Wednesday, April 15, 2009

When Government Becomes Alarmed By The People

Glenn Greenwald: The Ultimate Reaping of What One Sows: Right-Wing Edition:

It's certainly true that federal police efforts directed at domestic political movements -- even ones with a history of inspiring violence in both the distant and recent past -- require real vigilance and oversight, and it's also true that the DHS description of these groups seems excessively broad with the potential for mischief. But the political faction screeching about the dangers of the DHS is the same one that spent the last eight years vastly expanding the domestic Surveillance State and federal police powers in every area. DHS -- and the still-creepy phrase "homeland security" -- became George Bush's calling card. The Republicans won the 2002 election by demonizing those who opposed its creation. All of the enabling legislation underlying this Surveillance State -- from the Patriot Act to the Military Commissions Act, from the various FISA "reforms" to massive increases in domestic "counter-Terrorism" programs -- are the spawns of the very right-wing movement that today is petrified that this is all being directed at them.

When you cheer on a Surveillance State, you have no grounds to complain when it turns its eyes on you. If you create a massive and wildly empowered domestic surveillance apparatus, it's going to monitor and investigate domestic political activity. That's its nature.

See, here's where all that talk about "ethics in government" that neocons ignored and dismissed as being the speech of cowardly weaklings comes back to haunt them - exactly as I and many other people said, many times. I'd create links, but jeez, the very idea makes me tired. Search this blog and Google. Or you can just take my word for it. LOTS of people said that permitting these things to stand was a really dumb idea.

Well, could be worse. Hillary coulda won. Oh, wait, she figures rather prominently in the Cabinet, doesn't she?

Power corrupts. Etc. This is why it's a very good idea to sharply limit the power of government to interfere with individual people.

But having said that, there's another thing to be observed here. Greenwald observes in passing, without commenting - but I'm nowhere near so polite. I will observe - and then I will be blunt.

Greenwald cites a New York Times article from 2005 describing the sort of people that were being watched by the FBI, using the questionable powers granted by the Patriot Act.

F.B.I. Watched Activist Groups, New Files Show

WASHINGTON, Dec. 19 - Counterterrorism agents at the Federal Bureau of Investigation have conducted numerous surveillance and intelligence-gathering operations that involved, at least indirectly, groups active in causes as diverse as the environment, animal cruelty and poverty relief, newly disclosed agency records show.

After the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, John Ashcroft, who was then attorney general, loosened restrictions on the F.B.I.'s investigative powers, giving the bureau greater ability to visit and monitor Web sites, mosques and other public entities in developing terrorism leads. The bureau has used that authority to investigate not only groups with suspected ties to foreign terrorists, but also protest groups suspected of having links to violent or disruptive activities.

But the documents, coming after the Bush administration's confirmation that President Bush had authorized some spying without warrants in fighting terrorism, prompted charges from civil rights advocates that the government had improperly blurred the line between terrorism and acts of civil disobedience and lawful protest.

One F.B.I. document indicates that agents in Indianapolis planned to conduct surveillance as part of a "Vegan Community Project." Another document talks of the Catholic Workers group's "semi-communistic ideology." A third indicates the bureau's interest in determining the location of a protest over llama fur planned by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

The documents, provided to The New York Times over the past week, came as part of a series of Freedom of Information Act lawsuits brought by the American Civil Liberties Union. For more than a year, the A.C.L.U. has been seeking access to information in F.B.I. files on about 150 protest and social groups that it says may have been improperly monitored.

The F.B.I. had previously turned over a small number of documents on antiwar groups, showing the agency's interest in investigating possible anarchist or violent links in connection with antiwar protests and demonstrations in advance of the 2004 political conventions. And earlier this month, the A.C.L.U.'s Colorado chapter released similar documents involving, among other things, people protesting logging practices at a lumber industry gathering in 2002.

The latest batch of documents, parts of which the A.C.L.U. plans to release publicly on Tuesday, totals more than 2,300 pages and centers on references in internal files to a handful of groups, including PETA, the environmental group Greenpeace and the Catholic Workers group, which promotes antipoverty efforts and social causes.

"It's clear that this administration has engaged every possible agency, from the Pentagon to N.S.A. to the F.B.I., to engage in spying on Americans," said Ann Beeson, associate legal director for the A.C.L.U.

"You look at these documents," Ms. Beeson said, "and you think, wow, we have really returned to the days of J. Edgar Hoover, when you see in F.B.I. files that they're talking about a group like the Catholic Workers league as having a communist ideology."

Hm. Just off the top of my head, these people don't sound all that dangerous - except, of course, to major Republican corporate sponsors. On the other claw, DHS is (finally) concerned (pdf) about the obvious fruits of radicalizing "the base" for eight years.

Historically, domestic rightwing extremists have feared, predicted, and
anticipated a cataclysmic economic collapse in the United States. Prominent
antigovernment conspiracy theorists have incorporated aspects of an impending
economic collapse to intensify fear and paranoia among like-minded individuals and to
attract recruits during times of economic uncertainty. Conspiracy theories involving
declarations of martial law, impending civil strife or racial conflict, suspension of the
U.S. Constitution, and the creation of citizen detention camps often incorporate aspects of
a failed economy. Antigovernment conspiracy theories and “end times” prophecies could motivate extremist individuals and groups to stockpile food, ammunition, and weapons.These teachings also have been linked with the radicalization of domestic extremist individuals and groups in the past, such as violent Christian Identity organizations and extremist members of the militia movement.
That, and the growing "successionist movement," a matter of arguable concern for any government, regardless of your opinion on the matter. Considering that there has already been one civil war fought on similar ideological grounds and that it's being promoted again by similar idiots.

I happen to approve of a stricter interpretation of the US Tenth Amendment, in theory. In practice, though, I see it as being an issue being brought to the fore by power-mongering pipsqueaks who cannot abide calling a black man "Mr. President," or sending "tribute" to a government that values non-white, non-churchgoing, non-conservative citizens as much, or perhaps a teense more than them.

Photo: The Washington Independent

Scenes From the Real America

How about another excerpt from Rightwing Extremism:Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment (PDF)

(U//FOUO) Lone Wolves and Small Terrorist Cells
(U//FOUO) DHS/I&A assesses that lone wolves and small terrorist cells embracing violent rightwing extremist ideology are the most dangerous domestic terrorism threat in the United States. Informationfrom law enforcement and nongovernmental organizations indicates lone wolves and small terrorist cells have shown intent—and, in some cases, the capability—to commit violent acts.
— (U//LES) DHS/I&A has concluded that white supremacist lone wolves pose the most significant domestic terrorist threat because of their low profile and autonomy—separate from any formalized group—which hampers warning efforts.
— (U//FOUO) Similarly, recent state and municipal law enforcement reporting has warned of the dangers of rightwing extremists embracing the tactics of “leaderless resistance” and of lone wolves carrying out acts of violence.
— (U//FOUO) Arrests in the past several years of radical militia members in Alabama, Arkansas, and Pennsylvania on firearms, explosives, and other related violations indicates the emergence of small, well-armed extremist groups in some rural areas.
Boy. And they get paid to write such blinding glimpses of the obvious? With such wide-ranging powers and insights, this mild and obvious set of observations is the product of the best and brightest paranoids available?

All this "intel" could have been cribbed from the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Let us also observe that it's perfectly reasonable for sane people to be concerned about the sorts of people that the SPLC has been tracking for decades. Sane people can actually be concerned about flaming nutbars while still supporting the rights of gun owners, the Bill of Rights and the principles of individual liberty and personal responsibility. It's not at all evidence of "persecution" to be concerned about people like Tim McVeigh or the Christian Identity people who get all exercised about Race Wars and Religious Cleanings.

Quite aside from the motivations of ideology, people who take the Second Amendment to empower them to mix large batches of ANFO or stockpile large quantities of ammunition without regard to proper storage and handling doctrines. are a matter of legitimate concern for any person within several miles.

Oh, and let us remember, that "sovereignty" does not mean that each and every state would then be free to oppress and persecute whatever sort of people it disapproves of, or legislate whatever consensus morality it's elected officials happen to hold. The 9th and 10th Amendments of the Constitution of the United States is not about the sovereignty of mobs - it's about the inalienable rights of of free individuals. Even the queer black geeky over-edumacated atheist ones.

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