our generation: to make sure we preserve our democracy, to make sure that there’s accountability for those who would attack our democracy… so that people can have faith in our democratic system of government going forward. ”

Rep. Seth Magaziner Rhode Island, second congressional district

From college student to congressman

Magaziner related to the crowd of students and community members that being a freshman in Congress feels much like being a first-year college student: “You’re in this big, fancy new place; you get lost a lot; there are lots of people to get to know.”

There’s even pressure, he said, to pick a “major” — that is, to choose one or two issues to focus on.

“You can’t specialize in everything; you have to pick a couple of spots and decide that that’s what you’ll lean into,” he said. “I’m in the process of figuring out what my ‘major’ is going to be… maybe domestic extremism… [maybe also] climate and energy. I want to take the first year or two to find my way.”

Magaziner also answered audience members’ questions about his priorities when it comes to education — subsidizing universal preschool and investing more in technical post-secondary education, he said — and climate change. He emphasized the urgency he feels to enact certain elements of the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act that could help halt further catastrophic climate change.

“The Inflation Reduction Act has an enormous clean energy measure that will jumpstart the energy transition,” Magaziner said. “There’s a $7,500 electric vehicle tax credit… we have to work to get that money out as soon as possible, because Republicans will cut those programs as soon as they can."

Magaziner, a lifelong Rhode Islander who grew up in Bristol, said Brown students were among those to thank for his victory in the 2022 midterm elections: Their canvassing and advocacy work, he said, motivated voters to show up to the polls and defeat his opponent, Republican Allan Fung, who had been polling several percentage points ahead of the Democrat on the eve of the election.

He urged students to continue prioritizing advocacy work, adding that that work was an important learning experience for Magaziner during his own time at Brown.

“You’re in a state where government is so accessible,” he said. “It’s not hard to get meetings with members of Congress, or statewide [officials] or the mayor. To have that kind of connectivity with government is really rare; it allows the political scene in Rhode Island to be a training ground.”

He advised students who aspire to a political career to have a clear answer to the question, “Why are you running for office?” Some people “want the fancy title” — and those, he said, are the candidates who use a nonsensical “hodgepodge” of disconnected thoughts to describe their reason for running.

“I knew the reason I was running for Congress… it was because of Jan. 6,” Magaziner said. “Fast forward: We were able to get it done, we were a big upset on election night. Now I’m excited to do the work.”