Police state files
Two releases of local law enforcement files in recent days have shed new light on just how far the Bush administration, federal, and local law enforcement are going to suppress political dissent in the aftermath of 9-11.
The first case was in Pittsburgh, where a Freedom of Information Act request by the American Civil Liberties Union yielded the revelation that from 2002, when opposition to an invasion of Iraq began in earnest, right through at least until the final, heavily redacted document from 2005, law enforcement officials investigated, monitored, harassed, and infiltrated activists from Pittsburgh's Thomas Merton Center. Merton was a renowned Catholic theologian and pacifist who fiercely opposed the Vietnam War and all wars, and his namesake descendants apply the same beliefs to Iraq.
As the released documents make clear, that, and only that, was why they became targets: because they opposed the war in Iraq. An FBI document from 2002 notes that the center is "a left-wing organization advocating, among many political causes, pacifism." Pacifism! Egads! Aside from the fact that pacifism is a set of personal moral beliefs -- not a "political cause" -- is pacifism, in our militarized 21st Century America, the new Red Scare? Seems so. Just ask the Quakers.
Or maybe, instead, pacifism is simply terrorism. Because the outfit investigating the Thomas Merton Center wasn't the Pentagon TALON program, which was the tool used to go after the Lake Worth (Florida) Quakers and hundreds (at least) of other domestic peace groups. It wasn't even an NSA monitoring program. The Merton Center caught the attention of the Pittsburgh version of a Joint Anti-Terrorism Task Force, a program set up in dozens of cities across the U.S. to combine the efforts of the FBI and other federal, state, county, and local law enforcement agencies to combat the alleged threat of "domestic terrorism." With only so many domestic terrorists to go around, there's got to be something handy to keep all those task forces busy and their budget dollars flowing. Now, we have a better idea of what that "something" might be: investigating ordinary, law-abiding citizens who oppose Bush administration policies. That's now considered terrorism. Of course, it's the far right that has engaged in "domestic terrorism" in our recent history (remember Oklahoma City), but for some reason that's not who these task forces are concerned about.
Apparently, in nearly three years of probing, the terrorism most frequently engaged in by the Mertonites was the handing out of leaflets. A February 2003 FBI report titled "International Terrorism Matters" detailed a schedule that the center posted on its web site of anti-war rallies in Pittsburgh, New York, and elsewhere. From Bush on down, the word "terrorism" is being slung around awfully loosely these days.
Still, the FBI defends the investigations, calling them, in a statement, "appropriate."
And that raises the question of whether such investigations are still going on (probably), and whether they're being carried out by a local Joint Anti-Terrorism Task Force near you (probably), and whether the main target is your local anti-war group or coalition (probably).
The second set of documents came from yet another source: the court-ordered release, as part of an ongoing lawsuit, of five internal NYPD memos detailing and analyzing -- mostly with gleeful satisfaction -- steps taken to disrupt and minimize New York City demonstrations in 2002, particularly the World Economic Forum protest that was the first, and virtually the last, major anti-summit demonstration after 9-11.
What the memos for the first time detail are police tactics that have been used widely across the U.S. against such demonstrations ever since law enforcement was embarrassed by the 1999 anti-WTO protests in Seattle. Anyone who has been to these demonstrations knows the playbook: massive presence of police in riot gear, heavily armed mostly with chemical weapons and batons; tanks, visible police vans and buses, and a widespread use of undercover cops; corralling protesters into tightly controlled spaces with no access available for the public to enter or leave; a constant shifting of police lines, including provocative forays into the crowd; and the preemptive arrests of any protestors the police don't happen to like or find inconvenient, with the understanding that they'll be held until the summit or convention or whatever leaves town and then released, with charges (if any) later dropped or dismissed. One of the NYPD memos notes, for example, the arrest of about 30 masked demonstrators (doubtless black bloc anarchists) for the "crime" of being "obvious potential rioters."
The last I checked, the Constitution doesn't allow for arresting people for what they might potentially do. But that, along with the rest of these tactics, with minor variations, is pretty much what's happened at every major post-Seattle U.S. protest of the war or the international corporate regime, in New York, Washington, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Miami, and so on. The black bloc property destruction in Seattle, and the media overhype it provoked, allowed law enforcement to sell such tactics as necessary; in every one of these cities, a major protest has been preceded by a local media hysteria over the potential for "another Seattle," local city councils passed restrictive new anti-protest measures, and law enforcement got lots of pricey new crowd control toys.
Now, such protesters are not only "obvious potential rioters," but "terrorists." The recent reauthorization of the PATRIOT Act, passed with widespread bipartisan support, included a new "anti-terrorist" provision allowing police to establish anti-protester "exclusion zones" at any event of "national significance." (In Seattle, where this idea was first used and then legitimized by the courts, it was more honestly called a "no-protest zone," an egregious violation of the First Amendment.)
The idea of all these harsh tactics is both to scare potentially sympathetic members of the public, who don't necessarily want to be caught in a riot (police or otherwise), away from attending; and at the same time to legitimize whatever forms of police and jail abuse are inflicted on the protesters who do attend, in hopes they'll think better of it next time. It's worked, and in six years, as the crackdown grows ever-harsher, activists have yet to devise effective counter-measures.
What does any of this have to do with protecting the country from terrorist attack? Not a damn thing, of course. But it's exactly the sort of rationale dictatorships and totalitarian states throughout history have used to scare the public, rationalize domestic state violence, and suppress, marginalize, and eventually silence political dissent. According to your high school civics class, America doesn't go for that sort of thing.
But then, that book seems to have been thrown out.