It’s bad enough that Americans seeking genuine political reform are hamstrung by a stagnant two-party system in the thrall of corporate interests, an electoral college prone to district gerrymandering and in desperate need of reform, and a Supreme Court whose thumbs-up to election theft would warm Vladimir Putin’s cold, cold heart.
Now Americans who ascribe to dissenting political ideologies or oppose goverment policy run the risk of being branded “homegrown terrorists” or “violent radicals,” if the Senate ratifies a bill currently circulating in Congress.
On Oct. 23, the House of Representatives approved the Prevention of Violent Radicalization Act, intended to combat homegrown terrorism by establishing an advisory committee and a university-based center of excellence (linked to the Department of Homeland Security) to study the “radicalization” process. Sponsored by Representatives Jane Harman (D-Calif.) and David Reichert (R-Wash.), the bill, also known as H.R. 1955, passed by a 404-6 margin. A companion bill, S. 1959, was introduced by Senator Susan Collins (D-Me.) and is being deliberated by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, a committee chaired by known hawk Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.).
Critics have raised red flags on H.R. 1955 for its cloudy definitions of “homegrown terrorism,””violent radicalization,” and “ideologically based violence” that could lead to government targeting of certain ethnic groups and political activists deemed subversive.
Kamau Franklin, a Racial Justice Fellow at the Center for Constitutional Rights, warned the “grave ramifications” H.R. 1955 could have for civil liberties. “The bill uses extremely broad strokes to say that any group which uses a potential threat of violence or intimidation could be labeled a terrorist,” Franklin said. “If you’re anti-war or anti-globalization, those things could be considered ideologically violent,” and be subjected to terrorism statutes if the commission advises Congress to classify such views as threatening.
[photo courtesy of Diego Cupolo]
Currently, the government has no set definition for what constitutes terrorism.
According to the text of the bill, violent radicalization is defined as the promotion of extremist belief systems that advocate ‘ideologically based violence for political, religious, or social change.” “Homegrown terrorism” and “ideologically based violence” are even more loosely defined. Furthermore, H.R. 1955 views the “planned” or “threatened” use of force for political or social purposes in the same light as violent acts of terrorism, and cites the internet as a key tool of radicalization.
In the context of the Bush Administration’s unpopular wars abroad and rising unrest at home with a faltering economy and nonexistent social policies, this bill can be viewed as a preemptive strike on dissent, a revival of McCarthy-era persecution with the operative terms slightly modified.
‘This bill uses terrorism as a code word like the government used to use ‘Communism’ as a code word,” said the CCR’s Franklin. “If you dissent, they start yelling ‘terrorist, terrorist,’ and everything else gets blocked out. Who’s going to take the chance of being labeled a terrorist?”
While the Prevention of Homegrown Radicalization Act has attracted fierce criticism online and even led to a protest outside the permanently unoccupied Harlem office of Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY), it has gone virtually ignored by major media outlets.
That isn’t surprising when one looks at the government’s success in branding unconventional ideologies and certain types of activism as “terrorism,” and prosecuting those acts accordingly. In 2001, Jeffrey Luers was sentenced to 22 years and eight months in prison for burning three SUVs at a Eugene, Ore. dealership in June 2000. Although no one has hurt, Luers was charged with 13 felonies and given a longer term than Oregon law stipulates for murder or rape.
[photo courtesy of Santa Cruz Indymedia
Luers was closely associated with the Earth Liberation Front, a group of radical environmentalists who use “direct action,” including the destruction of private property, as a means of protest. The FBI includes “special interest extremist movements” like the ELF and animal rights advocates among their “highest domestic terrorism priorities, according to 2005 Congressional Testimony by FBI Deputy Assistant Direct John Lewis.
“Homegrown terrorism” is also considered a threat in New Orleans, as demonstrated by the following excerpt from a New York Times article on controversial plans to tear down 4,600 affordable housing units:
“Meanwhile, James Bernazzani, special agent in charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation office here, confirmed that its domestic terrorism unit was investigating the source of small posters reading “For Every Public Housing Unit Destroyed a Condo Unit Will Be Destroyed.”
Increasingly, it appears that the “terrorist” label is being employed to shape a new underclass of Americans where certain populations are to be under constant scrutiny. Muslim Americans, who have been under heavy government scrutiny since 9/11, are undoubtedly a target of H.R. 1955. Police in New York City and Los Angeles have undertaken and proposed, respectively, studies of Muslim communities and their potential for radicalization. Both departments were accused of racial profiling, and last month the LAPD abandoned their mapping efforts after vociferous protests.
Law enforcement agencies are employing terrorism statutes in increasing numbers to members of street gangs. On Dec. 10, Edgar Morales, a member of a Mexican-American gang in the Bronx, was sentenced to 40 years on terrorism charges for murdering a 10-year old boy, the first time such statutes have been successfully used to prosecute gang-related crime. Couple that with the use of GPS technology to track known “gang members” (almost always minorities), and we’re fast on our way to a society where “good” cops hunt terrorists/gang members/political dissidents/environmentalists through the streets of an American Fallujah.
Or are we already there?
–written by Ali Winston