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12-28-2007, 12:04 AM
Police in thought pursuit


By Bruce Fein
December 27, 2007

The Pope had his Index of Forbidden Books. Japan had its Thought Police against subversive or dangerous ideologies. And the United States Congress and President Bush have learned nothing from those examples.

Congress is perched to enact the "Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 20007 (Act)," probably the greatest assault on free speech and association in the United States since the 1938 creation of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). Sponsored by Rep. Jane Harman, California Democrat, the bill passed the House of Representatives on Oct. 23 by a 404-6 vote under a rule suspension that curtailed debate. To borrow from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, the First Amendment should not distract Congress from doing important business. The Senate companion bill (S. 1959), sponsored by Susan Collins, Maine Republican, has encountered little opposition. Especially in an election year, senators crave every opportunity to appear tough on terrorism. Few if any care about or understand either freedom of expression or the Thought Police dangers of S. 1959. Former President John Quincy Adams presciently lamented: "Democracy has no forefathers, it looks to no posterity, it is swallowed up in the present and thinks of nothing but itself."

Denuded of euphemisms and code words, the Act aims to identify and stigmatize persons and groups who hold thoughts the government decrees correlate with homegrown terrorism, for example, opposition to the Patriot Act or the suspension of the Great Writ of habeas corpus.

The Act will inexorably culminate in a government listing of homegrown terrorists or terrorist organizations without due process; a complementary listing of books, videos, or ideas that ostensibly further "violent radicalization;" and a blacklisting of persons who have intersected with either list.

Political discourse will be chilled and needed challenges to conventional wisdom will flag. There are no better examples of sinister congressional folly.

The Act inflates the danger of homegrown terrorism manifold to justify creating a marquee National Commission on the Prevention of Violent Radicalization and Ideologically Based Violence (Commission) in the legislative branch. Since September 11, 2001, no American has died from homegrown terrorism, while about 120,000 have been murdered.

In the so-called post-September 11 "war" against international terrorism, Mr. Bush has detained only two citizens as enemy combatants. One was voluntarily deported to Saudi Arabia; the other was indicted, tried and convicted in a civilian court of providing material assistance to a foreign terrorist organization. And employing customary law enforcement tools, the United States has successfully prosecuted several pre-embryonic terrorism conspiracies amidst numerous false starts.

Prior to September 11, homegrown terrorism consisted largely of Timothy McVeigh, Eric Rudolph, the Unibomber and the D.C. Metropolitan area snipers. The Act, nevertheless, counterfactually finds "homegrown terrorism ... poses a threat to domestic security" that "cannot be easily prevented through traditional federal intelligence or law enforcement efforts."

Twelve members of the commission will be appointed by the president and leaders in the House and Senate. They will predictably serve the political needs of their political masters.

The commission's Big Brother task is to discover ideas and political associations, including connections to non-U.S. persons and networks, that promote "violent radicalization, homegrown terrorism, and ideologically based violence in the United States." And "violent radicalization" is defined as "the process of adopting or promoting an extremist belief system for the purpose of ideologically based violence to advance political, religious, or social change."

Under the Act, William Lloyd Garrison would have been guilty of promoting "violent radicalization" for publishing the anti-slavery Liberator in 1831, which "facilitated" John Brown. Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton would have been condemned for assailing laws disenfranchising women and creating an intellectual atmosphere receptive to violence. And Martin Luther King, Jr. would have fallen under the Act's suspicion for denouncing Jim Crow and practicing civil disobedience, which "facilitated" H. Rap Brown.

The commission will certainly hold choreographed public hearings. Witnesses will testify that non-Christian ideas or vocal challenges to the status quo promote "an extremist belief system" that facilitates ideologically based violence. Internet communications, the media, schools, religious institutions and home life will be scrutinized for promoting pernicious thoughts.

Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes observed in Gitlow v. New York (1925): "Every idea is an incitement. It offers itself for belief and if believed it is acted on unless some other belief outweighs it or some failure of energy stifles the movement at its birth. The only difference between expression of an opinion and an incitement in the narrower sense is the speaker's enthusiasm for the result."

Lengthy lists of persons, organizations and thoughts to be shunned will be compiled. Portions of the Holy Koran are likely to be taboo. The lives of countless innocent citizens will be shattered. That is the lesson of HUAC and every prior government enterprise to identify "dangerous" people or ideas — for example, the 120,000 innocent Japanese-Americans herded into concentration camps during World War II.

The ideological persecutions invited by the Act will do more to create than to deter homegrown terrorism. Mark Anthony's words in "Julius Caesar" are a fitting commentary on what Congress is prepared to enact: "O judgment! thou art fled to brutish beasts, and men have lost their reason."

Bruce Fein is a constitutional lawyer with Bruce Fein & Associates and Chairman of the American Freedom Agenda.