The Justice Department has informed federal law enforcement officials that they can prosecute certain coronavirus-related crimes as acts of terrorism, according to a memo sent Tuesday night.
“Because coronavirus appears to meet the statutory definition of ‘biological agent’ … such acts potentially could implicate the Nation’s terrorism-related statutes,” Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen wrote in the memo, sent to all federal law enforcement agencies and prosecutors. “Threats or attempts to use COVID-19 as a weapon against Americans will not be tolerated.”
These crimes could range from “malicious hoaxes, to threats targeting specific individuals or the general public, to the purposeful exposure and infection of others with COVID-19,” Rosen wrote.
In another memo, Attorney General William Barr announced a task force to combat “market manipulation, hoarding, and price gouging,” amid reports of people buying supplies like hand sanitizer, disinfectants and masks and then selling them at exorbitant prices.
Scammers have also tried to sell fake testing kits and medical treatments, and have sent phishing emails that bait users into providing personal information or downloading malware.
“While this crisis has brought out the best in most Americans, there appear to be a few unfortunate exceptions,” Barr wrote. “We will not tolerate bad actors who treat the crisis as an opportunity to get rich quick.”
Asian Americans have reported an increase in hate crimes and discrimination as the coronavirus pandemic has worsened. The rise is largely fueled by racist rhetoric from prominent figures including President Donald Trump, Republicans on Capitol Hill and right-wing media hosts.
A Justice Department spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request to clarify whether these enforcement guidelines would apply to those incidents.
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