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Violent Radicalization & Homegrown Terrorism Act

Bill seeks ‘to stop dissent at its earliest point’

WW interview

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.

Kamau Franklin
Photo: ccrjustice.org

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 “terrorism.”

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 dictatorial regimes.

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 self-defense.

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 people’s countries.

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

the bill?

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.