Town Hall meeting exposes war on dissent
Published Nov 20, 2010 6:38 AM
Speaking at a Nov. 10 Town Hall meeting here on the war on dissent, Minneapolis
anti-war and Colombia-solidarity activist Jess Sundin received a standing
ovation after describing her experience as a target of FBI raids on Sept. 24.
“We have got to push back to stop these attacks,” Sundin stated.
“We can’t let them attempt to silence us.”
Jess Sundin, Michael German
Sundin joined a panel that included former FBI agent Michael German, who now
works for the American Civil Liberties Union Policy Counsel; Paul Hetznecker, a
criminal defense/civil rights attorney from Philadelphia; and Mary Catherine
Roper, senior staff attorney with the ACLU of Pennsylvania. The program was
hosted by activist attorney Michael Coard.
The Town Hall meeting was initiated through the joint efforts of the ACLU and
the First Amendment Network. The latter coalition arose in September 2010 in
response to revelations that the Pennsylvania Office of Homeland Security paid
the Institute of Terrorism Research and Response, a private Israeli-based firm,
to spy on activities of more than 300 individuals and activist organizations
throughout the state. The pretext was a hunt for potential “terror”
Philadelphia Town Hall meeting.
WW photos: Joe Piette
Sundin, a founding member of the Twin Cities Anti-war Committee, told what she
experienced when FBI agents raided her home looking for evidence to support
charges against her and other activists of “material support for
terrorism.” Not only did they seize computers and mailing lists, they
even searched her six-year-old daughter’s belongings.
Ten years ago Sundin traveled to Colombia where she met with many people
resisting the U.S. military, including some groups on Washington’s list
of alleged “terrorist organizations.” She returned home and spoke
out against U.S. repression of Colombians.
Sundin noted that the 1996 law banning “material support to foreign
terrorist organizations,” expanded after Sept. 11, 2001, has been used to
prosecute Somali women in Minnesota simply for collecting used clothing to send
to their homeland.
“Anyone involved in Central American solidarity work, anti-apartheid
activities or speaking out in defense of the Irish liberation movement in the
1980s would have been affected by this law if those activities were taking
place today,” she said.
All the people targeted by the September FBI raids including Sundin have been
subpoenaed, but so far all have refused to appear before a federal grand
Mary Catherine Roper described Pennsylvania Homeland Security spying on area
activists as a “wholesale attack on the right to dissent.” Roper
noted that while the state cancelled its $103,000 contract with ITRR, it
reassigned such spying to the Pennsylvania state police.
“Our solution is not in the courts that have only served to protect
government secrecy since 9/11,” said Roper. “We need to organize
Having served as legal counsel for hundreds of activists arrested for
protesting at the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia in 2000, Paul
Hetznecker was all too familiar with the city’s history of political
Of groups like ITRR, Hetznecker said, “Much of the time what the
government gets from these right-wing groups is garbage.” Yet, he added,
it leads to anti-war groups becoming targets of federal investigations and put
on “terrorist watch lists.”
“In the 1950s the label of ‘communists’ was used to stifle
dissent,” Hetznecker noted. “Today it’s
‘terrorist.’ Where does that leave you if you are simply opposing
environmental damage from gas drilling in Pennsylvania?”
Michael German, a former FBI agent now employed by the ACLU in Washington,
raised that this type of intelligence-gathering activity has always happened at
the “fringe of the law,” but now it is increasingly in the
“The kind of spying activities that targeted activists at
Pittsburgh’s Thomas Merton Center, in Maryland and most recently
Pennsylvania is only ‘new’ in the sense that it has formalized the
merger of state, local, federal and now private operations. Military
intelligence is also increasingly involved in domestic spying
operations,” he noted.
German described the privatization of spying: “What we are afraid is
happening is that when federal regulations prohibit any [spying] activity, they
can pass it off to whichever entity has the most restrictive release rules,
which are usually private companies and the military.
“All of us are victims of this. Once dissent is suppressed against one of
us, all of us are threatened,” stressed German.
Sponsors of the event included the ACLU, Brandywine Peace Community, CAIR-PA,
International Action Center, Kensington Welfare Rights Union, Granny Peace
Brigade, National Lawyers Guild, Poor Peoples Economic Summit, International
Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal, The Shalom Center, Workers
World Party and the Philadelphia Branch of Women’s International League
for Peace and Freedom.
Because many of the activities targeted by the office of Homeland Security
involved protests of the growing natural gas industry, several environmental
organizations also participated and endorsed the event.
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