Thursday, December 06, 2007

Could You be a Terrorist?

That is what the government wants to investigate. The following is a cross post from MondoGlobo about the Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act, which seems to propose just that.

I recently stumbled across information regarding the Violent Radicalization and Home-Grown Terrorism Prevention Act. If the name wasn't enough to scare small children in the night, the text of the act is enough to make civil libertarians shiver in their boots.

Essentially, Senate Bill 1959 establishes a commission that investigates the causes of violent, radical, home-grown terrorism. This commission consists of individuals appointed by a variety of political leaders, from the President to the House Minority leader. The benefit to this particular structure is that you are reasonably assured a bi-partisan group. However, the panel's make up is what is not really to be reviewed with scrutiny.

At its core, this bill operates to create an administrative agency charged with investigating what forms of communication are used to disseminate terrorist propaganda, and issue findings on prophylactic measures to stem home-grown terrorism. While the findings of the bill do suggest that any measure must preserve the civil liberties of American Citizens, this appears to be the only reference to the Constitution in the entire bill.

Those who have raised the issue and various news reports on the issue express similar concerns about civil liberty interests. At least one member of the House shares the opinion of reasonable Americans. Representative Kucinich was one of the very few who voted against this bill because of what he considered unconstitutional aims. This is a valid concern given the operation of these kinds of commissions. Congress usually employs a panel of individuals to investigate and hold hearings regarding some issue of legislative significance. These findings ultimately make it into a law of some kind.

To be clear, this bill doesn't criminalize the kind of anti-American thought Representative Kucinich references, but it does provide the Congress with a way to investigate and establish a basis for such a law. What worries me more is the amorphous language used in describing things like home-grown terrorism or violent radicalization. For instance, the bill defines the term "homegrown terrorism" as "the use, planned use, or threatened use, of force or violence by a group or individual born, raised, or based and operating primarily within the United States or any possession of the United States to intimidate or coerce the United States government, the civilian population of the United States, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives."

The definitions only get better: the term "violent radicalization" 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," and the term "ideologically based violence" is defined as "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."

Each of these definitions fails to mention who or what may constitute a homegrown terrorist or violent radicalization. The terms are ubiquitously applicable to your corner protester with a sandwich board or the users of this forum. The broad terms of this bill would permit the commission to look into internet forums like this, upstart political parties like the Open Source Political party, or the Question Authority Initiative because they spread anti-American sentiment with the propensity to spark ideologically based violence.

I am in full support of adequate police prevention of societal violence, especially when the aim of such violence concerns terrorism. However, we need not investigate how Americans communicate their political ideas and consider those ideas, on their own, a threat to national security. It is very possible that these thoughts pose dangers to the ability of people in Government to retain their positions. We should be far more concerned with this bill if it is also concerned with preventing the former to protect the latter.

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