On September 24, FBI agents raided the homes of some anti-war activists in Chicago and Minneapolis on suspicion that they were providing material support to terrorism.
This follows only a few weeks after it was discovered that Pennsylvania's Office of Homeland Security had been spying on activist groups in the Keystone State.
The Chicago Tribune quotes one of the harassed activists in Minnesota as calling the searches "an outrageous fishing expedition."
Indeed. But this is apparently how our tax dollars are being used.
Apparently the authorities still subscribe to the George W. Bush-style assumption that if you're not in lockstep with the government's policies, then you must be with the terrorists.
And the Bush administration's knee-jerk, fear-based policies in response to 9/11 have arguably made it legal for agencies to conduct these witch hunts.
The Patriot Act broadened the definition of domestic terrorism to an extent that it "may have a chilling effect on the U.S. and international rights to free expression and association," says Amnesty International USA.
Amnesty continues: "The law defines 'domestic terrorism' as acts committed in the United States 'dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws,' if the U.S. government determines that they 'appear to be intended' to 'influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion,' or 'to intimidate or coerce a civilian population.' Such ambiguous language allows for loose interpretation that might violate civil liberties and international human rights."
As we're seeing right now.
To further complicate things, as I wrote back in June regarding Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it is not unconstitutional for the government to block speech and other forms of advocacy supporting a foreign organization that has been officially (and arbitrarily) labeled as terrorist, even if the aim is to support such a group's peaceful or humanitarian actions.
Coincidentally, the Justice Department's Inspector General released a timely report last week after a review of FBI crackdowns on peace and social justice activists during the George W. Bush administration. The report is rather critical of the FBI.
The ProPublica Blog summarizes:
"The FBI activities reviewed by the Justice Department took place from 2001 to 2006, and involved groups including the Thomas Merton Center (a Pittsburgh social justice center), People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), Greenpeace, The Catholic Worker (communities of religious pacifists) and a Quaker peace activist.
"The report by the Justice Department watchdog didn't find that the FBI targeted these groups on the basis of their free speech activities - which would be a serious violation of FBI guidelines - but did fault the agency for other reasons, most notably a 'factually weak' basis for opening investigations.
"'FBI agents and supervisors sometimes provided the [Office of the Inspector General] with speculative, after-the-fact rationalizations for their prior decisions to open investigations that we did not find persuasive,' the report said.
"The report also found that that the FBI unnecessarily classified its probes as domestic terrorism investigations, even though some of the potential crimes were trespassing or vandalism - acts not normally considered to be terrorism. This classification resulted in several individuals improperly being placed on terrorism watchlists.
"The Inspector General also found that the FBI gave 'inaccurate and misleading' explanations to justify its attendance at a 2002 rally against the Iraq war organized by the Merton Center."
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