The House of Reps Vote 404 to 6 to Pass the Bill that Legalizes COINTELPRO?
by Justin Ponkow and Troy Nkrumah, November 28, 2007
One month ago a bill passed almost unanimously in the House. This bill has received no mainstream news coverage. So it must not be that big of a deal, right? It’s just a bill that will soon to go to Capitol Hill and since the Democrats are in control we are all safe from further infringements up on our civil rights, right? Well, maybe that is not totally correct since this bill is a lot more than meets the eye. But indicator number one should be the title, and indicator number two should be how fast it is moving through Congress.
On October 23rd of this year, the Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007 passed 404 to 6 in the House. This bill is proposing an expansion of Homeland Security with the objective of spying on citizens whose political or religious beliefs might lead them to commit violent acts. And we are not referring to the attack of Megan Williams or the numerous police murders of non threatening civilians. No this is solely about spying on political dissidents whose politics were shaped through a critical analysis of US Foreign or Domestic policies.
The stated purpose of this bill is to first assemble a National Commission on the Prevention of Violent Radicalization and Ideologically Based Violence. Secondly, they will create a university-based Center of Excellence to study radicalization and homegrown terrorism.
Their definition of what defines radical and terrorism are very vague, and can be manipulated to serve several purposes. In the bill itself, it says homegrown terrorism means “the use, planned use, or threatened use, of force or violence” by a native citizen of the United States. It is this definition that is leaves so much of this bills purpose, open to interpretation. Unfortunately, the interpretation by the same ole “powers that be” is the only one that really matters because it is them who will have the use of this bill at their disposal.
It is far too easy to point the finger at an individual or a group of individuals, and claim that they are “planning” or “threatening” the use of violence to achieve their objectives. For instance, if a group of PETA or the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, decide protest a rodeo, could it be claimed that they are “threatening” the use of violence? Or if activists and concerned citizens congregate at a building to protest or demonstrate, could it be claimed that they are “planning” the use of violence or getting ready to riot?
Let’s take it one step further. If there is an act of civil disobedience, in the form of blocking the entrance to that building (a non-federal building) during the political protest, and that blocking is done with the use of a minimal amount of force (people physically locking arms), will this new bill turn a simple misdemeanor trespassing into a felony punishable through the federal court system? And who has the discretion to make that determination?
“Planned” or “threatened” use of violence is a vague term, and we have seen it used before. How many times have you heard of a cop beating, shooting, or killing an individual because in the officers opinion they “posed a threat” or were “planning” harm towards the officer? This situation is no different, yet now it decriminalizes police actions at a time when we are experiencing more police killings of unarmed civilians.
What is feared by the activist community is a general crack down on social justice activism and civil disobedience, or any dissent for that matter, because it now takes on a new and legal form. Being that it is so easy to point the finger, anybody willing to speak out will be in the scope of this proposed commission. Including many Hip Hop artists who have been the most critical of the government and its agencies. In J. Edgar Hoover’s time, this type of spying and repression was illegal and later became known as the Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO). Currently these and similar practices are legal in regards to non-citizens under the heading of the “Patriot Act.” Did you really think that the government was only after those who sneak into the country to commit acts of violence?
To it’s defense it is claimed that this bill will not “violate the constitutional rights, civil rights, or civil liberties of United States citizens or lawful permanent residents.” It is also claimed that this bill will be racial, ethnically, and religiously neutral when carrying out its’ study. With such claims, it is interesting that the criteria for members of this commission are individuals with expertise in “juvenile justice”, “local law enforcement”, and “Islam and other world religions.” As if that knowledge and expertise will have any relevance to what makes “citizens” look toward other means of confronting social injustices. I would think that sociologists, social workers, academics and social justice advocates have a better grasp on why individuals or organizations gave up on working “within” the system to seek other alternatives to achieve justice and equality? Why is it that social critics are not the primary targets for this commission membership? Is it because these social critics are the primary targets of this commission?
This bill, and its ‘provisions, looks like ideological profiling of potential “trouble makers” national, and especially on the university campuses. This commission and its’ “studies” will be used to begin surveillance on suspected dissidents and those who might associate with them, but it will not end there. The commission’s purpose is to not analyzes the critics of the government policy and suggest reforming the policies to avoid the development of “homegrown terrorists” but rather to identify and neutralize those critics.
For those that know their history, this bill should sound familiar. Back in the 50’s J. Edgar Hoover, Head of the F.B.I., started the Counter Intelligence Program (known as COINTELPRO). This program was meant to, in Hoover’s words, “neutralize political dissidents”, and used thousands of illegal and covert operations to achieve its’ means.
Though COINTELPRO claimed to watch the actions of all potentials threats, it seemed to focus all of its efforts on leftist and liberal political activists. They focused on everybody from John Lennon to Jane Fonda to keep tabs on dissidents. The other stated purpose was to “prevent the rise of the black messiah”. They kept their eyes on the likes of Malcolm X, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Fred Hampton and many others in order to quell the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements.
This new bill that is being fast tracked through Congress is nothing but a legalized COINTELPRO. And anybody that cherishes the right to speak out for their rights should keep an eye on this. If violence is already against every law of every state in the union, why exactly does there need to be a group that will spy on citizens and then possibly take actions against those whose “threat of violence” have a political undertone? And who is to be the targets? Well if history is any indicator, we know that the FBI did not use its resources to eliminate the KKK and other White Supremacy organizations, but they did do everything they could to eliminate, kill or jail the leadership of Black, Brown, Red, Yellow and White left organizations.
One of the most disturbing aspects of this bill is how fast it is moving through Congress. You would think such a monumental bill would be debated and discussed to no end. At least by the few progressives left in the House of Representatives. But the actions of the House show anything but concern. (Where are you at Barbara Lee?) We saw this happen right after the attack on the World Trade Center when the congress passed the “Patriot Act” but then later complained that if they had read the text of the bill they would had more reservations because of the power it gives to the government and the rights it strips from the citizens. So I guess we can say that the House of Representatives have not learned from that past and are thus doomed to repeat it, and are repeating it.
When this bill came to House it was given certain provisions specifically to reduce debate time. Such an important bill as this was given little serious debate time, and was rushed to be passed. And it did pass. It was passed with a 404 to 6 vote. Of the notable votes, Presidential Candidate Dennis Kucinich did vote against the bill, whereas Presidential Candidate Ron Paul was not present to vote on the issue. This bill was hardly debated, it was passed almost unanimously, and now it is on its way to the Senate, and then the President.
There is no doubt that this bill will have the same results in the Senate, and will be signed by the President. At the speed it is moving, this bill may be a law by February, just in time for the primaries. And all of this is happening with almost nobody noticing. The news outlets are not mentioning it. It is slipping right in under our noses, like most laws of this nature do. And chances are, if you were not reading this you would still think that you had the right to defend yourself against government oppression (as stated in the Declaration of Independence) or at least the right to demonstrate at the next Democratic and Republican national conventions.
As for those of us who are concerned about our individual civil liberties, what more can we do besides sit back and shake my head in disgust. Looks like protesting will lead to federal charges. 2008 is an election year, and every candidate promises change for the future and to correct the abuses of the current administration. Yet read their congressional voting records and you will see where some of these candidates actually stand. Most are for the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, and keep funding it with billions of our tax dollars. And as evident in this new bill almost all of the House or Representatives are for the war against your civil and political rights. It kind of makes you wonder, why these fear mongers and ideologues run around saying, “they hate of for our freedoms” what exactly are those freedoms that we are hated for?
[Justin Ponkow is a writer for the University of Nevada, Las Vegas student paper, The Rebel Yell, and is a member of the National Hip Hop Political Convention. Troy Nkrumah is an attorney, writer and educator. He is also the Chair of the National Hip Hop Political Convention.]