- People who intentionally spread COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, could face prosecution under federal anti-terrorism laws.
- In a memo obtained by Politico, Deputy AG Jeffrey Rosen wrote that because coronavirus qualifies as a bioweapon under federal law, people who spread it could violate federal terrorism statutes.
- State-level prosecutors in Missouri and New Jersey have already pressed terrorism charges against people accused of intentionally and maliciously spreading the virus to infect others.
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People who intentionally spread COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, could face prosecution under federal anti-terrorism laws, a Department of Justice official said in a memo obtained by Politico.
The official, Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, wrote to other US attorneys and federal law enforcement professionals that “purposeful exposure and infection of others with COVID-19” could violate federal laws against proliferating bio-weapons.
Rosen said that because “coronavirus appears to meet the statutory definition of a ‘biological agent’,” people intentionally spreading the virus “potentially could implicate the Nation’s terrorism-related statutes,” according to Politico, adding: “Threats or attempts to use COVID-19 as a weapon against Americans will not be tolerated.”
While the novel coronavirus is a highly contagious respiratory virus that primarily spreads through droplets, it can also live on surfaces and can be contracted by a person touching the surface and then their face.
In recent days, the DOJ has also zeroed in on illegal price-gouging of crucial medical and other supplies required to fight the coronavirus. In a Monday White House briefing on the coronavirus, Attorney General William Barr announced the formation of a new task force dedicated to cracking down on hoarding and price-gouging.
Prosecutors at the state level have already begun pressing terrorism charges against people accused of intentionally and maliciously spreading the virus to infect others.
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In Missouri, a 26-year-old man who filmed himself saying, “Who’s scared of the coronavirus? Don’t touch your mouth” before licking a shelf of deodorant in a Walmart store was charged by local prosecutors with making a terrorist threat.
And on Tuesday, New Jersey officials charged a 50 year-old-man with making a terrorist threat, harassment, and obstruction of justice after he said he had coronavirus and intentionally coughed on an employee of the grocery chain Wegmans.
An investigation published Saturday in Yahoo News further reported that white supremacist groups are actively discussing ways to use the coronavirus as a bioweapon both to infect people of color and federal law enforcement officials by licking doorknobs and spitting one elevator buttons, among other measures.