As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Jane Harman's H.R. "1984"

I have to admit that I was initially a smidge skeptical about the progressive outcry over Jane Harman's bill, the "Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act" which passed the House by a 404-6 count back in October. While I believe staunchly in the protection of civil liberties, I guess I took "homegrown terrorism" to mean groups like right-wing militia, terror groups who bomb abortion clinics, purveyors of racist hate speech, and the like. As David Neiwert said, it appeared to be an attempt to make counter-terrorism more comprehensive and complete. But when you look under the hood, there's a great deal to be scared about with this bill.

One of the findings of the bill is that, “the Internet has aided in facilitating violent radicalization, ideologically based violence, and the homegrown terrorism process in the United States by providing access to broad and constant streams of terrorist-related propaganda to United States citizens.”

And the remedy to that is... closing off the Internet? Reading everyone's blog posts for "extremist" rhetoric?

The bill calls for heightened scrutiny of people who believe, or might come to believe, in a violent ideology. (ACLU policy counsel Mike) German wants the government to focus on people who are actually committing crimes, rather than those who are merely entertaining violent ideas, something perfectly legal.

Harman’s bill would convene a 10-member national commission to study “violent radicalization” (defined as “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”) and “homegrown terrorism” (defined as “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 […] 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”).

Now I'm getting nervous.

It's clear that any organization studying "violent radicalization" could head down some blind alleys pretty quickly. The FBI's domestic terrorism unit cites as among its greatest threats to the homeland... the Earth Liberation Front, the group that blows up Hummers. Animal rights groups also frequently show up on these domestic terror lists. And this national commission that would be created would be insular and potentially susceptible to politicization.

“The bill replicates what already exists without peer review and safeguards,” says Chip Berlet, a senior policy analyst for Political Research Associates, an independent non-profit research organization that studies political violence, authoritarianism, and homegrown terrorism [...]

The broad wording of the bill leaves open many questions. If homegrown terrorism is defined to include “intimidation” of the United States government or any segment of its population—could the Commission or the Center of Excellence task itself with investigating groups advocating boycotts, general strikes, or other forms of non-violent “intimidation”?

“While we wholeheartedly support efforts to curtail terrorism, primarily coming from white supremacists, we would also like to see legislation that more vigorously defends civil rights,” says Devin Burghart, an expert on domestic terrorism at the Center for New Communities, a national civil and human rights organization based in Chicago.

My friend Marcy Winograd, who challenged Rep. Harman to a primary in 2006, is alarmed about this bill and thinks it needs to be blocked in the Senate.

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 Bush and Cheney for war crimes.

During my congressional challenge, Boxer campaigned for Harman so I can only assume, since their political views often differ, that she felt a personal loyalty to the former ranking minority leader on the House Intelligence Committee. Now, however, it is time for Boxer to set aside personal loyalties and consider one's allegiance to the future of our democracy. Harman's bill, though seemingly benign, would actually give the green light to multiple simultaneous cross-country hearings aimed at intimidating those who question the government. Even if the bill were benignly conceived, its effect will be to silence debate and foster a climate of suspicion.

I think that's slightly extreme, but it certainly COULD go that way, and the value of yet another "blue ribbon panel" is certainly outweighed by the potential loss of civil liberties and monitoring of groups who are Constitutionally engaging in their right to dissent. So if you are concerned about this legislation, you ought to call Senator Boxer and urge a hold on it. The bill number in the Senate is S.B. 1959.

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