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Angela Davis' warning


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The investigation of peace activists in Minneapolis and Chicago is part of a new push by the Department of Justice to undermine support for organizations the federal government has designated as “foreign terrorist organizations.” This strategy involves prosecuting even those American citizens who merely support the legal activities of such organizations. The targets of this strategy, naturally, are often vocal opponents of some aspect of the U.S. government’s foreign policy. This strategy got a big boost from Holder vs. Humanitarian Law Project, a 2010 Supreme Court case in which the justices ruled 6-3 that it was not unconstitutional to punish Americans who sought to provide training in human rights advocacy and peacemaking to the Kurdistan Workers' Party in Turkey, a designated terrorist organization.

From an analysis of the ruling:

The Court ruled, by a 6-3 vote, that it does not violate the Constitution for the government to block speech and other forms of advocacy supporting a foreign organization that has been officially labeled as terrorist, even if the aim is to support such a group’s peaceful or humanitarian actions. But the Court added a significant qualifier: such activity may be banned only if it is coordinated with or controlled by the overseas terrorist group…. Speech or other forms of advocacy will escape criminal prosecution so long as it is “independent advocacy,” or constitutes “any activities not directed to, coordinated with, or controlled by foreign terrorist groups,” in language used in the Chief Justice’s opinion. Congress, in enacting various versions of the “material support’ law, has avoided imposing any restrictions on those actions, Roberts stressed. Moreover, no kind of speech activity can be punished under the law, according to the opinion, unless the speaker knows the foreign group being supported is a terrorist organization on the government’s banned list.

I tend to agree with the dissent of Justices Breyer, Ginsburg, and Sotomayor, who said that once the government is allowed to forbid support for legal activities, “there is no natural stopping place.” It is notable that the court’s majority upheld the government’s assertion that it would be illegal for Americans to hire an attorney to file a friend-of-the-court brief in support of a proscribed organization.

The worst thing about this is that we have become, in a way, one of those nations in which the government bans political parties and persecutes their collaborators. Along with legitimizing torture and “disappearing” people into secret prisons, we have removed a very sad amount of the distance that used to exist between our old ideals and those of third-world dictators. The same federal government that wrote up legal justifications for torture is now complaining that peacemaking can "legitimize" acts of terrorism. The hypocrisy is monumental.

And who are the latest Americans the Justice Department is going after? Read the profiles of the people targeted in the raids in Minneapolis and Chicago. They don’t sound like threats to our national security.

Davis is right to raise the specter of CoIntelPro. The Justice Department has repeatedly been used to punish dissent.

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From There’s something happening here: the New Left, the Klan, and FBI counterintelligence, by Brandeis University Professor David Cunningham:

While the events of September 11 demonstrated that the terrorist threat is real, its organization within isolated conspiratorial cells only loosely, if at all, connected to any identifiable bodies provides the potential for monitoring and disrupting a broad range of dissenters in the name of the war on terrorism. While COINTELPRO-era target selection was heavily invested in finding connections between the Communist Party-USA and various other challengers—including SDS, Martin Luther King Jr., and most other mainstream civil rights and antiwar groups—viable terrorist threats need not exhibit visible ties to any known subversive body. This likely poses the most difficult national security task ever faced by the FBI, as well as the greatest potential for abuse of civil liberties in U.S. history.

[emphasis added]


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