Just the title of the bill making its way through the Congress ought to frighten hell out of us or at least prompt a reporter worth his or her computer to find out more: “The Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism and Prevention Act.” Yet so far no one in the Main Stream Media–newspapers, television or magazines–has told us about it.
Why not? An alert friend who called my attention to the bill and who inquired of the Washington Post, was told that the bill passed so easily in the House–404-6 on October 23 –that congressional reporters thought it was non-controversial and therefore no story. Well, a senator friend of mine once told me to watch out for legislation with such lop-sided support–it either means nothing or it could get us into a war.
In the case of the “Terrorism Prevention Act,” a few bloggers and scholars (see this Google listing), writing for online publications liken it to “Alien and Sedition Acts.” I would compare it to the notorious Smith Act, which put people in jail for “teaching and advocating” the violent overthrow of the government, despite the words of the Declaration of Independence and Thomas Jefferson’s view that rebellion now and then may be a good thing.
But I digress. The bill’s chief sponsor is Rep. Jane Harman, a California Democrat who was the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee and such a good friend of the intelligence agencies, that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi denied her the chairmanship of the committee. Harman, by the way, learned more than a year ago that the CIA had destroyed its interrogation tapes, but she failed to make that public.
Her bill, written in part by the intelligence agencies and the Department of Homeland Security, would create a ten-member National Commission appointed by the president, the Secretary of Homeland Security and lawmakers of both houses to hold hearings, investigate and “examine and report upon the facts and causes of violent radicalization, homegrown terrorism, and ideologically based violence in the United States, including United States connections to non-United States persons and networks, violent radicalization, homegrown terrorism…and other faces of the phenomena of violent radicalization…and ideologically based violence that the commission deems important.”
The Commission is to last 18 months, and is to be replaced by a “Center of Excellence,” which would continue the work of the commission with the same powers. And the definitions of the investigative targets could mean dozens of legitimate groups, including Palestinians, militant peace activists, or animal protectors such as PETA. For example, the term “homegrown terrorism means the use, planned use or threatened use of force or violence by a group born, raised or based” in the U.S. Violent radicalization means “the process of adapting and promoting an extremist belief system for the purpose of facilitating ideologically based violence to advance political, religious or social change.” And the term “ideologically based violence means the use or threatened use of violence…to promote the group’s or individual’s political, religious or social beliefs.” Now tell me, what is “an extremist belief system?” Who decides and how?
Ms. Harmon noted that the bill states that none of it shall violate our “constitutional rights, civil rights or civil liberties. But that did not help the Japanese internees, or the victims of various red scares. Once the commission takes to the road, followed by television cameras, no doubt, what’s to stop it from investigating beliefs on the suspicion that they are extreme or that they might turn violent?
Dahlia Lithwick, writing for Slate, says “homegrown terrorism might include radical Islamists, Tim McVeigh, Greenpeace protestors or pro-life groups….” Counter-terrorism writer Philip Giraldi, wrote for The Huffington Post, “As should be clear from the vagueness of the definitions, the…act could easily be abused to define any group that is pressuring the political system as ‘terrorist,’ ranging from polygamists, to second amendment rights supporters, anti-abortion protestors, anti-tax agitators, immigration activists and peace demonstrators. In reality, of course, it will be primarily directed against Muslims and Muslim organizations.”
The ACLU and other civil liberties groups say they fear the bill, H.R. 1995, now before Sen. Joseph Lieberman’s Homeland Security Committee, could give the commission, its members and investigators the power of Orwell’s thought police or the notorious House Un-American Activities Committee. Perhaps the lopsided vote in the House meant that most lawmakers and reporters believe the bill is benign. But what if there is another act of violence against the U.S.? Then perhaps the press will join the lynch mob as usual and later wonder why it didn’t see another McCarthyism coming again.