Thursday, January 24, 2008

Are You A Homegrown Terrorist?

The Rutherford Institute

By John W. Whitehead

At first glance, the Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007 may not seem dangerous. Yet nothing is ever what it seems, and this bill is no exception.

On its face, the Act, which was approved in the U.S. House of Representatives by a vote of 404 to 6, would establish two government-appointed bodies (one a national 10-member commission, the other a university-based Center for Excellence) to study, monitor and propose ways of curbing homegrown terrorism and extremism in the United States. However, as journalist Jessica Lee points out, the legislation could actually succeed in “broaden[ing] the definition of terrorism to encompass both First Amendment political activity and traditional forms of protest such as nonviolent civil disobedience.”

The danger is the legislation’s vague definitions of violent radicalization and homegrown terrorism and the commission’s power to label individuals and groups as possible terrorists. Violent radicalization, for example, is defined as “the process of adopting or promoting an extremist belief system for the purpose of facilitating ideologically based violence to advance political, religious, or social change.” Note that you don’t actually have to commit violence to be labeled a violent radical. You just have to adopt or promote a belief system that differs with the government, which is easy enough in these times of economic instability, expansive government powers and endless wars.

The definition for homegrown terrorism is equally vague: “the use, planned use, or threatened use, of forceor violence by a group or individual born [or] raised…within the United States…to intimidate or coercethe United States, the civilian population…or any segment thereof.”

Would abortion protesters or anti-war organizers be accused of using “force” to “intimidate or coerce” others? What about people who promote immigration views that are considered “extremist”? By Congress failing to define what an “extremist belief” is, what would constitute “ideologically based violence” or the use of “force,” it could mean anyone who expresses a belief contrary to that held by the occupants of the White House.

The concern, as Lee points out, is that the law will be used “against U.S.-based groups engaged in legal but unpopular political activism, ranging from political Islamists to animal-rights and environmental campaigners to radical right-wing organizations. There is concern, too, that the bill will undermine academic integrity and is the latest salvo in a decade-long government grab for power at the expense of civil liberties.”

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