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."
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.