One would think that certain things don’t need to be said. For example, when a virus causes a global pandemic that has already claimed nearly 20,000 lives and threatens countless more, one would think nobody needs to say, “Don’t spread this virus intentionally.”
According to Politico, Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen warned in a memo to top Justice Department leaders, law enforcement agency chiefs and U.S. attorneys across the nation that there may be cases of “purposeful exposure and infection of others with COVID-19” on the horizon.
“Because Coronavirus appears to meet the statutory definition of a ‘biological agent’… such acts potentially could implicate the Nation’s terrorism-related statutes. Threats or attempts to use COVID-19 as a weapon against Americans will not be tolerated,” Rosen wrote.
According to the memo, people caught intentionally spreading the virus could be charged and prosecuted under federal terrorism laws.
Rosen’s concerns are not unfounded. Recently, The Root reported that federal investigators released an intelligence brief saying that they had been monitoring communications of white supremacist groups on a messaging app and found that even before the spread of coronavirus had ballooned into an international crisis, members of these groups had already planned to use the virus as a bioweapon targeting law enforcement and “non-whites.”
But neo-Nazi terrorists aren’t the only ones to fear, and there have already been people who are not connected to any terrorist group (as far as anyone knows) who have been charged with crimes just for appearing to intentionally spread sickness.
According to Business Insider, a Missouri man was recently charged with making a terrorist threat after he filmed himself saying, “Who’s scared of the coronavirus? Don’t touch your mouth,” then licking a shelf of deodorant at a Walmart. (And, before you ask, yes...yes he is.)
USA Today reported that in New Jersey on Tuesday, a 50-year-old man was charged with making a terrorist threat, harassment and obstruction of justice for saying he had coronavirus and that he intentionally coughed on an employee of a Wegmans grocery store.
So yeah, people are nasty and things that shouldn’t need to be said, let alone enforced by law, sadly are.
Politico reports there has also been a task force set up to address and prosecute the hoarding and price gouging of supplies needed by medical professionals fighting the pandemic.
Attorney General Bill Barr said during a briefing at the White House on Monday that hoarding of supplies like masks would be prosecuted. However, memos issued by Barr and Rosen on Tuesday said the Department of Health and Human Services has yet to formally designate the health-related items the administration wants covered by the Defense Production Act.
The task force pursuing such issues will be headed by U.S. Attorney for New Jersey Craig Carpenito, and it will include someone from each U.S. Attorney’s Office and other Justice Department units, Barr said.
Stay safe out there, people. Wash your hands, stop hoarding surgical masks and, for the love of God, don’t spread viruses on purpose.