Tag Archives: repression

on the interwebs today: criminalization of thought

I like to catalog evidence of the US government’s criminalization of thought here, in case any of you think I am a crazy conspiracy theorist overstating my case. And it does sound crazy  sometimes (though maybe only to those of us raised with white privilege–I suspect it is a lot less crazy sounding to African Americans who may be more used to viewing the US government as an institution of unjust repression).

But it’s undeniable, too. To whit, even Gawker, hardly a bastion of left-wing anything, is posting about the CIA/Bush administration targeting of Juan Cole. And let’s not forgot the ongoing FBI probe in Minneapolis targeting anti-war activists.

It may seem to some of you dear readers that I am overreacting, and that such individuals, if guilty of no wrong doing, will be acquitted and the FBI/CIA will leave them alone. Or, if they have committed illegal protest acts, then they knew the risks they were assuming and should not shrink from facing the penalties.

Here’s the problem with that: the reason the CIA was gathering sensitive personal information on Juan Cole is so that they could find a way to silence his political speech in his personal life. Perhaps an email policy violation at the University of Michigan. Perhaps even just gathering unrelated details that could be used to accuse Juan Cole of a crime down the road in several years.

Think of any movie you’ve seen about the civil rights struggle in the southern US: remember those scenes where the car gets pulled over, and then the cop busts the light bulb, and then takes the cars occupants to jail or worse? FBI and CIA probes are like that. The order in which these events unfold really matters. Searching for unrelated wrongdoing in order to shut up someone’s political speech will probably turn up something that can be used against someone, but that doesn’t mean it was a justified search.

And another point, perhaps to be elaborated in a later post: these governmental probes, infiltrations, investigations are not the exception but the rule.

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the anarchist next door

A few days ago, the New York Times published an article about a self-identified anarchist in Austin, TX, who has succeeded in obtaining the FBI records of his own surveillance.

First of all: what? Is it that easy to just obtain your own FBI file, that perennial joke of leftist circles? Apparently it might be. The ACLU has directions for this exact purpose here, and also has a really interesting collection of information on domestic spying here, if you want to read more.

OK, so now that we’ve covered this minor revelation, I can move on to the article’s actual content. Given the media’s need to demonize anarchists (see Graeber 2009), the article is surprisingly flattering in its portrayal of Crow as a peaceful if somewhat unconventional guy who believes in something. This is a stark difference from the vision of anarchist as an outlaw ready to throw buckets of piss at cops in a moment’s notice. And the Times can’t deny that the FBI surveillance—based on the FBI’s own records—is unjust and not a little ridiculous. However, while the article suggests that this is clearly a widespread phenomena:

Other targets of bureau surveillance, which has been criticized by civil liberties groups and mildly faulted by the Justice Department’s inspector general, have included antiwar activists in Pittsburgh, animal rights advocates in Virginia and liberal Roman Catholics in Nebraska. When such investigations produce no criminal charges, their methods rarely come to light publicly,

it stops far short of examining how chilling and harmful these practices can be. Mr. Crow’s case is far from an anomaly. Look, for example, at the affidavits presented against the 8 members of the RNC Welcoming Committee during the Republican National Convention in St. Paul. In one case, the most incriminating piece of evidence in the affidavit is the fact that the defendant was present at a meeting where another person made an inflammatory statement. I would say I hope we can all agree that such an act is hardly grounds for imprisonment, except that the person in question was in fact nabbed off the street and thrown in jail for several days on the basis of said affidavit.

The evidence presented against Scott Demuth, the evidence which is supposed to justify his six month prison sentence, is that he was in possession of (easily available) Google maps and (easily available) press releases from the Animal Liberation Front. That’s it.

And these are just recent examples from the Green Scare. Look a little further and we easily find hundreds of examples–not only from previous decades like Cointelpro, as mentioned in the Times–but much more recent observations of law officers going undercover at protests and often behaving violently or otherwise “inciting a riot.”

The Times article isn’t news to those of us who care, nor is it an exposé for those unaware of the level of political surveillance in the U.S. It’s more like a human interest story that at least makes the goat-owning punk next door (and me) seem a bit less paranoid and a bit more on the money.

P.S. “Anarchism was the catchword for an international terrorist movement at the turn of the 20th century.” Really, NYT? This totally ignorant and laughable definition is the best you can do, as if Bakunin, Goldman, the Haymarket Martyrs, and even Noam Chomsky never existed? At least read the Wikipedia page for crying out loud.

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First blog post ever: wherein I learn to blog. (And how to not use “wherein” in all the post titles.)

This blog is my coming out party. For years, I have held very strong and, I think, well-grounded political views that I have been afraid to share within the broader public space for fear of state repression. I am still afraid of repression, but after a lot of thought, I have decided that since I can no more cease being an anarchist than I can suddenly cease being a person who likes to read or loves dogs or force myself to believe in a god or any of the other fairly fundamental parts of my personality, it isn’t going to be a good long term plan to be afraid of expressing my political beliefs. It’s just not going to make me happy. In fact, censoring myself from talking openly about politics is actually going to make a pretty significant part of me miserable.

So, there you have it. I am an anarchist.

It’s done. I said it. And I will stand by it. We will get to what “anarchist” means later—hey, I have a whole blog now for that!—but right now I want to briefly explain why I was afraid to say this. After all, I live in the U.S., a country that has enshrined free speech to the point of valuing it more than anything, even to a fault, right?

Ok, maybe that’s disingenuous, because you probably didn’t get this far if you were really that naïve. But I do want to point out one of the primary reasons I was (and am) scared. In 2009, an Assistant US Attorney made the following statement: “[Scott DeMuth]’s writings, literature, and conduct suggest that he is an anarchist and associated with the ALF movement. Therefore, he is a domestic terrorist.”

He didn’t say that DeMuth did anything. He doesn’t even say he wanted or tried to do anything that made him a terrorist. Apparently the simple fact of possessing a certain way of looking at politics is sufficient cause to label someone a terrorist in a U.S. courtroom. That, folks, is what used to be known as a thought crime.

And by that logic, based solely on this blog post, someone could drag me into a courtroom and call me a terrorist too.  Which would be a shame, cause as an anarchist I have so much more to say, and so much more faith and love for this world and the people in it than most of the liberals I know.

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