November 20, 2007
Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act Raises Fears of New Government Crackdown on Dissent
A little-noticed anti-terrorism bill quietly making its through Congress is raising fears of a new affront on activism and constitutional rights. The Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act was passed in an overwhelming 400 to six House vote last month. Critics say it could herald a new government crackdown on dissident activity and infiltration of universities under the guise of fighting terrorism. The bill would establish two government-appointed bodies to study, monitor and propose ways of curbing what it calls homegrown terrorism and extremism in the United States. The first body, a National Commission, would convene for eighteen months. A university-based “Center for Excellence” would follow, bringing together academic specialists to recommend laws and other measures.
Critics say the bill’s definition of “extremism” and “terrorism” is too vague and its mandate even more broad. Under a false veil of expertise and independence, the government-appointed commissions could be used as ideological cover to push through harsher laws.
Following last month’s approval in the House, the Senate version is expected to go before the Judiciary Committee this week.
Jessica Lee, reporter for the Indypendent, published by the NYC Indymedia Center. Her latest article is called “Bringing the War on Terrorism Home: Congress Considers How to ‘Disrupt’ Radical Movements in the United States”
Kamau Karl Franklin, Racial Justice Fellow at the NY-based Center for Constitutional Rights. He is also co-chair of the National Conference of Black Lawyers and serves on the Executive Committee of the National Lawyers Guild.
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AMY GOODMAN: A little-noticed anti-terrorism bill, quietly making its way through Congress is raising fears of the new affront on activism and constitutional rights. The Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act was passed in an overwhelming 400-6 House vote last month. Critics say it could herald a new government crackdown on dissent and infiltration of universities under the guise of fighting terrorism. The bill would establish two government-appointed bodies to study, monitor, and propose ways of curbing what it calls homegrown terrorism and extremism in the United States. The first body, a national commission, would convene for 18 months. The university-based “Center for Excellence” would follow, bringing together academic specialists to recommend laws and other measures. Critics say the definition of extremism and terrorism is too vague and its mandate even more broad. Under a false veil of expertise and independence, they say, the government-appointed commissions could be used as ideological cover to push through harsher laws. Following last month’s approval in the House, the Senate version is expected to go before the Judiciary Committee this week. Two guests join us now in the Firehouse studio. Kamau Franklin is an attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights. CCR has been closely following the measure. And Jessica Lee with us. She’s a journalist with the Indypendent, put out by the New York Indymedia Center. She has an extensive piece in the latest issue of the Indypendent. Its called “Bringing The War On Terrorism Home: Congress Considers How To ‘Disrupt’ Radical Movements In The United States.” Jessica, let’s begin with you. Lay out what this bill is.
JESSICA LEE: Thank you for having me. When I first heard about this, I immediately did a Google news search and was alarmed to find that no media was talking about it whatsoever. So I looked into the bill and are two things that immediately jumped out of me. The first was that there is a broad use of definitions and the second is, who would they study? What does this mean? I would first like to point out the two definitions that many people I interviewed had problems with. And if you wouldnt mind me just reading them. The first is “violent radicalization”. This term means “the process of adapting or promoting an extremist belief system for the purpose of facilitating ideologically-based violence to advance political, religious, or social change”. Many people I interviewed were very concerned about this. The second definition, which is “homegrown terrorism”, talks about the planned use, threatened use, of force or violence by a group to intimidate or coerce the government of the United States. When you think about these definitions, what does that mean? When you look at the activism going on today, is there planned use of force or coercion going on? When you look at what is going on in Olympia, with individuals sitting down and blocking war shipments. When you look at Code Pink going into Congress and disrupting activities. Could this be included in this definition? And that’s what I went out to try to find my article.
AMY GOODMAN: Kamau Franklin, your concerns?
KAMAU FRANKLIN: Somewhere, as Jessica stated, the broad definitions allow for new laws that can be passed. that can basically equate social justice activism and civil disobedience to terrorism in some ways. So in the past if someone got charged for blocking the street, there were charged with disorderly conduct, or obstruction of governmental administration. Now, after this commission is done, if new laws are passed, with the broadness of the definitions, the Feds can now say “well, wait a minute, you threatened the use of violence or threatened the use of force. And that by itself can mean that we can now charge you with federal terrorist crimes because we do not agree with the type of demonstration that you were doing, we don’t agree with the point of view that you were having”. So its the broad based-ness, the breadth, the scope of the inquiry, which is really threatening for potential activists, people concerned with social justice issues and civil libertarians, something people should really be concerned about.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the groups you see.
KAMAU KARL FRANKLIN: Well, I see groups as folks that are come out against the globalization, anti-globalization activists, social justice activists, animal rights activists. I think the breadth is [extounding] in terms of what can be covered. I dont think theres any limits placed on who can be targeted by this particular act. I think certain groups have already been singled out, like folks that are fighting against some of the globalization measures that are happening. And I think that is really going to be scary. Because The the sponsors of this bill are really targeting this sect more than targeting anything else.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the groups, Jessica. In particular, you’ve mentioned, for example, Critical Mass, the cycling movement all over the country.
JESSICA LEE: Right. When I started to look into this bill, what I found was a great influence by the Rand Corporation, which is a government affiliated think tank. Twice, Brian Michael Jenkins, who is an expert on terrorism, gave testimony in the House on this bill.
AMY GOODMAN: He is from the Rand Corporation.
JESSICA LEE: He is from the Rand, yes. They largely tried to push this bill through on this idea there are these extreme political Islamists in our country and they did not do a very good job stating the actual threat. But when you look through the Rand Corporation’s other reports in 2005, they had a report called “Trends in Terrorism”. And they had one chapter called “Homegrown Terrorism Threats”. When you look in that chapter, there’s nothing about political Islamists. In fact, its all about anti- globalization people on the right and left side of the spectrum. The animal rights and the environmental movements; and anarchists. And to me I found that very interesting that that testimony was not mentioned at all when this bill was passed. That this legislation is not just gonna look at so-called violent, religious people, but also people who have been very strong opinions against this administration.
AMY GOODMAN: In terms of the Rand Corporation, it was Daniel Ellsburg who worked for the Rand Corporation, when he have that many thousands of pages on the history of the Vietnam war and the Pentagon papers. So Rand is the key—what would you say, writer of the bill? And the Congressmember who’s most involved in this?
JESSICA LEE: Representative Jane Harmon, a Democrat from California, has had a lengthy relationship with the Rand Corporation. I called several times to get comment from the Rand Corporation, they said that their experts are out of town and unavailable due to the holidays. So I did not find out if they indeed did write the bill themselves. What we do know is that have a great influence and that they have had in the past.
KAMAU FRANKLIN: I just wanted to add to the Rand comment, particularly with Brian Michael Jenkins, supposed terrorist expert who’s mainly known according to Rand as someone who helped the United States in counter-insurgency measures in Vietnam, which is one of his claims to fame. In addition to that, he wrote a book and in his own book, I just want to quote that says “in their international campaign, the Jihadist will seek common ground with leftist, anti-American and anti-globalization forces who will in turn seek radical Islam comrades against a mutual foe.” So I think what Jessica’s talking about, is that, the breadth of it is not focused in on supposed terrorists who are threatening the United States, but folks who have real concerns about where this country is heading, folks who express dissent in various different ways including demonstrations and marches. These are the folks who this bill potentially good target.
AMY GOODMAN: The Baltimore Sun has a column called “Here Comes the Thought Police.”
KAMAU FRANKLIN: I think they’re saying “thought” because one of the important aspects of this bill, also, is to – it concentrates on the internet as a place where terrorist rhetoric or ideas have been coming across into the United States and to American citizens. If, once again, this bill reaches to become a law and that study is done, who is to say that now after the study is done, the recommendations wont get made to say “lets curb how the internet is being used, lets put filters on what gets to come into the country”. You spoke a little bit about al- Jazeera. Imagine after they take a look at this and how al-Jazeera is viewed, one particular area well say “let’s stop that” – I mean they stopped that from coming in over a cable – but, “let’s stop that from coming from the internet”. That could be happening to thousands of web sites in the near future.
AMY GOODMAN: And local, federal cooperation among police, Kamau?
KAMAU FRANKLIN: Theres a New York study that was done that also was a basis for some of where this bill came from. These type of operations go hand-in-hand with of course, joint task force. So we truly would expect when they go around and seek out experts and they talk to folks that it would be talking to local police officials and looking for ways in which they can work together on this, where the local officials can seek federal funding and they will come out and try to use this and say “let’s target these particular groups in our area that we know about”. Once again, no basis for terrorism, but “they’ve been dissenters, they have their internet sites reviewed and we dont like those”.
AMY GOODMAN: Jessica Lee, the Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act was passed in the house 400-6. That is a very big margin.
JESSICA LEE: Correct. It was actually passed under what is called the “Suspension of the Rules”, which is a provision the House uses to pass bills very quickly and these are usually bills deemed uncontroversial and do not need more debate. So we saw a quick vote. Six people voted against. One was presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich. He was unavailable for comment unfortunately. So what we’re seeing not only the Republican congress giving the Bush administration swath of powers to confront the war on terrorism, but we are also seeing the democratically-led congress also extending these powers.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the Center for Excellence.
JESSICA LEE: It would be one of the – there’s already eight in existence, under the Department of Homeland Securityg, and they’re based in universities, they bring scholars together from around the country, that are “experts” in a bunch of different fields to study a particular thing. This is someone who would want to study the moment in which somebody who is a radical or extremist will turn from being peaceful, having those beliefs which are protected under the First Amendment, to when they might become violent. I found it very interesting because if you want to study the moment in which somebody is going to turn violent, don’t you need to study them before they turned violent? If so, aren’t you studying First Amendment beliefs? I talked to a couple of scholars who study this type of thing. One is Braun Taylor who has studied the radical environmental movement for about 15 years, and he says if you really want to understand this stuff, you have to go into the field, make human interactions, build trust, and you have to talk to them. It takes a long time. These people are very wary to talk to academics in the first place. So we are seeing the Center of Excellence that is supposed to bring people together to study these very people that are skeptical of academics. Another interesting thing, the national commission which has mandated to produce three reports, each six months apart. The first report is supposed to come out after six months. How in the world can they possibly study these very complex issues? They want to study the social, criminal, political, psychological and economic roots of terrorism. How are they supposed to study this in six months and come up with these recommendations, which in fact, are going to be used to prevent, disrupt and mitigate domestic terrorism in six months?
AMY GOODMAN: Kamau Franklin, Center for Constitutional Rights, what are you doing about this?
KAMAU FRANKLIN: On our website, we have a lot more information about what this bill is. In fact, we have the different versions for people to start to view. We’re gonna call for some actions in the next couple of weeks. We probably agree that at this stage the Senate is also going to pass their version of the bill. What is really going to happen, where the fight’s really gonna start to take place is in the forming of this commission, watching this commission, responding to its inquiries. In fact, doing demonstrations against this commission. We think that is where the real fight will be now is in the grassroots who are gonna have to come out and really talk about how they think this commission will not really study terrorism but will study them. We want to provide as much information as we can on who should be the target of some of this work that will have to be done. So when people go to the website ccrjustice.org, they’ll start to find this information. In the next couple of weeks, we’ll rally start to target and hone in on who should be thought about.
AMY GOODMAN: Kamau Karl Franklin, Center for Constitutional Rights and Jessica Lee, journalist for the Indypendent. Thank you for being with us. This is democracy now!, democracynow.org, the war and peace report. I’m amy Goodman. When we come back, I will be joined by Marcel Khalife the Marcel.