On October 23rd, Congress voted to stifle Americans' right to dissent when it passed House Resolution 1955, the "Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007," sponsored by California Congresswoman, Jane Harman. In sanctioning the ambiguous definitions for "homeland terrorism" contained in this bill, Congress equated American participatory democracy to American "homegrown terror." The First Amendment is under assault:
(1) COMMISSION- The term 'Commission' means the National Commission on the Prevention of Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism established under section 899C.
(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.
(3) HOMEGROWN TERRORISM- The term '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.
(4) IDEOLOGICALLY BASED VIOLENCE- The term 'ideologically based violence' means 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.
Despite the ambiguity of the language in H.R. 1955, it still passed the House by an overwhelming 404 to 6 - rammed through by Jane Harman, under the guise of deterring another American mass murderer like Timothy McVeigh.
Point of fact: In recent years, America's most horrific mass murderers have primarily been teenagers - Columbine's Harris and Klebold, and the Omaha mall shooter, Robert Hawkins, to name just a few. Virginia Tech 23 year old college student, Seung Hui Cho, murdered 32. None of their "plans" would have been detected and prevented if H.R. 1955, or its Senate clone, S. 1959, had been in place at the time.
Among the 404 deluded Congress members who voted for H.R. 1955 was California Congresswoman Maxine Waters - one of the few progressive heroes in the House. Odd that Congresswoman Waters would support legislation laden with such ambiguous language. The definitions in this bill are written so broadly that nearly anyone can be accused of planning or threatening terror if they disagree with their government and attempt to alter policy. Considering Congresswoman Water's fabled advocacy for participatory democracy, one might conclude she hadn't adequately read the bill before voting for it.
Underscoring this contention was Congresswoman Waters' apparent lack of understanding of the blow-back from this bill. In a December 10th interview on Lila Garrett's KPFK Pacifica Radio talk show, "CONNECT THE DOTS," the Congresswoman said the following:
"I do think that the American public, who have shown through the polls that they want to end this war on Iraq, have not gotten angry enough and they're not doing enough to force their elected officials to fight."By imploring Americans to get angry and "force their elected officials to fight," Congresswoman Waters is asking her "homegrown" supporters to carry forth actions that H.R. 1955 characterizes as "terrorism." With H.R. 1955 in place, if non-violent anti-war activists make a plan to force the "furtherance of political or social objectives," they meet the bill's criteria for "homegrown terrorists."
Tragically, Congresswoman Waters' support for H.R. 1955 has endangered the rights of her supporters.
I'm a huge admirer of Congresswoman Waters. I know how seriously she values free speech, peaceful assembly, and the freedom to petition the government as ordained by the First Amendment. I was surprised and dismayed that she supported this bill. When I called her office last Thursday to get a statement as to why she had, I was told by a staffer that the Congresswoman had asked to see the bill just moments before.
However, THE PEOPLE are so incensed by this bill that the "official" House response has not allayed their concerns in the least. The language of the bill has not been altered or improved upon and remains as inept as the Homeland Security Department charged with overseeing it.
To be fair, there is legitimate rationale for vigilance in protecting the nation. Violence of any kind is intolerable - which explains why millions of Americans oppose the current Bush regime. It deems pro-peace groups un-American and imprisons their members routinely. CODEPINK is a prime example.
During one week in 2004, over 1800 non violent Americans were arrested and jailed during the Republican National Convention. Some have been harassed and arrested for T-shirts. Some for the bumper stickers on their cars. Should it be any wonder why millions of Americans are suspicious that at the very start of the 2008 Presidential election year, H.R. 1955 is born?
A nation that views its own people as enemies creates laws to suppress them. A Congress that ignores the will of its people creates laws to redefine them. Homegrown activists become homegrown terrorists. Per the vague designations in H.R. 1955, activists and terrorists are the same.
The Senate version of H.R. 1955, S. 1959 is scheduled for vote this week. Last week I called Senators Boxer, Feingold and Kennedy to see how they would vote. I got a "we don't know yet" from Boxer's office. A staffer for Feingold said his Senator would vote against it because it stifles free speech. Since Feingold was the lone Senator to vote against the PATRIOT ACT, I'm hopeful his staffer is correct.
My call to Senator Kennedy was prompted by the same rationale as my call to Congresswoman Waters. On December 7th, in an article on the HuffingtonPost, Senator Kennedy vented his anger over the CIA's destruction of the prisoner interrogation tapes. According to Senator Kennedy:
Because these tapes constituted necessary evidence for the 9/11 Commission, their destruction was illegal under "Section 1512 of Title 18 of the United States Code [which] makes it a felony to "corruptly alter, destroy, mutilate, or conceal a record, document, or other object... with the intent to impair the object's integrity or availability for use in an official proceeding."
At the end of his article, Senator Kennedy made a pronouncement and a request to supporters. He said:
"I'm headed to the floor to demand answers. I hope you will demand them as well."If Americans respond to Senator Kennedy's plea to 'demand answers,' and devise a plan to force the "furtherance of political or social objectives," they too, can be designated "homegrown terrorists" if S. 1959 is passed. These dutiful patriots would be going forward at Senator Kennedy's behest, employing acts he defined as "homegrown terrorism" if he votes this legislation in place.
But this won't be the case if Senator Kennedy and his Senate colleagues vote NO on S. 1959. If they vote it down, they earn the right to engage their supporters to act on their behalf. If they vote for it, they forfeit the right to put citizens at risk by requesting their help.
One can only hope that Senators Kennedy, Boxer and Feingold, and their 97 colleagues, won't make the same mistake in the Senate that Congresswoman Waters and 403 of her colleagues made in the House. When Legislators place Americans in the precarious circumstance of teetering between activist and terrorist, they forego all claim to public support.
The current government, including the Homeland Security Department which will oversee this bill, has been incompetent in intelligence gathering again and again. Just last week, the domestic terrorism case against the so-called "Liberty City Seven," ended in a mistrial. According to The Washington Post:
"Evidence presented at the trial portrayed the "Liberty City Seven" as a group of somewhat hapless low-income laborers, and defense attorneys said the men had become ensnared in what they characterized as an overzealous FBI investigation."
If S. 1959 passes the Senate, unfounded cases like this will occur with greater regularity. Whomever the government seeks to silence will be subjected to reprisal, fomented by a purposely ambiguous law.
It takes just one Senator to put a HOLD on a bill to stop it indefinitely. Right now it appears that Russ Feingold of Wisconsin may be the one Senator who will do it. It would be particularly significant if the four Democratic Senators running for President would come together to stop this bill. Senators Clinton, Obama, Biden and Dodd should demonstrate their leadership by quelling this assault on dissent. Senator Dodd has already shown his heroism by challenging retroactive immunity for telecom companies. He should not be the only one! Senators Clinton and Obama should demonstrate respect for THE PEOPLE by not voting against THE PEOPLE'S rights. Removing THE PEOPLE'S freedoms is a symptom of fear - not valor.
Senator Kennedy uses his family tradition to ask Americans to participate in their nation. With a belief in participatory democracy that deep, he should stop this bill.
Senator Boxer, who regularly recruits activists to push through legislation, should also stop this bill. According to Marcy Winograd, President of Progressive Democrats of Los Angeles, who challenged Harman for Congress in 2006:
"Senator Boxer, one of our more courageous lawmakers, needs to put a hold on this bill before we see a return of the McCarthy hearings, with committees interrogating conscientious Americans who have spoken out against the war and globalization. This legislation ostensibly targets those who promote violence and extremist ideology, but if that were really the case the lawmakers supporting this legislation would be impeaching and indicting George Bush and Dick Cheney."
This First Amendment assault crosses party and ideological lines in the same way as media consolidation. Progressives and conservatives alike deplore the suppression of freedom. Even the ultra right wing John Birch Society opposes H.R. 1955 and S. 1959.
This week the Senate can support the First Amendment, or let the First Amendment die. S. 1959 must NOT pass. Tell your Senators to vote NO on S. 1959.
Phone them at: (202) 224-3121