Since 9/11 there has been an avalanche of legislation and commissions designed to crackdown on dissident activity inside the United States under the guise of fighting terrorism. In 2007, a "thought crime" bill quietly made its way through Congress with no media effort to inform the public. Three years down the road, Barack Obama has gone even farther than George Bush. He has claimed the authority to order U.S. citizens murdered, based solely on the unverified claim that they are associated with terrorism and pose "a continuing and imminent threat to U.S. persons and interests."
In a startling affront to American freedoms of expression, privacy, and association, the Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act (H.R. 1955) passed the House on October 23, 2007, by a vote of 404–6. The Senate is currently considering a companion bill, S. 1959. The act would establish a national commission and a university-based “Center for Excellence” to study and propose legislation to prevent the threat of “radicalization” of Americans.
Author of the bill Jane Harman (D-CA) explains, “We’re studying the phenomenon of people with radical beliefs who turn into people who would use violence.”
The act states, “While the United States must continue its vigilant efforts to combat international terrorism, it must also strengthen efforts to combat the threat posed by homegrown terrorists based and operating within the United States. Understanding the motivational factors that lead to violent radicalization, homegrown terrorism, and ideologically based violence is a vital step toward eradicating these threats in the United States.”
The act’s purpose goes beyond academic inquiry, however. In a press release Harman stated, “The National Commission will propose to both Congress and [Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael] Chertoff initiatives to intercede before radicalized individuals turn violent.”
The act states, “Preventing the potential rise of self radicalized, unaffiliated terrorists domestically cannot be easily accomplished solely through traditional Federal intelligence or law enforcement efforts, and can benefit from the incorporation of State and local efforts.”
Harman, who chairs the House Subcommittee on Intelligence, Information Sharing, and Terrorism Risk Assessment, also has close ties to the RAND Corporation , a right-wing think tank, which appears to have influenced the bill. Two weeks prior to the introduction of H.R. 1955 on April 19, 2007, Brian Michael Jenkins of RAND delivered testimony on “Jihadist Radicalization and Recruitment” to Harman’s subcommittee.
In June, Jenkins was back before Harman’s subcommittee discussing the role of the National Commission. “Homegrown terrorism is the principal threat that we face as a country and it will likely be the principal threat that we face for decades. . . . Unless a way of intervening in the radicalization process can be found, we are condemned to stepping on cockroaches one at a time,” he stated. In a 2005 RAND report titled “Trends in Terrorism,” one chapter is devoted entirely to a non-Muslim “homegrown terrorist” threat—the threat of anti-globalists.
In an effort to prevent people from becoming “prone to” radicalization, this preemptive measure of policing thought specifically identifies the Internet as a tool of radicalization: “The Internet has aided in facilitating violent radicalization, ideologically based violence, and the homegrown terrorism process in the United States by providing access to broad and constant streams of terrorist-related propaganda to United States citizens,” says Harman.
The legislation authorizes a ten-member National Commission (the Senate bill calls for twelve members) appointed by the President, the Secretary of Homeland Security, congressional leaders, and the chairpersons of both the Senate and House committees on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.
After convening, the Commission is to submit reports at six-month intervals for eighteen months to the President and Congress, stating its findings, conclusions, and legislative recommendations “for immediate and long-term countermeasures . . . to prevent violent radicalization, homegrown terrorism and ideologically based violence.”
This commission has disturbing similarities to the Counterintelligence Program (COINTELPRO), which was investigated by a US Senate select committee on intelligence activities (the Church Committee), in 1975. The Church Committee found that from 1956 to 1971, “The Bureau [FBI] conducted a sophisticated vigilante operation aimed squarely at preventing the exercise of First Amendment rights of speech and association, on the theory that preventing the growth of dangerous groups and the propagation of dangerous ideas would protect the national security and deter violence.”
H.R. 1955 would give the DHS secretary power to establish a “Center of Excellence,” a university-based research program to “bring together leading experts and researchers to conduct multidisciplinary research and education for homeland security solutions.” the DHS currently has eight Centers at academic institutions across the country, strengthening what many see as a growing military-security-academic complex. Harman, in an October 23 press release, stated that the Center would “examine the social, criminal, political, psychological and economic roots of domestic terrorism.”
Hope Marston, regional organizer with the Bill of Rights Defense Committee (BORDC) warns against the danger of vaguely defined terms in this legislation, which, open to very broad interpretation, mirrors a historical pattern of sweeping government repression.
Jules Boykoff, author and professor of politics and government at Pacific University, is alarmed by the circular definition, for example, of “ideologically based violence,” which itself fails to define the terms “threat,” “force,” or “violence.” Boykoff commented that the bill used the terms “extremism” and “radicalism” interchangeably. “The word ‘radical’ shares the etymological root to the word ‘radish,’ which means to get to the root of the problem,” he says. “So, if the government wants to get at the actual root of terrorism, then let’s really talk about it. We need to talk about the economic roots, the vast inequalities in wealth between the rich and poor.”
Caroline Fredrickson, director of the Washington Legislative Office of the American Civil Liberties Union, says of the Act, “Law enforcement should focus on action, not thought. We need to worry about the people who are committing crimes rather than those who harbor beliefs that the government may consider to be ‘extreme.’”
UPDATE BY JESSICA LEE
While civil liberties and religious freedom groups credit independent journalists and grassroots activists with helping to stall the passage of the Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007, some members of Congress continue to push for Internet censorship and racial profiling as necessary to prevent “homegrown terrorism.”
The House of Representatives approved the Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act in October 2007 by a 404-6 vote, but widespread opposition forced the Senate to shelve the bill. As of June 1, 2008, no vote was scheduled or expected during the current legislative year.
I became aware of the Act in early November 2007. Other than an article by Lindsay Beyerstein, “Examining the Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act,” (In These Times, November 1, 2007), no major media outlet had reported on the bill despite the dangers it posed to civil liberties, privacy, and Muslim and Arab communities in the United States. Nonetheless, I did discover active online discussion about the bill, mainly on blogs and videos posted to YouTube.com.
Isabel Macdonald, communications director for Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, commented: “Perhaps due to the symbiotic relationship between corporate media outlets and government officials, the corporate media has shown a consistent aversion to offering critical coverage of the erosion of civil liberties. The independent media—and specifically The Indypendent—played a critical role in breaking the story of this bill, and, through coverage in blogs and on Democracy Now!, keeping the story alive.”
Within a month of The Indypendent article, rallies were held from Maine to California, and numerous civil liberties, religious freedom and American Muslim and Arab organizations issued action alerts encouraging people to contact their congressional representatives in an effort to stop the US Senate companion bill, S. 1959.
According to civil rights lobbyists, the public outcry forced Senate committee chair Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) to put the bill on the backburner. However, Lieberman and committee ranking minority leader Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) continue to claim “homegrown terrorism” by Islamists is a grave menace, and on May 8, 2008, issued their own report, without public backing by other committee members, that warned “the threat of homegrown terrorism is on the rise, aided by the Internet’s capacity to spread the core recruitment and training message of violent Islamist terrorist groups.”
In response, more than thirty civil liberties and religious freedom groups sent a letter to the Senate committee on May 30, expressing concern that the report could impinge on freedom of expression, unjustly target Muslims, and define the Internet as a “weapon.”
A group of organizations representing American Muslim and Arab communities also submitted a letter in response to the report and the Senate hearings charging that they have been largely excluded from the legislative process and that the report relies on a discredited 2007 New York Police Department report that attempts to explain the process of “violent radicalization” of Muslim individuals.
Shortly after issuing the report, Lieberman demanded that Google remove YouTube videos produced by “terrorist organizations such as al-Qaeda.” Google responded May 19 by removing eighty videos that the company agreed violated YouTube’s Community Guidelines, which depict gratuitous violence, advocated violence or used hate speech. Google, however, refused to meet all of Lieberman’s demands, which included censoring all videos mentioning or featuring groups listed by the US State Department as foreign terrorist organizations, such as al-Qaeda.
“Senator Lieberman stated his belief . . . that all videos mentioning or featuring these groups should be removed from YouTube—even legal nonviolent or non-hate speech videos,” Google said. “YouTube encourages free speech and defends everyone’s right to express unpopular points of view.”
Chip Berlet, senior analyst at the Boston-based Political Research Associates, said that he believes Lieberman’s actions are a “political dirty trick” with the motive of trying to push the presidential candidates towards accepting a more aggressive stance in the Middle East.
Organizations leading the effort to oppose the legislation include Defending Dissent Foundation, the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
UPDATE BY LINDSAY BEYERSTEIN
The Homegrown Terrorism bill has been bogged down in the Senate since last October. The bill sailed through the House with little public comment but subsequently encountered stiff opposition from across the political spectrum. Until recently, it appeared that civil liberties groups and Muslim civic organizations had successfully blocked the Senate version of the bill.
The bill seemed destined to die in committee—that is, until Sen. Joe Lieberman, the chair of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security, signaled his eagerness to revisit the issue by releasing a new report and picking a fight with YouTube.
On May 8, Chairman Lieberman and ranking member Susan Collins (R-ME) released “Violent Islamist Extremism, The Internet, and the Homegrown Terrorist Threat,” a bipartisan report based on hearings before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security.
Even before it was released to the public, the report drew fire from a coalition of civil liberties organizations spearheaded by the ACLU. The coalition outlined its concerns about the report in a May 7 memo to committee members.
“Our concern is that this focus on the Internet could be a precursor to proposals to censor and regulate speech on the Internet. Indeed, some policy makers have advocated shutting down objectionable websites,” the memo said.
Lieberman reinforced those misgivings on May 19 when he wrote to the CEO of Google (YouTube’s parent company) demanding that an unspecified number of Islamic propaganda videos be removed from the popular video-sharing site. Lieberman alleged in the letter that the clips were the work of a sophisticated Islamic propaganda network discussed in his committee’s recent report. He also claimed that these videos violated YouTube’s community guidelines.
YouTube rules expressly forbid gratuitous violence, hate speech, threats, harassment, and depictions of crimes such as bomb-making. Hundreds of thousands of videos are uploaded to the site daily. Rather than prescreening the content, YouTube relies on users to flag material that violates community standards. Content that breaks the rules is routinely removed.
After reviewing the clips, YouTube refused to remove the bulk of the material flagged by Lieberman’s staff. A handful of clips that violated community standards were taken down, but the rest stayed up.
“Most of the videos, which did not contain violent or hate speech content, were not removed because they do not violate our Community Guidelines,” read a statement issued by the YouTube Team. The statement went on to affirm the right of YouTube users to express unpopular points of view.
Lieberman was not satisfied with the response.
“No matter what their content, videos produced by terrorist organizations like al-Qaeda that are committed to attacking America and killing Americans should not be tolerated. Google must reconsider its policy,” Lieberman stated on May 20.
No vote has been scheduled, but Lieberman’s fight with Google has pushed the Homegrown Terrorism bill back into the spotlight. After months of silence, the established media are finally beginning to ask questions about the government’s increasing enthusiasm for monitoring “radical” speech online. The New York Times sharply criticized Lieberman and the bill in a May 25 editorial. The op/ed called Lieberman a “would-be censor” whose efforts to restrict constitutionally protected speech on YouTube “contradict fundamental American values.”
Readers can make their views on the Homegrown Terrorism bill known by contacting their senators and the members of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security. The two frontrunners in the 2008 presidential race are senators. Now is a good time for voters to pressure the presidential candidates to take clear positions on the Homegrown Terrorism bill. Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) sits on the Homeland Security Committee, but did not contribute to the report. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) is closely allied with Sen. Lieberman, especially on issues pertaining to terrorism.
UPDATE BY MATT RENNER
A controversial plan to study and profile domestic terrorism was scrapped after popular push back, but the spirit of the legislation lives on in Senator Joe Lieberman’s office.
H.R. 1955, “The Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007” passed the House in October 2007 with almost unanimous support. The bill immediately came under fire from civil liberties watchdogs because of what many saw as a deliberate targeting of Muslims and Arabs and the possible chilling effect it might have on free speech.
The original bill intended to set up a government commission to investigate the supposed threat of domestically produced terrorists and the ideologies that underpin their radicalization. The ten-member commission was to be empowered to “hold hearings and sit and act at such times and places, take such testimony, receive such evidence, and administer such oaths as the Commission considers advisable to carry out its duties.” The bill also singled out the Internet as a vehicle for terrorists to spread their ideology with the intention of recruiting and training new terrorists.
After significant public pressure, the bill stalled in the Senate. However, Senator Joe Lieberman (D-CT), the current chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, embraced the thrust of the legislation and has been working to push forward some of the goals of the original bill, including an attempt to weed out terrorist propaganda from the Internet.
On May 19, Lieberman sent a letter to Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt demanding that YouTube’s parent company Google “immediately remove content produced by Islamist terrorist organizations from YouTube.”
“By taking action to curtail the use of YouTube to disseminate the goals and methods of those who wish to kill innocent civilians, Google will make a singularly important contribution to this important national effort,” Lieberman wrote.
Google fired back, refusing to take off material that did not violate the site’s code of conduct. “While we respect and understand his views, YouTube encourages free speech and defends everyone’s right to express unpopular points of view,” Schmidt said in response, adding, “we believe that YouTube is a richer and more relevant platform for users precisely because it hosts a diverse range of views, and rather than stifle debate, we allow our users to view all acceptable content and make up their own minds.”
Google removed some of the videos that violated their rules against posting violence and hate speech, but made a point to write, “most of the videos, which did not contain violent or hate speech content, were not removed because they do not violate our Community Guidelines.”
According to civil liberties activists, Chairman Lieberman has been spearheading an effort to censor speech on the Internet. His committee recently released a report titled “Violent Islamist Extremism, The Internet, and the Homegrown Terrorist Threat,” a report detailing the use of web sites and Internet tools to spread pro-terrorism propaganda.
The report repeatedly blames websites and chat rooms for “radicalization,” calling the websites “portals” through which potential terrorists can “participate in the global violent Islamist movement and recruit others to their cause.” As civil liberties groups have pointed out, the report focuses solely on terrorism seen as associated with Islam.
Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU Washington, DC, legislative office, said that Lieberman “is trying to decide what he thinks should go on the Internet,” which, she said, “reeks of an interest in censoring all sorts of different dialogs.”
“If someone criticizes Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and favors Hamas, should that be censored?” Fredrickson asked.
COMMENT BY MICKEY S. HUFF, author of Chapter 14
The coverage of this story by these journalists is highly commendable. However, another element that appears to have been censored regarding the possible application of H.R. 1955 and S. 1959, even in the independent and progressive press coverage, is the specificity of possible domestic activists mentioned in the hearings Representative Jane Harman held in Washington, DC. While the aforementioned authors allude to animal rights activists and anti-globalists as potential targets of these bills, none mention 9/11 Truth activists and scholars even though they were mentioned by name in the Harman hearings at the Capitol. (For possible explanations, see Censored 2008, Chapter 7, for more on the propaganda model inside left progressive press.)
Among the claims of those testifying to Congress about the “need” for H.R. 1955 was that anyone who questions the official government line on 9/11 is akin to a terrorist or a material supporter to terrorism. One speaker, Mark Weitzman of the Wiesenthal Center (ironically founded by Holocaust survivor Simon Wiesenthal to educate the public about war crimes), claimed that architects, engineers, and scientists that question the official 9/11 narrative are the same as alleged violent jihadist groups. This was further implied in a Powerpoint presentation in which Weitzman showed architect Richard Gage’s website, http://AE911Truth.org, alongside alleged violent jihadist sites. Gage has criticized the 9/11 official story about the destruction of the Twin Towers and WTC7. On the basis of his professional expertise of steel frame buildings, Gage contends the buildings could not have been brought down the way the government has explained and offers alternative theories supported by evidence. Regardless of whether one believes the counterarguments about the events of 9/11, free speech and questioning of the government on such crucial issues should not be criminalized.
This is the latest round of official conflation between terrorists and activists in the US. Is there a proven link between these aforementioned groups? No, there is not. But that didn’t stop people from simply saying so on the public record while providing no evidence. And Jane Harman, Democratic cosponsor of the bill, didn’t ask for any, nor did she invite rebuttal. This is reminiscent of McCarthyism of the Red Scare period of the 1950s.
For C-Span video footage of the hearing (just after thirty-nine minutes), see:
Indypendent, November 16, 2007 Title: “Bringing the War on Terrorism Home” Author: Jessica Lee
In These Times, November 2007 Title: “Examining the Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act” Author: Lindsay Beyerstein
Truthout, November 29, 2007 Title: “The Violent Radicalization Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007” Author: Matt Renner
Student Researchers: Dan Bluthardt and Cedric Therene
Faculty Evaluator: Robert Proctor, PhD
Earlier Project Censored stories here.