[sixties-l] The Crackdown on Dissent

From: radman (resist@best.com)
Date: Mon Jan 22 2001 - 19:45:31 EST

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    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
    unconstitutional tactics against demonstrators at the presidential
    inauguration. With the
    Secret Service taking on extraordinary powers designed to combat terrorism,
    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
    protests. "They target organizers. It's a new level of crackdown on dissent."
    In Washington in April and at the Republican National Convention protest in
    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,
    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
    and others during the dark days of COINTELPRO and after that program was
    exposed in
    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
    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 demonstration.
    "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
    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
    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 people."
    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
     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
    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
    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
    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 $100,000).
     Brutal treatment. In Philadelphia and Washington, activists were held for
    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
    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
    "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
    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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