a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

The FBI and Occupy: sometimes it ain’t paranoia

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 30th December 2012

The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF) has obtained FBI documents
detailing the agency’s national efforts to monitor the Occupy Wall Street
movement. Click here for more.

Last week, the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF) reported:

FBI documents just obtained by the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF) pursuant to the PCJF’s Freedom of Information Act demands reveal that from its inception, the FBI treated the Occupy movement as a potential criminal and terrorist threat even though the agency acknowledges in documents that organizers explicitly called for peaceful protest and did “not condone the use of violence” at occupy protests.

At the time of the wave of crackdowns against Occupy Wall Street (OWS) encampments around the country, some writers — most prominently Naomi Wolf (“The shocking truth about the crackdown on Occupy,” 11/25/11) — argued that events showed “coordination against OWS at the highest national levels,” while others like Joshua Holland felt the “word “coordinated” is too vague to offer any analytic value.” 

In followups, many progressive commentators joined Holland in minimizing the federal role in the crackdowns.  First relying on Holland’s rebuttal, and later focusing on reports from Portland exonerating the Obama DHS in that city, Corey Robin, for instance, argued that the “Crackdown on Occupy [was] Probably Not Organized by the Obama Administration.”  To be clear: the motive wasn’t to minimize the crackdowns, but to question the need to invoke a driving federal role in them.*  As Scott Lemieux (“Lawyers, Guns & Money”) put it mockingly — he seems not to be able to help himself — Wolf’s position implied that “authoritarian actions could not be the result of our benevolent local overlords but must be the work of the big bad feds.    History does not provide much support for this assumption.”  Robin’s analysis was the same, if more circumspect: “political repression in the US tends to be decentralized and local.”  Call it the “They don’t need no steenkin’ federal badges” analysis.

The documents obtained by PCJF — in this “production” and previous ones throughout the year — make that view not wrong so much as uninteresting, even beside the point.

True, there’s no smoking gun directly tying the DHS or the FBI to the violent evictions or the decisions leading to them.*  But the documents show that focusing on the evictions per se was an analytic mistake of its own: federal agencies from the FBI to DHS to the National Park Service had laid the groundwork well before then.

PCFJ exec. director Mara Verheyden-Hilliard on “Democracy Now!”

A Democracy Now! segment summarizes the news of the document release:

…the FBI monitored Occupy Wall Street from its earliest days and treated the nonviolent movement as a potential terrorist threat. Internal government records show Occupy was treated as a potential threat when organizing first began in August of 2011. Counterterrorism agents were used to track Occupy activities, despite the internal acknowledgment that the movement opposed violent tactics. The monitoring expanded across the country as Occupy grew into a national movement, with FBI agents sharing information with businesses, local police agencies and universities.

Among the examples PCJF highlights:

  • As early as August 19, 2011, the FBI in New York was meeting with the New York Stock Exchange to discuss the Occupy Wall Street protests that wouldn’t start for another month. By September, prior to the start of the OWS, the FBI was notifying businesses that they might be the focus of an OWS protest. […]
  • The FBI in Anchorage reported from a Joint Terrorism Task Force meeting of November 3, 2011, about Occupy activities in Anchorage. Read the rest of this entry »

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Thinking about free speech, bad speech, and more speech

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 10th March 2012

A friend recently pointed out a piece by Jonathan Turley, “Free speech under fire,” and wrote, Don’t forget, the cure for offensive free speech is more free speech (discussion, debate, dialogue) — not suppression of free speech.”

I don’t disagree in the cases Turley describes — I think the judge got the case he leads with wrong.  (Well, for lack of legal training I guess I should rephrase: I hope the judge got this case wrong.)  An assault is an assault, it can’t be excused by claims (far-fetched ones at that) that the assault was a response to hate speech.  Likewise, I don’t support criminalizing Holocaust or genocide denial, as happens in Europe.

But I think my friend’s statement still begs many questions of what all counts as “suppression” of free speech.  Who is actually capable of it?  Are we talking about legislation and enforcement, or citizens’ and political groups own choices to condemn speech and boycott its supporters?  Does the word “suppression” encompass “discouragement” or “regulation”?  To cut to a couple of chases: “don’t be telling us not to ask people to boycott Rush Limbaugh or oppose Citizens United!  You’re suppressing our speech!” 🙂

I’m trying to make a friendly but serious point.   It needn’t be all we consider, but as a starting point, our First Amendment is in this respect strictly and (I think) rightly about government abridgment of free speech — “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech. It’s not about the rest of us penalizing bad speech, or agitating that others do so; that’s arguably a great deal of the point of free speech.

Moreover, “freedom of speech” and “guaranteed, unregulated, unopposed amplification of speech” are not the same thing; that’s why the former is guaranteed, and the latter is not.  For example, Rush Limbaugh will always be free to say disgusting things about people he disagrees with, even if his radio program dies for lack of advertising — he’ll just be saying them to his drinking buddies at the Lowlife Saloon, not to a nationwide audience.  Likewise — and to recall an example where *my* ox was gored — the Dixie Chicks remain free to make new music and seek new audiences when their fan base got upset about Natalie Maines’s “ashamed of Bush” remark.  I think what happened to the Dixie Chicks was unjustified and even a demonstration of a “fascist impulse.” But I’m for free speech — not consequence-free speech; while a law against criticizing the president would not be fair game, the conservative listeners boycott of their music was.*

Turning to another example of often-offensive free speech, corporations and groups should be able to advertise on behalf of favored candidates — but it’s not “suppressive” to insist on spending limits or transparency.  By contrast, the Citizens United ruling is the very apotheosis of “more speech” — indeed, it’s “all but unlimited speech which no one has a prayer of adequately rebutting in the same volume” — as a supposed cure for the other guy’s speech.  But this particular “more speech cure” is a new and worse disease; true, I can write a blog post or upload a video rebutting some Super PAC lie — yet “more speech” rebutting “bad speech” — but the fifty people who see those rebuttals are a drop in the democratic bucket compared to the millions who see the TV ad or radio spot I’d be responding to.

This kind of issue — how to oppose offensive and/or  free speech — can be fraught even in relatively small-scale, local settings. For example, last fall a letter was circulated to Montgomery County, Maryland politicians asking them to sign a statement condemning an Islamophobic presentation at a local Republican women’s group.  Later on, a second letter requested that an Annapolis hotel not host a conference scheduling a number of Islamophobic speakers.

The first letter — elected officials signing a letter criticizing an event — arguably verged on government abridgement of free speech. But “verging on” and “being” are different things; since the letter merely found the Islamophobic event “inappropriate” and saying rhetoric of the kind “had no place in” the county.  This wasn’t attempted abridgement of free speech so much as free speech of their own.  The second letter was actually an easier case from my perspective: one group of private citizens asks another to reconsider a course of action.  Given the (insultingly overblown) fears this raised for the conference organizers, though, the letter resulted in a small police presence at the conference.  While not arguing against the right to draft and send the letter, a simple counterdemonstration or request to speak as well might have been a better choice of tactics.

In both cases, the group I was a part of took slightly different approaches to those of the lead organizers.  We worked with the circulator of the letter to stage an informational forum about the “Creeping Sharia” myth, and we joined in a counterdemonstration at the Annapolis hotel without signing the letter asking for the hotel to disinvite the convention.  I think those were good choices — but I don’t think drafting or signing either letter would have been beyond the pale, either.  Far from being suppressive of free speech, they were most properly understood as examples of precisely the “more free speech” — nothing more, nothing less — that my friend supports.

As do I.  What I’m saying is that we make it much too easy for ourselves by claiming a “free speech absolutist” mantle when it can’t possibly be true.  I don’t know where my friend stands on the Rush boycott or Citizens United, but the point is that sometimes whichever side one is on, someone’s speech is diminished — Limbaugh’s, or those encouraging a boycott; an Islamophobe’s, or those seeking to mobilize public opinion against him; corporations wanting to engage in unlimited, unregulated advertising, or people rightly feeling their own citizenship is rendered inconsequential by comparison.  In such cases, we must decide what we believe free speech is for, and whether that value is compelling enough for us to intervene.

There are other distinctions and issues to to be made in the two cases, e.g., a public figure trying to humiliate a private figure vs. a public renouncing a group who had sought the limelight; the possibility of monopolistic radio station collusion in the Dixie Chicks boycott; etcetera.  But for the purposes of discussing the right to object to their speech by penalizing their businesses, the broad similarities outweigh them.

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Civil liberties: the next generation

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 21st February 2011

Binta Coulibaly, Maddie Nephew, Susana Perez
Binta Coulibaly, Maddie Nephew, Susana Perez

My daughter Maddie Nephew and her friends Binta Coulibaly and Susana Perez have produced what I’m proud to say is an exceptional video documentary titled “The Fight for Student Rights: Student Free Speech in Schools.” The video, based on a paper Maddie wrote earlier in the school year, is their entry in this year’s “National History Day” competition; their school — Eastern Middle School, in Silver Spring, Maryland — has built their superb humanities and communication magnet program around participating in this event.

For her paper, Maddie interviewed both Mary Beth Tinker — one of the defendants in the seminal free student speech case Tinker v. Des Moines — and State Senator Jamie Raskin, who among many other accomplishments literally wrote the book on student rights; the team went back for some very interesting video interviews with both of these civil liberties champions.

Last week, the girls (and I) were thrilled to learn that their work would be featured on the web site of the ACLU of the National Capital Area; the article is titled “Are You Smarter than a Seventh Grader?” I saw how hard they worked on this — and while I suppose I may be biased, I’m honestly very impressed with the result. Thanks very much to Johnny Barnes of the ACLU-NCA for rewarding their work with some very well deserved recognition. As he put it,

The future of civil liberties is in good hands.

[crossposted from the blog of the Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition]

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“One Nation” minus one friend

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 19th December 2010

We March For Hope Not Hate
Children with “We March for Hope not Hate” sign
at 10/2/10 “One Nation” demonstration
( Click for “One Nation” slide show).

The “One Nation” event — already unimaginably long ago, more than two months! — at least succeeded in discomfiting one fellow who needed it. John Avlon — the smug author of the unbearable “Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe is Taking Over America” — was unaccountably assigned to the rally by the Daily Beast to confirm his superiority over attendees.  He reported:

The signs started off badly as I approached the Washington Mall. “Yes We Can… Bomb Civilians!” read the first sign I saw, held aloft by a 2008 Ralph Nader supporter from Providence, Rhode Island, named Adrian. Behind him, representatives from “The World Can’t Wait” positioned a black-hooded orange-jumpsuited effigy to protest Guantanamo next to signs that read “Stop Occupation and Torture for Empire!”

A pre-game rally south of the Washington Monument featured drum circles and papier maché puppets. President Obama was called an “imperialist president” who was insensitive to the “African community” and “the 2.5 million people in concentration camps called prisons.”

I’ve never been sure what’s wrong with drum circles and paper mache puppets, and I’m pretty sure nothing’s wrong with confronting a supercilious prig or his readers with the facts of mass imprisonment in the U.S., bombing civilians, occupation, torture, or an assertion of empire that matches facts and is actually embraced by leading thinkers on the right.  But if there is something wrong with it, I guess we’ll all just have to live with ourselves.

Next, though, Avlon noticed some more debatable signs — but just as debatably classified them all as anti-Semitic, un-American and beyond the pale:

The curious migration of anti-Semitism to the left was evident in signs that read “End All U.S. Aid to the Racist State of Israel” and “Fund Jobs, Not Israel.” I cringed as these marchers crowded past a group of World War II vets from Columbus, Ohio, being wheeled to their war memorial as part of the excellent “Honor Flight” program.

Why those vets would necessarily care one way or the other — either about Israel or about what protesters think of it — is presumably clear to Mr. Avlon, but was left unexplained for the rest of us.  It’s one thing to say these demonstration participants were somewhat off the main message of the day — jobs, employment, economic help for those needing it rather than for those not needing it.  (Though their signs did arguably match the One Nation principle of providing “greater national investment in new jobs, improved infrastructure, and public education instead of escalating military spending.”)

But Avlon’s objection was broader: these people had no valid point whatever, and their failings indicted the demonstration as a whole.  To me, that’s an insidious sentiment of its own. Read the rest of this entry »

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One routine FOIA checkup, one clean bill of health

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 9th December 2010

Federal Bureau of Investigation
November 30, 2010

FOIPA Request No.: 1157666-000

Dear Mr. Nephew,

This responds to your Freedom of Information/Privacy Acts (FOIPA) request

Based on the information you provided, we conducted a search of the indices to our Central Records System.  We were unable to identify responsive main file records.  […]

To the extent your FOIPA request seeks access to records that would either confirm or deny any individual’s placement on any government watch list, please be advised that the U.S. Government can neither confirm nor deny whether a particular person is on any terrorist watch list. […]

Sincerely yours,

I got the clean bill of surveillance health about two weeks after filing my FOIA request, using forms supplied by the Defending Dissent Foundation. While I thought the odds were somewhere between slim and none that I’d been worth wasting FBI time on, I didn’t know for sure, I’d wondered about it before, and I figured it would be interesting to find out one way or the other.

I’ve been arrested for civil disobedience twice in my life.  Once was way back in 1983, at a mass blockade of Lawrence Livermore Labs, where U.S. nuclear weapons are designed; there were 1300 of us, and we spent 11 days in jail — in our case, a huge circus tent on the grounds of the Santa Rita Jail — before eventually being released en masse.  The other time was on my own, on September 11, 2005, at the Pentagon-sponsored “Freedom Walk” commemorating 9/11 and ‘supporting the troops.’  I wore an “Abu Ghraib guy” poncho and hood, and carried a sign reading “For Them, For Us, For Our Troops: Never Again” (in part) on one side and “Freedom?” on the other. Back in 1977, I joined a demonstration against building a gym on the site of the Kent State shootings, but wasn’t arrested.  Besides those incidents, I’ve been involved in various grassroots political groups from time to time, mainly the nuclear freeze and free zone movements in California,  and impeachment efforts in Takoma Park.

Defending Dissent FoundationI outlined those activities on the Department of Justice “Certification of Identity” Form 360 available via Defending Dissent, following the helpful directions they supply separately.  (As per the example given there, I also included the meeting about the FBI raids on peace activists that I attended in early November.)  I put the envelope in the mail, and figured I’d hear from them in two or three months.

Instead, it was just a couple of weeks.  And — as I suspected I would — I learned that I’m not all that interesting, and that the FBI is not quite so monumentally stupid as to think that I am.

But many other people have been equally peaceful and undeserving of FBI or police attention, yet got it all the same.  The anti-death penalty and peace activists who were infiltrated and reported on by Maryland State Police might have once scoffed to think they were under suspicion as well.  But at some point they filed a FOIA request — and shone a light on serious police abuses of power and infringements of the right of free speech, free assembly, and freedom from surveillance without reasonable cause.

For most of us, most of the time, I think the best way to think of a FOIA request is as a kind of routine citizen checkup: a checkup on your privacy and liberties, and a checkup on the country.  I’m pleased that in my case, the results were good — one unsurprising positive data point to weigh against the negative ones.  I’ve met people who were morbidly and almost certainly unjustifiably paranoid about this kind of thing, and I don’t think that does anyone any good — it deactivates and discourages you for no good reason.  My one little experience pushes back against that at any rate.

So if you’re at all politically active — and even if you’re not — I think you should submit a FOIA request, too, or even organize a FOIA party with your friends.  If you’re like me, it’s likely you’ll find there’s nothing to worry about — and if you’re like me, it’s also likely a request you’ll want to get in the habit of repeating from time to time.  If you do, share the results with Defending Dissent, where great people like Sue Udry stand ready to help with whatever develops.


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11/6/10 forum videos

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 10th November 2010


The FBI Raids: Activists Respond to Government Intrusion (part 1)
Download (54 min, 357 MB)
Creative Commons copyright: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike
No transcript available

“We’re here today to talk about what happened with the FBI raids, what our rights are, and how we can respond.”
–Kit Bonson, Washington Peace Center*

“…fourteen of them were subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury, they stood in solidarity with each other, and every single one of them refused to testify before the grand jury, which is a major – and to me, inspiring – story.  However, the prosecutors have come back and said that they are going to reissue the subpoenas to some of those activists.”
— Sue Udry, Defending Dissent Foundation

“…the surveillance society that we have in this country is collecting 1.7 billion records and communications a day. … When you get to 1.7 billion, that’s not about the government going to a judge and saying “I have a suspected terrorist, I’d like to read his emails,” that’s about our government turning its extraordinary computer powers loose on the American people.”

— Michelle Richardson, ACLU

Related links

Defending Dissent Foundation (Sue Udry)(1:23)
* US agencies forewarned about India bomb suspect (Rotella, Wash.Post)
* Jordan Halliday Sentenced to 10 Months for Resisting Grand Jury (Potter,
* Solidarity statements with 9/24 raid targets (
* A Review of the FBI’s Investigations of Certain Domestic Advocacy Groups (Dept. of Justice OIG Report)
* Actionable Intelligence Briefing, 10/31-11/1/09 (PA Inst. of Terrorism Research and Response)

ACLU (Michelle Richardson)(12:40)
* Top Secret America (Wash.Post series)
* More about FBI Spying (ACLU)
* What’s Wrong with Fusion Centers (ACLU)
* Universal Adversary Dynamic Threat Assessment, 5/7/08 (DHS)
* FBI’s Latest Power Grab Is a Bold and Unnecessary Move (Richardson, ACLU)
* NSA To Build $1.5 Billion Cybersecurity Data Center (Hoover, InformationWeek)
* DHS expands ‘see something, say something’ campaign to fusion centers (SecurityInfoWatch)
* The Privatization of Citizen Informant Networks (emptywheel, “firedoglake”)

Charity and Security Network (Kay Guinane)(27:33)
* 11/6/10 presentation outline (Guinane)
* Material support and the Humanitarian Law Project Decision (CSN document, 11/2010)
* Material Support and the Need for a Sensible Humanitarian Exemption (CSN analysis)
* 18 USC 2339B (Providing material support to designated foreign terrorist organizations)
* AEDPA (Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996)
* Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project (Supreme Court, 2010)
* The Roberts Court’s Free Speech Problem (David Cole, NYRBlog, June ’10)

National Lawyers Guild (John Hardenbergh)(42:55)
* Grand Jury Resistance Project (GJRP)
* Midnight Special Law Collective
* Impact of Grand Juries on Political Movements (GJRP; .PDF)
* The Improper Use of the Federal Grand Jury: An Instrument for the Internment of Political Activists (Deutsch, 1984; .PDF, 25 pages)

vid 2

The FBI Raids: Activists Respond to Government Intrusion (part 2)
Download (62 min, 415MB)
Creative Commons copyright: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike
No transcript available

“…Every time you hear another story it’s more shocking than the last time. Each group is never really suspected of doing anything wrong, it’s considered sort of preventive or preemptive spying. So whether it’s happening again I couldn’t give you good advice about, whether it’s not or what even to do to prevent it. That’s really the chilling effect that it has: you want to be open, you want to have public meetings, you want to be able to organize but you’re prevented from doing so by the fear that you are being infiltrated…”
— Michelle Richardson, ACLU

“If you come away with anything from this training… one: cops lie and the second lesson I’d like people to come away with is keep your mouth shut.”
— John Hardenbergh, National Lawyers Guild

vid 2 links

* Foreign Terrorist Organizations (Dept. of State), Specially Designated Global Terrorist list (Treasury Dept.)
* Lisa Schrich, Eastern Mennonite Univ., 3D Security Initiative in FREE SPEECH, HUMAN RIGHTS AND COUNTERTERRORISM LAWS: A Briefing on What’s at Stake in the Supreme Court Case Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project. (2/17/10 forum transcript, .PDF); forum video excerpt; Free Speech or Support for Terrorists? Supreme Court Weighs Key Patriot Act Provision (de Vogue, ABC News, 2/22/10)
* The Impact of Counterterrorism Measures on Charities and Donors After 9/11 (Charity and Security Network); Restore Religious Freedom for Charitable Donors (Turner, ACLU)
* Brad Sherman (D-CA) call for ‘material support’ charges for Gaza Flotilla supporters; transcript (.PDF)
* Justice Dept. Renews Enforcement of Subpoenas for Antiwar Activists Targeted in FBI Raids (Amy Goodman 11/5/10 interview w. Bruce Nestor, National Lawyers Guild, Democracy Now!)
* COINTELPRO: THE FBI’S COVERT ACTION PROGRAMS AGAINST AMERICAN CITIZENS (Final Report of the Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations, a.k.a. Church Committee, 1976)
* Demand Your DotRights (ACLU Northern California)

National Lawyers Guild
* Flex Your Rights

vid 3

The FBI Raids: Activists Respond to Government Intrusion (part 3)
Download (26 min, 214MB)
Creative Commons copyright: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike
No transcript available

“We really wanted to make sure that people didn’t leave today feeling completely fearful and demoralized.  Because the object of learning about the FBI’s — and I would dare say other agencies’ — surveillance and infiltration is not to… shut people down and to make you all go home and hide under your bed.  The object is to figure out a way to work with this knowledge and to make sure our movements are ever growing and ever stronger.”
— Nadine Bloch

vid 3 links

Nadine Bloch
* Sachs Report (Review of Maryland State Police Covert Surveillance of Anti-Death Penalty and Anti-War Groups from March 2005 to May 2006)
* ACLU Maryland “No Spying” page
* Laird v. Tatum (Wikipedia)

Raed Jarrar
* Yassin Aref (Wikipedia); Son of Mountains (Yassin Aref web site)
* linked news articles (Yassin Aref web site)
* Muslim Solidarity Committee
* “Little Guantanamo”–Secretive “CMU” Prisons Designed to Restrict Communication of Jailed Muslims and Activists with Outside World (Democracy Now! April ’09)
* Entrapment or Foiling Terror? FBI’s Reliance on Paid Informants Raises Questions about Validity of Terrorism Cases (Democracy Now! October ’10)
* Dr. Sami Al-Arian (Wikipedia); U.S.A. vs. Al-Arian (Norwegian documentary film)
* Feds arrest N.Va. man in D.C. Metro bomb plot (Finn/Hsu/Gibson, Wash.Post, 10/27/10)
* Suspect in subway terror sting pleads not guilty (Barakat, AP to Wash.Post, 11/9/10)
* METRO PLOTTER SNARED (Express, 10/28/10)


FBI Raids Forum (pt.1): What is going on?
John Hardenbergh (NLG), Kay Guinane (Charity and Security), Michelle Richardson (ACLU), Sue Udry (standing; Defending Dissent), Kit Bonson (Washington Peace Center)



* Search and Seizure Warrant, residence of Michael Kelly
* Defending Dissent October 10 newsletter
* The September 24 FBI ‘material support’ raids (this blog)
* Justice Dept. Renews Enforcement of Subpoenas for Antiwar Activists Targeted in FBI Raids (Amy Goodman 11/5/10 interview w. Bruce Nestor, National Lawyers Guild, Democracy Now!)

Groups sponsoring the forum
* Washington Peace Center
* Defending Dissent Foundation
* National Lawyers Guild
* Bill of Rights Defense Committee

My own blog posts about this issue
* Dissent is not a crime – DC activists to hold forum on FBI raids
* The September 24 FBI ‘material support’ raids
* Activists report suspicious government activity: the Nov. 6 FBI raids forum


* Kit Bonson is mistakenly listed in the video as being part of the National Lawyers Guild; she is affiliated with the Washington Peace Center.

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The September 24 FBI ‘material support’ raids

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 10th November 2010

This past Saturday, November 6, I attended an excellent forum — announced earlier on this blog and (mainly) elsewhere — about some very troubling FBI raids on fourteen peace activists in Minnesota, Illinois, and Michigan on September 24th.  The raids sought evidence of their alleged support of terrorist organizations.  In the course of writing about that forum, I’ve decided I need to back up and record some of the basics I’ve been able to learn about the raids, their subjects, and the subsequent legal process.

Many of the fourteen people who were subjects of the September 24 FBI raids are associated to varying degrees with the Freedom Road Socialist Organization (FRSO), an avowedly Marxist-Leninist organization that, not surprisingly, calls for the overthrow of the capitalist system in the jubilee days a-coming, but whose members also apparently engage in slightly more feasible, sometimes gutsy peace- , justice- and labor-related outreach work in the here and now in Colombia, the Middle East, and the U.S. An ad hoc, but doubtless related Committee to Stop FBI Repression has published profiles of the 14 activists to their web site; they include a PIRG activist who traveled to Palestine to meet with NGO members there, a grandmother of five, and a University of Illinois Staff Person of the Year.

Another common bond among at least some of the activists served with search warrants is that they were involved in the 2008 protests around the Republican convention in Minneapolis.  The events in Minneapolis surrounding that convention, mentioned at this blog and elsewhere, seemed to me at the time a veritable negative showcase of police surveillance, infiltration, and abuses.**

An apparently typical search warrant, for Michael Kelly, looks ominous at first glance: it seeks evidence concerning the violation of 18 USC 2339B, or “Providing material support or resources to designated foreign terrorist organizations.” The FTO’s involved are a rogue’s gallery indeed — Colombia’s FARC, and Middle Eastern groups like Hezbollah and the PFLP.

However — as the November 6 forum-goers were to learn — bad laws and a worse Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project Supreme Court ruling have stretched the definition of ‘material support’ beyond common sense, regardless whether any of the subpoenaed activists stepped over today’s absurdly restrictive lines or more serious ones.  As the excellent Defending Dissent October 2010 newsletter wrapup puts it, “The problem is, one can be found guilty of material support for interacting with a group that is not an FTO, but that the government alleges is in cahoots with an FTO.  […] In Columbia, the government deems any trade union and any group that opposes the government to be allied with FARC.”

Quite as disturbingly as the ever-widening definition of “material support,” the warrant seems to suggest that recruitment of individuals to FRSO is itself an actionable crime — and provides the FBI with a legal driftnet to sweep up Kelly’s address book, e-mail, social network contacts, so that the execution of a search warrant for person A becomes an invasion of privacy, chilling of association, and the beginning of FBI dossiers for persons B to Z.   Again, Defending Dissent: “The expansive list of ‘evidence’ sought led one of the lawyers to deem them “kind of unconstitutional and hideous.”

Read the rest of this entry »

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Dissent is not a crime – DC activists to hold forum on FBI raids

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 22nd October 2010

Protest of FBI raids 22
From “Protest of FBI raids” series by Alan
Wilfahrt, on Flickr. (Photo used with permission)

On September 24th, 2010, the FBI raided anti-war and solidarity activists in Chicago (two homes) and Minneapolis (five homes and the office of the Anti-War Committee). During the raids, the FBI took computers, cell phones, documents and personal family items. In total, 14 activists in Minnesota, Illinois, and Michigan were subpoenaed to appear before a Grand Jury. They have subsequently refused to appear.

“Get FISA Right” activists recently decided to add the organization’s name to a petition protesting these raids. Now there’s a chance to learn more about those raids, and lend support to activists opposing such infringements of First and Fourth Amendment rights.

On November 6, civil liberties activists and experts will gather from 1-4 pm the Friends Meeting House in Washington, DC (2011 Florida Ave., NW) to examine the FBI raids and other attacks on activists, our legal rights, and how our community can respond. Admission is free, the event is open to everyone.

The program and other details follow:

The FBI Raids: Activists Respond to Government Intrusion

What’s Going On and What Are the Legal Rules in Place? (1 p.m. to 2:15 p.m)

  • Update on the FBI raids and other recent incidents of harassment, infiltration and surveillance of activist groups — Sue Udry, Defending Dissent Foundation
  • A look at the tools police and intelligence agencies use to quash dissent and the laws that allow it — Michelle Richardson, ACLU (invited)
  • Material support laws and the Supreme Court’s Humanitarian Law Project decision: what every peace, solidarity and union activist needs to know — Kay Guinane, Charity and Security Network
  • Function of the Grand Jury — John Hardenbergh, National Lawyers Guild

What Are Our Rights? (2:15 p.m. to 3:00 p.m.)

  • Know Your Rights – in the streets, in your home, at your office — Jeff Light, Rachael Moshman, Ann Wilcox, John Hardenbergh, National Lawyers Guild

How Should the Movement Respond? (3:10 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.)

  • A discussion led by activists Michael Beer, Nadine Bloch, Raed Jarrar, Gael Murphy
  • Solidarity, support and resistance – how should the movement respond to the raids and other recent provocations?
  • Advocacy to change the laws that allow unconstitutional surveillance, infiltration and detention.

The event is brought to you by the National Lawyer’s Guild, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, the Washington Peace Center and Defending Dissent. For more information about this program, contact Malachy Kilbride at 202-841-2230 or by email at Organizations can use an online form to co-sponsor the event, and are then expected to help publicize it. Finally, while it’s not necessary, if you have a Facebook account, it will be helpful and encouraging to let us know you’re attending via this event announcement.

I’ve participated in one organizing call so far, and plan to attend. I’ll report back about it here as best as I can; we’re also hoping to videotape the event and post that as well.

[crossposted from “Get FISA Right”]

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Free speech for Me, Inc. but not for thee – the second Feingold-Johnson debate

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 12th October 2010

Feingold-Johnson debate, 10/12/10, via

To be honest, it’s rare that a political debate is even mildly interesting.

But last night’s showdown between Senator Russ Feingold and challenger Ron Johnson was just that — and for about fifteen riveting minutes towards the end of the debate, it was electrifying.

The debate was the second one between Feingold and Johnson.  The debate format this time allowed for more give and take between the two — which turned out to be a distinct disadvantage for the Republican candidate, who seemed befuddled at times by Feingold’s sharp questioning.  I’ve added my transcript of selected excerpts to an ongoing record and have posted that online.

Johnson was ready with prepared statements about deficits he blamed on Democrats, and about health care reform he wished had been done piecemeal if at all.  While I think Feingold made a lot more sense on those issues, I didn’t sense that he was finding major openings in Johnson’s armor, or overcoming the Republican’s formidable “folksy millionaire” appeal: a kind of kinder, gentler Ross Perot.

But around the thirty-eighth minute, Johnson — ahead in the polls, with millions of his own money at his disposal, and millions more fighting his battles for him via Americans for Progress ads and the like –suddenly felt a need to land a sharp jab in the midst of a discussion about Afghanistan.  By my scoring, he shouldn’t have:

Johnson (38:58): I would like to ask you, why didn’t you vote — you were one of I think only 25 Senators who refused to vote for the resolution to condemning your supporting group,, when they placed I thought a very shameful ad in the New York Times that talked about General Petraeus.  Why didn’t you vote to condemn that act?

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A teachable moment in which little was learned

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 1st August 2009

The “beer summit” is history; were Obama’s hopes of the Gates-Crowley incident becoming a “teachable moment” realized?  I think it’s unlikely — and whatever small amount of worthwhile learning occurred was despite Obama’s intercession and retreat, not because of it.

The incident
In my view, Obama was right the first time in saying that Cambridge PD officer Mark Crowley “acted stupidly” in arresting Henry Gates.  Of course it was also right and reasonable for a passerby seeing an apparent break-in to report that, and it was reasonable for the Cambridge PD to investigate that report — and it was unreasonable of the Harvard professor to object to that, if that’s what Gates was objecting to.  Despite all that, however, Crowley’s own incident report shows he believed early on that Gates was lawfully in the residence:

While I was led to believe that Gates was lawfully in the residence, I was quite surprised and confused with the behavior he exhibited toward me. I asked Gates to provide me with photo identification  […] Gates initially refused, demanding that I show him identification but then did supply me with a Harvard University identification card.

Once Gates presented ID sufficient to establish he was a rightful occupant of the house, that should have been the end of the story; instead, when Gates followed Crowley out onto the porch — likely still yelling, though accounts differ — he was arrested with the arch comment,Thank you for accommodating my earlier request.”

Yet it was Gates’s home and his porch; while there — actually, while anywhere, but certainly on his own property — he could be rude to and shout at whomever he likes,  including police officers, by the ancient principle of “my home is my castle,” by the First and Fourth Amendments, and even by specific Massachusetts case law.**  In one of her typically excellent analyses, digby of “Hullabaloo” sums up (emphasis added):

“Henry Louis Gates may have acted like a jackass in his house that day. But Sergeant Crowley arresting him for being “tumultuous” was an abuse of his discretion, a fact which is backed up by the fact that the District Attorney used his discretion to decline to prosecute. Racially motivated or not he behaved “stupidly” and the president was right to say so. “

Race as red herring, citizen as peon
It’s possible that Crowley was more likely to arrest an ‘uppity’ black man than an ‘uppity’ white one under the same circumstances; we’ll never know.  But I think it would have been a much more interesting discussion to take Crowley’s own documented (some would say alleged) anti-profiling expertise and/or the testimonials of his black colleagues at face value — because that would have led directly to the question why Crowley felt entitled to arrest anyone under the circumstances he described.  Unfortunately, that discussion was short-circuited first by Gates and then by Obama, both describing the case as an incident of “racial profiling” when it never really fit that label per se.

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