The New Crime of Thinking in the US
by Gary D. Barnett
It looks like the term “thought police” just might take on a whole new and real meaning.
This depends on what happens in the U.S. Senate after receiving House bill H.R. 1955: Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007. This act (now S-1959 – Senate version) is now being considered by Senate committees and, if passed by the Senate and signed by the president, will become law.
Common sense would indicate that something this vague and dangerous would not make it out of committee, but considering that the House passed it on Oct. 23 with 404 ayes, six nays, and 22 present/not voting, I’m not holding my breath.
The most disturbing aspects of this bill, and there are many, are the definitions noted in Section 899a. The three offenses defined in this document that will warrant prosecution are:
• “Violent Radicalization: The term ‘violent radicalization’ means 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.”
• “Homegrown Terrorism: The term ‘homegrown terrorism’ means the use, planned use, or threatened use, of force or violence by a group or individual born, raised, or operating primarily within the United States or any possession of the United States government, the civilian population of the United States, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.”
• “Ideologically based violence: The term ‘ideologically based violence’ means the use, planned use, or threatened use of force or violence by a group or individual to promote the group or individual’s political, religious, or social beliefs.”
Besides the fact that this Act would greatly expand an already monstrous bureaucracy (Homeland Security Act of 2002), it is on its very face a threat to all ideological thinking not approved by the state. Any citizen at any given time could be considered a terrorism suspect and accused or prosecuted for “bad” thoughts. Since the very act of thinking could now be considered a crime, how would the populace react to this new paradigm? Would political debate among the citizenry become more subdued? Would watch groups, whether police or private, arise to monitor individual and group conversations? Would speaking out and writing against the government become a dangerous activity?
The language contained in this proposed legislation is not only vague, it is also broad, sweeping, and unclear.
The tenebrous and obscure nature of the above definitions is obviously not an accident. The broader the net, the more who are caught; the more who are caught, the more who live in fear of being caught. Ambiguity and fear are mighty deterrents, and ambiguity and fear foster obedience. In this case, unconditional obedience to the mighty state and its many dictates.
In the definition of “violent radicalization,” it is a crime to adopt or promote an extremist belief system to facilitate ideologically based violence. Neither “extremist” nor type of political, religious, or social change is defined. And what about “ideologically” based violence? Is it violence to simply advocate radical change that might lead someone else to initiate violence? Who decides what beliefs are OK and what beliefs are not? The state, of course, is the final decider. The door is left open for interpretation, but for interpretation by government only.
“Homegrown terrorism,” although similarly defined, is notable in that it concentrates strictly on U.S.-born, U.S.-raised, or U.S.-based individuals and groups operating primarily within the United States or any possession of the United States.
The Bush administration has had its problems in the courts at times concerning American citizens and their rights, sometimes setting it and its agenda back. This bill could help alleviate those problems. In addition, to intimidate or coerce the U.S. government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives, is forbidden and considered criminal. Let me repeat; to intimidate the government to further political or social objectives is forbidden. If this is allowed to stand, what does it do to demonstration, protest, petition, and the right to assemble?
Remember, this proposed act is attached to the Homeland Security Act of 2002. This is what gives it the teeth so that the enforcers can pursue and detain those considered guilty of holding or promoting an “extremist” belief system or wishing to advance political, religious, or social change. I use the word “enforcers” because this bill allows for the federal authorities, including intelligence and law enforcement, to use any state or local law-enforcement agencies. In addition, the commission may contract to enable enforcement. Also, “The Commission may request directly from any executive department, bureau, agency, board, commission, office, independent establishment, or instrumentality of the Government, information, suggestions, estimates, and statistics for the purposes of this Section.” (Section 899C.) What little privacy still exists will not exist for long with the passage of this bill.
One of the tenets of any totalitarian society is that the citizenry must acquiesce to government control. The state itself is supreme and sovereign, not the people.
This has been true throughout history whether it was during Hitler’s, Stalin’s, Mao’s or any other of a number of brutal dictatorial rulers’ reigns. Dissent was stifled, whether it was ideological or physical, and accused parties faced humiliation, incarceration, or death for their unwillingness to conform. Is that where we’re headed?
The newest weapon we have at our disposal in our fight against tyranny is our advanced communication systems, especially the Internet. Reaching untold numbers of persons, something not possible only a few years ago, is now possible because of the Internet. With the mainstream media kowtowing to politicians and government, the Internet has become the major tool for those promoting liberty and truth. It has allowed many brilliant freedom lovers to reach and change minds. Even this has not escaped the watchful eye of Big Brother in this bill. In Section 899B Congress finds the following:
“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.”
This bill, if passed into law, will do nothing less than muffle, if not destroy, our ability to speak out against government. Considering the combination of the USA PATRIOT Act, The Homeland Security Act, the Military Commissions Act, and the now-enhanced executive power, adding this single piece of legislation fills the only loophole left. With the passage of this abominable act, all U.S. citizens are at risk, not just those few radical persons and foreigners spoken about by government, but all of us. This very article could be considered as ideologically based violence, subjecting me to punishment by government. This could be the final piece of the puzzle.
This new proposed legislation will help an already tyrannical government in its effort to become supreme.
Gary D. Barnett is president of Barnett Financial Services, Inc., in Lewistown, Montana.
Copyright 2008 The Hillsboro Times-Gazette