cj> The Crackdown on Dissent [The Nation]


Richard Moore

Dear cj,

The tempo is picking up re/ the Harmonization Movement, as a
consequence of the publication of "Manifesto for Global

Harmonization seems to be developing between my own efforts,
those of Tom Atlee (http://www.co-intelligence.org), John
Bunzl (http://www.simpol.org), Anup Shah
(http://www.globalissues.org), and others.

I don't want to always cross-post items between cj & rn. 
I'd like to encourage those of you interested in The
Movement to join the rn list by sending any message to:

Some items will still be cross-posted, but I'd like to direct
Movement items mainly to rn, while the cj list will continue
to deal with more diverse items, such as this report from
The Nation.

best to all,

Date: Tue, 23 Jan 2001 15:38:36 -0500
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Subject: The Crackdown on Dissent [The Nation]
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The Nation, Friday, January 19, 2001.

The Crackdown on Dissent
        by Abby Scher

Over the past year, the US government has intensified its
crackdown on political dissidents opposing corporate
globalization, and it is using the same intimidating and
probably unconstitutional tactics against demonstrators at
the presidential inauguration. With the Secret Service
taking on extraordinary powers designed to combat terrorism,
undercover operatives are spying on protesters' planning
meetings, while police are restricting who is allowed on the
parade route and are planning a massive search effort of

One activist who has had experience with how the DC police
handle demonstrators is Rob Fish, a cheerful young man with
the Student Environmental Action Coalition profiled in a
recent Sierra magazine cover story on the new generation of
environmentalists. If you were watching CNN during the
protests against the International Monetary Fund and World
Bank in Washington, DC, in April, you would have seen Fish,
22, beaten, bloody and bandaged after an attack by an
enraged plainclothes officer who also tried to destroy the
camera with which Fish was documenting police harassment.
Fish is a plaintiff in a class-action suit filed by the
American Civil Liberties Union, the National Lawyers Guild
and the Partnership for Civil Justice against the DC police
and a long list of federal agencies including the FBI. This
suit--along with others in Philadelphia and Los Angeles,
where the party conventions were held in August; in Detroit,
which declared a civil emergency during the June
Organization of American States meeting across the border in
Windsor, Ontario; and in Seattle--is exposing a level of
surveillance and disruption of political activities not seen
on the left since the FBI deployed its dirty tricks against
the Central American solidarity movement during the 1980s.

Among police agencies themselves this is something of an
open secret. In the spring the US Attorney's office bestowed
an award on members of the Washington, DC, police department
for their "unparalleled" coordination with other police
agencies during the IMF protests. "The FBI provided valuable
background on the individuals who were intent on committing
criminal acts and were able to impart the valuable lessons
learned from Seattle," the US Attorney declared.

Civil liberties lawyers say the level of repression--in the
form of unwarranted searches and surveillance, unprovoked
shootings and beatings, and pre-emptive mass arrests
criminalizing peaceful demonstrators--violates protesters'
rights of free-speech and association. "It's political
profiling," said Jim Lafferty, director of the National
Lawyers Guild's Los Angeles office, which is backing
lawsuits coming out of the Los Angeles protests. "They
target organizers. It's a new level of crackdown on

In Washington in April and at the Republican National
Convention protest in Philadelphia last summer, the police
rounded up hundreds of activists in pre-emptive arrests and
targeted and arrested on trumped-up charges those they had
identified as leaders. Once many of those cases appeared in
Philadelphia court, they were dismissed because the police
could offer no reason for the arrests. In December the
courts dismissed all charges against sixty-four
puppet-making activists arrested at a warehouse. A month
before, prosecutors had told the judge they were withdrawing
all fourteen misdemeanor charges against Ruckus Society head
John Sellers for lack of evidence. These were the same
charges--including possession of an instrument of a crime,
his cell phone--that police leveled against Sellers to argue
for his imprisonment on $1 million bail this past August.

A major question posed by the lawsuits is whether the
federal government trained local police to violate the
free-speech rights of protesters like Sellers and Fish. The
FBI held seminars for local police in the protest cities on
the lessons of the Seattle disorders to help them prepare
for the demonstrations. It has also formed "joint terrorism
task forces" in twenty-seven of its fifty-six divisions,
composed of local, state and federal law-enforcement
officers, aimed at suppressing what it sees as domestic
terrorism on the left and on the right. "We want to be
proactive and keep these things from happening," Gordon
Compton, an FBI spokesman, told the Oregonian in early
December after public-interest groups called for the city to
withdraw from that region's task force.

The collaboration of federal and local police harks back to
the height of the municipal Red Squads, renamed
"intelligence units" in the postwar period. During the
heyday of J. Edgar Hoover and his illegal
Counterintelligence Program (COINTELPRO), the FBI relied on
these local police units and even private right-wing spy
groups for information about antiwar and other activists.
The FBI then used the information and its own agents
provocateurs to disrupt the Black Panthers, Students for a
Democratic Society, Puerto Rican nationalists and others
during the dark days of COINTELPRO and after that program
was exposed in 1971.

Local citizen action won curbs on Red Squad activity
throughout the country in the seventies and eighties after
scandals revealed political surveillance of the ACLU,
antiwar and civil rights activists, among others. While
Chicago police recently won a court case to resume their
spying, elsewhere police are evading restrictions by having
other police agencies spy for them. In Philadelphia four
state police officers who claimed they were construction
workers from Wilkes-Barre infiltrated the "convergence"
space where the activists were making puppets and otherwise
preparing for demonstrations against the Republican
convention. State police (who also monitored activists'
Internet organizing) initially said they were working with
the Philadelphia police department, which was barred in 1987
from political spying without special permission. And in New
York last spring, police apparently violated a 1985 ban on
sharing intelligence when it helped Philadelphia police
monitor and photograph NYC anarchists at a May Day

"We have local Washington, DC, authorities in
Philadelphia--I see no role for them there except fingering
people who were in lawful demonstrations in DC," says Mara
Verheyden-Hilliard of Partnership for Civil Justice, who is
representing the activists in the DC lawsuit. Environmental
activist Fish ran into a sergeant from the Morristown, New
Jersey, police department at demonstration after
demonstration. The sergeant had helped the neighboring
Florham Park, New Jersey, police handle a small protest
against a Brookings Institution session with the World Bank
on April 1, where Fish had assisted in a dramatic banner
hanging. At the May Day protest in New York, "much to my
surprise," he ran into not just the Morristown officer but
"the whole crew" he had seen in DC a few weeks before,
including officers from DC and Philadelphia, and now even
someone from the Drug Enforcement Administration. "They knew
all about me being beat up in DC and that my camera was
lost," he said. In DC they had revealed that they knew he'd
been to a Ruckus Society training in Florida during spring
break. They were very open about who they were, some handing
Fish their business cards.

Capt. Peter Demitz, the Morristown police officer, explained
in a recent interview that he traveled to demonstrations
using funds from a program set up by the Justice Department
after the anti-WTO protests in Seattle. Attorney General
Janet Reno "felt that civil disorder and demonstrations
would be the most active since the Vietnam War. She said
police officers should learn from each other, so there's
more money for observing," said Demitz. According to
Verheyden-Hilliard, the coordination among police agencies
"becomes a problem when it's being used to chill people's
political speech--it's being used in a way to silence

Letting activists know they are under surveillance is also a
time-honored tactic of local intelligence units and the FBI.
"I see several different components of COINTELPRO, from
conspicuous surveillance, spreading fear of infiltration,
preventive detention and false stories to the press," says
Brian Glick, a Fordham University law professor and author
of War at Home: Covert Action Against U.S. Activists and
What We Can Do About It.

Among the police actions that worry civil libertarians:

        *Police raids of demonstrators' gathering spaces. In DC,
        saying there was a fire threat, the police, fire department
        and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms kicked everyone
        out of the convergence space, arrested the "leaders" and
        seized puppets and political materials. The ACLU prevented a
        similar raid on the convergence center in Los Angeles during
        the Democratic convention by winning an injunction from a
        federal judge, who warned the police that they could not
        even investigate building or fire-code violations without
        federal court approval.
        *False stories to the press. In statements later proved to
        be false, police in Washington and Philadelphia said they
        found the makings of dangerous weapons in convergence
        centers. DC police announced they had found a Molotov
        cocktail but later admitted it was a plastic soda bottle
        stuffed with rags. Similarly, the makings of "pepper spray,"
        police admitted later, were actually peppers, onions and
        other vegetables found in the kitchen area, while
        "ammunition" seized in an activist's home consisted of empty
        shells on a Mexican ornament. Philadelphia police also
        reported "dangerous" items in activists' puppet-making
        material. Such false statements were intended to discredit
        the protesters and discourage people from supporting them,
        civil liberties lawyers argue.
        *Rounding up demonstrators on trumped-up charges. In
        Philadelphia on August 1, police arrested seventy activists
        working in the convergence space called the puppet warehouse
        on conspiracy and obstruction-of-traffic charges. They
        justified the raid, which the ACLU called one of the largest
        instances of preventive detention in US history, in a
        warrant that drew on an obscure far-right newsletter funded
        by millionaire Richard Mellon Scaife claiming that the young
        people were funded by communist groups and therefore
        dangerous. On April 15, Washington police rounded up 600
        demonstrators marching against the prison-industrial
        complex, picking up tourists in the process. Police held
        them on buses for sixteen hours.
        *List-making. The BBC reported that the Czech government
        received from the FBI a list of activists that it used in
        stopping Americans from entering for anti-IMF demonstrations
        in Prague in September. A journalist interviewed two such
        Americans who said they had no criminal record but had been
        briefly held and released in Seattle during the 1999
        anti-WTO protests. MacDonald Scott, a Canadian paralegal
        doing legal support, estimates from border-crossing records
        that Canada turned away about 500 people during the OAS
        meetings last June.
        *Political profiling. On May 1 the NYPD rounded up
        peacefully demonstrating anarchists with covered faces under
        a nineteenth-century anti-Klan law, in addition to a few
        other barefaced anarchist-looking activists.
        *Unconstitutional bail amounts. Philadelphia law enforcement
        sought what lawyers are calling unconstitutionally high
        bail, most famously the $1 million bail against John Sellers
        of the Ruckus Society (which a judge lowered to a still-high
        *Brutal treatment. In Philadelphia and Washington, activists
        were held for excessive lengths of time, not informed of
        their full rights or given access to their lawyers, and were
        hogtied with plastic handcuffs attaching their wrists to
        their ankles. Philadelphia activists in particular reported
        brutal treatment while in police custody, but in every city
        demonstrators suffered from police assault on the streets.

Whether and how the Justice Department or the FBI plotted
strategies for cracking down on protesters is the type of
information that is often only revealed by chance or long
after the fact. COINTELPRO was famously exposed in 1971 when
activists liberated documents from an FBI office in Media,
Pennsylvania. The process of uncovering the government's
recent attempts to suppress dissent has just begun.

An FBI agent told the Philadelphia Inquirer the government
was focusing on the antiglobalization activists in much the
same way they pursued Christian antiabortion bombers "after
the Atlanta Olympics." By expressing such urgent concern,
federal agencies may provide tacit permission to local
police to use heavy-handed tactics stored in the
institutional memories of police departments from the most
active days of the Red Squads. Philadelphia police are
notorious for preventively detaining black activists,
illegal raids and the bombing of the MOVE house in 1985.
They spied on some 600 groups well into the 1970s, and with
the collusion of judges, set astronomical bails to detain
people on charges that later proved without warrant.

Indeed, the local police may not need encouragement from the
Feds for their use of violence against largely (though not
entirely) nonviolent demonstrators. "There's a militaristic
pattern to policing these days, the increasing
us-versus-them attitude," says Jim Lafferty of the National
Lawyers Guild in LA. The treatment of protesters is an
extension of the way many police treat those in poor
neighborhoods, stopping pedestrians who are young, black and
male without probable cause, harassing and even shooting
with little provocation.

"In LA, apparently they decided instead of arresting people
and setting high bail like they did in Philadelphia, they'll
just open fire," said Dan Takadji, the ACLU lawyer who is
suing the city for civil rights violations. When police shot
rubber bullets at a concert and rally of more than a
thousand people outside the Democratic convention center in
August, "there were a few people throwing garbage over the
fence," Takadji said. "Instead of dealing with these few
people, the police swept in and fired on a crowd with rubber
bullets" without giving concertgoers time to file out of the
small entry the police kept open. This had shades of the
1968 Democratic convention in Chicago, when the National
Guard blocked the exit of a permitted demonstration in Grant
Park as police charged with tear gas and rifle butts.

Also reminiscent of '68 is harassment of those calling for
police reform. LA police officers shot rubber bullets into
the crowd at an anti-police-brutality rally on October 22.
As in other demonstrations, police also targeted a
videographer who was filming. A few days earlier the NYPD
raided the Bronx apartment of members of the tiny
Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade, which was helping to
organize a similar protest.

Recent legislation has all but encouraged repressive police
tactics. A 1998 federal law, for example, gave federal
intelligence agencies vast new powers to track suspected
terrorists with "roving wiretaps" and secret court orders
that allow covert tracing of phone calls and obtaining of
documents. The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act
of 1996, meanwhile, increased the authority of the FBI to
investigate First Amendment activity, like donations to
nonviolent political organizations deemed "terrorist" by the
government. This would have criminalized those who gave
money to the African National Congress during apartheid,
says Kit Gage of the National Committee Against Repressive
Legislation. And Clinton in his last days created the post
of counterintelligence czar, whose mission, the Wall Street
Journal reports, includes working with corporations to
maintain "economic security."

It's not only antiglobalization activists who have faced
crackdowns on free-speech and free-association rights. The
Immigration and Naturalization Service is imprisoning and
deporting people whose political views the government
considers unacceptable, although its efforts to use secret
evidence have suffered setbacks in the courts, with some
people freed when evidence proved spurious. Still, Muslim
Arab-Americans continue to be called before secret grand
juries investigating ties between US residents and
"terrorist" groups like the Palestinian organization Hamas.

More than fifty years ago President Truman unleashed a
crackdown on the left that was carried on by his Republican
successor. We may face a similar crisis today. "There's been
a massive violation of civil rights and constitutional
rights. This decision to suspend the Constitution is one
that has been made now at one event after another. It's
obvious there was a conscious decision to do it," said Bill
Goodman, legal director of the Center for Constitutional
Rights. "What lies behind the decision is more disturbing.
The purpose of it is to prevent the public from hearing the
message of the protesters."


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Richard K Moore
Wexford, Ireland
Citizens for a Democratic Renaissance 
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