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Political Violence and Domestic Surveillance: Has The Fuse Been Lit?

Wednesday, November 16, 2016 8:40
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Ben Schreckinger at POLITICO has a story out today that every American concerned about the current political climate in our country should read. With the lede of “Trump Protesters Plan to Build ‘Tea Party’ of the Left,” Schreckinger quotes several progressive activists, including former Occupy Wall Street veteran Micah White. It’s worth quoting White in full, because his comments will absolutely draw the attention of officials at the FBI and DHS:

American activists are finally starting to understand that protest is broken. The people cannot attain sovereignty over their governments by collective protest in the streets. There are only two ways to achieve sovereignty in this world: Win elections or win wars. Now that street protest is not an option, we will see the Trump resistance split into these two fronts. Some will pursue the strategy of using social movements to [win] elections while others go down the dark path of ’70s guerrilla insurrection. I advocate winning elections.

Without question, the Founders would agree with much of what White says. American colonists spent over a decade trying to get Crown authorities to understand that every new tax or regulation imposed on them without their consent was creating resentments and opposition to British rule that, if not resolved peacefully, would lead to armed conflict.

Some in Parliament understood the dangers and sympathized with Americans—but not enough. It’s worth remembering that the Continental Congress was formed almost a full year before the Declaration of Independence was issued. The warning signs were there, but George III doubled-down on repression rather than negotiate with the colonists. The rest, as they say, is history. The question raised by White’s comments and the rest of Schreckinger’s piece is whether that history is about to repeat itself, this time with the federal government in the lead role of political oppressor.

Earlier this year, Cato launched American Big Brother: A Century of Political Surveillance and Represssion. The project is an effort to chronicle the over 100-year history of federal government efforts to suppress—and sometimes destroy—political movements and ideologies deemed a threat to the prevailing political and economic order. While some of the federal government’s domestic surveillance and political subversion activities have been aimed at individuals or groups on the right side of the political spectrum, most of the documented cases we have involved assaults on leftist groups or activists—including White’s Occupy Wall Street movement.

White’s allusion to “70s guerilla insurrection” is probably a reference to the Weather Underground and related movements, all of which were targeted and ultimately destroyed by the FBI, in coordination with state and local law enforcement entities. But as noted in the American Big Brother timeline, you don’t have to be a bomb maker or Molotov cocktail thrower to become the target of FBI surveillance. Simply speaking out during public marches or other protests is more than enough.

As journalist Cora Currier of The Intercept noted the day before Trump was elected:

In recent years, the FBI has ramped up its domestic intelligence-gathering apparatus, growing the ranks of informants and mapping neighborhoods in order to identify potential sources. The FBI has sent informants into mosques and targeted Muslim student associations, political groups, and protestors. And there have been widespread reports of the FBI using immigration status as leverage to push people to work with the government.

If the incoming Trump administration ramps up deportations of undocumented immigrants, intensifies and further securitizes “countering violent extremism” programs aimed at Arab- and Muslim-Americans, and continues the conflict between federal authorities and Black Lives Matter activists, White’s prediction of a bifurcated resistance movement—part political, part violent and insurrectionary—may well come to pass. But without joining hands with those on the right who also oppose such political repression in a broader political coalition, White and other activists on the left will only play into the hands of National Security State hawks, who will capitalize on the divisions among their opponents to destroy or silence them, one by one.

Just as it took more than one political faction to create this country, it will take more than one political faction to confront and eradicate our National Security State and free all Americans from the threat of domestic surveillance and political repression.

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