Violent Radicalization & Homegrown Terrorism Act
Bill seeks ‘to stop dissent at its earliest point’
Published Mar 6, 2008 10:24 PM
With little publicity and overwhelming bipartisan support, the Violent
Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Act of 2007 passed in the House of
Representatives last Oct. 23 by a vote of 404-6. The bill is now before the
Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee.
Budgeted at $22 million over four years, the legislation would establish a
national commission “to examine and report upon the facts and causes of
violent radicalization, homegrown terrorism, and ideologically-based violence
in the United States.” The commission would have the power to convene
hearings, issue reports, establish a university-based “center of
excellence” and recommend new laws.
Workers World spoke with attorney Kamau Franklin about the real agenda behind
the bill. Franklin is the Racial Justice Fellow at the Center for
Constitutional Rights (CCR) and a leading organizer of the Malcolm X Grassroots
Movement. He’s been in the forefront of alerting the people’s
movement about this legislation.
Workers World: What are some provisions of the Violent
Radicalization Act that activists need to be aware of?
Kamau Franklin: The thing that strikes me most is its broad
definition of ideology, radicalism and the confluence of force and violence as
almost the same thing. This has really strong meaning for activists because
it’s a way of targeting dissent and radical behavior and potentially
scaring people off from participating in activities meant to influence or
change the government by putting everything in the box of
Another part of the bill that’s scary is its focus on the Internet, which
has been labeled a sort of free speech zone. They are targeting Internet sites
that advocate different economic and social structures, or advocate beliefs
that differ from the standard paradigms of U.S. democracy and capitalism. If
the government and corporate contractors are allowed to start regulating
Internet content, that could be extremely troubling for activists.
Finally, although not spelled out in the legislation, the goal of setting up
commissions, conducting studies and issuing reports is to lead to enacting laws
or extensions of existing laws to criminalize radical action and
thought—for example, by attempting to federalize protest laws.
Under existing local laws, if I engage in a protest to advocate for my beliefs,
if I engage in civil disobedience action, I might be charged with disorderly
conduct or obstruction of governmental administration—relatively minor
charges. In a federalized system, you could potentially be labeled with
committing terrorist acts for these same activities, because they say
you’re using force to influence government policy—that’s how
broad the bill’s language is.
WW:Some moderate NGOs and nonprofits have spoken in favor of
the legislation, saying that at least now the government is talking about
studying the roots of terrorism. How do you respond?
KF:I don’t believe that’s the function of the
government or what it is intending to do. If the Congress wanted to study U.S.
foreign policy and what effect it has on making people anti-U.S., then
that’s what they should do. But they’re not looking at that in that
framework. They’re trying to individualize every action, as though people
couldn’t possibly be reacting to U.S. policy. “We have no idea
where these things are coming from, so let’s study these individuals and
find out why they’re so crazy.”
Even if you disagree with the tactics used by groups like the Taliban or
so-called Al-Qaida, you can still trace a historical pattern in which their
beliefs and tactics developed. A lot of it came out of joint actions with the
CIA to drive the Soviet Union out of Afghanistan.
These calls for looking into things miss the point, because a lot of it is
based on U.S. policies in the Middle East, such as their undaunted support for
Israeli killings and theft of land from the Palestinians and their support for
WW:It seems like the legislation’s focus on
“ideologically-based violence” is an extension into the domestic
arena of labeling international revolutionary movements as terrorist
organizations. Besides protesters, this language could also bring the terrorist
label against anyone espousing mass action to overthrow capitalism or Malcolm
X’s doctrine of “by any means necessary” and armed
KF:That’s the gist of where they’re headed. Make
it so that folks are scared of any talk, any ideology, any thinking or
theoretical belief system that says capitalism is not the way to benefit the
most people over the longest time. They are trying to root out any
conversations about the role of the capitalist government and military in other
I don’t think it has anything to do with stopping terrorism; it has to do
with stopping dissent at its earliest point, to muzzle views that could make
people think that another world is possible, that if we work collectively, we
can make changes.
They want a situation where you can’t debate whether Hamas or Hezbollah,
for example, are not simply “terrorist organizations” that want to
blow everything up, that these organizations have historical roots in their own
societies, that they have the backing of millions, that they have an ideology
that goes far beyond destroying Israel and is rooted in their belief in
self-determination and against the land-grab by people who are not indigenous
to the population.
We’ve been though a period when the U.S. didn’t feel militarily
restricted. Now, because of the international backlash, the struggle is about
what period are we going to go into next. Are they going to continue to
dominate the political conversation on terrorism and military intervention, or
are other forces going to find a way to create the ideological space again to
start talking about the different factors, about the role of U.S. imperialism,
and receive attention from the public.
WW:What is CCR doing to oppose
KF:We’ve generated a good analysis of why people should
oppose it, because it’s not just a commission, it’s a commission
with powers to make recommendations. Because it’s based in Congress,
those recommendations can easily become laws.
We are now building a coalition to develop strategies to kill the bill by
making sure it never leaves the Senate committee. We want to craft actions to
target senators who are on the fence or who support it. Even if they
don’t share a broad view that this is bad for dissent, if they have the
view that this is bad because the resources should be directed elsewhere,
that’s good enough.
For more background, read the fact sheet, “Here Come the Thought
Police: The Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of
2007” at ccrjustice.org.
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