In the wake of FBI raids and subpoenas against activists in Chicago, Minnesota, Michigan and North Carolina, a PJRC investigation estimates that hundreds of millions in tax dollars recently have been spent on fortifying local police departments against alleged terrorist or anarchist threats that have never materialized.
The new FBI raids represent a narrowing of First Amendment protections of association and speech under definitions arising from the federal war on terrorism, now applied at home. It has become illegal to have any association with organizations listed as “foreign terrorists”, even if that association is for purposes of dialogue or education.
The FBI seems always to drive and define our domestic politics, from the anti-immigrant raids of the 1920s to the anti-communism of the 1940s-50s-60s, to the evolving “war on terrorism” of the past decade. If recent history is any example, the FBI will now employ more legal tools to chill dissent and frighten the public about the alleged demons among us.
Most Americans, including most activists, might feel exempt from this aggressive new approach. But there is always a price. Consider the history since the 1999 Seattle protests against the World Trade Organization, which by all accounts shocked and surprised law enforcement authorities. Nine million dollars was spent on policing those WTO events, which resulted in a nonviolent shut down of the conference.
Unfounded FBI and police rhetoric about “terrorist threats” has preceded every mass protest at large government or corporate events thereafter, fueled with generous doses of federal funding for surveillance and weaponry.
$10.4 million was spent for security at the 2000 Republican convention in Philadelphia. In the same year, as a state Senator in California, I discovered several million dollars for security equipment hidden in the state budget for use during the 2000 Democratic convention in Los Angeles. The Los Angeles police secretly were obtaining funds for pepper spray, tear gas, gas guns, semiautomatic launchers for 20,000 pepper balls, twenty 40-meter gas guns, surveillance cameras, bolt cutters, bomb detection and demolition devices, and $2,400 for a paper shredder.
Money also went for security fences, barricades, K-9 teams and other technologies, and the FBI took charge of the First Amendment by imposing caged “free speech zones” (which went unused).
Under Bill Clinton’s classified presidential directive 62, the federal government automatically started allocating $50 million for security assistance to local police departments for occasions like the national Republican and Democratic political conventions, or meetings of International Monetary Fund or WTO.
Consider these minimum totals:
- Seattle WTO: $9 million;
- IMF meeting, Washington DC, April 15-17, 2000: $6 million;
- Miami Free Trade Zone of the Americas protests, November 2003: $24 million;
- Democratic convention, 2004: $50 million;
- Republican convention, 2004: $50 million;
- Democratic convention, 2008: $50 million;
- Republican convention, 2008: $50 million;
That’s $250 million for keeping us safe from large and memorable demonstrations during the past decade. But there’s far more. Under homeland security laws, there is the state grant program funded at $842 million in this fiscal year, and the “urban areas security initiative” with $832.5 million.
In each instance, there has been an overarching script: first, the FBI provided confidential assessments typically claiming that 70,000-100,000 “anarchists” would descend; secondly, fences were erected around assembly areas; third, highly-publicized pre-emptive raids were staged on “terrorist” apartments to arrest suspicious individuals and seize suspicious items. Early-morning sweeps also turned up, for example, - surprise - bricks and boards at construction sites, which were described as “terrorist stockpiles.”
The terrorist threat never materialized, however, which may be one reason the FBI is now going after demons with names, like Hamas or FARC, on the theory that have agents here among us, something like the Red Scare of the Cold War.
As an example of how empty the recent FBI crusade against “domestic terrorism” has appeared, take the case of John Sellers, founder of the Ruckus Society, who was detained on the eve of the 2000 Republican convention in Philadelphia on a $1 million bond. Among the charges against Sellers was possession of a cell phone, an “instrument of crime.” The charges against Sellers were dropped on November 14, 2000.
Instead of capturing terrorists at these mass demonstrations, there were numerous arrests of everyday protesters on local and state violations like disorderly conduct, which later were dropped. For example, of 1,670 cases arising from New York’s Republican convention protests in 2004, over 90 percent ended with the charges dismissed or acquittals.
This has led to litigation costing taxpayers millions of additional dollars. Some examples:
- Seattle paid $1 million to WTO protesters, cleared their arrest records seven years later, and paid another $800,000 to settle police misconduct cases.
- Los Angeles paid out $4.1 million in settlements after the 2000 Democratic convention.
- Washington DC paid $22 million in compensation to 1,000 protesters and bystanders for police mistreatment at two rallies in 2000 and 2002.
- Oakland paid over $2 million for injuries to 58 people from police dowels, bean bags and rubber pellets during an April 7, 2003 protest against Iraq.
- New York City would pay $6.6 million in attorneys’ fees and $1.5 million in settlements after the 2004 Republican convention.
- In 2008, New York City paid $2.7 million to end a lawsuit by 52 people caught in mass arrests during an April 7, 2003 protest against the Iraq war. The $2 million was only part of the bonfire of legal expenses, including the city’s five lawyers and appellate teams.
One continuing case is that of the “RNC 8”, eight young anarchists from Minnesota’s Twin Cities who were arrested preemptively before the 2008 Republican convention in St. Paul. They are charged with personal liability and conspiracy for any violations that occurred during convention week while they were in jail. The prosecution blames them for conspiring to use Molotov cocktails, stockpile bricks and turn greywater into urine-bombs, among other actions. Some Molotov cocktails were made, but not used, by two separate activists, who were convicted. The RNC 8 also are blamed for breaking a Macy’s window, an act apparently carried out by an individual who had stayed as an overnight guest before the convention began. The charges, which already have been dropped against three of the eight, are identical to the conspiracy charges in Chicago arising from the 1968 Democratic convention.
It is worth remembering that the real reasons for the protests in Chicago 1968 and Seattle 1999 were the closed and rigged nature of the institutions, the Democratic Party in the first case and the World Trade Organization in the latter. The FBI and police in both historic confrontations were perceived as robotic and brutal, as later investigations confirmed.
What is new about the recent spate of FBI raids in Minnesota, Chicago and elsewhere is that they represent a further level of pre-emption by the FBI, invading homes and computer bases in search of “material support of terrorism.”
The raids implement a June US Supreme Court ruling banning even non-violent or political association with any organization on the US government’s official foreign terrorist watch list. The Supreme Court ruled against LA-based Ralph Fertig and the Humanitarian Law Project who had provided human rights training to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). While the “material support” definition mostly concerns things such as financial services and weapons, it also includes an undefined category of “expert advice or assistance.” You might believe this means assistance in building bombs, but it is being interpreted as acting in solidarity with, or relating to, or offering advice to, or learning from any movement pursuing armed struggle – even if one is encouraging that group to shift away from armed struggle to a political path.
The raids focus on any connections between American activists and such groups as Hamas, Hezbollah, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), the FARC in Colombia, the November 17 movement in Greece, or the Real IRA in Northern Ireland.
The law doesn’t apply to anyone assisting Cuban exiles trying to overthrow the Cuban government, however. Violent Miami-based Cuban exile groups who historically have blown up Cuban national planes, planted explosives in Havana restaurants, or dispatched agents to assassinate Cuban leaders are not considered foreign terrorist organizations.
By criminalizing advocacy, advice and assistance on behalf of unpopular cause - or plain dialogue - the legislation echoes the anti-communist legislation of the 1950s, which characterized the McCarthy era, and brings the framework of the “global war on terror” home. Anyone defending these new “terrorist sympathizers,” like the ACLU, may be accused of being sympathizers with terrorist sympathizers. Any rally or demonstration that opposes US intervention in Colombia or supports the Palestinian cause will be subject to the accusation of material support. Meanwhile, many local police department are funded, trained and equipped as always against the new threat.
Additional research by Wesley Saver of the Peace and Justice Resource Center.
 Skelton, George. "LAPD Can't Pull Fast One on This Veteran Agitator." Los Angeles Times, June 8, 2000, Print.
 Presidential Decision Directive 62, signed May 22, 1998, is classified. The White House issued a fact sheet abstract, and the Federation of American Scientists has posted an “unclassified abstract” said to be “derived from” PDD 62, available at (http://www.fas.org/irp/offdocs/pdd-62.htm), visited September 26, 2010.
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 McGreal, Chris. "US Supreme Court: Nonviolent Aid to Banned Groups Tantamount to 'Terrorism'." Guardian, June 21, 2010, Print.
 "Providing Material Support to Terrorists." 18 U.S.C. § 2339A.