These Senators Knew Boko Haram Was Dangerous, But We Didn't Listen

Source: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images News/Getty Images

If you didn't know Boko Haram before last month, you certainly do now. Condemned by everyone from Al Qaeda to Michelle Obama, Boko Haram's abduction of over 200 Nigerian schoolgirls made the group a household name — but it's actually terrorized Nigeria's north-eastern region for years. And top Republican senators did note Boko Haram was dangerous, though they were focused on its potential threat to the U.S. — not its extreme violence in Nigeria.

In spite of Boko Haram's pervasive brutality and previous abductions, it actually took a very long time for it to be designated a terror organization by the U.S., and the first time legislation was put forward to do so — back in 2012 — the bill actually died in committee. It was only in Nov. 2013 that the State Department finally labelled it a terrorist group.

So which savvy senators were pushing for a terrorist label? They were all Republicans: Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma); Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL);Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS); Sen.Dan Coats (R-Ind.) and Sen.Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) all sponsored the bill calling for the group to named a terrorist organization. But it was these three who really pushed for it...

Sen. James Risch, R-Idaho

Risch, who's been called "the most true-blue conservative in the U.S. Senate", introduced the Boko Haram Designation Act of 2012. He was also one of only eight other Republican senators to vote against the Violence Against Women Act. In a statement at the time, he said:

When the Commander of Africa Command states that Boko Haram is becoming increasingly lethal and forging closer ties to al Qaeda and al Shabaab, that is something I take very seriously. Boko Haram is clearly a foreign organization engaged in terrorist activity that threatens U.S. national security, thus meeting the threshold for designation as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. It’s time for the State Department to step up and designate them as such.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-GA

You might remember Senator Chambliss from that time he blamed "the hormone level created by nature" for the prevalence of sexual assault in the military. Here's what he said about Boko Haram:

Boko Haram's improving terrorist operational capabilities—including improvised explosive devices—are a serious threat to international and U.S. interests. This group has expressed solidarity with al Qaeda and continues to threaten attacks against U.S. interests. The time is long past to designate Boko Haram as a terrorist group.”

Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA)

Brown, who's currently running for a Senate seat in New Hampshire — complete with his vocal opposition to Obamacare and very public support for waterboarding as an interrogation method — fits right in with his other co-sponsors.
Boko Haram's terror campaign has attacked international organizations and is responsible for more than 700 deaths in the last 18 months alone. The Justice Department is asking for the legal authorities to combat Boko Haram ... This designation is essential to giving our intelligence and law enforcement agencies the tools necessary to stop individuals from providing support to Boko Haram in the U.S. and abroad.

So, there they are: unequivocal warnings about Boko Haram. But all the warnings were tied to the U.S., which was worried about what the group might do to America — as were those who were reluctant to label it a terrorist group. Their concern? That giving Boko Haram that designation might elevate its status, and make the West a possible target for a group that had been focused on its home turf. 

It's not as though the White House did nothing: in 2012, three of group's leaders were put on a terrorist list. Regardless, since its 2013 designation, its attacks haven't stopped. Until the kidnappings, the U.S. was only able to block Boko Haram from accessing the U.S. financial system, and make sure that U.S. companies haven't been allowed to do business with it.


Must Reads