By Lydia Howell, Free Speech Zone
October 05, 2010
Is free speech worth the constitutional paper it's written on?
After the September 26 FBI raids on peace activists' homes in
Minneapolis, Chicago and North Carolina, it appears to depend on
who's speaking and what they're saying.
The pretext for the raids was investigating "material aide to
terrorists", resulting in grand jury subpoenas and confiscation of
computers, books, music CD s and from one home, a Martin Luther King
poster. The targeted Minneapolis activists have openly protested US
military policy since the 1980s. The FBI certainly knows they have
nothing to do with terrorism. These activists simply have the
audacity to challenge bi-partisan US invasions, occupations and
support for dictatorships and human rights abusers. Dissent on the
left has long been seen as 'criminal behavior'. Where once "the
communist threat' was the argument for such repression, now, "terrorism" is.
When it comes to war, US government sees three roles for the American
people: 1. Pay hundreds of billions for the largest military on Earth
2. Kill and possibly die or be maimed for US military and corporate
dominance of other countries 3.Cheerlead war. The US
government---bought and paid for by weapons-makers and mercenaries
('contractors') ---does not think that We The People have the right
to even question, much less challenge and resist permanent war, where
is bankrupting our country and civilian deaths ignites violent reaction.
Just days before the raids, the Department of Justice Inspector
General released a report about FBI abuses of peace groups under the
Bush Administration----abuses that President Obama continues.
Republicans and Democrats rubberstamp domestic spying on peace
organizations, Quakers, solidarity groups visiting countries that the
US bombs or subsidizes death squads in.
In June, the Supreme Court ruled 5-to-4 in Holder v. Humanitarian Law
Center that peace groups who talked about non-violent, democratic
practices and international human rights law---that is, alternatives
to terrorism---with organizations on the State Department's
"Terrorist Watch List" may be charged with 'material aid to
terrorists'. If ending terrorism is actually the goal, then, why make
working to end violence a crime? In his dissent, SCOTUS Justice
Stephen Breyer warned that political speech---the most protected
speech under the First Amendment---was being criminalized.
President Bill Clinton's 1996 Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death
Penalty Act made "material aid" a crime, expanded under George W.
Bush's PATRIOT Act and broadening to Orwellian vagueness under the
President Obama. Campaign promises to close Guantanamo yet, the Obama
Administration is defending Bush-era torture and imprisonment without
charges, trial or conviction in court. Obama claims further powers:
to assassinate anyone labeled a "terrorist' overseas----including
Billions of dollars have simply disappeared in Iraq and Afghanistan .
Contractors like KBR/Halliburton reap billions for work not done and
services not provided. The US government bribes Taliban, warlords and
"insurgents" with over $2B.
Dissidents educate the American public about these policies as much
as they protest them.
As the FBI raided American dissidents' homes, Secretary of State
Hillary Clinton announced economic sanctions against Iran for human
rights abuses, including "suppression of dissent". What hypocrisy!
Since WWI, the FBI has targeted peace activists, most infamously
labor leader Eugene Debs was sentenced to ten years in prison for an
anti-war speech. The FBI's COINTEL program subjected the civil rights
movement to domestic spying while the Klux Klux Klan burned churches
and homes, beat and murdered with near-total impunity. Martin Luther
King Jr., Malcolm X and other leaders of color had thick FBI files.
The Black Panther Party, American Indian Movement and Puerto Rican
Independence movement were subjected to FBI assaults, murders and
frame-ups. Congress' 1978 Church Committee investigated these abuses
and ended them until 9/11 loosened all rules.
Almost always it is progressive/Leftist non-violent groups and
activists that the FBI spies on, harasses and tries to jail.
Anti-choice groups post hit lists of doctors with their addresses,
commit arson on and mail anthrax-like powder to clinics---without
being investigated. White supremacists and militias threaten and
commit violence against people of color, Muslims and progressives.
Violent rhetoric infuses many right-wing groups---with no grand jury
subpoenas. Support racism, corporate rule and war---that is,
rightwing ideology---even with a call for violence, is protected speech.
The Supreme Court will hear the case of homophobic preacher, Fred
Phelps, who protests military funerals. Likely Phelps will win, as
"unpopular speech" --especially if its bigotry-- gets protection..
This is the same court that made talking about international human
rights law a crime.
Bigots are held up as 'victims' who's First Amendment rights are
threatened, yet, hatred has no problem being heard. No one is
harassed for suggesting that the US nuke other countries who have not
attacked us. Instead, the government targets those who uphold values
of equal justice under the law, human rights, democracy and peace .
Nine years after the September 11 attacks, the US government has done
more damage to fundamental American freedoms than Al-Qaeda ever did.
With progressive dissent, censored from corporate media, increasingly
treated like a crime, it's time to ask: what is being protected?
Lydia Howell is a Minneapolis activist, journalist and producer-host
of CATALYST: politics 7 culture on KFAI Radio.