the Patriot Act,
Implications of the Patriot Act
“The jaws of power are always open to devour, and her arm is always stretched out, if possible, to destroy the freedom of thinking, speaking, and writing.” -- John Adams
Under the Patriot Act, the government now has the power to violate the rights of activists or political suspects in ways such as the following:
** Demand from bookstores and libraries the names of books anyone purchased or borrowed. Workers at the store or library are thereafter under a firm gag order not to mention the request to anyone such as the media and they have no power to contest it in court
** Conduct secret surveillance of religious or political groups without the need to show probable cause. This includes clandestine searches of homes and offices in sneak and peak operations
** Increase wiretapping of phone calls and monitor Internet searches, email correspondence, and chat room discussions. Internet Service Providers may be required to hand over content information and customer records to law officials without a court order or subpoena
** Have broad access to a person’s medical, financial, and educational records
** Eavesdrop on conversations between lawyers and clients in federal custody
** Detain foreigners indefinitely without charges or right to counsel
To do all this surveillance, the Pentagon has initiated the method of “data mining” and the system of “Total Information Awareness” that builds on the infamous FBI Carnivore program for Internet surveillance. This means that the state is monitoring electronic communication and research in order to identify possible “terrorists.” All federal agents need to say to the courts, should they ask, is that their prying is relevant to an ongoing criminal investigation. If a judge believes a request is without merit, he or she must grant it anyway. At the same times, citizen rights for disclosure of public documents and records under the Freedom of Information Act increasingly are being weakened and denied.
The Patriot Act also creates the new legal category of “domestic terrorist” and defines it in a chillingly broad manner. According to the Patriot Act, the crime of domestic terrorism is committed when a person engages in activity “that involves acts dangerous to human life that violate the laws of the U.S. …and appear to be intended: to intimidate or coerce a civilian population [or] to influence the policy of government by intimidation or coercion.”
Clearly “intimidation” and “coercion” could mean anything, and the government does not adequately distinguish between violent and nonviolent methods of persuasion. This definition is a direct challenge to liberation groups like the ALF and ELF that are targeted as top domestic terrorist threats. Indeed, nearly any protest group can fit the definition of terrorists, for what is it to “intimidate” or “coerce” a “civilian population” or “to influence the policy of the government by intimidation or coercion”? Protests often are intimidating, and their entire point is to “influence” policy.
Not only do the ALF and ELF fall under the definition of “domestic terrorism,” but also groups like PETA. For “harboring,” “concealing,” “aiding,” or “lending material support to” “terrorists” is punishable under the Patriot Act. PETA has given money to well-known animal rights “terrorists” such as Rod Coronado, Gary Yourofsky, and Josh Harper, and in Ashcroft’s world this makes PETA aides and abettors of terror. Indeed, right wing industry organizations like the Center For Consumer Freedom are denouncing even the Humane Society of the United States as a terrorist group for allegedly funding an Internet service used by the ALF and hiring “ALF-affiliated criminal” J.P. Goodwin in 2001.
Similarly, if you shelter dogs that are rescued from a laboratory by the ALF, or if you provided a room for a demonstrator who later became involved in a violent protest activity, you too could be arraigned under the Patriot Act. A foreign student involved with PETA or, certainly, the ALF, could be retained and deported for providing assistance to a “domestic terrorist” organization. Speaking out in support of the ALF or ELF can earn you a criminal charge, as can taking pictures of animal abuse in laboratories or factory farms and slaughterhouses. In our Orwellian culture where truth is falsehood and falsehood is truth, documenting animals tortured in a slaughterhouse is terrorism, but beating and killing animals in unspeakably vicious ways is not.
Amidst the current dragnet, the penalties for liberation activities are far higher that previously. Whereas the crime of arson on a vivisection laboratory, for example, carried a penalty of not more than twenty years, the Patriot Act amends the law to read “for any term of years or for life.” The Patriot Act also has removed the statue of limitations for specific terrorists offenses, including those that create a “foreseeable risk” of death or injury to another person. The maximum penalty for providing material support to, harboring, or concealing a “terrorist” increases from ten to fifteen years in prison.
That’s When I Reach For My Revolver
“When a long train of abuses and usurpations …evinces a design to reduce the people under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security.” -- Thomas Jefferson
A collective insanity is sweeping the nation no less absurd, outrageous, frightening, and irrational than the Red Scare of the 1950s. The Patriot Act expands government’s law enforcement powers nationwide as it minimizes meaningful review and oversight by an independent judicial body. Rather, the law is reduced to a Soviet-style, rubber-stamp device, compelled to grant an order authorizing surveillance so long as the FBI, CIA, or Justice Department say the magic words -- “This surveillance is part of an authorized terrorist or intelligence investigation,” or just, “Do it.” The Bush world is straight out of the film Minority Report where you are guilty until presumed innocent, and the government condemns you even for thinking an illegal thought and arrests you before you have a chance to possibly put the thought into action.
Liberation movements are being demonized not just as whacko or extreme, but also as terrorist. Surveillance is increasing in inverse relation to legal accountability and political scrutiny. Even Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) acts and extortion laws developed two decades ago to fight organized crime are now being used against groups like SHAC, with activists being arraigned under such charges in cities like Boston and San Antonio.
Clearly the stakes of the game are higher, and this should prompt new reflection on what direct action tactics are appropriate in the face of these new attacks. Activists should not be afraid or intimidated, but they also need to know their rights, or what is left of them, and everyone needs to exercise particularly high levels of security. Even a tenuous association with the ALF could satisfy the Patriot Act’s definition of harboring, concealing, or supporting a “terrorist.” It is important that activists have an awareness of the history of state repression, and to know, in particular, how the FBI COINTELPRO infiltrated, raided, disrupted, and destroyed the many groups and causes attacking the government during the 1960s and thereafter. The government may right now be unleashing a similar war against the ALF, ELF, and SHAC, although they will have a much harder time with the ALF and ELF because of their underground, decentralized, cellular level of organization.
The movement needs more lawyers, but it must in the first place strive to avoid long and costly court battles as these drain time, energy, and will, as happened to SHACtivists in San Antonio, Texas when HLS’s insurance company, Marsh, fought back with lawsuits claiming harassment. Liberationists must resist being defined as violent and extremists; they must defend themselves rhetorically and philosophically, establishing a sharp distinction between theft, property destruction, and terrorism. They must also work on the philosophical level to challenge the status of animals as property and to define them to be, rather, subjects of a complex life, as are we.
In the current neo-McCarthyist climate, activists need to tone down the rhetoric, so as not to hand the state the rope with which to hang themselves and the movement. The enemy reads our writings and comes to our lectures, recording every word, as is obvious by their use of the infamous Bruce Friedrich sound bite from the national animal rights conference of 2002 that champions property destruction. I am elated to see the “marvelous new militancy” (Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.) of groups like SHAC, but we must not transgress non-violent boundaries or indulge in antics such as harassing family members of employees working for corporations like HLS. We must avoid even threats to violence, not only to escape the harsher penalties for such speech but also to adhere to the higher moral ground that activists rightly claim. Be intelligent, but do not be afraid; take strength from the courage of King and Gandhi who risked their lives for justice and fought harder when the state repression got worse. Now would be an excellent time to revisit their writings and actions.
We must attack militarism, link this to our general critique of violence, and grasp the connections between militarism abroad and suppression of dissent at home. We must resolutely defend the Constitution, because fundamental rights are under attack. Unfortunately, the Patriot Act and the damages it has wrought to civil liberties are going to scar our society for a long time to come. There is no guarantee that freedoms lost once will return again, especially if the new global paradigm of heightened dangers and insecurities will prevail indefinitely.
A great sign of hope, however, is that in communities throughout the country, city councils and local governments are passing resolutions against the Patriot Act. From Ithaca, New York to Oakland, California, over two dozen councils have condemned the Patriot Act as anti-constitutional and devoid of moral legitimacy, even if it is the law. Taking more than just symbolic action, cities like Ithaca are requiring city employees (e.g., librarians) to adopt a policy of non-cooperation with the Patriot Act if legitimate government action against terrorism violates the civil rights and liberties of people within their communities. In effect, entire cities are adopting policies of civil disobedience as they pit individual rights and state duties against the federal government. Where Congress has proved cowardly and inept in its duties, city governments are taking on protection of the Constitution as their own responsibility. As one member of the Oakland Civil Rights Defense Committee said, “Congress hasn’t been able to check this unconstitutional executive grab, so it is up to us to reclaim our fundamental rights of free speech, free association, due process and equal protection.”
Wisely, local communities realize that we must not accept the false dualism the Bush administration and its accomplices are trying to foist on us -- either security or liberty. Sewing seeds of mass paranoia about the great Evil lurking everywhere, the Bush administration is dismantling liberties in the name of Homeland Security. Citizens who challenge Bush’s efforts to wage war with Iraq are denounced on national media as traitors who should go to jail. According to some critics, Bush and Ashcroft have compromised freedom in ways previous administrations have not even in times of formally declared war. Just as the war on drugs is a Trojan horse for the entrenchment of state power in our personal lives, the ever-so misnamed Patriot Act is an anti-democratic vehicle of conservative reaction against citizen dissent against globalization, corporate destruction of animals and the earth, and a multitude of injustices.
While the nation braces for war with Iraq and additional attacks from Al Quaeda, a key aspect of the terrorist agenda is already realized. If their mission is to destroy the foundations of Western democracy, then, with the help of Bush and Ashcroft, they are succeeding.