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Funding Terrorist

18 U.S.C. § 2339B - Joining or Funding a Terrorist Organization

The United States takes terrorism very seriously and punishes acts of terror quite severely. To that end, the federal government maintains a list of entities it designates as foreign terrorist organizations. 

One pronounced example of such an organization is Hamas, which has entered the global spotlight again recently with an unprecedented surprise attack on Israel. 

Joining or Funding a Terrorist Organization - 18 U.S.C. 2339B
It's a federal crime to provide support or resources to designated foreign terrorist organizations.

The federal government has a well-established legal framework for dealing with individuals and entities that engage in terrorist activities, whether domestic or international. 

Regardless of one's political leanings or opinions on Israel or Palestine, it should be emphasized that if someone in the U.S. decides to affiliate with Hamas, or any other recognized terrorist group, for that matter, they could face criminal charges and profound legal consequences, including many years, or even life imprisonment. 

18 U.S. Code 2339B Providing material support or resources to designated foreign terrorist organizations says, “(a) prohibited activities (1) unlawful conduct, whoever knowingly provides material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization, or attempts or conspires to do so, shall be fined or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both, and, if the death of any person results, shall be imprisoned for any term of years or for life. 

To violate this paragraph, a person must know that the organization is a designated terrorist organization, as defined in subsection (g)(6), that the organization has engaged or engages in terrorist activity, as defined in section 212(a)(3)(B) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, or that the organization has engaged or engages in terrorism as defined in section 140(d)(2) of the Foreign Relations Authorization Act, Fiscal Years 1988 and 1989.

What is the Definition of a Terrorist Organization?

Under U.S. law, a terrorist organization is generally defined as any foreign organization that engages in premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against non-combatant targets, usually intended to influence an audience. 

In consultation with the Attorney General and the Secretary of the Treasury, the Secretary of State can designate an entity as a foreign terrorist organization if it meets the criteria outlined in Section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).

The government broadly defines what constitutes terrorist activity as defined in Section 212 of the INA and Section 140(d)(2) of the Foreign Relations Authorization Act. Some criteria by which the State Department chooses to designate a terrorist organization include:

  • Foreign Entity: The organization is foreign, not domestic. This means it operates primarily outside of the U.S. or its territories.
  • Engagement in Terrorism: The organization must be involved in deliberate acts of terrorism, which could include bombings, kidnappings, hijackings, cyber-attacks, or other forms of violence as described in the laws mentioned above.
  • Political Motivation: The organization must be engaged in politically motivated activities. This can include acts intended to influence or coerce a government or civilian population.
  • Threat to National Security: The organization threatens the national security of the United States, its citizens, or its allies—including national defense, foreign relations, or economic interests.
  • Non-combatant Targets: The organization predominantly targets non-combatants, often with the intention of causing widespread fear or disruption.
  • Influence over an Audience: Typically, the violent acts perpetrated by these organizations are intended to reach beyond the immediate victim or physical damage, aiming to influence a wider audience.

Hamas, for example, has been designated as a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S. government due to its involvement in acts of terrorism, including suicide bombings and rocket attacks targeting Israeli civilians.

Involvement in a Terrorist Organization

To be clear, joining a terrorist group like Hamas or providing material assistance to such a group in any way is a federal crime. It is categorized as a violation of Title 18 U.S. Code 18 U.S.C. 2339B, which criminalizes providing material support or resources to designated foreign terrorist organizations. 

Officially joining a terrorist organization constitutes "material support." Under the law, other forms of material support may include any tangible or intangible property or service, such as money, training, expert advice or assistance, safehouses, false documentation, communications equipment, weapons, or transportation.

The term “funds” includes “coin or currency of the United States or any other country, traveler's checks, personal checks, bank checks, money orders, stocks, bonds, debentures, drafts, letters of credit, any other negotiable instrument, and any electronic representation.”

What Are the Related Federal Laws?

18 U.S. Code Chapter 113B Terrorism has numerous federal laws that are related to 18 U.S. Code 2339B Providing material support or resources to designated foreign terrorist organizations, such as the following:

  • 18 U.S.C. 2331 – Definitions,
  • 18 U.S.C. 2332 – Criminal penalties,
  • 18 U.S.C. 2332a – Use of weapons of mass destruction,
  • 18 U.S.C. 2332b – Acts of terrorism transcending national boundaries,
  • 18 U.S.C. 2332d – Financial transactions,
  • 18 U.S.C. 2332e – Requests for military assistance to enforce prohibition in specific emergencies,
  • 18 U.S.C. 2332f – Bombings of places of public use, government facilities, public transportation systems, and infrastructure facilities,
  • 18 U.S.C. 2332g – Missile systems designed to destroy aircraft,
  • 18 U.S.C. 2332h – Radiological dispersal devices,
  • 18 U.S.C. 2332i – Acts of nuclear terrorism,
  • 18 U.S.C. 2333 – Civil remedies,
  • 18 U.S.C. 2334 – Jurisdiction and venue,
  • 18 U.S.C. 2335 – Limitation of actions,
  • 18 U.S.C. 2336 – Other limitations,
  • 18 U.S.C. 2337 – Suits against Government officials,
  • 18 U.S.C. 2338 – Exclusive Federal jurisdiction,
  • 18 U.S.C. 2339 – Harboring or concealing terrorists,
  • 18 U.S.C. 2339B – Providing material support or resources to designated foreign terrorist organizations,
  • 18 U.S.C. 2339C – Prohibitions against the financing of terrorism,
  • 18 U.S.C. 2339D – Receiving military-type training from a foreign terrorist organization.

What Are the Penalties for Involvement in a Terrorist Organization?

Violations of 18 U.S.C. 2339B may result in severe penalties. If you are convicted of providing material support or resources to a designated foreign terrorist organization, you can face fines of up to $250,000 and up to 20 years imprisonment. If the offense results in the death of any person, the punishment can be life imprisonment.

Moreover, a conviction could expose an individual to liability under the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA), which allows U.S. nationals injured by an act of international terrorism to sue for damages in federal court.

What About Hamas Sympathizers?

From a legal standpoint, sympathizing with Hamas or another recognized terror organization is a "slippery slope" at best. While we have the freedom in the U.S. to believe as we choose, and the First Amendment protects freedom of speech, that freedom does not necessarily extend to words or actions that can cause harm to others. 

The scope of what constitutes "material support" under federal law is broad, meaning that even indirect or unintentional support may be considered a federal crime. It is also worth noting that attempts or conspiracies to provide material support are treated as completed offenses under U.S. law.

Thus, you cannot be charged with a crime merely for "sympathizing," but any action you take in support of that organization (from social media posts to threats to giving money) has the potential to be construed as "material support"—especially if the government views it as a threat to public safety.

Contact our federal criminal defense lawyers for a case review and to discuss legal options. Eisner Gorin LLP has offices in Los Angeles, California.

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