Revolution #110, November 25, 2007

A Major Fascistic Step: House Passes “Thought Crimes” Bill

On October 23, with little notice in the media, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill called “Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007” (HR 1955). Sponsored by a California Democrat, Jane Harman, the bill was approved by an overwhelming vote of 404 to 6 and is now being considered in the Senate.

HR 1955 is an amendment to the 2002 “Homeland Security Act” which authorized the most massive re-organization of the federal government since World War 2 and dramatically increased its repressive powers—for example, the placement of immigration agencies under the Department of Homeland Security and the carrying out of gestapo-like ICE raids around the country.

HR 1955 calls for establishing 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,” along with a “a university-based Center of Excellence for the Study of Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism in the United States.”

If passed by the Senate, HR 1955 itself would not change specific laws or set up new punishments—but it could certainly lead to and legitimize such changes. This bill is another major step in the fascistic moves in this country toward establishing “thought crimes”—making advocacy of radical, anti-government ideas and politics illegal in the name of the “war on terror.” And it’s yet another chilly blast right at a time when, more than ever, people in their millions need to confront the profound, repressive changes taking place before they are cemented even more firmly in place; to take responsibility for radically changing the whole dangerous direction that U.S. society is headed in; and to mobilize politically to end the war in Iraq and stop an attack on Iran.

Giving Academic Veneer to Repression

The National Commission and Center for Excellence that would be established if the “Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism” bill became law could give the government further official and “academic” veneer to use the labels of “violent radicalization” and “homegrown terrorism” to go after political activists and groups and dissident thinkers. The ten members of the commission would be appointed by the President and other high-level officials and bodies. And, according to the bill, the university-based Center for Excellence would be charged with tasks like “utiliz[ing] theories, methods and data from the social and behavioral sciences to better understand the origins, dynamics, and social and psychological aspects of violent radicalization and homegrown terrorism.” (See box, “Responsibility and Moral Obligation Not to be Complicit in Crimes”)

Responsibility and Moral Obligation Not to be Complicit

Academia and professionals have a responsibility and moral obligation to refuse to be complicit in government’s repressive efforts, like those called for in HR 1955. And they should be supported when they refuse to be complicit. Currently, many psychologists in and out of academia are fighting the government’s demented use of their field and their professional association in pursuit of the so-called “war on terror.” The military has worked with some psychologists to develop and carry out the programs that torture prisoners held in Guantánamo, and then the military fought to keep the American Psychological Association on board with the programs. The Chronicle of Higher Education recently reported that the American Anthropological Association released a statement expressing its disapproval “of a year-old U.S. Army program known as Human Terrain System, which sends anthropologists and other social scientists to advise military units in Afghanistan and Iraq.” Academics should not allow themselves or their field to become an arm of the government’s unending war for empire.

What is so alarming and dangerous about this bill is the way that “homegrown terrorism” and “violent radicalization” are defined so that further basis would be laid down to attack and criminalize politics and ideologies that have nothing to do with terrorism but are considered dangerous and threatening by those in power.

The bill defines “violent radicalization” as “the process of adopting or promoting an extremist belief system for the purpose of facilitating ideologically based violence to advance political, religious, or social change.” It defines “homegrown terrorism” as “the use, planned use, or threatened use, of force or violence by a group or individual born, raised, or based and operating primarily within the United States or any possession of the United States to intimidate or coerce the United States government, the civilian population of the United States, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.” And “ideologically based violence” is defined as “the use, planned use, or threatened use of force or violence by a group or individual to promote the group or individual’s political, religious, or social beliefs.”*>

Who Would Be Accused of “Extremist Belief Systems”?

The deliberately broad and ambiguous language used in HR 1955 is potentially a net that could be used by the government and the political police to go after a wide range of oppositional groups, individuals, and political trends. Who would be accused of “adopting or promoting an extremist belief system” and therefore considered subject to legal suppression—protesters demanding an end to police brutality, people calling for impeachment of Bush, those who advocate communism and revolutionary change? It’s not hard to see the sweeping implications of this logic—and it is very bad.

One part of HR 1955 states: “The Internet has aided in facilitating violent radicalization, ideologically based violence, and the homegrown terrorism process in the United States by providing access to broad and constant streams of terrorist-related propaganda to United States citizens.” This language in the bill points to possible future moves by the government to restrict flow of information on the Internet in the name of combating “violent radicalization, ideologically based violence, and homegrown terrorism.”

Along with this warning about the Internet, the website of Jane Harman, the bill’s main sponsor, targets youth in particular: “In recent testimony before our Intelligence Subcommittee, some common traits and characteristics emerged. Said RAND Corporation’s Bruce Jenkins: ‘…it is the same age group that is susceptible to being recruited into gangs.... These are young men who are going through…identity crises, looking to define themselves….[If you have] a narrative that exalts violence, that attempts to project that violence as a personal obligation…that offers the tantalizing prospect of clandestinity, identity, all of those are very appealing to that specific age group.’ Combine that personal adolescent upheaval with the explosion of information technologies and communications tools—tools which American kids are using to broadcast messages from al Qaeda—and there is a roadmap to terror, a ‘retail outlet’ for anger and warped aspirations.”

This bill sheds further light on what continues to take monstrous shape—and makes it clear the Democrats will not only not stop it, they are the vehicle for making it happen! This year, federal prisons already tried to purge all religious books except a few pre-approved titles based on the same logic that is in HR 1955. They temporarily had to back off due to suits and the out-cry against this move. This month, during a talk by the director of campus safety and security at Chicago’s Columbia College, a film and video faculty member asked “for advice on dealing with law enforcement officials” because “she had recently been contacted by a FBI agent who wanted her to ‘report any students that have anti-establishment, anti-government sentiments.’” (“College Council focuses on security issues, And there have been cases where those carrying out political protest have been targeted as “terrorists.” (See box, “Government Agency Says: Political Dissent=Terrorism”)

Government Agency Says: Political Dissent=Terrorism

In 2003 a government agency called the California Anti-Terrorism Information Center (CATIC) issued a warning to the Oakland police of “potential violence” at a protest against the U.S. war in Iraq. The spokesman for the CATIC said at the time, “You can make an easy kind of a link that, if you have a protest group protesting a war where the cause that’s being fought against is international terrorism, you might have terrorism at that (protest). You can almost argue that a protest against that is a terrorist act.” He also said, “I’ve heard terrorism described as anything that is violent or has an economic impact, and shutting down a port certainly would have some economic impact. Terrorism isn’t just bombs going off and killing people.” In other words, for this government official any political action that challenges the U.S.’s so-called “war on terror”—even a strike or civil disobedience—can be considered a “terrorist” act. (See “CATIC: Political Dissent=Terrorism,” online at

There have also been increasing moves by police agencies to target Muslim people as a whole for monitoring and suppression, in the name of “combating terror.” A recent study by the NYPD declared “unassimilated Muslims” as possible “terrorists”; included as supposed signs of “radicalization” were things like giving up smoking, drinking, and gambling. And the “counter-terrorism” bureau of the LAPD announced a plan to map Muslim communities in the L.A. area. An LAPD spokesman said the mapping would help promote “moderates” in opposition to “fanatics.” The director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations said, “Who is going to decide who are the moderates? Are Muslims who criticize the war in Iraq moderate?” As we go to press, the LAPD says it will at least temporarily scrap the plan due to the outrage it touched off.

The bill gives lip service to protection of people’s rights: “Any measure taken to prevent violent radicalization, homegrown terrorism, and ideologically based violence and homegrown terrorism in the United States should not violate the constitutional rights, civil rights, or civil liberties of United States citizens and lawful permanent residents.”

This little paragraph in the bill would be laughable, if it weren’t so chilling, in the context of the accelerating moves toward fascist clampdown in this country, as the U.S. rulers have invaded Afghanistan and Iraq and now are aiming at Iran. Note that the wording here specifically excludes people who are not citizens or legal residents—undocumented immigrants, those in the U.S. on student or other temporary visas, and others. And look at how Jose Padilla, a U.S. citizen, was convicted on conspiracy charges earlier this year for what amounted to thought crimes—one legal scholar said, “As the Bush Administration is conceptualizing and implementing this [conspiracy] law, the fact that Padilla thought bad thoughts about the United States and its Government is enough to lock him up for life.” Look at the broadening of warrantless wiretapping, legalization of torture, the official and unofficial fascist offensive against immigrants, the surveillance and detention of protesters, the firing of professors for holding dissenting and critical views of U.S. policy, and so on.

All this is moving very quickly—and there is urgent need for massive political resistance to stop this dangerous trajectory before it is too late.


* This bill closely follows the framework set by the FBI and outlined in a June 2006 speech by FBI head Robert Mueller in which he interchangeably uses the terms “radical” and “extremist” and pinpoints campuses and prisons. In the 1960s, the FBI and other police agencies spied on, disrupted, and attacked mass political movements and revolutionary currents among students, Black people, and others. The kind of language being used by Mueller and others in the power structure has ominous implications for escalating repression today against movements of resistance. [back]


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