by Randolph T. Holhut
Chief of AR Correspondents
January 24, 2013
CAN PRESIDENT OBAMA LIVE UP TO THE IDEALS IN HIS SECOND INAUGURAL ADDRESS?
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- It got buried under all the end-of-the-year hysteria over the so-called fiscal cliff, but the news that the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) worked with local police departments to coordinate a violent crackdown on the activist movement known as Occupy in the fall of 2011 deserves a closer look before it slips down the national memory hole altogether.
Last month, the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF), a nonprofit public interest legal organization based in Washington, D.C., used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain documents from the FBI.
While much iof the information was blacked out, these documents still confirm what many suspected after the raids in cities around the nation that broke up the Occupy encampments - that not only did the FBI and DHS treat Occupy as a potential criminal and terrorist threat, but they were conducting surveillance on organizers weeks before the first tent was pitched in Zuccotti Park.
Even though the FBI acknowledged that organizers explicitly called for peaceful protest and did "not condone the use of violence" at Occupy protests - they behaved otherwise. In the words of PCJF Executive Director Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, "These documents show that the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security are treating protests against the corporate and banking structure of America as potential criminal and terrorist activity. These documents also show these federal agencies functioning as a de facto intelligence arm of Wall Street and Corporate America."
The documents are available at the PCJF website, and they are quite damning. They show how how public- and private-sector security activities have effectively merged into one amorphous whole designed to work with, and work for, banks and financial institutions to - in the words of poetical activist and author Naomi Wolf - "target, arrest, and politically disable peaceful American citizens."
Here are some of the choice bits that the PCJF uncovered:
Given the FBI's long history of targeting political dissidents, these actions are not exactly shocking. From the civil rights workers in the 1950s and 1960s, to the anti-war movement during the Vietnam era, to the spying on peace movements in the 1980s and 1990s, the FBI has always been - in Verheyden-Hilliard's words - "the secret police of the establishment against the people."
The twist now is that given the amount of data collection and data warehousing that goes on in the United States in the name of "fighting terrorism," there is seamless sharing of this data between public and private entities, and that it can be used to monitor the activities of Americans who are peacefully exercising their constitutional rights to freedom of speech, freedom of thought, and freedom of assembly.
In the online age, it becomes very easy to crush dissent. Today, if you are a political activist, you can be tracked on the slightest provocation, without a warrant or a hearing, and without recourse.
"As obviously disturbing as it is, none of this should be surprising," wrote Salon's Glenn Greenwald a couple of weeks ago. "Virtually every seized power justified over the last decade in the name of 'terrorism' has been applied to a wide range of domestic dissent. The most significant civil liberties trend of the last decade, in my view, is the importation of War on Terror tactics onto U.S. soil, applied to U.S. citizens - from the sprawling Surveillance State and powers of indefinite detention to the para-militarization of domestic police forces and the rapidly emerging fleet of drones now being deployed in countless ways. ... [and] the true purpose of this endless expansion of state power in the name of 'terrorism' is control over anticipated domestic protest and unrest."
As a new Congress gets to work and President Obama begins his second term, this is as good a time as any to demand an end to the systematic erosion of our civil liberties.
The militarization of police departments, the fusion of government and private intelligence agencies into a seamless and unaccountable force, and the criminalization of the exercise of constitutionally-protected dissent must be stopped.
AR Chief of Correspondents Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 30 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.