As the House and Senate quietly prepare to pass this bill, background research reveals that peaceful activists may be labeled as possible “homegrown terrorists.”
December 7, 2007. The U.S. Senate is proposing The Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007 (S. 1959), which is meant to prevent “homegrown” terrorists from attacking U.S. citizens. A similar bill just passed the House of Representatives with only six members voting against it.
Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), who is sponsoring this bill, testified to Congress that “domestic radicalization and violent extremism” are threats to American lives and society. She cites the Oklahoma City Federal office bombing as an example.
The bill would create a National Commission on the Prevention of Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism. This would examine the “social and psychological breeding grounds of extremism, the process of radicalization, the factors that cause people to turn to violence, the processes of recruitment and coordination, and the phenomenon of self-radicalization and ‘lone-wolf’ terrorism.”
It would also establish a university-based Center for Excellence for the Study of Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism in the U.S. dedicated to “researching and understanding violent radicalization and homegrown terrorism.” It will then make recommendations to Federal, State, and local governments about how to deal with such threats.
The language of the bill is vague and unclear in its definitions of what exactly these threats are, leaving much room for interpretation. “Homegrown terrorism” is defined 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… 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.”
Many critics point out that “force” could include staging peaceful protests in front of stores, in the street, or in government offices. Somebody who may be arrested for disorderly conduct for participating in a protest rally could later be defined as a “homegrown terrorist.”
The National Commission will study “violent radicalization,” which is defined in the bill 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.”
Many groups, such as the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), wonder how an “extremist belief system” is determined. CCR fears that it could be interpreted as socialism, anarchism, communism, nationalism, liberalism, or any other view that clashes with the Administration’s policies. It is also unclear as to how it is to be determined that somebody adopts a particular point of view for violent purposes or simply out of a personal moral conviction that lacks violent tendencies. Critics fear that peaceful activists may be grouped with violent activists simply based on their similar ideological beliefs.
Clearer definitions might be found in a report that the RAND Corporation conducted in 2005 titled “Trends in Terrorism” with one chapter dedicated to what it calls “Homegrown Terrorism.” Representative Jane Harmon (D-CA), who drafted the House version of the bill, stated in a letter that she has worked closely with RAND for many years. She chairs on the House Subcommittee on Intelligence, Information Sharing and Terrorism Risk Assessment.
According to its official website, the RAND Corporation is a non-profit think-tank that “helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis.” Its clients and sponsors include dozens of corporations, universities, foundations, and non-profit organizations, such as the General Electric Company, the National Pharmaceutical Council, and the Rockefeller Foundation. The list of U.S. government sponsors and clients includes many departments, but the Department of Defense seems to dominate with the longest list of client offices. The RAND Corporation’s expert on terrorism, Brian Michael Jenkins, gave testimony regarding the bill to the House.
The “Homegrown Terrorism” chapter of RAND’s report describes the structure, views, and violent tactics of right-wing militias and extreme environmental groups, such as the Earth Liberation Front (ELF). It discusses how such groups justify violent tactics in order to carry out their goals. Examples cited are homemade bombs, arson, and tree-spiking – driving long metal shards into trees that may seriously injure loggers who attempt to cut down the trees. In the next paragraph the report states that these tactics are “accompanied” by “more basic vandalism,” such as smashing windows, glue-sealing door locks, and “spray painting graffiti on buildings with the message ‘Stop Urban Sprawl.'”
The report mostly focuses on anti-globalist movements, which it references so often that it abbreviates “anti-globalism” as “AG:” The report states, “AG is a principal factor in common with the extreme right that appears to be driving the operational designs of radical environmentalism. Advocates of the movement now routinely articulate an anti-materialist worldview, decrying corporate greed as possibly the greatest threat to the planet and its life…”
It goes on to describe how AG targets a wide spectrum of groups, including “multinational companies, such as Shell Oil, McDonalds, Starbucks, Gap, and Nike, which are variously accused of exploitative labor practices, union busting, and human rights violations in the developing world.” The report predicts that “the goal of ecological preservation is likely to fully morph with the wider imperative of AG. This transformation, combined with the growing discontent over a variety of U.S. foreign policy decisions – ranging from the war in Iraq to Washington’s rejection of the Rio Summit agreement on curbing greenhouse gas emissions – could lead to the emergence of a new radical left-wing fringe across American society that is jointly directed against ‘big business,’ ‘big money,’ corporate power, and uncaring government.”
Finally, it states that “militant ecologists will almost certainly assume an increasingly prominent role in civil disobedience directed against perceived symbols of global capitalism and corporate greed, potentially leading the call for targeted aggression in the name of anti-humanist and anarchist ideals…”
The report concludes that “whether the threat emerges from the Christian Patriot Militia, the Black Bloc, the ELF, or some other AG-inspired movement, all exist in much the same operational environment as Al Qaeda.”
This is in part referring to is the operational structures of right-wing militias and ELF, which the report describes as “unitegrated and nonhierarchical” in the form of “leaderless resistance,” where there is a loose organization of autonomous actors instead of specific leaders who give orders. In a footnote the report states that this makes surveillance intelligence more difficult to intervene when there is a planned act of “ecoterror and sabotage.” The report compares this type of organization to Al Qaeda’s similar complex structure.
“Leaderless resistance” is also a method for non-violent groups to practice a form of participatory democracy, where all members have a say in what stance a group or government chooses to take. This is a very popular concept in many parts of Latin America, where traditional indigenous governments, community organizations, and peaceful activist groups have rejected the political party system in favor of electing rotating popular assemblies.
Movements against corrupt government, unfair labor practices, environmental degradation, excessive corporate power, and human rights abuses are widespread and encompass such people and organizations as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the ACLU, Students Against Sweatshops, Rainforest Action Network, indigenous rights movements, fair trade groups, bicycle and public transportation advocates, organic food activists, and the Dalai Lama. However, the RAND report seems to link all such movements to “homegrown terrorism” by implying that such anti-globalist sentiments will lead to violence.
This is significant when such research is to have an influence over national policy regarding terrorism. Senator Harman stated that the National Commission will propose to Congress “initiatives to intercede before radicalized individuals turn violent.” In today’s climate of resistance against a preemptive Iraq War, the possible war with Iran, and discontent over policies that benefit transnational corporations at the expense of workers, the type of interception that Hartman is referring to needs to be clearly defined. A report that lumps tree-spiking together with spray-paint graffiti has some serious implications for citizens who choose to participate in peaceful civil resistance.
The United States prides itself on its citizens’ ability to freely express their diverse beliefs and to peacefully protest policies they feel are wrong. We are witnessing a period where civil resistance is especially pertinent given the corruption that exists in the current government system of campaign financing where large corporations influence policy with their immense financial resources. The U.S. government proclaims to be fighting terrorism in the name of spreading and defending democracy. It may be time to examine what democracy means to us, and exactly how we define terrorism.
If you are concerned about The Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act, here are some recommended actions:
1. Contact the following Senators and demand that they speak out against this bill and block the Senate and House versions (S 1959 and HR 1955).
Barack Obama: (312) 886-3506
(He has been silent on this issue.)
Hillary Clinton: (202) 224-4451
(She has been silent on this issue.)
Senator Susan Collins (R-ME):
(She is the sponsor of this legislation.)
* Washington, D.C. Office (202) 224-2523
* Augusta Office (207) 622-8414
* Bangor Office (207) 945-0417
* Biddeford Office (207) 283-1101
* Caribou Office (207) 493-7873
* Lewiston Office (207) 784-6969
* Portland Office (207) 780-3575
Senate Majority leader Harry Reid (D-NV):
(He has been silent on this issue.)
Las Vegas 702-388-5020
Your own senators:
2. Attend a protest to demand that Congress stop this bill.
Monday, December 10th
(International Human Rights Day)
Senator Barack Obama’s office
12 noon to 1:30pm
230 S. Dearborn St. 3900
Chicago, IL 60604
Senator Hillary Clinton’s office
12 noon to 1:30pm
780 Third Ave @ 48th Street
New York, NY 10017
3. Call presidential candidate and Congressman Dennis Kucinich to thank him for voting against this bill. Encourage him to talk about this bill in the presidential debates.
4. Share this information in your community and organize.
Chalk, Peter, Bruce Hoffman, Robert Reville, and Anna-Britt Kasupski. “Trends in Terrorism: Threats to the United States and the Future of the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act.” RAND Corporation, Center for Terrorism Risk Management Policy. 2005. PDF copy: http://www.rand.org/pubs/monographs/2005/RAND_MG393.pdf
Collins, Susan. Senator’s statement introducing S. 1959. http://www.govtrack.us/congress/record.xpd
Fisher, William. “Civil Libertarians Warn of Patriot Act Lite.” Inter Press Service. 27 November 2007. ipsnews.net/news.asp
Lee, Jessica. “Bringing the War on Terrorism Home: Congress Considers How to ‘Disrupt’ Radical Movements.” The Indypendent. 7 December 2007. http://www.indypendent.org/2007/11/19/homegrown-terrorism/
Weitzel, Robert. “The Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act: A Tutorial in Orweillan Newspeak.” ZNet. 3 December 2007. http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm