To the Extreme
FBI testimony provokes fear of new Cointelpro
by Hank Hoffman
In These Times magazine, October 2001
Is the FBI back in the business of trying to squelch political
dissent? An obscure paragraph in congressional testimony this
past spring by departing FBI Director Louis Freeh has fanned fears
that the agency is planning a surveillance and disruption effort
against antiglobalization groups similar to Cointelpro, which
focused on the antiwar and Black Power movements in the '60s and
Freeh delivered his testimony on the "Threat of Terrorism
to the United States" before the Senate Appropriations committee
on May 10. In the section on "domestic terrorism," Freeh
identified "rightwing extremist groups," such as the
World Church of the Creator and Aryan Nation, as "representing
a continuing terrorism threat." One of the two paragraphs
dealing with "special-interest extremists" focused on
the eco-sabotage of the Animal Liberation Front and Earth Liberation
Front. In contrast, extreme anti-abortion groups, with their record
of murder and clinic bombings, merited only a passing mention.
But it was the final paragraph in Freeh's assessment of "left-wing
extremist groups" that raised eyebrows among antiglobalization
activists: "Anarchist and extremist socialist groups-many
of which, such as the Workers World Party, Reclaim the Streets
and Carnival Against Capitalism-have an international presence
and, at times, also represent a potential threat in the United
States," Freeh said. "For example, anarchists, operating
individually and in groups, caused much of the damage during the
1999 World Trade Organization ministerial meeting in Seattle."
"These are extremely dangerous and inappropriate comments,"
says Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, cofounder of the Washington-based
Claim the Streets rally in Naperville, Illinois.
Partnership for Civil Justice. Verheyden-Hilliard is the lead
attorney on a lawsuit against the FBI and other police agencies
for civil rights violations during the April 2000 protests at
the Washington meeting of the International Monetary Fund and
World Bank. Noting that Freeh's remarks were made in the context
of an appropriations hearing, she says that he "may be trying
to legitimate funding for a government-sponsored war against the
social justice movement."
Freeh's comments do provoke serious concerns. No justification
is offered for the naming of Workers World Party, a Marxist group,
and Reclaim the Streets, a network founded in London in 1995 that
merges protests and raves, as representing potential threats.
Freeh seemingly criminalizes all anarchists based on vandalism
during the Seattle WTO protests. "By demonizing this movement
and suggesting these folks pose a threat," says Verheyden-Hilliard,
"they justify declaring some form of martial law [during
Verheyden-Hilliard notes that protests in Philadelphia, Los
Angeles and Washington have been met with excessive police response:
illegal arrests, intrusive surveillance, pepper spray and the
employment of agents provocateur. Washington police traveled to
Philadelphia, Quebec and Genoa to observe protests, while local
and state police are cooperating with the FBI on "joint anti-terrorism
task forces." She adds: "It appears there's been substantial
funding, sending people all around the country."
According to Jon Weiss of New York Reclaim the Streets, activists'
initial response to Freeh's testimony was fear "because the
phrase 'domestic terrorism' is usually just a packaging tool for
the mass suspension of civil liberties."
Weiss suspects the FBI cribbed the terrorist tag from Scotland
Yard, based on actions that devolved into riots. Reclaim the Streets'
actions in Britain had been nonviolent since the network's founding
in 1995, but that changed on June 18, 1999. As part of an international
"global street party" to protest the G8 meeting in Cologne,
Germany, 10,000 gathered in London's financial district. What
started as a street party ended in the trashing of several businesses,
including a McDonald's and a bank.
Chuck Munson, an anarchist and coeditor of Alternative Press
Review, says the feds are grasping at "broad terms to tar
and feather" the movement and dismisses as "demonization"
the "insinuation that all anarchists are violent." The
real violence, Munson argues, is perpetrated by the police. "They're
the ones who bring guns, bullets, gas, dogs and water cannons
to protests," he says, "and they use them."
FBI spokesman Steven Berry would not elaborate on Freeh's
reasons for targeting anarchists, Workers World and Reclaim the
Streets beyond drawing attention to Seattle. But their inclusion
wasn't random. "There are a lot of groups in the anti-globalization
movement who have exhibited some potential to commit a terrorist
incident," Berry insists. Asked whether these groups or others
are under investigation or subject to counterintelligence operations,
Berry says, "We don't comment on specific investigations."
Berry denies that Freeh's comments were a politically motivated
smear. "We recognize that every group has the right to assemble,
the right to meet, has the right to exist no matter how abhorrent
their message is," Berry says. "The FBI only gets involved
when there is a violation of federal law."
Says Weiss, "If blocking a road or having a party constitutes
a terrorist act these days, I suppose we're guilty. The FBI is
trying to get their mind around the concept that there is a global
democracy movement, and they don't quite understand it yet."