The House of Representatives Passes
the Bill that Legalizes COINTELPRO?
by Justin Ponkow and Troy Nkrumah
www.zmag.org, 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
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
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 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.
FBI & Domestic Surveillance