Resistance, dissent and government repression
May 16, 2010
“You measure a democracy by the freedom it gives its dissidents, not the
freedom it gives its assimilated conformists.” -- Abbie Hoffman
It used to be the Red Scare; now it’s the Green Scare.
1940s and ‘50s, the FBI persecuted communists, Lauren Regan, an attorney and
director of the Civil Liberties Defense Center
(CLDC), said during a May 1 presentation in Bloomington. In the ‘60s, the
FBI called the Black Panther Party the No. 1 “domestic terrorist threat” in
the United States.
Today, the targets are environmental and animal rights groups, said
Regan, who formed the CLDC in 2003 in response to the FBI’s Operation
Backfire, which culminated in 2005 with arrests and indictments of Eugene,
Ore., activists from the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) and Earth Liberation
To further its goals, the FBI has established it’s a
Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) with 92 offices nationwide, Regan said
during her talk, titled “Resistance, Dissent and Government Repression: How
the State Responds to Radical Social Movements.” Bloomington has one such
office, on west Seventh Street.
In her book Breaking the Sound
Barrier, author and Democracy Now!
host Amy Goodman quotes Ahmed Bedier, president of the Tampa Human Rights
Council, as saying the JTTFs ”include not only federal FBI agents, but also
postal inspectors, IRS agents, deputized local police officers and sheriff’s
deputies [and] any type of law enforcement.” When one agency fails to take
down an individual, another agency steps in.
The CLDC, a
Eugene-based nonprofit, fights the Green Scare “by defending and upholding
civil liberties through education, outreach, litigation, and legal support
and assistance,” according to its Web site.
Its brochure calls the CLDC a progressive activist organization that
helps activists in the “progressive change movement” and defends “frontline
activists and expose(s) and confront(s) the persistent erosion of civil
rights and liberties. CLDC provides outreach to movements “with an eye
Regan, a 1997 University of Oregon School of Law
graduate, recognized the need for such an organization after she witnessed
the FBI attacks on ALF and ELF. She’s experienced in criminal defense,
constitutional and environmental law.
Regan and the CLDC is
litigating a constitutional challenge to an Oregon law, Interfering with
Agricultural Operations, in the Oregon Court of Appeals. Passed by timber
and ranching interests, the law makes it a crime to obstruct, impair or
hinder or to attempt to obstruct, impair or hinder agricultural operations.
The CLDC’s Web site says, “[S]ince [the] statute became law in 1999,
it has exclusively targeted forest activists for prosecution while creating
exemptions for other individuals, groups and ideologies.”
Today’s FBI campaigns against Greens hearken back to COINTELPRO, the
agency’s Counter-Intelligence Program, which officially operated from 1956
to 1971. Its job was to infiltrate and spy on left-wing activists with the
intention of destroying organizations like the New Left and American Indian
COINTELPRO used numerous underhanded tactics, including searching and
stealing documents from houses and offices without warrants, spreading
rumors to foster mistrust and foment violence between different activist
organizations or factions, harassing organizations’ members, framing
activists, and planting informants and agents provocateurs in activists’
COINTELPRO remained secret until a group of activists
calling themselves the Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI broke
into an FBI office in 1971, seized records related to the program and
circulated the documents.
Though the FBI supposedly shut down
COINTELPRO in ’71, it continues to apply the program’s dirty tricks today.
The strategy is to isolate and create fear in individual activists and to
intimidate and demoralize their fellow activists.
pursuit of its goals today, according to Regan, the FBI seeks out
progressive organizations that have “power and promise” and “fundamentally
challenge” the U.S. plutocracy. The FBI’s aim is to crush movements before
they’re well-established and to “chill” people from asserting their civil
The FBI will stop at nothing, she said. It sponsors death squads and
assassinations, as was the case with Chicago Black Panther Party leader Fred
Hampton, whose FBI-provided map of his apartment enabled the Chicago police
department to find and murder him in his bed on Dec. 4, 1969.
federal government charged ALF activists with actions targeting corporations
that exploit animals for experimentation. Allegedly those actions caused $43
million in property damage, but none of their actions caused injury or
The FBI rounded up scapegoats and charged them with felonies,
similar to what recently happened to Indiana protesters who were charged
with four misdemeanors and two felonies for resisting the I-69 Highway. The
ALF defendants were convicted of arson and received four- to seven-year
sentences, whereas the usual sentence for arson is two years.
they were labeled as “terrorist,” the activists’ crimes carried a “sentence
enhancement” of extra years in prison.
According to the CLDC’s Web
site, on March 12, 2009, four activists “were indicted in Northern
California, San Jose Division, for conspiracy and force, violence, and
threats involving animal enterprises. … On May 21, 2009, the Civil Liberties
Center, Center for Constitutional Rights and other civil rights attorneys
moved to dismiss the indictments against [the] 4 individuals charged under
the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, which labels the activists as
‘terrorists’ even though they are charged with protesting, chalking the
sidewalk, chanting and leafleting, and using ‘the internet to find
information on bio-medical researchers.’ All of these are clearly and
traditionally protected under the First Amendment.”
who refused to cooperate with the prosecution were threatened with sentences
of 1,015 years, Regan said. Before his trial, one activist was kept in
solitary confinement 23 hours a day for months in a Communication Management
As Goodman explained in her book, a CMU is “a prison
within the actual prison. … The unit doesn’t haven normal communication with
your family. … Normal visits are denied. … You have to make an appointment
to make one phone call a week, and that needs to be done with the oversight
of … a live monitor.”
Joining Regan at the Bloomington
discussion was Peter Gelderloos, an American anarchist and activist living
With the “War on Terrorism” and its vague and elusive
targets, Gelderloos said, “The entire population is a potential enemy.” Any
activity that hurts corporate profits and threatens capitalism the FBI
designates as “terrorist.”
Pursuing “domestic terrorists” is a form of social control, he said. The
state makes illegal any activity it doesn’t like.
that the American people have to defeat the War on Terrorism, and they have
to do so systemically.
The FBI likes to target towns with
large universities that have radical student groups, Regan said. The agency
recruits college students as infiltrators. In one case the FBI paid a
student $75,000 per year to spy on a student organization, she said.
Informants are pervasive in progressive organizations. Regan said they
comprise an estimated 64 percent of the U.S. Socialist Party. Although
there’s no foolproof way to identify an informant, according to Regan,
several characteristics are suggestive.
They often seem to have no past and no family or friends. They have no
visible means of support but have money on hand at all times. They often
volunteer for multiple jobs, some of which are key, such as Web master.
Informants are inclined to take over the microphone at meetings and
rallies and to make statements that don’t represent the organizations.
Their jobs are to sow conflict, and the FBI provides them with
psychological profiles of particular activists to make their efforts easier.
When it comes to infiltration, Regan stressed, activists have to walk
the fine line between “paranoia, which is paralyzing,” and “awareness, which
Linda Greene can be reached at