Is Planning a Protest a Terrorist Act?
The City of St. Paul in Minnesota has for the first time exercised a new law which, much like the U.S. Patriot Act, is aimed at preemptively stopping terrorist actions. Charges of “conspiracy to commit riot” have been levied against an anarchist group called the “RNC Welcoming Committee”. The group’s goal seems to have been to disrupt traffic by blocking streets with barricades in some strategic locations in order to disrupt the Republican National Convention. After police raided their headquarters eight members of the group now face charges which, if convicted, could lead to prison terms of up to seven years.
Other groups who were planning peaceful protests have been targeted by St. Paul police as well. Two groups, Food Not Bombs and I-Witness Video, have had their headquarters and homes raided at gunpoint, computers and other materials confiscated, and had many of their members handcuffed and held in custody for hours. In many cases members were physically forced to the ground and injured. In one case even a five year old child and next door neighbors had police point guns in their direction. Many journalists covering raids and protests have also been arrested including nationally syndicated journalist Amy Goodman. Dozens have been arrested with charges such as “suspicion of rioting” and “blocking a police action”.
St. Paul police say they are following up on informants information that the groups were conspiring to riot. Suspected fire code violations and even claims of kidnapping have been used by the police as excuses to get warrants. Even so, those warrants do not allow for forceful entry into offices and private residences. While the RNC Welcoming Committee group did have a track record that would make authorities nervous, that could not be said of the other groups. No violent acts were committed by any of the groups or its members nor were any weapons found. No crimes have been committed other than the alleged conspiracy or suspicion type crimes.
Supporters of the groups say excessive force is being used as a way to intimide would-be protesters during the RNC. Protests have been restricted near the convention site and protesters have been under close surveillance.
Freedom of speech has taken a serious hit in St. Paul this week. Is it a crime to plan a demonstration? Is it a crime to video a police action? There were no plans to destroy property or injure people. Just as in the Patriot Act, this law enables those in power to label anyone a terrorist and to arrest them. This can be a powerful tool for politicians wanting to squelch dissent in a society. These Gestapo-like tactics are going on in St. Paul while inside the RNC they are waving the American flag and wrapping themselves up in it. It seems that some have forgotten what that flag represents. The “War on Terror” has brought about many limitations on our freedom to dissent in this country. Our founding fathers would scorn this trend. Terrorism has always been with us. What’s new is the post-911 mentality that traditional methods of seeking justice are obsolete and that we have to wage a “war” against terrorism. Anyone who is opposed to such a war is labeled as aiding the terrorists and, therefore, subject to criminal prosecution, and in some cases, as a terrorist themselves.
Many great Americans from Thomas Jefferson to Teddy Roosevelt have been quoted as saying dissent is one of the greatest forms of patriotism. It is guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. If we lose any part of that right we have lost a significant part of what makes America the greatest nation on earth.