TONIGHT: What Happens When Terroristic Threats Come From Someone Wealthy & White?

Editor’s Note: Jonathan Hutson is the author of a forthcoming article in The Public Eye magazine fully examining the case of David Lenio and the disparate treatment of offenders from different backgrounds and ethnicities by the criminal justice system.

In the wake of a controversial decision this month to drop the felony intimidation charge against David Joseph Lenio—a 29-year-old White Nationalist who tweeted threats last year to shoot up a grade school in Kalispell, Montana, and “put two in the head of a rabbi,” then retrieved a weapons cache—the Investigation Discovery channel will premier the next installment of “Hate in America,” which explores the growing movement of strong-man worshiping populists, nativists, and armed anti-government militants across the country through the lens of Montana’s Flathead Valley.


In “Hate in America: A Town on Fire,” which premiers Thursday, March 24 at 8pm ET / /7pm CT, Emmy Award-winning journalist Tony Harris introduces America to this beautiful valley nestled outside Glacier National Park.

The case of David Lenio is opening up many questions about the criminal justice system and White supremacy. Specifically, questions about how terroristic threats are treated when the person making them comes from a wealthy White background versus someone who is low-income or a person of color.

Armed and Ready

On December 30, 2014, the day he arrived in Montana, Lenio tweeted several times that he felt so angry at being economically disadvantaged that he wanted to “shoot up” a grade school in Kalispell. This short-order cook and snowboarder who falsely claimed to be destitute and homeless but who is actually the son of influential banker Remos Joseph Lenio, who co-founded the private investment bank Tillerman & Co. of Grand Rapids, blames a Jewish conspiracy for his sense of being disinherited from his economic birthright. He bragged that, in retaliation for his supposed life of poverty, he could kill more people than the 20 school kids and six adults who died in the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, Connecticut in December 2012.

Specific Threats

Screenshot of a David Lenio holding a semi-automatic pistol in a video uploaded to YouTube in 2012.

Screenshot of a David Lenio holding a semi-automatic pistol in a video uploaded to YouTube in 2012.

Here is one of his tweets from the day he arrived in Kalispell, threatening Kalispell school children and teachers: “I David Lenio am literally so indebted & #underpaid that I want to go on a sandy hoax style spree in a kalispell, MT elementary #school 2014.” There are only five elementary schools in Kalispell.

From then until his arrest six weeks later, he obsessed about mass shootings and terrorist attacks – which he invariably claimed were hoaxes and false-flag operations perpetrated by Israel or the federal government.

By February 12, 2015, Lenio was calling for the rise of a new strongman to lead a White supremacist movement in fixing the American economy, stating that he was prepared to go down in a hail of bullets while killing Jews. “USA needs a Hitler to rise to power and fix our #economy,” he tweeted, “and i’m about ready to give my life to the cause or just shoot a bunch of #kikes …”

Calling for a Chapel Hill-Style Mass Shooting of Jews

Lenio also seized on the February 10 murders of three Muslim students in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, to call for a Chapel Hill-style mass shooting of Jews in retaliation for those murders and for his sense of economic disempowerment. On February 13, he tweeted: “I think every jew on the planet deserves to be killed for what kikes have done to our #dollar and cost of living Killing jews > wage #slave.” He added, “Best way to counter the harm #jewish #politics is causing is #ChapelHillShooting styling [sic] killing of #jews til they get the hint & leave.”

“I bet I could get at least 12 unarmed sitting ducks if I decide to go on a killing spree in a #school,” he tweeted on February 12th. “Sounds better than being a wage slave.”

The same day, he tweeted, “What do you think costs more in most U.S. cities? A gun with enough ammunition to kill 100 school kids or the security deposit on an apartment,” he tweeted. Then he wrote: “What would I rather do? Be a #wage slave for the rest of my life or tell society fuck you & do your kids a favor by shooting up a #school?”

‘I Bet I’d Take Out At Least a Whole Classroom’

Two days later he expressed a desire to emulate the shooting in Chapel Hill, North Carolina – in which a White man was arrested and charged with fatally shooting three Muslim students – Lenio wrote: “I bet I’d take out at least a whole #classroom & score 30+ if I put my mind to it #Poverty is making me want to kill folks #mental health.”

The line between free speech and true threats is crossed when one goes beyond scapegoating and conspiracy theories to threaten the indiscriminate shooting of 30+ school kids and teachers, as well as threatening to put two bullets in the head of a rabbi (of which there are only two in the Flathead Valley) to salve a sense of economic grievance and to advance White supremacy. There is also reason to believe that Lenio planned to put his murderous ideas into action.

Police found that on February 15, just after I reported his threats to law enforcement, Lenio had retrieved a cache of rifles and ammunition from his storage locker. He also had a loaded semi-automatic handgun with him in his van at the time of his arrest – along with extra ammunition clips and jugs of urine.

The First Amendment protects unpopular, crude, and controversial speech. But First Amendment protection is not absolute. Certain speech acts, such as extortion, false advertising, and true threats which would make a reasonable person fear violence and take precautions are not protected. Nor should they be.

In the Lenio case, the threats resulted in a nationwide effort involving FBI, police, and sheriffs from three states. Flathead County schools contacted every parent to let them know that the schools had enacted a security plan to respond to the Twitter threats, and extra police and sheriff deputies were deployed to guard the schools. When parents received the calls, they were scared for their kids, as any parent would be. And, for the first time ever, the Flathead Valley’s synagogues hired security guards.

As Rabbi Fancine Green Roston and I  wrote in the Flathead Beacon, “Each of us writing this piece knows what it is to be threatened by Lenio. One of us (Francine) is one of only two Flathead Valley rabbis and has kids in the local schools. Lenio tweeted to the other of us (Jonathan) to ask where his kids go to school. Lenio crossed the line between hate speech and hate crime.” However, we presciently titled our op-ed “David Lenio Reloaded?” because the justice system was already bending over backward to show Lenio undue leniency—unlike other defendants.

In the “Hate in America” series, produced by NBC’s Peacock Productions for the Investigation Discovery channel, former CNN news anchor and Emmy-winning journalist Tony Harris teams with noted civil rights advocacy organization, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), to showcase stories from the organization’s files, including the David Lenio case, which SPLC’s HateWatch has reported on in detail.

Lingering Questions

Why did the justice system give David Lenio preferential treatment by releasing him into the custody of his wealthy banker dad without bail in July 2015? Why did the authorities fail to act when Lenio violated his release conditions at least 348 times in August 2015 even though 37 other Flathead County Detention Center residents had been rearrested for violating their release conditions? Why did the prosecutor and judge keep delaying the trial and finally agree to drop the felony charge of intimidation against him without any meaningful conditions? And what could be the significance of those jugs of urine in Lenio’s van? Those are topics about which I plan to write more extensively in the future.

The same week Lenio received a deferred prosecution, a 24-year-old mentally ill transient in Oregon (who actually was homeless, unlike Lenio, who merely pretended to be while enjoying expensive snowboarding jaunts in the nearby resort in Whitefish) got 18 months in prison for making Facebook threats against unnamed police officers. In the Oregon case, the offender, Timothy Loren McCoy Fleming, didn’t possess a real, working gun; he had an inoperable pellet gun. In contrast, Lenio had fetched a working semi-automatic pistol and a working semi-automatic rifle along with a busted bolt-action rifle and spare ammunition clips after making his threats specifically against a Kalispell grade school as well as threats to put “two in the head” of a rabbi, in a Montana valley where only two rabbis reside.

Meanwhile, here’s a Investigation Discovery channel finder. Don’t miss “Hate in America: A Town on Fire” tonight, March 24, at 8ET / 7CT.

What Is ‘Lone Wolf’ Terrorism in the Digital Age?

On July 23 of this year, John Russell Houser opened fire inside a Lafayette, Louisiana movie theater, killing two women and injuring nine others before turning his gun on himself. Houser was a disaffected loner with a history of publicly expressing Far Right views, although most of his political activity had taken place online. In January 2014, reacting to the arrest of a Greek neo-Nazi parliamentarian, Houser wrote on one of the party’s affiliated websites, “you must realize the power of the lone wolf.”

Dylann Roof

Dylann Roof

The concept of autonomous “Lone Wolf” terrorism as a dominant strategy for U.S. political extremists has been widely discussed recently, especially after the horrific mass shooting in Charleston earlier this year, which was allegedly planned and carried out independently by Dylann Roof. It is also the focus of Naomi Braine’s research report “Terror Network or Lone Wolf,” published in the Spring 2015 issue of The Public Eye magazine. Braine demonstrates the tendency of U.S. law enforcement and media to frame Far Right terrorists as Lone Wolves, while Muslim militants who act similarly are usually described as part of international jihadist terror networks. She raises the question of whether the Lone Wolf paradigm is a realistic approach to combating right-wing terror: is a landscape of disparate Lone Wolves, standing apart from political networks, really the most accurate representation of domestic terrorism in the United States today?

Indeed, Roof’s case suggests that in the digital age, it may be easier than ever before for individuals to be turned towards political violence in a relative vacuum. But it also suggests that the very concept of what group membership means has shifted with technological changes, thereby blurring the distinction between Lone Wolves and traditionally organized political actors—a difference that is central to the Lone Wolf paradigm.

A long-running debate exists concerning what, exactly, a Lone Wolf is. The concept is linked to the notion of “leaderless resistance”—a tactic promoted by White nationalist Louis Beam in his 1983 essay of the same name. Beam suggests that, in order to avoid detection by the authorities, White nationalists should eschew traditional top-down organizational structures and instead form small “phantom cells,” which operate independently of higher leadership and are more difficult to track. To further enhance security, he also discourages communication between cells. In Beam’s formulation, both individuals and small groups can constitute cells. Lone Wolf terrorism represents an even more strictly decentralized variant of leaderless resistance: it refers to actions wholly planned and carried out by an individual working outside of any organized groups.

The best-known proponents of the strategy under this name were White nationalists Alex Curtis and Tom Metzger; Metzger’s essay “Laws For The Lone Wolf” urges right-wing terrorists to avoid involvement with any and all “membership groups.”

While Lone Wolf terrorists are influenced by the ideologies of external groups, they cannot be affiliated with them in any significant way.

Defining and identifying Lone Wolf terrorism is important because, according to former PRA senior analyst Chip Berlet, “different investigative techniques with different levels of government intrusiveness are required depending on the type of target. Therefore accurate descriptions of target terrorist formations and potential terrorist cells are crucial for the effectiveness of stopping actual acts of terrorism.”

The matter quickly becomes more confusing, however. It is impossible to determine how many White nationalist Lone Wolves have existed who were directly inspired by these doctrines. It is also unclear how much contact Lone Wolves can have with their political milieu, and what forms that contact can take.  Beam, for example, said they could keep abreast of their movement through “newspapers, leaflets, computers, etc.”

The notion of the Lone Wolf has been adopted by right-wing monitors and academics and applied more broadly to include other political movements; it has also changed meaning. Some extend the term to describe people who are members of political groups, but acted alone in their crimes (such as Michael Wade Page, the Oak Creek gunman, who was a member of a Nazi skinhead gang). Others use it interchangeably with leaderless resistance, referring to the actions of more than one person. Some insist that to be true Lone Wolves or members of phantom cells, participants can never have had prior involvement in political organizations. Could a Lone Wolf ever have belonged to a membership group, and if so, how long in the past—one day or twenty years? Finally, the mainstream media has recently tended to erroneously use the term to imply that Lone Wolves are not ideologically motivated actors.

So, does Dylann Roof qualify as a true Lone Wolf? Thus far, under the traditional definition, the answer seems to be yes. Although he self-identifies as a White nationalist in his so-called “manifesto,” Roof was not a member of any organized racist group. The closest he may have come to formal participation was potentially commenting on the White nationalist website The Daily Stormer. And while Roof had expressed White supremacist views in pictures on his Facebook page and personal website, he did not inform anyone in advance of his attack that he was planning to commit racially motivated mass murder.

Nonetheless, something is different here: Roof’s manifesto reads like the testimony of a committed racist partisan, referencing organized White nationalist groups by name and weighing in on some of the movement’s internal debates. Even if he acted alone and never held group membership or had in-person social ties, there is more to the relationship between Roof and the larger White nationalist movement than simply referring to him as a Lone Wolf would suggest.

Tom Metzger

Tom Metzger

There could, perhaps, be a more complicated relationship between Lone Wolf actors and the larger political movements they are aligned with. In 2003, Simson Garfinkel, a researcher who has studied domestic terrorism, wrote that the de facto outcome of leaderless resistance was the division of the Far Right movement into two parts: one seemingly innocent element that publically expressed Far Right ideals, using coded language to name targets for domestic terrorism; and the other an underground element made up of phantom cells, that derived its objectives and views from the first group. The only connection between the two is that the second group is aware of the first’s opinions; the two elements do not communicate directly. (Braine’s article goes further, showing how many so-called Lone Wolves have longstanding social and political ties to larger political movements.)

Newer, Internet-based groups further cloud these questions about what “group membership” means. The Internet is filled with groups and organizations of every conceivable ideology and belief set, but each can have its own version of what constitutes “membership.” For example, the “hacktivist” network Anonymous presents itself as a membership group, but has no formal membership protocols and no membership list, public or otherwise. Inclusion in the group is contingent only on one’s awareness of its cause and willingness to identify as a member—journalist Carole Cadwalladr wrote that “if you believe in Anonymous, and call yourself Anonymous, you are Anonymous.”

Despite well-reasoned claims to the contrary, Dylann Roof may indeed have been what is traditionally considered a Lone Wolf terrorist—but that distinction is based on analytical frameworks developed before the rise of today’s Internet.1

Determining whether an actor fits into the category of Lone Wolf, or is better described as a participant in leaderless resistance or organized terrorism, is based on an outdated binary definition of group membership, in which actors and larger groups are unequivocally either affiliated or unaffiliated with one another. In the digital age, now that belief in the cause and self-identification as a group member can be the only prerequisites for inclusion, it might be entirely possible for a Lone Wolf to act completely independently and still be fully politicized members of political movements, participating in movement debates and interacting with other members online—indeed, for Roof, this seems to have been the case.

To best represent the new nature of domestic terrorism, a new set of terms and a new model of these concepts and acts may be necessary.

*PRA associate fellow Spencer Sunshine contributed to this report.


[1] It’s important to note that early proponents of leaderless resistance tactics, such as Beam and Metzger, were no strangers to the Internet’s potential benefits for Far Right political actors. In 1984, one year after publishing “Leaderless Resistance,” Beam established a computer bulletin board system (BBS) called “Aryan Liberty Net,” affiliated with the Aryan Nations white supremacist organization. Soon afterwards, Metzger started his own BBS—the “W.A.R. Computer Terminal,” affiliated with his White Aryan Resistance group. By posting racist literature on their U.S.-based BBSes, Beam and Metzger were able to disseminate White supremacist ideas to people in foreign countries where hate speech was banned or restricted. Despite these computer networks’ connections to the progenitors of Lone Wolf terrorism, however, one aspect of their implementation and content distinguishes them from today’s Far Right Internet: unlike the ubiquitous Internet of today, the narrowly focused BBSes were explicitly affiliated with established hate groups and primarily intended for use by group members; in an article in the Inter-Klan Newsletter and Survival Alert, Beam claimed to be implementing “special electronic code access available only to Aryan Nation/Klu Klux Klan officers and selected individuals.” Although Beam and Metzger employed the Internet for political purposes at the same time that they were promoting leaderless resistance and Lone Wolf terrorism, the engagement of White supremacists with early Far Right BBSes is significantly different from the relationship between the contemporary Internet and Lone Wolf terrorists. Whether users of those BBSes constituted Lone Wolves, under Metzger’s original definition, remains an open question.


Charleston & Chattanooga: How “Hatred” Hides History

On July 16th, a 24 year old man attacked 2 military sites in Tennessee with a gun, killing 4 people before dying himself.  A month earlier, on June 17th, a 21 year old man shot 9 worshippers at an historic Black church in South Carolina, and fled the scene before being arrested the next day.  According to media reports, both perpetrators are young men who have had trouble finding a productive direction for their lives and may have had substance use problems. And in both cases their visible social circles did not expect or support their turn to violence.  In addition, these young men reportedly come from families that do not share their political or religious beliefs; Mohammod Abdulazeez’s family has assimilated to American society while maintaining Muslim practices, and Dylann Roof’s parents and grandparents live comfortably in racially diverse contexts.

The Charleston and Chattanooga shooters had very similar lives and stories. Yet one's actions are labeled as terrorism, and the other's as "hate."

The Charleston and Chattanooga shooters had very similar lives and stories. Yet one’s actions are labeled as terrorism, and the others’ as “hate.”

Despite the personal similarities, these two instances of lethal violence have been characterized in the media and national discourse in very different ways. The language of terrorism and search for ties to Muslim movements in the Middle East has come into play immediately in the Abdulazeez case, although (as of this writing) it is still unclear how this will unfold.  In contrast, the language of “hate” quickly dominated in regard to Roof, in the context of growing evidence of connections to White supremacist organizations.

In legal terms, both ‘terrorism’ and ‘hate crime’ are additions to existing charges, and bring enhanced penalties in the event of conviction.  In cultural terms, these are two very different frameworks for motivation, particularly in regard to political context for action.

Setting aside legal technicalities, hatred is an emotion while terrorism is intrinsically a political act.  Hatred may be a motivation for action, including actions classifiable as terrorism, but the language of emotion focuses our attention on the individual and his/her inner life.  In regard to Dylann Roof’s assault on the Emmanuel AME church, the language of ‘hatred’ certainly reflects the emotions many Americans associate with the racist symbols Roof used, but it deflects attention away from the profoundly political structure of White violence against African Americans throughout U.S. history.

The FBI defines terrorism as violent or dangerous acts that appear intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population, or to influence policy and/or conduct of government.  It is still unclear what motivated the assault on two military sites, but a solo young man armed with a gun has little ability to influence government to act according to his beliefs.  The assassination of nine worshippers at an historically significant Black church on a day with particular resonance for that church has a much greater potential to “intimidate or coerce a civilian population,” regardless of whether or not Roof was acting at the direction of established White supremacist organizations.  His actions exist in an historical continuum of White violence against Black communities – with both the motivation and consequence of intimidation, marginalization, and coercion of various kinds.  The rash of arsons at Black churches in the weeks that followed provides a concrete reminder of the ways that individual actions embody collective processes, regardless of whether the individuals involved coordinate their actions.

The category of ‘terrorism’ has expanded and been used in profoundly problematic ways over the past 20 years, with camping trips redefined as jihadi training and pervasive surveillance of ordinary life in Muslim communities. However, we need to carefully scrutinize how use of the word ‘hatred’ can obscure political violence.  The systematic assaults on African American communities now and in the past may or may not reflect personal hatred, but they have unambiguously political motivations as well as consequences.  The language of hatred obscures political and historical context by directing attention to the personal situation and emotions of specific perpetrators, a process that individualizes actions that follow clear systemic patterns. Dylann Roof’s online manifesto and website provide more evidence of political beliefs, however repulsive, than of personal animosity.

In my recent research report “Terror Network or Lone Wolf”in The Public Eye magazine,  I argue that the “lone wolf” label obscures substantial evidence of movement affiliations among the vast majority of right-wing terrorists who act alone or with one other person:

Research has shown that, at the time they engage in political violence, the majority of so-called lone wolves are over 30 years old, and have had significant histories of participation in Hard Right movements.”

While Roof is younger and less experienced than this profile would predict, his writing, photographs, and even his words in the church before the shooting place him solidly inside an extended lineage of White racist violence which includes lynchings, the KKK, and countless assaults on Black churches and ministers.  Roof told the worshippers at Emmanuel AME church that one of the reasons he was going to shoot them was because Black men rape White women, an accusation with a horrifying history in relation to lynching.  The recent film Selma depicts the horrific 1963 bombing of a Birmingham church that killed 4 young girls, providing a visceral reminder of the use of assaults on Black churches as a tactic to instill fear in Black activists and communities.

“Terrorism” may or may not prove to be a useful framework or label for the actions of Dylann Roof and other violent White supremacists, but “hatred” is clearly inadequate as an explanation for recurrent patterns of action that span decades, if not centuries.   We should also question whether “terrorism” is the most useful or accurate label for the actions of a young Muslim with a complicated family history and well-documented  substance abuse and mental health issues.

Terror Network or Lone Wolf?

Disparate Legal Treatment of Muslims and the Radical Right

Click here to see the full issue.

Click the image to see the full issue

This article appears in the Spring 2015 issue of The Public Eye magazine.

In April 2014, an armed encampment formed at the Nevada cattle ranch of Cliven Bundy as news spread through militia networks about the confrontation between the 67-year-old rancher and the Bureau of Land Management. The BLM began to impound Bundy’s cows after he’d failed to pay grazing fees for approximately 20 years, claiming the federal government had no right to regulate the public land where he brought his livestock. Confronted with this armed encampment, the federal officials backed down, ultimately returning Bundy’s cows. He was not arrested for the confrontation,1 and as of December, he bragged to reporters, he was continuing to graze his cattle, for free, on federal land.2 Most media accounts treated Bundy as just a cantankerous oddball or, as an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times put it, “a scofflaw with screwy ideas about the Constitution.”3

Michigan Militia members, bearing guns and a “Don’t Tread on Me” flag, participate in a statewide militia training event called the WOLF Challenge. Image via Photobucket and courtesy of Southeastern Michigan Volunteer Militia (SMVM).

Michigan Militia members, bearing guns and a “Don’t Tread on Me” flag, participate in a statewide militia training event called the WOLF Challenge. Image via Photobucket and courtesy of Southeastern Michigan Volunteer Militia (SMVM).

More attention has been paid to the U.S. Far Right in recent years, but the media and federal representatives rarely use the word “terrorism” to describe their actions. When Larry McQuilliams, who followed the racist Phineas Priesthood ideology, shot more than 100 rounds at the Austin, TX, police station, federal courthouse, and Mexican Consulate, Austin police used the label, calling him an “extremist” and “American terrorist,” but media reports shied away from such terms, emphasizing his personal struggles.4 At the recent White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism, the focus was primarily on the threat of global jihad,5 and the 2014 Congressional Research Service report on countering violent extremists discussed only Muslims (although it claimed the material applied to all forms of extremist thought).6 This February, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) did release a report on the sovereign citizen movement, one element of the Far Right, but it amounted to barely three pages of substantive text and offered few recommendations for action.7

In the nearly 14 years since 9/11, more people have died in the U.S. from politically-motivated violence perpetrated by right-wing militants than by Muslim militants.8 As in the McQuilliams episode, the majority of these assaults target people who work for the government, particularly law enforcement,9 but perpetrators rarely receive harsh penalties unless they kill or severely injure someone. The disparity between treatment of Muslims and right-wing militants highlights the centrality of political power and vulnerability as factors shaping law enforcement anti-terrorism measures. The “War on Terror” creates tremendous political and social vulnerability for Muslims in the U.S. by associating U.S. Muslims with global jihad.

Right-wing militants, in contrast, benefit from the power of mainstream conservatives. For example, in 2009, the domestic terrorism unit of the DHS released a report10 indicating that right-wing activity posed the most significant terrorism threat in the United States, and that such activity was likely to increase during the Obama administration. Conservative bloggers declared the report was politically motivated and painted all conservative activists as potential terrorists, and conservative politicians reacted negatively as well.11, 12 As a result, the report was taken out of circulation, but the report’s analysis and predictions have since proven accurate.13

The ways in which federal law enforcement agencies describe and classify “terrorism” obscures the extent of violence 
by, and even local policing of, right-wing and Christian mili
tants. To begin with, there is 
some inconsistency in how different types of incidents are labeled in practice by different federal offices, even within DHS, which complicates internal communication.14 The Department of Justice (DoJ) is the lead agency for domestic law enforcement, and they classify “international terrorism” and “domestic terrorism” separately15 (see diagram). The distinction, however, lies more in motivation or organizational affiliation than in geography; for example, a terrorist incident in the U.S. will be characterized as international if the perpetrator is seen as motivated by Islamist beliefs, and domestic if motivated by militant right-wing beliefs. (It’s also a difference that becomes clear when reading the lists of official “terrorism” cases—a list that does not include, for instance, the murder of abortion provider Dr. George Tiller.)

Figure 1. FBI/DoJ Classifications of Terrorism

Figure 1. FBI/DoJ Classifications of Terrorism

“Terrorism,” unmodified, is used to refer to international terrorism, involving people or plans that include a demonstrated or attributed link to an international entity. Cases involving Muslims that clearly originate in the U.S. are classified as “homegrown” international terrorism, even though any links to international networks or entities may exist only in the eyes of law enforcement.

The Congressional Research Service defines “domestic terrorists” as “people who commit crimes within the homeland and draw inspiration from U.S.-based militant ideologies and movements.”16 This somewhat confusing FBI and DoJ distinction between “homegrown” and “domestic” terrorism produces interesting contradictions: in domestic cases involving Christian militants, antisemitism is cast as a U.S.-based ideology, but in “homegrown” cases, it’s evidence of global jihad among Muslims.

The DoJ lists 403 cases of (international) terrorism from September 2001 through March 201017: 11 percent non-Islamist (mostly FARC or Tamil Tigers), 45 percent Islamist, and 44 percent undetermined (mostly cases of fraud or financial misconduct involving someone with an “Arab-sounding” name). The Islamist category includes 30 cases considered to be “homegrown.”

The FBI and DoJ do not provide publicly accessible lists of domestic terrorism cases, which complicates direct comparisons between domestic and homegrown cases. The data that do exist on domestic terrorism, or politically motivated violence, result from examining local, state, and federal law enforcement activity to identify relevant cases. A few nonprofit institutes track domestic political violence and terrorism cases, although their definitions and exact lists vary. For the purposes of this report, I have drawn upon the two most extensive and widely cited.

The Southern Poverty Law Center focuses primarily on right-wing activity, and has the most detailed and comprehensive list.18 The period from September 2001 through December 2010 lists 50 cases, almost double the number of “homegrown” Islamist cases in a similar period, and 21 of the 50 took place in 2009 and 2010, following President Obama’s inauguration. All 50 domestic cases involve elements of the Far Right, from Christian Identity to various militia movements to the KKK and other white supremacist groups. Terrorist acts often involved significant caches of weapons and explosives, with targets ranging from the murder of government representatives to assaults on synagogues or mosques and other Islamic centers.

According to the New America Foundation,19 which tracks cases explicitly classified as terrorism within the U.S., only 41 percent of jihadist plots in the U.S. since 9/11 involved weapons, and in almost one-third of those cases, the weapons were supplied by U.S. government agents. By contrast, 89 percent of domestic terrorism cases involved weapons, and in 92 percent of these cases the arms were acquired without assistance from government agents.

Based on the statistics and analysis of available cases, there are significant differences in the procedures, charges, and penalties in domestic (non-Islamist) and homegrown (usually Islamist) cases. Despite the greater prevalence of incidents and deaths resulting from right-wing violence, U.S. Muslims experience more aggressive surveillance, greater use of informants, more severe charges, and greater use of restrictive confinement once incarcerated.

The differential treatment of right-wing and Muslim cases draws attention to the political contexts surrounding terrorism-related law enforcement, as these disparities only make sense within politically-driven calculations. Mainstream conservative politicians and media personalities protest depictions of right-wing militants as anything more than troubled but patriotic Americans, while Muslim men—particularly young men— are constantly monitored as intrinsic security risks. In the process, Muslims lose Constitutional protections for belief, speech, and association—forced to inhabit an ambiguous territory as “un-American” and presumptively foreign.


The disparate treatment of the two groups of alleged terrorists begins before charges are ever filed, with how the two are investigated. Covert surveillance is, by definition, difficult to prove unless specific prosecutions or other evidence bring it into public view. A report by the New York University School of Law20 describes systematic surveillance of Muslim communities by the NYPD, FBI, and other law enforcement entities in the U.S. The widespread use of informants in homegrown terrorism cases also indicates an ongoing undercover presence. No evidence exists of similar routine surveillance of communities with significant right-wing activity, and reports and other materials about the Right produced by the FBI, DHS, and Congressional Research Service all emphasize the right to freedom of speech and expression, including the importance of differentiating beliefs from actions. Based on available case summaries, the majority of domestic terrorism prosecutions occur after the perpetrator has taken concrete action or as a consequence of other law enforcement contact, which suggests a low level of ongoing surveillance of right-wing movements.

The New America Foundation data indicate that 46.8 percent of Islamic terrorism cases involve use of an informant but only 27.5 percent of non-Islamic cases do.21 According to a report by Columbia University Law School and Human Rights Watch, 50 percent of federal counterterrorism convictions resulted from informant-based cases, and almost 30 percent were stings.22 (A “sting” refers to a case in which an informant or undercover agent actively developed the case, leading defendants to escalate their activity and often providing explosives or other materials.) The Columbia Law School report found that all but four of the high-profile homegrown terrorism plots of the last 10 years were FBI sting operations. While informants play a role in domestic cases, there is little recent evidence of right-wing cases being built through stings (although there is some history of FBI stings with environmental activists in the early 2000s).

A 2009 case in Newburgh, NY, that became known as the Newburgh Four23, 24 provides an example of an FBI sting operation. Newburgh is a small, formerly industrial city about 60 miles north of New York City, with a substantial African-American population and relatively high poverty rate. In 2011, the city was declared the murder capital of New York state. In the winter of 2009, an FBI informant developed a relationship with an openly antisemitic Muslim man who had a history of drug addiction. The informant offered him $250,000 plus additional luxuries if he would gather a group of Muslims to carry out a terrorist attack.

The man recruited three friends, each of whom had significant financial needs. Each received small amounts of cash during the time the informant guided them in developing a plan to attack Stewart Air National Guard Base and bomb a local synagogue, using explosives and a vehicle provided by the informant. The men were arrested after the informant delivered the men and the explosives to cars provided by the FBI. All four were charged with conspiracy, attempt to use weapons of mass destruction, and plotting to kill U.S. government employees, and were sentenced to 25 years in prison. A judge rejected an appeal based on entrapment, accepting the government’s rationale that the men would have eventually committed terrorism on their own—a theory called “radicalization” that has been used in multiple prosecutions of accused Muslim terrorists.

In contrast, the participation of informants and undercover agents in right-wing cases has been much more limited, and does not involve either initiating a plot or being the only source of weapons or explosive materials. In 2002, Larry Raugust, an anti-government militant well known to law enforcement, gave an explosive device to an undercover agent; he ended up pleading guilty to 15 counts of making bombs, and served just over five years in a federal prison.25 Similarly, in 2005, Gabriel Carafa, a man with ties to the neonazi World Church of the Creator and a racist organization called The Hated, was arrested after he and another man asked an informant to build them a bomb. They were charged with selling 11 guns illegally to police informants and providing 60 pounds of urea for use in building a bomb; Carafa was sentenced to seven years and his accomplice to 10.26 In both of these cases, not only did the defendants acquire their own weapons and explosive materials, but the men had extensive histories of right-wing activism.

The Internet plays an increasingly central role in the development and communication of beliefs, as well as law enforcement monitoring of potentially violent activity. However, the consequences of posting beliefs that signal the potential for violence varies considerably by religion. Adel Daoud was a socially isolated 17-year-old Muslim boy in suburban Chicago who found refuge online. In 2012, he began to post on message boards and write emails relating to violent jihad, at which point the FBI drew him into planning an attack with an undercover agent. In 2013, the agent drove Daoud to a jeep filled with fake explosives, and he was arrested after he tried to trigger the explosives outside a bar they had agreed to target. He was charged with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction, and the case is still in court.27

Compare that to the 2010 case of 26-year-old Justin Carl Moose, who described himself as the “Christian counterpart to Osama bin Laden” and posted threats of violence against abortion providers along with information about the use of explosives on his Facebook page. The FBI were tipped off, and Moose pled guilty to distributing information on the manufacture and use of explosives. He was sentenced to 30 months in prison and was released early, despite having demonstrated knowledge of explosives and his alignment with a movement that has an extensive track record of murders and destruction of medical facilities.28


As the five cases described above suggest, the charges and prison sentences faced by defendants in right-wing terrorism cases are significantly lower than those in homegrown cases. The key difference is usually in the specific charges brought. Many right-wing acts of violence are simply never prosecuted as “terrorism,” which has significant consequences due to terrorism “adjustments” to sentencing guidelines that increase the penalty for any given offense.29 Domestic cases largely involve charges of weapons possession (including explosives and/or assault weapons), murder, or attempted murder; most of these are filed and prosecuted at the state and local level.

While weapons possession may sound like a minor offense, and often results in sentences of less than 10 years, the actual quantity of weapons involved can be considerable. David Burgert, the leader of a militia-style group called Project 7 who was wanted for assaulting police officers, was found with 25,000 rounds of ammunition and multiple pipe bombs; he was sentenced to seven years.30 In a separate case, a series of raids on militia members in rural Pennsylvania netted 16 bombs and at least 73 other weapons, but none of the militia members served more than three years in prison.31 The quantity of armaments involved in many of the right-wing terrorism cases calls for a response of a corresponding order of magnitude, especially in light of the sentences given to Muslims who never independently obtained a weapon of any kind.

Marchers with the Project SALAM Journey for Justice protest the incarceration of Mohammed Hossain and Yassin Aref, Muslim men convicted of providing material support for terrorism as part of an FBI sting. Photo via Flickr, courtesy of Vanessa Lynch,

Marchers with the Project SALAM Journey for Justice protest the incarceration of Mohammed Hossain and Yassin Aref, Muslim men convicted of providing material support for terrorism as part of an FBI sting. Photo via Flickr, courtesy of Vanessa Lynch,

Homegrown terrorism cases, on the other hand, are prosecuted using a wider and more severe array of charges. Sixteen of the 30 homegrown cases listed by the DoJ included conspiracy charges, which can carry high sentences even in the absence of a completed criminal act.

Prosecutors may combine both “conspiracy” and “attempt to commit” charges in cases in which no actual violence took place, including sting cases where the only weapons involved were provided by FBI agents or informants. Domestic terrorism cases that include charges of attempt to assault or murder almost always base the charge on the active use of a weapon—usually shooting at a law enforcement officer but sometimes activating an explosive device.

The issue of conspiracy charges throws into stark relief the demonization and excessive surveillance of American Muslims. In 2008, five men were convicted of conspiracy to murder members of the U.S. military, and four of the five were convicted of possession of firearms. Four of the men were sentenced to life and the other to 33 years, even though no actual assault or violence took place. The case of the Fort Dix Five, as it came to be known, was primarily built through the use of an informant who actively guided the youngest of the five men—then just 19 years old—to collect videos depicting jihad-oriented violence, develop a hazy “plot” to attack Fort Dix, and recruit his friends to participate. The evidence at trial included a map of Fort Dix that one of the defendants had used to deliver pizza, and the claim that paintball games and camping trips were “jihadi training.”32 However absurd this may sound, this interpretation of both paintball and camping while Muslim has been used in other trials, and notes from the NYPD’s surveillance of the Brooklyn College Islamic Society include references to “militant paintball trips.”33

The 2010 Hutaree militia case provides a very interesting contrast to this treatment of Muslims. In 2008, the FBI planted an informant with the Hutaree militia group in Michigan, and followed their activities for two years before initiating an arrest with charges of seditious conspiracy and attempt to use weapons of mass destruction based on the group’s plan to kill police officers and plant bombs at their funerals. A judge dismissed the conspiracy charges and dropped all charges against six of the nine defendants on the grounds that their hatred of law enforcement was not evidence of a conspiracy.34 Three men in the group pled guilty to weapons possession, and two of them were released on just two years’ supervision.35 While the informant taped conversations with the militia members, he does not appear to have conducted a sting operation. When Muslims express hostility towards the U.S. government or law enforcement, this has been treated as evidence of radicalization and intent to engage in acts of terrorism, but, at least in this case, a U.S. judge heard these same sentiments much differently when uttered by right-wing activists.

The majority of cases of homegrown terrorism analyzed in the report by Columbia, and a significant percentage of international cases, involve charges of material support for terrorism.36 The original statute on material support for terrorism,37 passed in 1994 after the first World Trade Center bombing, criminalized the provision of weapons, physical goods, money, or training to terrorists and terrorist organizations, but included specific free speech protections and exemptions for humanitarian aid.38 Subsequent versions of the law removed the free speech protection, narrowed the humanitarian aid exception, broadened the scope of what counts as “material support,” and increased the penalties for conspiracies and attempts to provide support. The material support statute applies to “designated terrorist organizations,” but the FBI’s list of designated terrorist organizations, available on its website, includes no domestic organizations of any ideological 
bent. As a result, material support charges have no analog among domestic terrorism cases, despite 
the existence of longstanding right-wing organizations associated with political violence.39 In
 blunt terms, if a person gives money to the KKK, they will not be prosecuted for material support to terrorists. Although it might technically be possible to bring such charges, in practice, it simply doesn’t happen.

But the material support statute has become central to the prosecution of Muslims accused of terrorism. One of the more prominent prosecutions on material support concerned the Holy Land Foundation, a large Muslim charity in the U.S. that provided aid to zakat (charitable) committees in the West Bank and Gaza. The zakat committees were not involved in violent activities but supported the social services instituted by Hamas, which was designated a terrorist organization in 1997. This secondhand connection to the social services arm of Hamas resulted in the use of material support charges to close down the Holy Land Foundation and convict the senior administrators on terrorism-related charges in 2009, with sentences from 15 to 65 years.40

The Holy Land Foundation case is not an outlier or an isolated example. In fact, 65 percent of the homegrown cases analyzed in detail by Columbia included charges of conspiracy and/or attempt to provide material support to terrorists, resulting in sentences ranging from five to 30 years in prison. The Columbia analysis of all terrorism prosecutions conducted by the DoJ from 2001 to 2011 found that more than 25 percent involved charges of material support or conspiracy, indicating that these charges are more common among homegrown cases than genuinely international ones.

Beyond individual cases, the surveillance of Muslim communities, the use of informants, and the question of material support create a fear that limits development of community support for those caught in terrorism prosecutions, effectively isolating family members of accused or convicted “terrorists.”

While the discourse of terrorism situates Muslims accused of violence as part of a worldwide terror network, their right-wing counterparts are usually depicted as “Lone Wolves,” acting alone.


The limited data available on domestic cases makes a direct comparison of the conditions of incarceration difficult, although some inferences can be made. The U.S. penal system has developed stringent conditions of confinement and management that can be applied under a variety of circumstances, especially at the federal level. The federal system includes the Administrative Maximum Penitentiary (ADX) Florence supermax prison in Colorado, where almost all prisoners are held in solitary confinement for 23 hours of every day. According to the Bureau of Prisons, in 2013 the ADX was holding 41 prisoners designated as “terrorists,” the majority of whom are of Muslim background. The UN Committee Against Torture has raised the question as to whether the extensive use of solitary confinement in the U.S. constitutes a form of torture.41 (See sidebar: Brutality Made Visible)

While virtually all U.S. prisons have the structural capacity for solitary confinement, the federal system has the additional ability to impose two highly restrictive forms of communication control. Communication Management Units (CMUs) were created in 2006 to isolate certain prisoners from contact with the outside world; all forms of communication with family, friends, and other prisoners are limited, and physical contact with family and friends is completely banned. Muslims make up over two-thirds of prisoners in CMUs, even though they account for only six percent of the total federal prison population.42 Special Administrative Measures (SAMs) also restrict a prisoner’s communication and contact with others in ways that vary from case to case, and have become routine in terrorism cases, including during pre-trial detention.43 Since the vast majority of cases formally designated as “terrorism” in the U.S. are “homegrown,” these extreme forms of control and confinement overwhelmingly affect Muslims. Almost 50 percent of the homegrown cases reviewed by the Columbia Law School report involved significant pre-trial solitary and/or restricted communication, which had a negative effect on the development of a legal defense. These high levels of isolation and control of communication are justified by the portrayal of Muslims living in America as representatives of global terrorist networks.

While there are no comparable reports on the conditions in which right-wing terrorists are held in U.S. prisons, the disproportionate use of pre-trial solitary, SAMs, CMUs, ADX, and other highly restrictive settings with Muslims indicates differential treatment, as does the extent of organized community support for incarcerated right-wing activists.

For prisoners who are not subject to isolation and restrictions on communication, contact with the outside world can be a vital source of affirmation, in addition to mundane assistance like commissary credits or care packages. Organizations on the Right openly provide support for and maintain contact with incarcerated individuals who share their political perspective, even those convicted of murder, such as Scott Roeder44, 45 and Timothy McVeigh.46 The anti-abortion movement, in particular, generally does not sever ties to those who have been incarcerated for violence against abortion providers. This level of organization reflects how much right-wing violence is grounded in social movements, even if individual perpetrators appear to be lone actors.

SIDEBAR: Brutality Made Visible

Terrorism trials have drawn some attention to the use of harsh pre-trial detention as a method for extracting guilty pleas, and of solitary confinement for prisoners convicted of terrorism. However, extended pre-trial confinement has become the norm for low-income Americans who cannot afford bail, and solitary confinement is used extensively throughout U.S. jails and prisons, including for people awaiting trial.

In 2010, 76 percent of defendants in federal district courts were detained pre-trial, up from 59 percent in 1995.1 The Center for Constitutional Rights currently has a class action lawsuit on behalf of prisoners at a California prison who are serving indeterminate sentences in SHU (Security Housing Unit, a form of solitary confinement), usually on the basis of their alleged gang membership or affiliation. Five hundred men in the CCR lawsuit have been in SHU for at least 10 years.2

Incarceration practices based on extreme methods of control and isolation also predate the “War on Terror”: the federal supermax prison ADX Florence opened in Colorado in 1994, and special administrative measures (SAMs) to control communication and contact began in 1996. Over the last 10 years, the process of resource adaptation has become bidirectional, as institutional architecture designed for the War on Terror has been used for other purposes. The use of military vehicles on the streets of Ferguson was a nationally visible example of militarized policing, but it’s not the only one. Away from the public eye, “intelligence fusion centers,” which bring together multiple levels of law enforcement, were originally intended to monitor terrorism threats but have instead focused the majority of their activity on drug and immigration cases.3

As these examples demonstrate, repressive measures and violations of civil or human rights spread outward from their original context, whether the example is solitary confinement for alleged gang members or expanded intelligence gathering systems brought to local police. Similarly, the procedures and processes permitted in federal terrorism trials also create precedents that could be drawn upon in other circumstances.


While the discourse of terrorism situates Muslims accused of violence as part of a worldwide terror network, their right-wing counterparts are usually depicted as “Lone Wolves,” acting alone. As a result, the social and organizational contexts for right-wing violence are systematically erased.

When the authors of the April 2009 DHS report on right-wing extremism put out a draft version for review, the Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties argued for a narrow definition of “right-wing extremist” that would be limited to persons known to have committed violence themselves and exclude those who were members of or who donated money to organizations with well-known histories of violence, such as the KKK.47 The DHS report maintained a broader definition that included groups and social movements, but the overall trend has been toward viewing perpetrators of right-wing violence as isolated actors. The February 2015 DHS report on right-wing extremists, for example, focused exclusively on the sovereign citizen movement, which was described as engaging in low levels of often spontaneous violence that take a highly individualized and non-symbolic form, such as a threat or assault towards a specific individual law enforcement officer or government representative.48 For example, the DHS report describes an incident in which a sovereign citizen in Alaska conspired to murder an Internal Revenue Service officer and a judge who oversaw legal proceedings against him.

The individualized “Lone Wolf ” model of viewing right-wing violence reflects an intentional change in strategy by right-wing militant groups. In 1987, the government indicted a core group of 14 visible national leaders within right-wing militant movements, all associated with the 1983 Aryan World Congress, on charges of conspiracy to overthrow the U.S. government. They were acquitted at trial, but the experience led one of the men, Louis Beam, to republish an essay he had written calling for “leaderless resistance” as a way to evade infiltration and surveillance.49 Over the past 10-15 years, most incidents of right-wing violence have been carried out by individuals or small groups, in keeping with the philosophy of leaderless resistance and Lone Wolf action. However, a decision to act alone does not mean acting outside of social movement frameworks, philosophies, and networks.

Research has shown that, at the time they engage in political violence, the majority of so-called Lone Wolves are over 30 years old. A comparison of case descriptions shows that many have had significant histories of participation in Hard Right movements.50 Preliminary findings from a study of individual radicalization point to the importance of social ties with other militants as a key element of the radicalization process, again casting doubt on the model of the isolated actor.51 Another study found that organizations whose members commit violence have higher levels of interconnection with other movement organizations than groups not associated with violence.52 The findings from these two studies fit with the age and movement experience of Lone Wolves while challenging the model of the isolated actor. Scott Roeder, Dr. Tiller’s assassin, saw himself as acting as part of a movement even if he was not representing a specific organization.

Scott Roeder, Dr. Tiller’s assassin, saw himself as acting as part of a movement even if he was not representing a specific organization.

Politically, the organizational and national contexts for right-wing activists disappear in the focus on the individual, while the individuality and immediate social context for the actions of Muslims are rendered invisible by the focus on the global.


Law enforcement action shows two substantially different patterns in relation to Muslims and right-wing activists. The (appropriate) concern for protecting free speech and association expressed in law enforcement materials on right-wing organizations and activists stands in stark contrast to the criminalization of both speech and association among Muslims. Reports by the Columbia and NYU schools of law describe the targeting of vulnerable individuals and communities, with informants building relationships with men who have expressed certain political or religious beliefs but who have not independently voiced an intent to commit violence. The cases of the Newburgh Four and the Fort Dix Five illustrate the centrality of informants and the lack of evidence of independent violent action—or the necessary resources for such—in the prosecution of these cases. These cases stand in sharp contrast to the large weapons caches and self-organization of right-wing activists, who, like Larry Raugust, are more likely to give explosives to an informant than to acquire them from one.

The prosecution of Muslims in the absence of independent action has been justified by using a theory of radicalization that argues defendants would have eventually committed terrorism without the assistance of informants. Multiple theories of radicalization exist within the study of militant movements, including some that examine processes across diverse political or religious movements. In law enforcement, models of radicalization have been part of larger frameworks that heighten the fear of hidden dangers.53 For example, the theory of radicalization used in prosecutions of Muslims caught by sting operations derives from a 2007 NYPD report that described a “religious conveyor belt” from belief to action.54 This theory has no support in social science research and situates constitutionally protected beliefs as evidence of the probability to commit violence. The core constitutional principles of freedom of religion and freedom of speech and association are repeatedly violated in relation to Muslims in arguments made in the courts as well as in surveillance practices, recruitment of informants, and day-to-day law enforcement.


Data on militant violence in the U.S. suggest that the primary factors directing federal attention involve political calculations and Islamophobia, not any danger posed by their communities. Speaking anonymously, a former DHS agent compared the FBI’s sting operations in Muslim communities to the practice of police leaving an expensive car unlocked in a poor urban neighborhood: if law enforcement provides a large enough incentive, he suggested, then eventually someone will make criminal use of it.

While it’s politically useful for federal authorities to demonstrate progress on prosecuting terrorism—even if it often involves trumped-up cases—the flip side of that political reality is the conservative politicians and writers who see discussions of right-wing political violence as a threat to their own constituency, downplaying the severity of the threat from the Far Right. A July 2014 study found that law enforcement rated sovereign extremists the number one terrorist threat in the U.S.,55 and the February 2015 DHS report on right-wing extremism documented the extent of assaults on law enforcement and other government personnel.56 But saying this publicly has consistently led to hostile responses from conservative media. The DoJ Domestic Terrorism Executive Committee was re-launched in June 201457 but, as of February 2015, had not yet held a meeting, according to a former DHS analyst. It’s worth noting that right-wing violence has also increased in Europe58 and Israel59 over the past several years, but this trend is similarly invisible across the Western political discourse of terror- ism. In Europe, it was the Charlie Hebdo attacks that became emblematic of terrorism, not the Anders Breivik massacre in Norway, even though Breivik’s attacks were six times deadlier.

Many Muslims convicted of terrorism can only be understood as dangerous if their actual life circumstances are subsumed by a narrative of global jihad.

The differential treatment of Islamic and far-right terrorism cases only becomes explicable through the lens of political calculation. The Right Wing is an entrenched element of the U.S. cultural and political power structure, raising the costs of high profile law enforcement action. The primary targets of federal anti-terrorism investigations have been Muslim men defined by their vulnerability rather than their power. In late February, the latest case to hit the news involved a young man who wanted to go to Syria to fight for ISIS, but his FBI handler had to procure his travel documents, because his mother wouldn’t give him his passport.60

This 19-year-old can only be understood as dangerous if his actual life circumstances are subsumed by a narrative of global jihad. This pattern of systemic targeting and differential prosecution is fully in keeping with well-documented law enforcement practices of racial/ethnic profiling of African Americans and with the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII. The suppression of information about right-wing movements creates a double-erasure in which Muslims can only be seen through the lens of the global “War on Terror,” while right-wing militants continue to be depicted as isolated and troubled individuals instead of social movement actors. This combination may serve a range of political and economic interests, but it does little for the health and safety of the U.S. population.

The FBI and DoJ distinction between “homegrown” and “domestic” terrorism is a political creation and should be ended. The “homegrown” classification locates Muslims as foreign agents operating in the U.S., not as part of the social fabric of this country. The portrayal of U.S. Muslims as potential or actual representatives of global jihad is used to justify the denial of constitutional protections and leads to representing ordinary men—asking religious questions, criticizing the U.S. government, or even going camping with their friends—as a threat to society. It is past time to apply the same constitutional protections to everyone, and develop a response to terrorism based in analysis of patterns of violence instead of political costs and benefits.

Naomi Braine is an Associate Professor in the Sociology Department at Brooklyn College, CUNY, and a lifelong activist in struggles for social justice. Her political and intellectual work has addressed mass incarceration, the “War on Drugs”/drug policy, HIV and collective action, and, more recently, the “War on Terror.”


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  51. Jensen, Michael, Patrick James, and Herbert Tinsley, “Profiles of Individual Radicalization in the United States: Preliminary Findings.” National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism. January 2015. Online at https://www. Research%20Brief_Jan%202015.pdf.
  52. Steven Chermak, Joshua Freilich, and Michael Suttmoeller, “The Organizational Dynamics of Far-Right Hate Groups in the United States: Comparing Violent to Nonviolent Organizations,” in Studies in Conflict and Terrorism. Routledge, 2013.
  53. Jeffrey Monaghan, “Security Traps and Discourses of Radicalization: Examining Surveillance Practices Targeting Muslims in Canada.” Surveillance and Society, vol 12(4). 2014.
  54. NYU School of Law Center for Human Rights and Global Justice. Targeted and Entrapped: Manufacturing the “Homegrown Threat” in the United States. 2011. Online at http://www. targetedandentrapped.pdf.
  55. David Carter, Steve Chermak, Jeremy Carter, and Jack Drew, Understanding Law Enforcement Intelligence Processes: Report to the Office of University Programs, Science and Technology Directorate, U.S. Department of Homeland Security. National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism. July 2014.
  1. Office of Intelligence and Analysis. Sovereign Citizen Extremist Ideology Will Drive Violence at Home, During Travel, and at Government Facilities. Dept. of Homeland Security, February 5, 2015.
  2. “Reestablishment of Committee on Domestic Terrorism: Statement of Atty. Gen. Eric Holder.” Main Justice. June 3, 2014. Online at http:// reestablishment-of-committee-on- domestic-terrorism-statement-of-atty- gen-eric-holder/.
  3. Vidhya Ramalingam, “The European Far Right Is on the Rise, Again.” The Guardian. February 13, 2014. Online at http://www.theguardian. com/commentisfree/2014/feb/13/ european-far-right-on-the-rise-how-to- tackle.
  4. Inna Lazareva, “Far-Right Extremism on the Rise in Israel as Gaza Conflict Continues.” The Telegraph. July 26, 2014. Online at http://www. middleeast/israel/10992623/Far- Right-extremism-on-the-rise-in-Israel- as-Gaza-conflict-continues.html.
  5. Marc Santora and Nate Schweber, “In Brooklyn, Eager to Join ISIS, If Only His Mother Would Return His Passport.” The New York Times. February 26, 2015. Online at http://www.nytimes. com/2015/02/27/nyregion/isis-plot- brooklyn-men.html?ref=nyregion&_ r=0.

Sidebar Endnotes:

  1. U.S. Department of Justice. Pretrial Detention and Misconduct in Federal District Courts, 1995-2010. By Thomas H. Cohen. February 2013. Online at pdmfdc9510.pdf.
  2. “Torture: The Use of Solitary Confinement in U.S. Prisons.” Center for Constitutional Rights. Online at
  3. U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. Federal Support for and Involvement in State and Local Fusion Centers. October 3, 2012.

FBI Raids Reveal Repressive Apparatus Run Amok

A recent Inspector General’s report on the FBI’s investigations of certain domestic advocacy groups from 2002-2006 found that the agency considered routine civil-disobedience violations, such as trespassing or vandalism, potential terrorism. For example, the Bureau determined that spilling human blood on walls, an American flag, and pictures were “forceful acts” sufficient to trigger inclusion on terror watchlists. The FBI today threatens to label peace activists – and a wide swath of people with whom they associate – as “terrorists” because of First Amendment activities that include travel and public education. Apparently, the bad practices under the Bush administration have not been reformed.

As a think tank that grew out of opposition to the FBI’s coordinated assault on dissenters during the 1970s, Political Research Associates (PRA) has witnessed and studied the penchant of American intelligence systems to treat peoples’ movements as subversive. The FBI belongs to a post-9/11 domestic security apparatus that is unprecedented in size, and largely unaccountable to democratic control. A recent Washington Post article estimated its size at 845,000 public and private personnel. As protectors of civil liberties, Congress must embrace its oversight function and reign in homeland security agencies that continue to confuse ideology for crime.

PRA adds its voice to those of other progressive and civil liberties organizations, and all those who value democracy and dissent, in denouncing these raids. We believe that all Americans should stand in defense of the Constitution and all individuals who have been wrongly targeted for their principles objection to U.S. military interventions abroad.

Anti-War Activists Targeted by FBI

Days after the release of the IG’s report, the FBI raided the homes of twenty peace activists from Minneapolis to Chicago under the guise of fighting terrorism. The harsh manner in which the raids were conducted, the sweeping scope of the warrants, and the lack of any credible threat of terrorism all suggest that the FBI may once again be abusing its power to intimidate social change movements.

Beginning on Friday, September 24, the FBI executed search warrants against at least eight homes and offices in Chicago, upstate Michigan, the Twin Cities, and Ohio. In Minneapolis, a SWAT team knocked on activist Mick Kelly’s door at about 7 a.m. When Kelly’s partner asked to see the search warrant, the agents busted down the door, causing it to fly across the room and break a fish tank.

About twenty agents spent most of the day searching the Chicago home of activists Stephanie Weiner and Joseph Iosbaker. “We aren’t doing anything differently than we have in twenty years,” said Weiner, a teacher at Wilbur Wright College. The FBI carried thirty boxes of papers dating from the 1970s from Iosbaker’s attic to sift for evidence. In Jefferson Park, FBI agents removed boxes and electronic equipment from the apartment of community activist Hatem Abudayyeh, executive director of the Arab American Action Network.

The FBI also raided the homes of Jessica Sundin and Meredity Aby, who helped organize rallies at the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul. The FBI and local law enforcement infiltrated advocacy groups prior to the RNC and charged several protestors with terrorism offenses, which were later dismissed outright. Sundin called the suggestion that they were connected with terrorism “pretty hilarious and ridiculous.” Mick Kelly’s lawyer, Ted Dooley, explained that the FBI agents were looking for “everything related to potential co-conspirators, including Kelly’s personal contacts in the United States and abroad. It’s kind of unconstitutional and hideous.”

The activists targeted are involved in numerous groups, including the Palestine Solidarity Group, Students for a Democratic Society, the Twin Cities Anti-War Committee, the Colombia Action Network, the Freedom Road Socialist Organization (FRSO), and the National Committee to Free Ricardo Palmera (a Colombian political prisoner).

At least a dozen activists were served subpoenas from a grand jury seeking records of payments to Abudayyeh’s organization and groups on the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations, including Hezbollah, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

No arrests have been made, suggesting that prosecutors lack probable cause for an indictment against anyone. An FBI spokesperson admitted to the Associated Press that the bureau knows of no “imminent threat to the community.” He said the FBI was seeking evidence related to “activities concerning material support for terrorism” as part of an ongoing Joint Terrorism Task Force investigation.

Several of the FBI’s targets belong to FRSO and occasionally contribute to a socialist newsletter that is critical of the U.S. wars of occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan. The subpoena issued to FRSO activist Thomas Burke requested “items related to trips to Colombia, Jordan, Syria, and the Palestinian territories.” Burke said he had toured Colombia eight years ago with members of an oil workers union. He told the press, “We barely have money to publish our magazine. We might write about [revolutionary groups] favorably, but as for giving them material aid, nothing.”

Labeling Free Speech as Subversive

These raids mark a disturbing pattern of criminalizing Americans’ international solidarity work.According to Thomas Cincotta, the Civil Liberties Project Director at PRA, “the FBI has played fast and loose with the definition of terrorism, abusing its power to intimidate and repress challengers of U.S. foreign policy.”

Political Research Associates maintains a library and archive that documents the U.S. government’s long history of red-baiting and demonizing the Left, from the Red Scare of the 1920s to McCarthyism to J. Edgar Hoover’s illegal COINTELPRO program during the 1960s and 1970s, which aimed to “neutralize” the Black Panther Party and other civil rights organizations. Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress were labeled terrorists during the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa. In the 1980s, the FBI closely monitored U. S. activists who supported the resistance to dictatorship and U.S. intervention in Central America. When all the facts were revealed in 1988, Congress repeatedly criticized the FBI for interpreting “support for terrorism” to include peaceful political and humanitarian activities. According to the civil rights expert David Cole, the FBI admitted that its investigation of the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador, in particular, had been overbroad, improperly focused on activities permitted under the First Amendment, and a waste of resources.

Anti-terrorism laws have given the FBI wide latitude to repress political activists as well as American Muslims. The FBI felt that reforms instituted following the CISPES investigation tied its hands in domestic investigations. In response, Congress included a “support for terrorism” provision in the 1996 Antiterrorism Act that has paved the way for the FBI to slide back to the days of Hoover.

Since 9/11, PRA has witnessed the selective prosecution of Muslims, South Asians, Arabs, and people of Middle Eastern descent using the “material support” and immigration laws. Under Attorney General Ashcroft’s direction, thousands of Muslim immigrants were rounded up and deported or interviewed, but no actual terrorists were uncovered. PRA’s 2010 Report, Platform for Prejudice explains how the Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative encourages law enforcement and the public to profile on the basis of race and religion and treat dissenters as potential terrorists. Just as the Justice Department cast a wide net over communities of Muslims and people of Middle Eastern and Arab nationalities, the FBI seems to be imposing collective guilt over an entire network of peace activists.

PRA shares the concerns of the Charity and Security Network, which sees connections between the recent raids on activists and discriminatory scrutiny of Muslim charities. In both circumstances, the “material support” law has been used to tar Americans with the terrorist label even where no threat exists. The government has even tried to punish groups for interacting with people or groups that are not on the U.S. list of designated terrorist organizations. For example, leaders of the Holy Land Foundation were convicted of providing material support because they gave aid to local zakat committees that were not on the list, but that the government alleged were controlled by Hamas, which is on the list. (zakat committees distribute charity for the poor and aged, in accordance with one of the Five Pillars of Islam). The trial court did not require the jury to find that the defendants knew or even should have known that these committees had Hamas connections.

In the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project, the Court held that it is constitutional for Congress to prohibit a broad range of interactions with designated terrorist groups, including attempts at peace building and support for nonviolence. Offering advice, training, and service to a designated terrorist organization, the Court said, constitutes material support for terrorism under the 1996 law. It emphasized that the prohibition does not apply to pure political speech, naively asserting, “the statute is carefully drawn to cover only a narrow category of speech…in coordination with foreign groups that the speaker knows to be terrorist organizations.” However, the opinion provides no definition of “coordinated,” leaving room for overly broad interpretations.

Tell Congress to Stop Political Repression

PRA has observed that liberals and right-wing groups tend to tolerate state repression when it targets political opponents. Just as PRA criticized Homeland Security reports on Right Wing Extremism in 2009, we now call on all people of good conscience to defend the Constitution. The conservative blogosphere – the same one that warns of a creeping fascism in the United States – is trying to use the raids to smear Obama and unions. A blogger at the conservative Red Stateclaims that trade unionists who will march on Washington on October 2nd to demand jobs are unpatriotic Leftists, linked to terrorism abroad. Another right wing pundit tries to slander Obama by pointing to his past “ties” with the Arab American Action Network. Says Cincotta, “These narrow-minded responses illustrate the destructive power of the terrorism label. They underscore the need for constant vigilance to defend the presumption of innocence and respect for the First Amendment no matter where you stand.”

So far, progressives and civil libertarians are responding with action. Groups such as the National Lawyers Guild pledged support for the protestors. Bruce Nestor, former president of the guild, calls the raids “a direct attack on people who are strong, dedicated advocates of freedom, of the right of people to be free from U.S. domination. It is an attack upon anybody who organizes against U.S. imperialism abroad.”

Chip Berlet, a senior analyst at PRA who helped litigate against illegal FBI surveillance in the 1960s, emphasized the need for Congressional oversight, no matter who is in the White House:“Since its beginning, the FBI has proved itself incapable of discerning the difference between free speech and dissent, and subversion and terrorism. By repeatedly conflating dissent with terrorism, the FBI defies the clear mandate of the Constitution, which it is sworn to uphold. They only thing that reigns in this marauding is Congress. And the only thing that will force Congress to act is a swift kick by people across the political spectrum.”

Although the tactics of intimidation are familiar, we cannot ignore them. People are already organizing loud, visible protests to challenge the legitimacy of the FBI’s raids. To show your support, you can:

  • Call the attorney general’s office at (202) 353-1555 to demand an end to intimidation of peace activists.
  • Call your congressional representative to demand that the FBI stop harassing activists and close the “material support” loopholes that give the FBI room to target peaceful domestic advocacy.Congress should hold hearings on the violations identified in the Inspector General’s recent report and uncover the full extent of the FBI’s misuse of counter-terror laws and watchlist practices.
  • Participate in local actions to protest these raids, including outside the Grand Jury convening inChicago on October 12.



Anti-War Activists Targeted by FBI Speak Out,” CBS News (Sept. 26, 2010).

Chip Berlet and Matthew N. Lyons, “One Key to Litigating Against Government Prosecution of Dissidents: Understanding the Underlying Assumptions – Part II,” Police Misconduct and Civil Rights Reporter, Vol. 5, No. 14 (March-April 1988).

Charity and Security Network, “Searches, Grand Jury Investigation Target Anti-War Activists in Chicago, Minneapolis,” (Sept. 27, 2010).

James X. Dempsey and David Cole, Terrorism & The Constitution (First Amendment Foundation, 2002), pp. 25-33.

Frank Donner, “Terrorist as Scapegoat,” The Nation (May 20, 1978).

Editorial, “A Reminder for the F.B.I.,” New York Times (Sept. 27, 2010).

FBI raids homes of anti-war activists,” Chicago Breaking News (Sept. 24, 2010).

Mara H. Gottfried, “FBI raids six locations In Minneapolis as part of terrorism investigation,” Twin Cities (Sept. 24, 2010).

Pre-Emptive Prosecutions – Forum Explores Provocation to Get Terrorism Convictions

On March 25, 2010, a forum at NYU School of Law explored the role of agents provocateurs in several high-profile terrorism cases. Powerful testimony from the families and lawyers for defendants in several cases, raised an important question about each of the cases: would there have been a criminal act or plan if the FBI had not paid agent provocateurs to become involved? Was the FBI involved in capturing “homegrown terrorists” or were they making them?

Surveillance Image

Fran Korotzer, writing for Neft Left News, covered the forum, which was organized by the National Lawyers Guild, NYU Law ACLU, Middle Easter Law Students Association, and Law Students for Human Rights. According to Korotzer:

Many of those entrapped are very low income, under-educated men who live in marginalized communities and are ‘bribed’ with money, marijuana, and promises of help for whatever crisis they are facing. These cases are not isolated, they’re happening in large numbers all over the country. The people involved are from diverse backgrounds but they are united by abuses of due process.

Newburgh, New York – FBI informant targets schizophrenic

The first speakers were the mother and aunt of David McWilliams, one of the Newburgh 4, the young Muslim men were convicted of attempting to bomb synagogues with plastic explosives in the Bronx and plotting to shoot down planes from Stewart Airport with stinger missiles.

David McWilliams’ mother, Elizabeth, said that her son was not the monster he was made out to be. According to Korotzer, Elizabeth explained the David was:

promised money to help pay for medical treatment for his younger brother who is suffering with incurable cancer. Tears were flowing down her cheeks as she tried to speak. When his aunt, Alicia McWilliams spoke she presented a picture of a group of struggling, uneducated men trying to survive on the periphery of society. They had drug problems and one was schizophrenic. The FBI picked the most vulnerable county to establish their plot, one where there is “no jobs, no schooling” and “if you walk down Broadway you see it is drug infested.” “They didn’t send an agent to a mosque in Bushwick or Harlem because they would nave whooped his mother_ _.” Instead they’re “gonna pick some God damn fools and a person who can’t manage mental health.” According to McWilliams, those individuals couldn’t mastermind anything. These are who they chose to shoot missiles at planes and bomb synagogues in Riverdale? They never heard of Riverdale. “The boy is dyslexic.” “This boy is a petty crack dealer.” How did he go from that “to become a big national terrorist? He ain’t never even left New York.” He thought that the agent that entrapped him was “a good Muslim brother” who was going to get him a job and help pay doctor bills. McWilliams also pointed out that no family members were interrogated by the police or the FBI adding, they “didn’t need us when they had their own script.” She said that the families and communities that had been targeted had to stand together and let the government know that they “cannot target our families and drop a load of shit on us!”

The Department of Justice recently alluded to the Newburgh 4 case in its Final Report on the Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative (download here). The Bureau of Justice Assistance wrote:

An example of the success of the program is a report of suspicious activity that was provided by a business that was a recipient of the training:

In May of 2009, an employee noticed something unusual while working at a self-storage facility. A group of suspicious-looking men had begun to meet around an outdoor storage unit. They aroused suspicion because they met frequently—as much as 20 or 30 times in the span of a few days. They were also very careful to conceal their property by backing their SUV right up to the storage unit door. The self-storage facility had been visited by local law enforcement in the past and had been provided information on indicators and warnings of suspicious activity as part of the New York State’s Operation Safeguard outreach program.

The employee contacted the local police department to report the suspicious activity observed. He also provided them with information on the vehicle and renter. The police department ran checks and found that the New York FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) had an active investigation and the individuals associated with the storage unit were currently under surveillance. Two weeks after the employee’s report, the New York JTTF arrested four men on a number of terrorism charges, including charges arising from a plot to detonate explosives near a synagogue and to shoot military planes with Stinger surface-to-air guided missiles. The employee’s information demonstrated the effectiveness of the Operation Safeguard efforts to help prevent terrorist attacks in New York State.

(Final Report, ISE-SAR EE, p. 69). In the example above, the DOJ cites a report of suspicious activity that likely involved its own paid informant. Thus, not only does the government use these prosecutions to stir up fear of “homegrown extremism,” but they are used to justify broadening domestic surveillance programs.

Fort Dix – Two Provocateurs with Records

Writes Korotzer:

The next speakers were 12 year old Leijla Duka, daughter of one of the Ft. Dix 5 (NJ) and her uncle, the youngest of the Duka brothers. The Ft. Dix 5 were convicted of conspiring to attack military personnel at Ft. Dix and kill as many as possible. Leijla and her uncle said that their family members were set-up by 2 Muslim agent provocateurs, Mahmoud Omar and Besnik Bakalli.

Both men had been convicted of serious crimes and were willing to act as agents in return for leniency and money. It all started, they explained, with a family vacation in the Poconos when a family member made a video recording of the young men on a shooting range, shooting and shouting “Allahu Akbar”, God is great. After the vacation the recording was brought to a Circuit City store to be duplicated so that everyone involved could have a copy. The clerk was suspicious when he viewed the video and notified the police who contacted the FBI.

[The FBI] sent in Omar who approached one of the men, befriended him, and convinced him to download terrorist videos. All of the videos watched were at the agent’s request and then he tried to persuade him to involve his friends, the other 4.

When [Omar] didn’t do so the other agent, Bakalli, an ethnic Albanian like the Dukas was brought in. The agents told the men that their Muslim brothers were being murdered overseas and that they should be ashamed of themselves because they were doing nothing to help them. A lot of money was being flashed around by the agents and weapons were offered for sale. Some of the men bought weapons so, they said, they wouldn’t have to wait to shoot at the shooting range. One, who worked at a pizza shop, showed the agent a map of Ft. Dix (used for pizza delivery) when the agent asked for one. Duka said that for a conspiracy case 2 or more defendants have to agree to a plot involving someplace or someone. That never happened in this case. The government admitted that there was no evidence that the defendants ever discussed the plot with each other. All 5 were arrested and at trial the judge said that millions had been spent on the case and “the lack of evidence doesn’t concern me.” Duka also explained that all of the jury members were either in the army or had family members in the army. Since they were personally involved in some way they should have been excluded. The prosecution showed frightening jihad films. All were convicted with some getting sentences of life plus 30 years.

Project Salam

Next, the forum heard from three lawyers: Lynne Jackson from Project Salam, Support and Legal Advocacy for Muslims (, and Kathy Manley and Steve Downs who defended Yassin Aref and Mohammed Hossain from Albany, NY.

According to Korotzer’s report:

The agent provocateur in that case was the same person that was involved in the Newburgh 4 case, but using a different name this time. He was facing a prison sentence for selling fake drivers licenses, there was 25 civil suits pending against him, and there was the possibility of him being deported to Pakistan where it is believed that he was wanted for murder. The FBI was primarily interested in Yassin Aref, a local imam who spoke against the war and for Palestinian rights. Mohammad Hossain was collateral damage.

The plot, as it was explained, was to get the men involved in purchasing a surface to air missile with money laundered through Hossain’s pizza business. That would be used to shoot down a plane with the Pakistani UN ambassador on it. Hossain needed a loan which was offered by the agent, and Aref, the imam, was asked to witness the loan, as is a Muslim custom.

The money used for the $5,000 loan supposedly came from money that was earned by selling weapons to terrorists. There is no evidence that the men, especially Aref, knew anything about where the money came from or of the missile plot, but the fact of Aref witnessing the loan tied him to terrorists. Both were arrested, convicted, and got 15 year prison sentences.

This case was also recently portrayed in a documentary film calledWaiting for Mercy, selected for best documentary at the Ballston Spa Film Festival. (see trailer).

Other speakers at the forum provided powerful testimony on the Holy Land Foundation case and the use of secret evidence in the case of Fahad Hashmi. These stories challenge conventional wisdom and propaganda surrounding many terrorism prosecutions..

In their totality, they raise important questions about pre-emptive policing – the notion that the law enforcement should intervene in Americans’ affairs before a criminal act occurs. While these cases demonstrate that people can be enticed to commit or plan illegal acts, such an approach can have devastating consequences for the communities who feel they have been targeted by the government. Ultimately, “pre-emption” erodes mutual trust and undermines security.

Misplaced Priorities in U.S. Counter-terror Strategy

The recent attempted bombing of NWA Flight 253 in Detroit underscores the fact that the main terrorist threat to U.S. persons is from foreign terrorists linked to Al Qaeda. Every official review of U.S. intelligence failures that led to the 9/11 attack concluded that bureaucratic cultures at the CIA and FBI impeded effective information sharing and analysis. Here again, U.S. intelligence agencies failed to share information regarding live tips and leads that should have triggered not only a secondary screening at Amsterdam’s airport, but more importantly, a full assessment of the threat posed by the 23-year old Umar Farouk Abduulmutallab.

The development of a vast network of urban and state intelligence fusion centers is one illustration of how the U.S. intelligence enterprise has lost its way since 9/11. Domestic “extremism” (however loosely defined) has supplanted focused and sustained investigation of foreign threats as the highest counterterrorism priority. Data-mining, biometric identification, fusion centers, and beat cops as “force multipliers,” now take center stage in U.S. counterterrorism efforts. Instead, the focus should be on improving foreign intelligence capacities and enhancing the coordination and performance of the Terrorism Screening Center, Transportation Security Agency, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement is they relate to identifying suspected or known terrorists.

You can’t do it all. Choices have to be made. But senior U.S. officials – particularly from the Department of Homeland Security and its 22 member agencies – have taken their eyes off the ball (foreign terrorism), in favor of peering into Americans’ everyday activities. They have dispersed limited resources across the entire nation to protect vast numbers of potential (but unlikely) targets, instead of focusing on the most likely target of foreign attack: airliners. As one senior TSA official tells PRA, the lack of focus “is disgraceful, criminal, and very, very sad. But there is simply no will at the top to change the systems’ problems.”

These bureaucratic decisions steer antiterrorism grant funding to thousands of police agencies to buttress local budgets and domestic surveillance capacities, while neglecting the hard work of foreign intelligence analysis and investigations. While it has been important to improve emergency interoperability and response capacity at the local level, the push to develop local and state-based intelligence capacities does more harm to civil liberties and political freedom than it does to keep us safe.

At home, we need a sensible law enforcement approach to terrorism, rather than a pre-emptive intelligence model that undermines community trust, privacy, and political freedom. The intelligence paradigm, in the hands of domestic authorities, inevitably treads upon constitutional rights. Witness, for example, the recent spying by a military employee of anti-war activists in Washington state. A lawsuit filed on January 10, 2010 by National Lawyers Guild attorney Larry Hildes on behalf of members of Port Military Resistance, asserts that a force protection employee infiltrated the peace organization, tried to disrupt activities, and used his position as listserv administrator to channel private information to multiple policing agencies. The Fort Lewis episode illustrates how national security can be manipulated to justify interfering with free speech. We must insist that counterterrorism resources are directed at Al Qaeda, not dissenters and American communities.


Getting the Facts on Guantanamo Detainees

According to a Rasmussen Reports poll released on April 3, 2009, 75 percent of voters say that safety is more important than fairness in determining what countries the US government sends freed Guantanamo inmates.  While some element of N.I.M.B.Y. thinking is likely at work, this figure reflects misinformation about detainees at Guantanamo and the high degree of indiscriminate fear drummed up by the government.  Such fear has led to public acceptance for a wide range of domestic intelligence policies that undermine civil liberties.

In the poll, 75 percent say that Guantanamo inmates should not be released in this country.  President Obama’s intelligence director, Dennis Blair, stated last week that some inmates may be released into the United States.  Based upon the government’s own figures about those held at Guantanamo, safety will not be jeopardized, unless conditions of confinement and torture have made inmates more dangerous than when they entered.

It seems like an opportune time to recollect 2007’s Seton Hall Report, which found that 92 percent of the people at Guanatanamo were not al Qaeda fighters.  According to Seton Hall’s analysis of government data, Guantanamo does not contain the “worst of the worst.”  Military tribunals have found that fifty-five percent of the detainees are not determined to have committed any hostile acts against the U.S. or its coalition allies.  Only 8 percent of the detainees were characterized by Uncle Sam as al Qaeda fighters.  Of the remaining detainees, 40 percent have no definitive connection with al Qaeda at all and 18 percent have no definitive affiliation with either al Qaeda or the Taliban.  In addition, only 5 percent of the detainees were captured by United States forces.

Based on Department of Defense data, the 11 detainees who swore an oath to Osama Bin Laden are only a tiny fraction of the total number of detainees at Guanatanamo.   Of the Taliban detainees, none seem to be people responsible for actually running the country.  Many were involved with the Taliban unwillingly as conscripts or otherwise.  Hundreds of detainees pose no determined threat to the United States, but that did not prevent us from confining people 23 hours a day, subjecting them to temperature extremes and sleep deprivation for seven years.  Those who have fought against the United States or plotted terrorism should be tried in federal court, like those who bombed the WTC in 1993.

As with too many facets of America’s counter-terrorism policies, hyperbole, fear, and fiction drive public acceptance.  The Obama administration would be well-advised to give the people all the facts about who is being held at Guantanamo, where they came from, and how long they’ve been there, in keeping with his pledge for greater transparency.  Only with such facts will public perceptions change.

“Rubin Carter was falsely tried.
The crime was murder “one,” guess who testified?
Bello and Bradley and they both baldly lied
And the newspapers, they all went along for the ride.
How can the life of such a man
Be in the palm of some fool’s hand?
To see him obviously framed
Couldn’t help but make me feel ashamed to live in a land

Where justice is a game.

Now all the criminals in their coats and their ties
Are free to drink martinis and watch the sun rise
While Rubin sits like Buddha in a ten-foot cell
An innocent man in a living hell.
That’s the story of the Hurricane,
But it won’t be over till they clear his name
And give him back the time he’s done.
Put in a prison cell, but one time he could-a been
The champion of the world.”

   – Bob Dylan and  Jacques Levy “Hurricane”  

(though, to be sure, Hurricane Carter at least got a trial)