Watch Out, You Might Be a Homegrown Terrorist!

With little to no publicity or debate, the House of Representatives passed a truly scary law on October 23 - H.R. 1955: Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007, sponsored by Representative Jane Harman (D-CA).  Please excuse this if everyone else already knows about it, but I hadn’t heard of this until my wife Jan passed on some scary info she heard on the radio and I did some online research.  This Orwellian expansion of the Homeland Security Act passed on a vote of 404 to 6 – Dennis Kucinich voted against it, sustaining my faith in him, and Ron Paul abstained from voting.

Looking at the actual text of this act ( http://www.govtrack.us/congress/billtext.xpd?bill=h110-1955 ), it sounds benign at first.  The first problem one notices is that it includes some very vague definitions that just beg for abuse based on goofy interpretations.  That may sound paranoid, but we are dealing with an administration and a Homeland Security department that decided a couple of years ago the Quaker congregation of Lake Worth, Florida, were dangerous subversives that need to be spied upon because they committed the dangerous and despicable act of exercising their Constitutional First Amendment rights by protesting military recruitment at high schools.  Yeah, you can just see a bunch of old Quaker ladies having a suicide vest sewing bee, right?

Specifically, this act says that “`homegrown terrorism’ means the use, planned use, or threatened use, of force or violence by a group or individual born, raised, or based and operating primarily within the United States or any possession of the United States to intimidate or coerce the United States government, the civilian population of the United States, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.

It goes on to define “the use, planned use, or threatened use of force or violence by a group or individual to promote the group or individual’s political, religious, or social beliefs” as “ideologically based violence.”

Considering that we’ve already seen the precedent, as in the case of the Florida Quakers, of treating legal dissent as sedition, this looks like a setup to give the feds another way to crack down on any public opposition to whatever the smirking chimp and his shrinking cabal decide to do next (like starting a war with Iran, for instance).  This may also have what the legal types call a chilling effect on people who would otherwise engage in that kind of public opposition.

Where I live, we’ve already seen this kind of thing.  In March of 2003, Albuquerque had its own police riot in response to a peaceful protest march against the Iraq war.  Cops on foot and on horseback blocked the path of marchers and herded them on a route chosen by the police; when the march got back to its starting point near the University of New Mexico, the ACLU’s report found that “As the crowd returned to the original gathering spot and crossed University and Central, officers struck people with batons and used horses to force stragglers to move more quickly. As protestors crossed Harvard Avenue, police launched tear gas canisters into the crowd. The officers eventually maced protestors and shot them with beanbag and pepper rounds, dispersing the crowd. In one incident, a police officer fired 15 pepper-gun rounds at a protestor who lay in a submissive posture in the street. Other protestors reported being hit with tear gas canisters that were fired into the crowd. Several arrests were made.”

There have been enough similar incidents in other places – law enforcement treating people’s physical presence and participation in a protest as what the new law calls “ideologically based violence” – to make it very reasonable to be worried about this.  It’s for damned sure that the next time there was an antiwar protest, people were deciding whether to participate based partly on the risk of having Albuquerque’s finest beat the crap out of them.

Mike German, the ACLU’s policy counsel, called the bill “wrongheaded” – he finds it spooky because it focuses on ideology and not on criminal activity. It calls for heightened scrutiny – read domestic spying - on people who believe, or might come to believe, in a violent ideology.  The ACLU’s view is that the government should focus on people who actually commit crimes, rather than those who merely think about violent ideas, which is legal.  So how does the government decide who “believes, or might come to believe, in a violent ideology”?  Well, what are the best ways to find out who is likely to engage in opposition to whatever the government is doing?   Law enforcement agencies already tend to monitor protest activities and groups who engage in them, and groups (like us) who see patriotism as something other than blind loyalty to the administration in power and tend to say so loudly and repeatedly.  I’d be shocked if they weren’t also looking at lists of subscribers to The Nation, Mother Jones, and similar fora; and for that matter, there’s considerable similar sentiment voiced in a lot of places traditionally considered right wing, like the editorial and letters sections in gun magazines.  There, too, there’s been some lively debate about the current war, and a lot of suspicion about the government’s patterns of bulldozing people’s Constitutional rights.

The law goes on to state some “findings” – a couple of dangerous ones:

The promotion of violent radicalization, homegrown terrorism, and ideologically based violence (eek, Quakers with picket signs!) exists in the United States and poses a threat to homeland security.

The Internet has aided in facilitating violent radicalization, ideologically based violence, and the homegrown terrorism process in the United States by providing access to broad and constant streams of terrorist-related propaganda to United States citizens.  Internet censorship a la China, anyone?

It does go on to state that “Any measure taken to prevent violent radicalization, homegrown terrorism, and ideologically based violence and homegrown terrorism in the United States should not violate the constitutional rights, civil rights, or civil liberties of United States citizens or lawful permanent residents.”  Oops, sorry I said anything – we don’t really have a thing to worry about, because our government would never cheat or violate our rights.  It also says that no one should be targeted for scrutiny based on race, religion, and so on, but makes one of the qualifications for membership on the Commission it creates (see next paragraph) expertise on Islam and other world religions (none but Islam specifically identified, but you know those damn Quakers… gotta watch the Buddhists too.)

The law goes on to order the creation of the National Commission on the Prevention of Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism, basically a combination of (1) a study group to figure out just what’s eating those darn domestic terrorists anyway and what we ought to do about it, and (2) a contracting office to funnel more money to private entities that the administration likes to have them carry out some of the Commission’s functions.  Chip Berlet is a senior policy analyst for Political Research Associates, an independent non-profit research organization that studies political violence, authoritarianism, and homegrown terrorism; he called this part “a slush fund for politically connected people inside the Beltway.”  I’d bet a nickel that Blackwater is getting ready to expand its repertoire of services the same way they did when the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq suddenly created a demand for mercenaries security contractors.  After all, they did jump all over New Orleans after Katrina and pulled down a ton of federal funds for that.

It goes on to order the permanent establishment of a “university-based Center of Excellence for the Study of Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism in the United States.”  This will be a think tank to use psychosocial research methods to figure out strategies to control domestic opposition and “contribute to the establishment of training, written materials, information, analytical assistance and professional resources to aid in combating violent radicalization and homegrown terrorism.”

Finally, the law orders the study of methods used in other countries to control “domestic terrorism” with the aim of recommending adoption of new tactics in the U.S.  Doesn’t that just give you a warm fuzzy feeling?

It really does seem that party affiliation is irrelevant, and despite the fact that the 2006 election put Democratic majorities into both chambers of the Congress with the clearest mandate seen in decades, a mandate to get this maniacal executive branch under control and restore the balance of power among the branches of government, the majority of those Democrats will give the Bushies whatever they demand.  It really does seem that both parties are in favor of more intrusive and controlling government.  Maybe the Dems are already thinking about how they can use the expanded power the Bushies have grabbed for the executive branch if the Democratic candidate wins the White House next year.

Speaking for myself, I believe the only appropriate response is to get louder and encourage people not to be intimidated.  The best way to keep our Constitutional rights strong is to exercise the hell out of them and get as many other people as we can to do the same.

7 Responses to “Watch Out, You Might Be a Homegrown Terrorist!”

  1. Craig R. Harmon Says:

    Speaking for myself, I believe the only appropriate response to people using or threatening to use force or violence to frighten or intimidate the government or people of the United States of America for their political agenda is to make that sort of thing illegal, arrest their ass, prosecute them and throw them in prison and throw away the key otherwise, well, remember those intifadas that Israel had to contend with?

    I can’t believe that anyone would think that “the use, planned use, or threatened use, of force or violence by a group or individual born, raised, or based and operating primarily within the United States or any possession of the United States to intimidate or coerce the United States government, the civilian population of the United States, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives” should NOT be illegal. Dig:

    First, the use of such force is and should be so obviously illegal that anyone objecting to that language is just a nut-job masquerading as a civil-rights activist. There is no right to use force or violence in this country. It’s illegal, should be illegal, and anyone trying to make it legal needs to spend serious time in a mental facility.

    Second, as to “the…planned use…of force or violence”, have you never heard of laws against conspiracy? Tom DeLay has been charged with, among other things, conspiracy to launder money in a perfectly legal scheme whereby money raised within 60 days of an election within Texas was provably used outside of the state of Texas in contravention of exactly no law in any state and money raised out of state was provably used within the state of Texas. Now if some tool of the Democratic Party can torpedo Delay’s political career with a conspiracy charge to use legal money in legal ways, surely the government can make it illegal for people to conspire to commit acts of terrorism.

    As regards “the…threatened use, of force or violence” try sending a letter to the President of the United States in care of the White House threatening to kill Bush and check out the response you get. I guarantee that it will not be in the form of a pleasantly worded form letter, thanking you for your interest in the political system of our fair country. You’ll be in jail so fast that your head will swim.

    Now I realize that people say things to others in the heat of argument, things like “I’m going to kill you, you S.O.B” and not every threat is anything more than heated words spoken in the heat of anger but surely some threats are serious. Is it really necessary that threats of violence cannot be forbidden statutorily? Actually, lots of restraining orders are issued on the basis of threats of violence. Unfortunately, lots of people are killed each year by people against whom restraining orders were issued so perhaps issuing restraining orders is not a sufficient response to a credible threat. Lot’s of murder victims would think so, anyway.

    Look, not passing anti-terrorism laws is not going to stop the government from sometimes over-reacting to protesters. That’s what courts are for, for holding government responsible for over-reacting to peaceful protesters. Objecting to making the use, conspiracy to use, and threatening to use violence and force seems silly to me. Not passing such laws will not stop the government from occasionally overstepping and such things, in my opinion, as the use, conspiring to use and threatening to use force and violence SHOULD be illegal.

  2. Craig R. Harmon Says:

    One part of the statute that even I think must be scrutinized, is this:

    `(2) VIOLENT RADICALIZATION- The term `violent radicalization’ means the process of adopting or promoting an extremist belief system for the purpose of facilitating ideologically based violence to advance political, religious, or social change.

    I don’t think that adopting an extremist belief system should be criminalized. Thought police is a no-no in this country. This should be no more criminalized than becoming a Communist should have been.

    Promoting, too, is a tough call. The Declaration of Independence could be interpreted as having promoted the violent ouster of King George’s troops and government from the American colonies. Would we, now, make such promotion illegal? Is it not better to promote openness of the expression of such ideas than to drive such expression underground by making it illegal? Isn’t it better to know that such notions are being spread, their basis, etc., so that they can be countered with the expression of counter notions? I think so, at least.

    That is to say, I think that there is a substantive difference between saying, “All Americans of adult age contribute to a system of Government that has embarked upon wars of genocide against Muslims and, so, all American adults, regardless of whether they are military personnel or not, may be killed by any Muslim”, on the one hand and, on the other, a small group of radical Muslims gathering in secret and making detailed plans to fly planes into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Tower. The first should be protected speech under the first amendment, the second should be criminal conspiracy to commit an act of terrorism.

    Is there anyone here that would object to having caught the 19 people who committed 9/11 and to having convicted them on the basis of their plans to kill nearly 3,000 Americans?

  3. Craig R. Harmon Says:

    The actual act would not, however, criminalize anything. What it does is (a) establish the National Commission on the Prevention of Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism which shall be empowered to hold hearings and take evidence regarding “the facts and causes of violent radicalization, homegrown terrorism, and ideologically based violence in the United States” and then report on its findings; (b) establish “a university-based Center of Excellence for the Study of Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism in the United States” that shall “assist Federal, State, local and tribal homeland security officials through training, education, and research in preventing violent radicalization and homegrown terrorism in the United States”.

    It doesn’t actually make ANYTHING illegal.

  4. Craig R. Harmon Says:

    Having said that last part (the comment from 1:05 pm, immediately above), I whole-heartedly support this bill. While I would not support criminalizing “the process of adopting…an extremist belief system”, I whole-heartedly support learning as much as possible about that process. And while I would not support criminalizing “promoting an extremist belief system”, as I discussed earlier, I certainly support learning as much as possible about how promoters promote extremism.

    I see absolutely nothing about this bill that I do not whole-heartedly support.

  5. Liberal Jarhead Says:

    Craig,

    Thanks for the very thoughtful comments.

    I would probably support the bill if it were written in a way that did a better job of safeguarding our besieged civil liberties, but it’s too vague. When the authorities show that they consider it reasonable to treat simple participation in a protest as ‘use of force’, i.e. treating the act of standing on the sidewalk holding a sign as the kind of intimidation and coercion the wording mentions, and that they consider organizing legitimate and peaceful political dissent to be, in the DOD’s words about the Florida Quakers, a ‘threat’, they need very specific boundaries to keep them from going overboard. Further, with this administration’s record of corrupt contracting practices I would want to see some specific oversight built into that contracting office’s work.

    I certainly agree with the need to do what we can to protect ourselves from terrorism and prevent violent radicalization, but that comes second to protecting our rights and freedoms. I want a secure homeland for my family, for my grandsons to grow up in. But if it’s under a government that can do whatever the people in power feel like to everyone else in the name of national security, we’ll have lost the heart of what we’re trying to preserve.

    I want to see the government making more effective use of the institutions and legal powers it already has before demanding any new carte blanche powers.

    One good start would be to restore the funding that local first responder agencies have lost since 9/11, then increase it to let them do the kind of job they want to do with the increased responsibilities they have to think about. Another would be to get most of the national guard units now cycling back and forth between home and overseas settled back at home so they can be available to their state governments to deal with any terrorist crisis that does arise, and so the large number of local law enforcement and firefighting personnel that are guard members will be around.

    The problem with this law is like that with any law that gives any government - national, state, or local, of whatever party, broad powers with insufficient controls on how they’re used. History has shown that when we create invitations to abuse of power, the people we choose to run things for us take us up on those invitations. We need to do what we can to keep them honest, and this law seems to be based on the belief that they’ll police themselves without needing much control or restriction on how they use the power. If that happens, it’ll be a first.

  6. Craig R. Harmon Says:

    Liberal Jarhead,

    I don’t see that this bill would give the government “broad powers with insufficient controls on how they’re used”. It establishes two entities, one empowered to ask questions and the other empowered to engage in academic inquiry, neither with power to do much of anything that I can see. So where are the broad powers and where the besieging of rights? Not trying to be intentionally obfuscatory, just trying to understand. Could you give me an example of what you would consider to be less broad language, language that you would consider to be more protective of rights? That might help me to grasp what you would support.

    Also, I have no way of assessing, because no links to reportage that could be trusted to present a reasonably balanced assessment were provided, what the government offered as reasons for their actions in those cases you mentioned, what actions were taken to investigate and punish, if necessary, the actions taken and so forth. Don’t get me wrong: I was living in the Chicagoland area during the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago when they had the trouble, I watched on tv and read about the various over-reactions by police (and also about the various provocations by the large crowds of protestors) so I’m not saying that overreaction doesn’t happen for less than good reason. On the other hand, the ACLU isn’t exactly an unbiased, disinterested reporter of facts. It’s an activist group of legal advocates who work pretty much exclusively across from the government pretty much all of the time. They aren’t known for giving a full, nuanced expression to the government’s side of the story (or any expression at all, for that matter) and there are at least a half a dozen sides to every story. I’d just like to read about more than one side.

    As for independent oversight, what did you have in mind. The Bill provides for periodic assessments and reports to Congress so that Congress can, if it chooses to, object to what it sees as overstepping the bounds. Then again, as I said, there are the courts, the most independent organs for keeping them honest. What else do you want? A special congressional oversight committee? A special, Article III court rather than an administrative arm?

    I get the part about the Guard but if the report I read is accurate, we’re in talks with the Iraqi government to end the occupation by the end of Bush’s term in office and we’re already sending a battalion home that won’t be replaced.

  7. me Says:

    Liberal Jarhead,

    I tried to leave a lengthy, well thought out response, complete with links. It has, apparently, evaporated into the ether. I’m too disgusted to try to reproduce it. I’ll just thank you for your response and go sulk.

    Craig R. Harmon

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