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TO THE EXTREME
FBI testimony provokes fear of new Cointelpro
By Hank Hoffman
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 anti-globalization groups similar
to Cointelpro, which focused on the anti-war and Black Power movements in
the '60s and '70s.
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 "right-wing 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 anti-globalization 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, co-founder of the Washington-based 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
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 co-editor 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."
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