[News] Congress Considers How to ‘Disrupt’ Radical Movements in the United States

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Mon Nov 26 19:31:55 EST 2007

Bringing the War on Terrorism Home: Congress 
Considers How to ‘Disrupt’ Radical Movements in the United States


 From the 
26, 2007 issue

By Jessica Lee

Under the guise of a bill that calls for the 
study of “homegrown terrorism,” Congress is 
apparently trying to broaden the definition of 
terrorism to encompass both First Amendment 
political activity and traditional forms of 
protest such as nonviolent civil disobedience, 
according to civil liberties advocates, scholars and historians.

The proposed law, The Violent Radicalization and 
Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007 (H.R. 
1955), was passed by the House of Representative 
in a 404-6 vote Oct. 23. (The Senate is currently 
considering a companion bill, S. 1959.) The act 
would establish a “National Commission on the 
prevention of violent radicalization and 
ideologically based violence” and a 
university-based “Center for Excellence” to 
“examine and report upon the facts and causes of 
violent radicalization, homegrown terrorism and 
ideologically based violence in the United 
States” in order to develop policy for “prevention, disruption and mitigation.”

Many observers fear that the proposed law will be 
used against U.S.-based groups engaged in legal 
but unpopular political activism, ranging from 
political Islamists to animal-rights and 
environmental campaigners to radical right-wing 
organizations. There is concern, too, that the 
bill will undermine academic integrity and is the 
latest salvo in a decade-long government grab for 
power at the expense of civil liberties.

David Price, a professor of anthropology at St. 
Martin’s University who studies government 
surveillance and harassment of dissident 
scholars, says the bill “is a shot over the bow 
of environmental activists, animal-rights 
activists, anti-globalization activists and 
scholars who are working in the Middle East who 
have views that go against the administration.” 
Price says some right-wing outfits such as gun 
clubs are also threatened because “[they] would 
be looked at with suspicion under the bill.”

The Bill of Rights Defense Committee (BORDC), 
which has been organizing against post-Sept. 11 
legislative attacks on First Amendment rights, is 
critical of the bill. “When you first look at 
this bill, it might seem harmless because it is 
about the development of a commission to do a 
study,” explained Hope Marston, a regional organizer with BORDC.

“However, when you realize the focus of the study 
is ‘homegrown terrorism,’ it raises red flags,” 
Marston said. “When you consider that the 
government has wiretapped our phone calls and 
emails, spied on religious and political groups 
and has done extensive data mining of our daily 
records, it is worrisome of what might be done 
with the study. I am concerned that there appears 
to be an inclination to study religious and 
political groups to ultimately try to find 
subversion. This would violate our First 
Amendment rights to free speech and freedoms of religion and association.”

One pressing concern is definitions contained in 
the bill. For example, “violent radicalization” 
is 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.”

Alejandro Queral, executive director of the 
Northwest Constitutional Rights Center, asks, 
“What is an extremist belief system? Who defines 
this? These are broad definitions that encompass 
so much. 
 It is criminalizing thought and ideology.”

For her part, Marston takes issue with the 
definition of homegrown terrorism. “It is about 
the ‘use, planned use, or threatened use, of 
force or violence to intimidate or coerce the 
government.’ This is often the language that refers to political activity.”

Congressional sponsors of the bill claim it is limited in scope.

“Though not a silver bullet, the legislation will 
help the nation develop a better understanding of 
the forces that lead to homegrown terrorism, and 
the steps we can take to stop it,” said Rep. Jane 
Harman (D-Calif.) Oct. 23, who co-authored the 
bill. “Free speech, espousing even very radical 
beliefs, is protected by our Constitution ­ but violent behavior is not.”

The bill’s purpose goes beyond academic inquiry, 
however. In a press release dated Nov. 6, Harman 
stated: “the National Commission [will] propose 
to both Congress and [Department of Homeland 
Security Secretary Michael] Chertoff initiatives 
to intercede before radicalized individuals turn 
violent.” (Harman’s office refused three separate 
requests by The Indypendent for comment.)

Some assert this would allow law enforcement 
agencies to target radicals in general. Price 
says, “This bill is trying to bridge the gap 
between those with radical dissenting views and 
those who engage in violent acts. It’s a form of prior restraint.”

Price explains how this may work, citing an 
example in his home town of Olympia, Wash., where 
a peaceful blockade took place in early November 
at the Port of Olympia to prevent the shipment of 
war materials between the United States and Iraq. 
He says, “It will be these types of things that 
will start getting defined as terrorism, 
including Quakers and indigenous rights’ campaigns.”

Kamau Franklin, an attorney with the Center for 
Constitutional Rights (CCR), is also concerned at 
the targeting of peaceful protests. He says the 
“Commission’s broad mandate can lead to the 
ability to turn civil disobedience, a form of 
protest that is centuries old, into a terrorist 
act.” It’s possible, he says, “that someone who 
would have been charged with disorderly conduct 
or obstruction of governmental administration may 
soon be charged with a federal terrorist statute.”

“My biggest fear is that they [the commission] 
will call for some new criminal penalties and 
federal crimes,” says Franklin. “Activists are 
nervous about how the broad definitions could be 
used for criminalizing civil disobedience and 
squashing the momentum of the left.”

The bill provides a list of Congressional 
findings, including a failure to understand the 
development and promotion of “violent 
radicalization, homegrown terrorism and 
ideologically based violence,” which is argued to 
pose a threat to domestic security. The Internet 
was highlighted as a tool in “providing access to 
broad and constant streams of terrorist-related 
propaganda to United States citizens.”

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that 
the bill would cost $22 million over four years.


Although the legislation is vague, a chief target 
appears to be Islamic militants living in the 
United States. Harman, in her Nov. 6 press 
release, says the bill is needed to combat 
violent radicalization and cites four cases as 
examples of such ­ all of them involving Muslim 
Americans allegedly engaged in terrorist 
activity. The bill’s language also states that 
proposed appointees to the National Commission 
should have “expertise and experience” in a long 
list of disciplines such as “world religions.” 
But the only religion named is Islam.

The bill appears to be influenced by the 
government-affiliated RAND Corporation, whose 
website includes a letter from Harman noting, 
 and I have worked closely for many 
years.” Harman, who chairs the House Subcommittee 
on Intelligence, Information Sharing and 
Terrorism Risk Assessment, introduced H.R. 1955 on April 19, 2007.

Two weeks prior to this, Brian Michael Jenkins of 
RAND delivered testimony on “Jihadist 
Radicalization and Recruitment” to Harman’s 
subcommittee. Jenkins claimed “radicalization and 
recruiting are taking place in the United 
States,” and listed a number of high-profile 
cases in which Muslim Americans have been 
arrested on terrorism-related charges.

In his testimony, Jenkins admitted convictions in 
these cases ­ in Lackawanna, N.Y., Northern 
Virginia, New York City, Portland, Ore., and 
elsewhere ­ relied on charges being “interpreted broadly” by the courts.

There has been significant criticism of how 
government officials have hyped many of these 
cases as mass terror attacks thwarted in the nick 
of time despite a lack of any actual plans or 
means to commit a violent act on the part of the 
defendants. It’s also been noted that in numerous 
instances the government employed informants who 
goaded the suspects into committing the illegal 
acts for which they were arrested.

In June, Jenkins was back before Harman’s 
subcommittee discussing the role of the National 
Commission. According to the Congressional 
Quarterly website, Jenkins said, “[Homegrown 
terrorism] is the principal threat that we face 
as a country and it will likely be the principal 
threat that we face for decades.” The website 
stated, “Unless a way of intervening in the 
radicalization process can be found, ‘we are 
condemned to stepping on cockroaches one at a time,’ he added.”

At the end of his second round of testimony, 
Jenkins undercut the claims that there is any 
real danger requiring the creation of the 
National Commission and Center for Excellence. He 
said, “Judging by the terrorist conspiracies 
uncovered since 9/11, violent radicalization has 
yielded very few recruits. Indeed, the level of 
terrorist activities in the United States was 
much higher in the 1970s that it is today.” 
(Repeated inquiries by The Indypendent to the 
RAND Corporation to interview Jenkins or other 
staff analysts were turned down by the media 
relations department, which claimed they were all 
unavailable for the rest of the year.)

This has the Arab-American community worried. 
“When you look at the creation of the Commission, 
it is scary, especially when people [on the 
national commission] will be appointed by the 
White House,” said Kareem Shora, executive 
director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination 
Committee (ADC). He pointed to the recess 
appointment, despite widespread criticism, of 
Daniel Pipes to the U.S. Institute of Peace in 
2003, who, Shora said, “propagated hate against Arabs.”

Shora is worried H.R. 1955 will unfairly target 
Muslims, even though he says they have been 
largely helpful in terrorist investigations since 
Sept. 11. Despite the assistance, he says civil 
rights abuses continue to occur, including 
“voluntary interviews,” the Absconder 
Apprehension Initiative and the Special Registration Program.


The passage of the H.R. 1955 coincided with a 
furor over the Los Angeles Police Department’s 
plan to “map” Muslim communities in the city. 
Appearing before the U.S. Senate Committee on 
Homeland Security on Oct. 30, Michael Downing, 
the assistant commanding officer of LAPD’s 
Counter-terrorism/Criminal Intelligence Bureau, 
said the project “will lay out the geographic 
locations of the many different Muslim population 
groups around Los Angeles [and] take a deeper 
look at their history, demographics, language, 
culture, ethnic breakdown, socio-economic status and social interactions.”

Shora says, “Looking at a community based on 
religious affiliation alone 
unconstitutional. The ADC added in a press 
release that singling “out individuals for 
investigation, surveillance, and data collection 
based solely on religion 
 would violate equal 
protection and burden the free exercise of religion.”

Following the outcry, the LAPD announced Nov. 15 
that it was dropping the mapping plan. Opposition 
came from many quarters, including scholars, 
because the LAPD envisioned using academics in 
the mapping program. It reportedly intended “to 
have the data assembled by the University of 
Southern California’s Center for Risk and 
Economic Analysis.” Recruiting academics for 
counterterrorism efforts is also at the heart of 
H.R. 1955, which proposes a university-based Center of Excellence.

Roberto Gonzalez, an anthropologist who 
co-authored a recent article with David Price 
criticizing the Pentagon’s use of scholars in the 
Iraq and Afghanistan wars, says the prospect of 
creating a Center “is a bad idea because it is 
likely to compromise the intellectual integrity 
of the academy.” H.R. 1955 advocates for the use 
of “cultural anthropologists,” which concerns 
Price that they would “be doing secretive work for the state.”

Chip Berlet, senior analyst at the Boston-based 
Political Research Associates, argues the 
government is trying to establish a Center to get 
around legal prohibitions on gathering data 
specifically based on race and religion. He 
explains that there is already extensive research 
being done on the roots of political violence by 
scores of academics around the country but many 
of their findings do not fit into the 
government’s agenda. To Berlet, the proposed 
Center is nothing more than “a slush fund for politically connected hacks.”


Islamic militants are not the only threat on the government’s radar.

“A chief problem is radical forms of Islam, but 
we’re not only studying radical Islam,” Harman 
told In These Times, a Chicago-based 
newsmagazine. “We’re studying the phenomenon of 
people with radical beliefs who turn into people who would use violence.”

In 2004, the FBI named “eco-terrorism,” a broad 
term that includes property destruction, the top 
domestic threat. The July 2007 National 
Intelligence Estimate found that “special 
interest groups” were also likely to cause small-scale violent attacks.

These “special interest groups” were outlined in 
a 2005 RAND report, “Trends in Terrorism.” One 
chapter was devoted to a non-Muslim “homegrown 
terrorist” threat ­ anti-globalists. 
“Anti-globalists directly challenge the intrinsic 
qualities of capitalism, charging that in the 
insatiable quest for growth and profit, the 
philosophy is serving to destroy the world’s 
ecology, indigenous cultures and individual 
welfare,” stated the report. The report 
identifies rightwing movements such as neo-Nazis 
as threats and states there should be a focus on 
anarchist and radical environmental groups, 
citing anarchists involved in civil disobedience 
during the 2004 National Republican Contention in 
New York City and millions of dollars in property 
damage by the Earth Liberation Front in the last decade.


Observers say using vaguely defined terms is part 
of a historical pattern of sweeping government 
repression that includes the post- World War II 
“Red Scare” and the FBI’s counter-intellegence 
program, nicknamed Cointelpro. They are also 
concerned that H.R. 1955 will foster a 
legislative momentum on criminalizing a broad range of dissident voices.

Jules Boykoff, an assistant professor of politics 
and government at Pacific University and author 
of Beyond Bullets: The Suppression of Dissent in 
the United States, said he was alarmed that 
“violence” was not defined. He noted the 
definition of “ideologically based violence” is 
the “means to 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.”

“It is a circular definition, what does that 
mean?” asked Boykoff, while reading the bill 
aloud. “What does violence mean? We do not need 
laws like this because we already have plenty of 
laws on the books that make it a crime to blow up 
or set fire to buildings. It is called arson.”

Boykoff commented that the bill used the terms 
“extremism” and “radicalism” interchangeably. 
“The word ‘radical’ shares the etymological root 
to the word ‘radish,’ which means to get to the 
root of the problem. So, if the government wants 
to get at the actual root of terrorism, then 
let’s really talk about it. We need to talk about 
the economic roots, the vast inequalities in 
wealth between the rich and poor.” Boykoff says 
historically the government has used “radical” as 
a way of dismissing groups as “extremists,” 
however, and uses the two words as synonyms.

Hope Marston of the BORDC is nervous about the 
definition of homegrown terrorism, which is 
“about the ‘use, planned use, or threatened use, 
of force or violence’ to intimidate or coerce the 
government.” She says, “The definition does not make clear what force is.”

Bron Taylor, a professor at University of Florida 
who studies radical religion and environmental 
movements, questioned the government’s 
interpretation of violence. He spent years as an 
ethnographic researcher exploring the propensity 
of individuals within the radical environmental 
movement to turn to violence, a word he says 
defines as harm to sentient beings, not property destruction.

“There are all sorts of things that activists do 
that involve little or no risk of hurting people, 
but their actions get labeled as violent, or even 
worse, as acts of terrorism,” Taylor said. “For 
example, if 10 activists push themselves into a 
congressperson’s regional office, make noise, 
pull out files and make a scene, is that an act 
of terrorism? It is quite possible that the act 
could scare the hell out of the secretary and 
office workers because they don’t know these 
people or what they intend to do? But is that 
terrorism? Some people would like to frame it that way.”

“In any political dispute, whoever succeeds in 
defining the terms is likely to prevail in the 
debate,” Taylor said. “That is why scholars and 
the media need to be scrupulous in the ways they 
use and define terms deployed by the partisans in 
these disputes. They should strive to come up 
with terms that are as descriptive, accurate and as neutral as possible.”


The legislation authorizes a 10-member National 
Commission (the Senate bill calls for 12 members) 
appointed by the President, the secretary of 
homeland security, congressional leaders and the 
chairpersons of both the Senate and House 
committees on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

After convening, the Commission is to submit 
reports at six-month intervals for 18 months to 
the President and Congress, stating its findings, 
conclusions, and legislative recommendations “for 
immediate and long-term countermeasures 
prevent violent radicalization, homegrown 
terrorism and ideologically based violence.”

Kamau Franklin of CCR says he finds the timing of 
the legislation disturbing coming a year before 
the presidential elections and about eight months 
prior to the Democratic and Republication 
National Conventions ­ both which of have 
increasingly been the site of large-scale protests and civil disobedience.

More disturbing are the similarities to 
Cointelpro, which was investigated by a U.S. 
Senate select committee on intelligence 
activities (commonly known as the Church 
Committee), which convened in 1975. The Church 
Committee found that from 1956 to 1971, “the 
Bureau conducted a sophisticated vigilante 
operation aimed squarely at preventing the 
exercise of First Amendment rights of speech and 
association, on the theory that preventing the 
growth of dangerous groups and the propagation of 
dangerous ideas would protect the national security and deter violence.”

Hope Marston says, “In the 1970s when we learned 
of the violation in rights that the government 
had been doing for 40 years, there was public 
outrage. Because these erosions of the Bill of 
Rights have happened during ‘the war on terror,’ 
we aren’t supposed to protest anything the 
government does because they are ‘protecting us.’ 
That feeling has made the government’s actions more dangerous.”


The Senate version of the bill finds that the 
domestic threats “cannot be easily prevented 
through traditional Federal intelligence or law 
enforcement efforts, and requires the 
incorporation of State and local solutions.”

“That’s about joint terrorism task force making,” 
Franklin said. “It’s a way to create a federal 
slush fund so local police departments can get 
their hands on it. This happened in the 1960s.”

Marston agreed. “This sounds like part of the 
same continuum we’ve experienced in the last 
seven years, which is the effort to deputize 
local law enforcement to work with the FBI and 
national agencies without local accountability, 
as we have seen with the establishment of 
joint-terrorism task forces across the country,” 
Marston said. “On 9/11, there were only a few 
joint-terrorism task forces, now there are more 
than 100 in existence. 
 When you talk about 
working with local law enforcement to possibly 
spy on groups and individuals to try to find the 
so-called ‘needle in the haystack,’ this 
definitely poses a threat to local autonomy.”

Although Cointelpro was partially dismantled in 
the 1970s and the FBI’s power to conduct domestic 
intelligence curbed, many safeguards have been 
overturned in the last 30 years, according to 
David Cole and Jim Dempsey, authors of Terrorism 
and the Constitution: Sacrificing Civil Liberties 
in the Name of National Security. Legislation 
such as the Antiterrorism and Effective Death 
Penalty Act of 1996 and the 2001 USA Patriot Act 
“radically transformed the landscape of 
government power, and did so in ways that 
virtually guarantee repetition of some of law 
enforcement’s worst abuses of the past,” the authors wrote.

In the last few years, many states have passed 
versions of the Patriot Act, while Congress has 
placed further checks on civil liberties with the 
Patriot Improvement and Reauthorization Act 
(2006), the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act 
(2006) and the Protect America Now Act (2007), 
which amended the Foreign Intelligence 
Surveillance Act of 1978 and legalized the Bush 
administration’s warrantless wiretapping program.


H.R. 1955 gives Department of Homeland Security 
Secretary Michael Chertoff the power to establish 
a “Center of Excellence,” a university-based 
research program to “bring together leading 
experts and researchers to conduct 
multidisciplinary research and education for 
homeland security solutions.” The Department 
currently has eight Centers at academic 
institutions across the country, strengthening 
what many see as a growing military-security-academic complex.

Rep. Harman, in an Oct. 23 press release, stated 
that, the Center would “examine the social, 
criminal, political, psychological and economic roots of domestic terrorism.”

“I do not have a lot of concerns with this 
legislation,” said Jim Dempsey, policy director 
at the Center for Democracy and Technology. 
“Violent radicalization is an issue that deserves 
to be studied and understood. I am more 
comfortable with this bill’s approach, which is 
to treat the issue as a matter for broad study 
using largely open sources, than I would be with 
an approach that directed the FBI, DHS or the CIA 
to examine the issue,” Dempsey said. Dempsey was 
the assistant counsel to the House Judiciary 
Subcommittee on Civil and Constitutional Rights 
from 1985-1994, the former Deputy Director for 
the Center for National Security Studies and 
co-authored with David Cole, Terrorism and the Constitution.

“I do have some concern that the Commission and 
the Center will focus on Muslims and will 
contribute to a climate of apprehension,” Dempsey 
continued. “But I still think the bill is 
probably a good idea, if its concepts are in a true spirit of inquiry.”

Taylor agrees, but is leery that Washington 
politicians will hold power over commission and 
Center. “As an academic, I like the idea of 
creating Centers of Excellence in general because 
they bring together excellent scholars,” Taylor 
said. “But this is not something that the 
government should have a great deal of control 
over, because it is so ideologically charged. 
We’ve had plenty of examples of administrations, 
this one in particular, that likes to manipulate 
and downplay scientific findings that run at 
variance with their ideological and political objectives.”

“The bill itself, no matter how well drafted, 
does not guarantee a balanced outcome,” noted 
Dempsey. “To ensure balance, human rights 
activists will have to get involved in the work 
of the Commission and the Center.”

“If they really want to know why we have 
terrorism, they are going to need to explore 
counter-narratives,” explained Boykoff. “When the 
Sept. 11 attacks occurred, one narrative to 
explain the situation was that there is ‘an 
external enemy out there who hates America.’ 
Other narratives, such as that perhaps U.S. 
foreign policy might be fueling acrimonious 
feelings towards the U.S., were not considered. I 
am skeptical that the Center for Excellence would 
be open to these other narratives, but rather 
would be regurgitating the standard narrative.”

It is unclear how researchers would gather the information.

“If you are trying to understand in the broadest 
sense what turns people to violence in a variety 
of political causes, it is not something you can 
do easily, and it must be studied in a serious 
way,” said Taylor, who has began studying the 
radical environmental movement since 1989. “It is 
exceptionally hard to study these groups. They 
tend to be suspicious of new comers and 
outsiders, rightfully so. They aren’t fond of 
academic institutions or academics because they 
tend to view most of what goes on at institutions 
of higher education as being subservient to 
interests of global capital,” he said.

With his research experience, Taylor believes 
that it is absurd to think the Commission could 
produce a significant report in 18 months.

“To find out what makes people tick, you actually 
have to engage with them as a human being, and 
that is a long process that takes patience and trust building.”

Anthropologist Price is also worried. “My concern 
is that anthropologists would again be doing 
secretive work for the state. This bill is going 
to be interpreted so narrowly. It is calling for 
an ideological litmus test,” Price said. “The 
military believes there are ways to get around 
this questions legally, but ethically, it is a 
big deal. There are ethical codes of conduct in 
anthropology, sociology, psychology, in the 
social sciences in general, that they very basic precautions are taken.”


For U.S. historian Howard Zinn, author of A 
People’s History of the United States, H.R. 1955 
can be added to a long list of government 
policies that have been passed to target dissent in the United States.

“This is the most recent of a long series of laws 
passed in times of foreign policy tensions, 
starting with the Alien and Sedition Acts of 
1798, which sent people to jail for criticizing 
the Adams administration,” Zinn said in an email 
to The Indypendent. “During World War I, the 
Espionage Act and Sedition Act sent close to a 
thousand people to jail for speaking out against 
the war. On the eve of World War II, the Smith 
Act was passed, harmless enough title, but it 
enabled the jailing of radicals ­ first 
Trotskyists during the war and Communist party 
leaders after the war, for organizing literature, 
etc., interpreted as “conspiring to overthrow the 
government by force and violence.”

“In all cases, the environment was one in which 
the government was involved in a war or Cold War 
or near-war situation and wanted to suppress 
criticism of its policies,” Zinn said.

Regardless, Zinn remains optimistic. “We should 
keep in mind that an act of repression by the 
state is a recognition of the potential of social 
movements and therefore we need to persist, 
through the repression, in order to bring about 
social change,” Zinn said. “We can learn to 
expect the repression, and not to be intimidated.”

Hope Marston remains hopeful. “The work we have 
been doing at BORDC is mobilizing people in the 
grassroots across the political spectrum, she 
said. “It is not just a Leftist effort to protect 
the Bill of Rights. We have worked with 
libertarians and republicans. We have helped get 
412 resolution passed on the state and local 
level against the erosion of the Bill of rights.”

Editors Note:

Shortly after this article went to press, the Los 
Angeles Police Department announced they scrapped 
their plan to “map the muslim community” after 
meeting behind closed doors with leaders in the Arab-American communities.

A.K. Gupta contributed research and interviews.

Freedom Archives
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110

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