The FBI Got its Groove Back

Anti-war,
Can mean your doom;
Feds come to,
Your living room.

Most likely, you’re too young to remember J. Edgar Hoover. He led the FBI in the 1940s and ’50s. Badly. He was the Establishment’s enforcer. Liberals lived in fear of appearing on his “list.” Mere suspicion of leftist thought could lead to an interrogation and potential job loss. The media and film industries were purged of many supposedly wrong-thinking Americans.

As a teen back then, I opined in class that the U.S. ought to recognize (Red) China. My ashen teacher came up asking where I had gotten such an idea. She knew, as I didn’t, that her job could be endangered. When Hoover did leave, they built a monstrous FBI headquarters named for him and persecution of liberals died down. The Soviet Union’s demise helped, too.

But now the FBI has its groove back, thanks to 9/11. With a collective sigh of relief, the agency has found a new demon to purge as it knocks down your door…terrorism! You may not be a terrorist yourself, but do you give them “material aid?” That can earn you jail time.

Material aid includes such treasonous acts as sending humanitarian donations to relief agencies in Gaza. One charity might just be related to Hamas, the duly elected government which the United States defines as “terrorist.” Worse, if you are in a peace organization trying to organize a dialogue between hostile parties, one of those parties is bound to be on some FBI/CIA list, and thus you are giving them aid. Jail awaits.

Such was the subversion that the FBI was seeking recently when it invaded six private homes in Minneapolis and Chicago. The agents were armed with search warrants that authorized ferreting out evidence of “knowingly providing material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization.” This support might also consist of something as sinister as “expert advice for lawful, non-violent purposes.” Prosecution for such scurrilous behavior is authorized under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996.

Lacking any sort of evidence, the invading agents passed out subpoenas, which ordered appearance before a grand jury. They also confiscated all the computers, electronic devices, and paper files that struck their fancy. Now think about that…there was no arrest and the grand jury may not even convene, but these folks have lost their computers, iPods, notepads, physical records, and a serious part of their recorded lives. Will they ever get those records back? Will they get their equipment back? Who knows? Maybe yes, maybe no. Surely their kids will never get their innocence back.

All this amounts to a pretty stiff sentence for peaceful opposition to America’s various wars and other repugnant policies. Of course, you can understand the FBI’s concern for the safety of our nation while they are hounding such virulent suspects as Quakers, members of Catholic Worker groups, Greenpeace, the Thomas Merton Center, and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. A scary lot.

Mind you, this sort of citizen abuse isn’t uncommon. It happens frequently, especially at peace marches. What makes this episode special is that a few media outlets actually reported it. A Justice Department Inspector General report that emerged just a week earlier says, yes indeed, this sort of unlawful activity has been going on since Hoover and we really do wish the FBI would stop it.

No one ever gets punished for such actions. The Bureau never does stop, no matter who is in the White House.

OtherWords columnist William A. Collins is a former state representative and a former mayor of Norwalk, Connecticut. www.otherwords.org