Global Research ~ The State of Dissent in America: Flex Your Rights

From Global Research


When we occupied Freedom Plaza in Washington, DC, during the Autumn of 2011, we often marched down Pennsylvania Avenue to Capitol Hill to express our many grievances. We were always accompanied by a large contingent of police officers and other members of the national security state, some obvious and others not so much. Along the way, we would pass the Newseum, which has the First Amendment engraved in large letters on the front of the building. We made it a habit to pause at the Newseum and read aloud in unison the words of the First Amendment. The reason for doing so was to let everyone know, including the security state, that we have the right to protest peacefully and that we were exercising that right.

We live in a time when there is much to protest. The government is dysfunctional, ruled by plutocrats who pass laws for their corporate friends that cause real harm and suffering for the people and ecological collapse of the planet. Many activists with whom we work recognize that the traditional tools used to effect change within the system – petitions, lobbying, electing supportive legislators or running for office – largely fail in the current political environment.

Our most effective option is strategic and militant, nonviolent protest in all of its many forms, from boycotts to rallies to hunger strikes. And it is our First Amendment right to use these tools. But rather than respecting and supporting our right to peaceably assemble and petition the government for a redress of our grievances, the national security state and legislators are chipping away at our rights in more extreme ways than ever before.

Even our right to know what is being done in our name is disappearing. The White House and Congress are doing more in secret and are cracking down on those who reveal their actions. Whistleblowers are being charged under the Espionage Act and journalists are being spied upon.

It is up to the people to preserve our rights to dissent and to know the truth. Otherwise, they will continue to slip away. Every day in the US, people are taking action to hold onto these rights and they are inspiring others to do the same.

The Vague Definition of Crime

During the occupation of Freedom Plaza in 2011, we sometimes joked with law enforcement that the Rule of Law only applied to the 99%, not the 1%. The police knew this was more a truth than it was a joke.  Bankers who commit fraud and those who crashed the economy are simply fined and not prosecuted at all. Health insurance and pharmaceutical corporations are regularly fined for fraudulent behavior, more than any other industry. To most large corporations, these fines are simply a cost of doing business and wind up costing much less than what the fraudulent behavior reaps in profits.

Corporate executives are not even held accountable when their business practices result in massive deaths. An example is Warren Anderson, the former chair of Union Carbide during the Bhopal chemical disaster that poisoned over 500,000 people and killed thousands. He skipped bail in India and fled to the US. And he has not been returned despite warrants for his arrest issued by India.

On the flip-side, the Obama administration has been conducting a war on dissent. It appears that the security state can turn almost any behavior into a crime if a person is not a member of the elite. In fact, just a few days ago on June 27, a health care activist was arrested for writing a chalk message on a sidewalk during a protest against the governor for not expanding Medicaid to more Pennsylvanians under the federal health law. The charge was disorderly conduct for writing “a derogatory remark about the governor on the sidewalk.” The remark: “Corbett has health care, we should too.”

Since the Occupy movement rose up in 2011, a number of laws have been passed that are written vaguely and increase the power of the security state. In early 2012, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) passed by Congress contained a provision that loosened the definition of a “terrorist” to include anyone who has contact with Al Qaeda or an “associated organization,” and allowed indefinite detention without trial and extraordinary rendition of US citizens.

Around the same time, Occupy London was placed on the terrorist watch list by the London Police. And it was later learned, after a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request was granted, that the FBI was monitoring the Occupy movement in the US and in some papers referred to Occupy protests as “domestic terrorism.”

In fact, spying and infiltration were widespread in the Occupy movement. We wrote about it in a two-part series. The second article focused on how infiltration has been the norm in US political movements for the last 100 years.  Undercover police were exposed for their infiltration of Occupy in Chicago and Austin, no doubt two instances among many. FOIA requests documented FBI surveillance and infiltration, their entrapment strategy, and how the FBI coordinated the crackdown with local police, including, we discovered,  conference calls with mayors and police chiefs. Sometimes the closing down of encampments involved brutal police action. Often journalists were targeted as were even nurses and health care volunteers.

The involvement of national security agencies was broad. FOIA documents released to the Partnership for Civil Justice Foundation found that in addition to the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Protective Service were involved in nationwide monitoring of Occupy and central to the nationwide crackdown. Other documents show that the National Park Police were doing the same. (The CIA has so far refused to search its files in response to a FOIA request.) A report by law schools documented how the rights of occupiers were routinely violated. And a report covering many of these issues, “Dissent or Terror,” shows how counter-terrorism tools like fusion centers also worked with corporations to attack the Occupy Movement.

Now we’re seeing the same kind of tactics used against climate justice protesters. Ranchers who oppose the KXL pipeline for tar sands are being classified as terrorists, although aggressive targeting of environmentalists is not new.

Chris Hedges and a few colleagues are suing the Obama administration because a section of the 2012 NDAA could be interpreted to incriminate journalists who speak to members of Al Qaeda or other groups determined to be terrorists. In the initial case, Judge Katherine Forrest ruled that this NDAA section was unconstitutional. She placed a permanent injunction on the provision on a Friday afternoon last September, and Hedges’ lawyer was immediately notified that the decision would be appealed by the Obama administration. The emergency appeal occurred first thing on the following Monday morning. The stay was lifted and the Supreme Court refused an interim appeal.

Hedges explains that the administration’s appeal was sought on an emergency basis because it is already secretly using this NDAA provision and didn’t want to be held in contempt of court. The case is ongoing and Hedges expects that it will ultimately be heard before the Supreme Court. He writes that if we lose this struggle, the situation will be much more serious: “Once the state seizes this unchecked power, it will inevitably create a secret, lawless world of indiscriminate violence, terror and gulags. I lived under several military dictatorships during the two decades I was a foreign correspondent. I know the beast.”

Another law passed in 2012, the anti-Occupy Law, made it a more serious charge to protest in an area where a person is under the protection of the Secret Service or in a National Security Special Event. Ray McGovern, former CIA officer who gave the morning intelligence briefings to multiple presidents, says it is no coincidence that these laws were passed after the Occupy movement began. Congress members were concerned that in a mass uprising, the police may not protect them.

There are other signs that the security state is taking more steps to empower itself in the case of a mass uprising. The Pentagon recently gave itself the authority to respond to civil disturbances without even coordinating with local police. The national security state is also making arrangements with other nations in the case that domestic uprisings overwhelm the police and military and outside assistance is necessary.

Kevin Gosztola, who writes the blog “The Dissenter” on, has been following the activity of the national security state, including the case of three activists who traveled to Chicago for the NATO protests in May 2012. They were infiltrated by undercover police and arrested pre-emptively the day before the NATO protest. They are the first people to be charged under the state terrorism law passed in Illinois after 9/11.

Gosztola states that the pre-emptive arrests were meant to intimidate activists from expressing their First Amendment rights, and that it is not unusual for police to use statements that are taken out of context and pieced together from multiple conversations in their affidavits. Further, Gosztola writes that the law was written vaguely to give law enforcement “incredible latitude to go after people even if they only have a minor suspicion that those people could engage in terrorism.” He adds, “Coupled with the fact that law enforcement is using infiltrators or informants to push mentally unstable people, impoverished individuals or activists militant in their political beliefs to commit terrorist acts, it is easy for government to concoct terror cases that can be prosecuted.” Terrorism rhetoric was recently used to turn pacifists into terrorists.

Infiltration, spying and pre-emptive arrests are all tools used by the security state to squash dissent. In some cases they work to stifle First Amendment activity, but with unexpected consequences. Since 9/11, Muslims have been targeted by the FBI and other agencies. This has created a culture of fear and the knowledge that their rights don’t exist. Many Muslims are afraid to attend rallies, participate in religious activities or donate to charities.

This injustice to the Muslim community and the increasing reach of the security state affect all of us. They are affronts to our constitutional rights. Whether a person engages in activism or not, the rights to free speech and to dissent are foundations of democracy. The current political system is hurting all of us and disruption of its activities is necessary to force changes that will shift the present environmental and economic course. The real struggle for freedom is occurring right here within the United States.

Continue Reading Here…


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: