Protestors Scrutinized by the FBI
November 23, 2003 8:58 AM   Subscribe

If you've participated in an anti-war rally, or helped organize a demonstration, the FBI may have a file on you. The FBI claims that they are only weeding out anarchists and other "extremists." But the ACLU and some legal scholars are warning of a return of Hooverism. Attention pinkos: You can run, but you can't hide, because you're probably on the no-fly list.
posted by PrinceValium (38 comments total)
is it now illegal to be an anarchist - to believe, but not act?
posted by goneill at 9:12 AM on November 23, 2003

can you be an anarchist without acting? isn't that dangerously close to saying you'll only be an individual if everyone else is an individual too? i mean that, more than any other political philosophy, doesn't anarchism put the responsibility to act in your hands?
posted by andrew cooke at 9:15 AM on November 23, 2003

Apparently freedom isn't such a beautiful thing after all.
This is outrageous. Hooverism? Sounds like a return to Nixonism, and one can only hope this administration will come to the same ignominious end.
Here's a prior thread posted by dejah420 on the no-fly list.
posted by madamjujujive at 9:17 AM on November 23, 2003

Put all things in your hands. But why does this about the FBI surprise you? Nothing has changed or is likley to since it is the conservative FBI that defends and protects the interests of the govt in power as they view it. this is why during the Viet protests, so many at rallies took to wearing either masks or big sings with obscenities so as not to be photographed for TV. Now, if you feel you have been "mistreated" by FBI actions, send to them for Freedom of Info on your file/name and see what nesxt happens.
posted by Postroad at 9:21 AM on November 23, 2003

is it now illegal to be an anarchist

I though that anarchists didn't believe in laws anyway. Wouldn't being legal spoil all the fun?
posted by jonmc at 9:33 AM on November 23, 2003

Here's some information on how to use the Freedom of Information Act and the Privacy Act to secure copies of your records (should they exist) from the federal agency of your choice.

Having a file, in an information age, is in itself, rather's the contents of the file which are important. Not only can your political affiliations put you on the "no-fly" list, it can stop you from leaving the country via the north, and can stop you from entering a number of other western countries.

There are laws in place that allow you to change what's in those files...but you can't do that if you don't know what's there.
posted by dejah420 at 9:51 AM on November 23, 2003

Here's some information on how to use the Freedom of Information Act and the Privacy Act to secure copies of your records (should they exist) from the federal agency of your choice.

"should they exist" is the operative term here. Believe me the overwhelming majority of us, of any political stripe are not worth bothering with to the powers at be. Trust me, we all worry them about as much as cloudy day.

I imagine many people would be disappointed if they didn't have a file. But I imagine your egos will recover.
posted by jonmc at 9:56 AM on November 23, 2003

What's your point, jonmc? Most of us are too insignificant for this to affect us directly, so therefore it's just peachy-keen that they're doing it?
posted by ook at 10:07 AM on November 23, 2003

After having never been searched on any flight ever, in less than a week recently I got stopped and pulled out from Indianapolis-LAX, LAX-London, and detained at immigration for 4 hrs at Heathrow and suspiciously questioned and attacked and threatened with arrest and deportation (for no real stated reason other than that I wasn't initially clear if I was staying with someone who was a friend or lover). I'm a white American female who spent 6mos in London on a work permit (working for a stop-smoking charity, nothing political) and then came back a month later on a tourist permit. My British friends think it's because I'm living with a bunch of British Asians, and my boyfriend (also Br.Asian) has a Muslim last name. While I had to give his name at immigration, who else would possibly be keeping track of these things? Why was I searched on 2 flights before even getting here? All my brown friends have always said that airlines are racist as hell. At LAX, I was the ONLY white person in a search-line of at least a dozen black and brown people, all cordoned off behind a wall where the other passengers couldn't see us. I'm mystified by the seeming inability to address legitimate threats, combined with the endless capacity to track down even the most innocuous pacifist. One of my friends says he's been searched on every airline and every flight ever since he had a manic episode while on vacation 5 years ago and kinda flipped out on the plane on the way to check himself in to a hospital. He's convinced they have some sort of "mentally unstable" list that goes everywhere.

As immigration has already said they're watching me, I gave up and joined the anti-Bush protest in London last week, wearing my Terrorist No. 1 American flag t-shirt. So Britain doesn't want me, and America won't want me back, I presume. ;)
posted by fotzepolitic at 10:11 AM on November 23, 2003

I don't think it's "peachy keen," although there are some fringe groups that bear watching on both the right and the left. It's just that all the panic smacks of "look, look, I'm being repressed!"

NTM, I doubt most of you would be upset if the FBI was keeping files on say The Michigan Militia rather than anarchist groups. Not that I care much for them but you see what I'm saying.
posted by jonmc at 10:13 AM on November 23, 2003

But the ACLU and some legal scholars are warning of a return of Hooverism.

Specifically, the Cointelpro program.

Meanwhile, the House and Senate have passed a largely secret intelligence bill which, amongst other things, expands the Patriot Act by making it easier for the FBI to get records from businesses without the approval of a judge or a grand jury. What's next, the Victory Act?

And in the UK, new laws will give the Government the power to over-ride civil liberties in times of crisis, restrict people's movements and confiscate property.

I would appreciate it if life would stop trying to imitate the Onion.
posted by homunculus at 10:22 AM on November 23, 2003

Meanwhile, reporters are taking leisurely strolls around unsecured chemical facilities. An attack on one of these could lead to thousands if not millions of deaths, but the chemical lobby shot down legislation requiring them to beef up security.

Someone in the government doesn't have their priorities straight, IMHO.
posted by homunculus at 10:26 AM on November 23, 2003

can you be an anarchist without acting?

I would say yes. As a caveat, I don't know any of those bandana-masked professional protestors that most people are talking about when they say "anarchist," but I think that one can be an anarchist wihtout "acting." Why? because anarchism isn't about violently or immediately ridding ourselves of all order. It's about trajectories and adding a new filter to our decision-making process, namely "does this create or perpetuate unjustified power relationships?"

It will be sweet when one day I am taken to a special interrogation/political torture room in an airport and made to stan in line behind Norman Mailer, Kurt Vonnegut, Gore Vidal, and Noam Chomsky. We'll have a drink, and I'll wish I was as close to death as they are.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 10:40 AM on November 23, 2003

Well, before this becomes another Bush-Bashing fest, we should not forget that FBI intelligence was a key factor behind arrests at the Republican convention at Philadelphia (including the infamous pupetistas and the non-violent direct-action activists held on 1 million dollar bond for carrying a cell phones and palm pilots.) The FBI was also responsible for providing intelligence critical to stopping fair trade protesters from Prague, and may have trained the Itallian law enforcement officers whose refusal to negotiate ground rules for civil protest at Genoa and included mulitple civil rights violations against prisoners.

In other words, our ability to protest government policy has gone to hell in a handbasket over the course of the last 10 years. 9-11 may have accelerated the slide, but counterintelpro tactics were already being used during the 2000 election campaign.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:42 AM on November 23, 2003

Relax. At least you don't live in the UK.

CCTV cameras everywhere. The RIP act for everyone from the government to the local council snooping on what websites you visit, who you communicate with via e-mail or the telephone, a DNA database being constructed by stealth by the police (a simple arrest without charge will get your DNA stored,) ID cards a distant possibility, including the linkage of many databases, sweeping anti-terror laws, no written constitution, and new easy powers to suspend the EU human right act in a "national emergency" (Tony's in a bad mood because his daily pinta hasn't been delivered on time, or whatever.)

Western Liberal Democracies to Fascist State, "Here We Come!"
posted by Blue Stone at 10:43 AM on November 23, 2003

A few months ago I had a chat (for about 90 minutes) with a good friend who is generally liberal--lives in Santa Cruz mountains the last 30 years--but since 9/11 supports Bush solely because of his reponse to that event and the tax cuts. He seemed to be reacting at a very pragmatic, won't affect me directly level when I asked him about the deficiencies in, say, the Patriot Act and specifically rejected my tagging of the Bushinistas as facist. But I'm thinking it's about time to have lunch with him and reopen this conversation.
posted by billsaysthis at 11:00 AM on November 23, 2003

Before they come to get me, all I ask for is to see Rush Limbaugh, or Pat Robertson, or Sean Hannity, or even that "get a brain, morans" guy, one of those guys get carried out into the street while screaming, "Hey, I'm not a terrorist! I'm not a hippie! I'm one of you guys! Oh God, I was wrong! I should have voted for Nader!" before being shot in the back of the head by Republican stormtroopers. I just want to see the look on his face. If I can just see that, I'll put on my government issue Nikes and get on the train to the Freedom Reeducation CampĀ® peacefully.
posted by RylandDotNet at 11:15 AM on November 23, 2003

"one can only hope this administration will come to the same ignominious end."
- Madamejujulive

I'm hoping for quicker end than theirs.
Nixon did get re-elected, only to then have to leave, and that would leave a big time Dick in the white house...
posted by Busithoth at 11:19 AM on November 23, 2003

I honestly don't see how "western liberal democracies" naturally lead one "to fascist state." Seems to me the connection is more in regards to which bastards get in power and what they want to do with that power once they get it. Whether they are democrat or republican, or in regards to the UK ...holy cow but you guys are all over the map. I don't think the party matters. It's the people pushing the platform that keep the party legitimate or illegitimate.

I've long believed that if you're not corrupt when you get in politics, you will become corrupt soon afterwards. Especially if you get a little power under your belt. So I've come to trust political ideas that make sense to me, but never the used car salesman types which hawk their political wares.

Laws don't kill people's rights. People who legislate and enforce laws kill people's rights. Don't hate the game. Hate the playa. *smirk*
posted by ZachsMind at 11:23 AM on November 23, 2003

::: shows FBI his bare bum:::
posted by rushmc at 12:16 PM on November 23, 2003

Ignatius - i didn't mean, by "acting", becoming involved with violence, but rather acting in accordance with what you believe. isn't there more to being an anarchist that being aware of unjustified power?

i can imagine a marxist banker (waiting for history ;o), but as an anarchist, don't you stand alone - it's your responsibility, and no-one else's, to create an appropriate existence.

i don't think i'm explaining this very well - it's something of an emotional response, rather than a theoretical position. at some point in the past, i would have called myself an anarchist. i think somewhere near the start of woodcock's history he explains this better than i could - unfortunately i'm not at home, so can't dig out the quote.
posted by andrew cooke at 12:37 PM on November 23, 2003

I understand what you're saying andrew cooke, and I think it's true to some extent. I also think that every citizen of a republic has that same responsibility. We just aren't taught that in civics classes. The constitution provides for this (well, right not responsibility).

I agree that there is more to being an anarchist than just contemplating theory, (though i've met plent of anarchists who really only ever contemplate theory). I think that the contemporary anarchist movement works more through education and providing services, and not through devious plots. Most anarchists that I know don't want to do anything illegal because they aren't interested in being martyrs. The Catholic Church produces enough nuns who are willing to sit in federal prison for six months. That's not really the issue.

Obviously violence isn't going to help anything - something slow and organic and grassroots, I think, would work better. It's no good aiming for a revolution where all of a sudden everyone's tv goes out and nobody has any clue what to do.

Although I can really only speak for myself, I think that most people who are political activists are very upset about Michigan Militias being destroyed, the bombing of Waco, etc. We're trying to have a republic here, folks. There's no place for internal policing of ideas.
posted by goneill at 1:00 PM on November 23, 2003

Ex senator McCarthy is probably cackling maniacally in hell.
posted by MrLint at 1:28 PM on November 23, 2003

andrew cooke: It seems to me that being an anarchist simply means holding certain beliefs. But it's possible for someone to truly belive that the world would be a better place without governments, say, but not have any inclination or feel any responsibility to try to bring that about. For example, it seems to me that many people on MeFi truly believe that this country would be a better place if this administration got immediately deported to a deserted island. However, you don't see any of them acting on that, or even feeling the responsibility to attempt something like that. To put it more generally, I'd say that it's fair to call someone an anarchist for believing in anarchist principles in the abstract, while at the same time believing that either it is not feasible to implement them at the moment, or that it's not his or her place to do so. I imagine that most people who call themselves anarchists are actually like this.
posted by epimorph at 1:33 PM on November 23, 2003

he FBI claims that they are only weeding out anarchists and other "extremists."

maybe they can just get the personal information from these sites
posted by angry modem at 2:31 PM on November 23, 2003

Most anarchists that I know don't want to do anything illegal because they aren't interested in being martyrs.

Right. Also, I have been in five airports in the last week and no one stopped me for any extra search detail. My take on anarchism theory vs. practice is that there's a lot more to anarchism than the violent overthrow of governments and the general eschewing of oppressive power structures. There's direct action as a form of protest, there's mutual aid as a form of community building and sustaining, there's voluntary association as the way to form and maintain these community groups, etc etc.

Of course direct action can sometimes take the form of violence against property and the ideas of voluntary association could lead you to a heavily-armed separatist mountaintop villa someplace, but these are all extreme examples. On the other more positive side there is people helping each other in times of crisis [a la the east coast blackout and post 9/11] and sharing resources freely without thought to direct compensation, as well as non-hierarchical organizations like AA [on the one hand] or ELF [on the other] or the Internet [you guys know that one, right?]. These groups aren't all anarchist but they do highlight some anarchist organizing principles.

Anarchists aren't necessarily extremists any more than any other group who favors a radical curtailment of government such as Libertarians or a lot of conservative Republicans. It totally depends. Of course, more and more the savvy anarchists are finding other ways to describe their set of political beliefs to avoid setting people off with the dreaded a word.
posted by jessamyn at 2:38 PM on November 23, 2003

Well put, jessamyn. Personally, I find any dogma to be stupid in and of itself, but they often seem to be founded on awesome principles. It's justr that no one guiding principle is really enough for a healthy community. That's what I meant about "trajectories" above. You can call me an anarchist in that I think that anarchist ideals should be added to our collective decision-making process, but I certainly wouldn't want to see anarchism chosen whole-hog by a society to the detriment of other important principles: democracy, constitutional liberalism, the scientific method, yada yada.

The meaning that the "a word" has taken on in public discourse portrays a school of thought that could only appeal to teenagers (no offense to any Mefites who are teenagers. You're probably smarter/less crazy that I was). Any adult understands that you can't abolish all order, and anyone who doesn't reject Hobbes' ideas on a fundamental level has to understand a real, pure power void would instantly be filled by forces likely more nefarious and less wrangleable than states. But the same is true of extremist free-market lovers, socialists, religious nuts, what have you.

In short, as a set of ideas, anarchism is as useful and worthy of social incorporation as any other set of ideas. As an ideology, it is as stupid and hurtful as any other ideology.

And I would personally be disapointed not to be on that fucking list.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 3:46 PM on November 23, 2003

I'm afraid that the religious concept of "morality" has fallen. And along with it the inhibitions against doing anything and everything in the name of absolute power.

Compare it with what would happen if the Taliban lost their religion, but kept their fanaticism. What restraints they had they no longer have.

What happens when fanatical Christians leaders of government stop being Christians *at all*, but continue to be fanatics?

Government without restraint. Science and technology stripped of ethics. Dehumanization is fine. No rules, no limits.

The Brutalitarian Regime.
posted by kablam at 4:40 PM on November 23, 2003

If the gov't are monitoring people who protest on the streets,
is it likely that they monitor those who protest on the web?

If so, do they monitor only site maintainers, or do they show an interest in individual posters as well?
posted by spazzm at 5:15 PM on November 23, 2003

fotzepolitic: if it makes you feel any better, I'm a blonde-haired white male, with no relations to anybody with a muslim name, and I'm searched very regularly while flying. I've also had that fun extended questioning, and the 'please follow me this way' extra thorough backroom questioning.

I've tried dressing in my professional clothes (good suit), business casual, and full casual. I've made sure to buy my tickets in advance, to put them on long-established credit cards, and to always be enrolled in the frequent flyer programs. I'm always polite to the screeners, and I make sure never to carry anything that may be against the rules. Basically anything I could think of that might let them screen me ahead of time and realize 'hey, he's just some shmuck trying to make a living.'

Nothing works, I'm almost always stopped. I've even had the embarassing circumstance of having the plane delayed because they took so long searching me and asking me questions that everyone else had the chance to board while I was still at the gate.

I don't think the security singles out brown people as you assert, I think it's just designed to randomly annoy the living piss out of everyone, so we all feel "safer".
posted by mosch at 11:21 PM on November 23, 2003

Of course you're always searched - anyone who tries that hard to act normal must have something to hide.

Now drop your pants, please, and assume the position.
posted by spazzm at 12:53 AM on November 24, 2003

How much longer until the revolution? There was one last night.

I must have missed that on telly.
posted by biffa at 2:05 AM on November 24, 2003

Jessamyn is my favorite librarian :o)
posted by Eirixon at 6:59 AM on November 24, 2003

I know that I have an FBI file. It seems that Starfleet International is classified as a cult, and members get a file as a matter of course. Well, that and the fact that my father and brother both hold public office (as Democrats, the horror!) and my other brother was once a member of Greenpeace.

Every now and then I consider sending them the letter just to see what else I have done to attract government attention.
posted by Karmakaze at 7:35 AM on November 24, 2003

biffa, that was awesome. :)
posted by Snyder at 7:39 AM on November 24, 2003

While Andrew Cooke can easily envision a marxist banker, Fernando Pessoa (1888-1935), possibly the most important Portuguese writer of the 20th century, wrote a short story named "The Anarchist Banker". Although the story is slightly tongue-in-cheek, it presents some interesting arguments in support of the idea that anarchism need not be revolutionary.
posted by gambuzino at 7:48 AM on November 24, 2003

Congress Expands FBI Spying Power
posted by homunculus at 8:48 PM on November 24, 2003

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