Defending Justice: How Does Law & Order Play Out in Racial Terms?

In the United States, existing institutional, systemic, and individual racism magnify and reinforce this us/them dichotomy. Because the criminal justice system of every country serves as a means of control over some members of that society (and others who get caught up in it), it always reflects the need of the State for control, the political desire of leaders to stay in power, and the norms and mores of behavior favored by those leaders and usually supported by at least a portion of the society’s members. In a country with the racial history of the United States, we cannot be surprised that Whites have always controlled the criminal justice system and used it to control people of color, especially African Americans and increasingly all dark-skinned people, including those from the Middle East and South Asia.

Cartoon by Kirk Anderson.

Cartoon by Kirk Anderson.

In the ideological and political campaign to promote “law and order,” conservative strategists have been careful to avoid any mention of its agenda’s racial implications. After arguing for criminalizing certain behaviors, especially drug consumption and distribution, they never mentioned how this would disproportionately affect communities of color (where the State’s arrests for such behavior are higher than in White and suburban communities). Some of the academics who promote law-and-order arguments have even maintained an identity as liberals, and claim to be writing in the interests of “the community.” Through this sleight of hand, rightist policymakers have constructed law-and-order policies as a series of supposedly race-neutral policies, although the outcome of these policies has been to criminalize, to a vastly disproportionate extent, the behaviors of certain targeted groups, especially racial minorities. Whether or not these law-and-order policies were intentionally racist may be open to debate, but many people, especially people of color, connect the dots and see their outcome as both intentional and systemic.

You might imagine that an increased emphasis on law and order would result in increased attention to all forms of law-breaking. But addressing police brutality and other forms of State violence clearly is not the focus of law-and-order policies. Nor is it the focus of the ideological camp that promotes these policies. Such neglect of a whole class of “victims”-those victimized by police or military power-supports the assertion that illegitimate race-based practices are the single most salient feature of the contemporary criminal justice system. Rightists often blatantly deny statistical evidence of unequal rates of incarceration, arrest, and punishment by race or class for identical crimes, as well as evidence of police and criminal justice officials’ presumption of guilt according to the race of the accused. Rightist Professor John J. DiIulio, Jr., a prominent law-and-order proponent who inaccurately predicted a growing wave of “super-predator” children, stated that data on the administration of capital punishment “disclose no trace of racism..” But it is nearly impossible to study the discrepancies between incarceration rates for people of color and those of Whites for similar behaviors and not conclude that these policies, and those who defend them, are racially motivated.

Ideological Contradictions In Law-and-Order Policies

Each sector of the Right does not necessarily support the same policy solutions to the issues of crime and punishment. Various anti-crime policies create splits and disagreements within the Right. For example, rightist libertarians – who favor the most limited role possible for government – object to a punishment model that requires a huge investment of government funds, even when incarceration is privatized, and prisons eliminate training and treatment. The cost of building new prisons to house and police a swelling prison population increases government spending in both the long- and short-term. Between 1985 and 1995, states and the federal government opened one new prison a week to cope with the flood of inmates into the prison system. Much of this increase resulted from the increasing criminalization of non-violent offenders, through three-strikes laws, mandatory sentences, and drug laws. Referring to the many economic interests that now have a vested interest in maintaining high rates of incarceration, some critics, notably Angela Davis, have called this the emergence of a “prison-industrial complex.” Police departments, private prison corporations, unions of prison guards, rural communities eager for prison jobs, and businesses that provide prisons with food, security, and maintenance serve as pressure groups to assure the continuation of ever-increasing funding for prisons and to support tough on crime policies and drug laws that continually escalate rates of imprisonment.

Liberals have supported some of this growth in the role of federal courts. Because they hope, for instance, that hate crimes, abortion clinic bombings, and stalkings will often be prosecuted more vigorously at the federal level than at the state level. But, as both political parties compete to appear tough on crime, much of the federalization of the criminal justice system is directed at drug offenders and non-violent criminals. It thereby diminishes the role of the states in fighting even local crime. So much for states’ rights, a key principle of the Right’s ideology.

Widespread imposition of the death penalty also creates dissonance for some rightists. Between 1995 and 2003, prisoners in the United States were executed at an average rate of one per week. Although execution is a more expensive form of punishment than life-long imprisonment (due to the cost to the State of legal appeals), until recently its use has been steadily increasing, driven, in large part, by the Secular Right. Some conservatives are disconcerted by the revelation, as a result of DNA testing, that innocent prisoners have been executed. Others more critical of the criminal justice system, have not been surprised by these cases.

Finally, some rightists are uneasy with the growth of federal domination over state criminal justice systems. Despite the traditional conservative commitment to “states’ rights,” criminal prosecutions usually conducted at the state level have increasingly been taken over by the federal government, as the law-and-order crime model has grown in influence. For decades, crimes that involve crossing state lines have been classified as federal crimes and are prosecuted in federal courts. Organized crime cases and many drug and firearms crimes have swelled the number of federal cases. But journalist Ted Gest describes a “creeping federalization of criminal prosecutions” of crimes that occur at the local level. Liberals have supported some of this growth in the role of federal courts. Because they hope, for instance, that hate crimes, abortion clinic bombings, and stalkings will often be prosecuted more vigorously at the federal level than at the state level. But, as both political parties compete to appear tough on crime, much of the federalization of the criminal justice system is directed at drug offenders and non-violent criminals. It thereby diminishes the role of the states in fighting even local crime. So much for states’ rights, a key principle of the Right’s ideology.

Why would rightists persist in favoring these “big government” aspects of tough-on-crime policies? The prevention and rehabilitation model, which has largely been defunded, ultimately costs less in tax dollars because it addresses the causes of crime and the rehabilitation of prisoners. The answer lies in the ideological compatibility of apparently contradictory ideas when they are held within an overarching worldview that explains the contradictions. Two especially strongly held conservative beliefs are not subject to debate-criminals must be punished, and government should remain small. But “smallness” does not mean that the government should be weak. Thomas Hobbes’ admonition that States must establish a strong power that can exert control undergirds the idea that a massive program of incarceration is ideologically acceptable for conservatives who don’t believe in “big government.” In this case, many conservatives who believe that criminals are bad and must be punished in order to protect good, responsible (read White) people accept a strong role for government as appropriate and consistent with a conservative ideology. All sectors of the Right oppose the one policy solution that is most likely to solve the problem of crime in the long term-the creation of jobs, housing, economic opportunity, and universal health care that includes treatment for addictions.

Editor’s Note: This post is an excerpt of Political Research Associate’s 2005 Activist Resource Kit, “Defending Justice.” The full kit is available here.
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AUDIO: Officer Who Pushed CNN’s Don Lemon Claims There’s a Military Plot For One-World Government


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St. Louis County police officer Dan Page is best known for shoving CNN host Don Lemon while the journalist was covering the Michael Brown protests in Ferguson, Missouri. Page has since been suspended after video of his speech to a right-wing militia group, Oath Keepers of St. Louis and St. Charles, was brought to the attention of his superiors. In his speech Page claims to inside knowledge of a grand conspiracy against “Caucasian Christians.” However this is not the only time Page has expressed such views, as PRA has learned, he forcefully touted his claims on the TruNews radio show with Rick Wiles on July 10, 2014.

St. Louis County Officer Dan Page

St. Louis County Officer Dan Page

Wiles’ popular radio show is a combination of end-times prophecy and right-wing conspiracy theories. For example, this past week Wiles interviewed Walid Shoebat, who claimed, “Obama is destroying Christian America. That’s his assignment as a jihadist, it is to destroy Christian America.” Shoebat is a popular speaker on the end-times prophecy circuit, celebrated for his claimed inside knowledge of a Muslim jihadist infiltration of U.S. government. PRA has also reported extensively on Shoebat and his claims, including in our 2011 research report, “Manufacturing the Muslim Menace.”

According to a USA Today interview with St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar, Dan Page joined the police force in 1979, but spent about nine of the last twelve to fifteen years deployed with the Army. Throughout the TruNews interview, embedded below, Wiles addresses Dan Page as Sgt. Major and discusses only his military career. Neither Wiles nor Page mentions Page’s tenure with the St. Louis County Police.

The TruNews radio show starts with a dramatic opening introducing, “Trunews, the only newscast reporting the countdown to the second coming of Jesus Christ, and now for the most powerful hour on radio, here is the end time newsman, Rick Wiles.” Following the introduction, Wiles launches into an introduction of Page as being in charge of U.S. Army special forces in Africa and having inside knowledge of a plot to create a global regime.

Page follows with an equally grandiose and unbelievable account of his military career, recounting military exploits including Vietnam, paratrooper training, training in Germany for psychological and asymmetric warfare, and a recent assignment as the senior enlisted adviser to the commanding officer of Africom. Page mispronounces the names of places and countries with which he is supposedly familiar, while claiming that his military experience has provided him with inside knowledge of a grand worldwide plot to end American sovereignty and a one-world government and military takeover.

Here are a few clips of the interview (the full and unedited version is at the bottom of this article):

Page claims (at about 21 minutes in) that the definition of terrorism has been changed by Homeland Security. Page states:

“It is a Caucasian male 18-65, one who supports the second amendment, one who believes in the second coming of Jesus Christ, one that is against illegal immigration and is against homosexuality and has a definition of traditional marriage. That is their definition of a terrorist.”

Wiles responds, “It has appeared for several years that the Obamanistas are purging the military of the patriots. Is that the case?”

Page then responds, “Yes, that’s absolutely true.” He also gives an account of “four-star generals and above” who he claims were removed by the Obama administration because “of their refusal to support military involvement in domestic affairs.” When Wiles asks Page why none of these generals have spoken out, he implies it is because they don’t want to lose their pensions. Wiles then asks if something significant is in the works for the year 2015. Page claims that he sat in on briefings from very high sources and learned that there is a timeline for orchestrated events that will create havoc worldwide and allow for the supposed globalist takeover.

Wiles also brings up the current influx of refugee children from South America into the United States, and asks Page if it is one of those orchestrated events. Page says it is, and that the wider scenario includes nuclear suitcase bombs, a planned North American Union, and, of course, further “demonization of Caucasian Christians.” Page expresses his belief that the flood of immigrant children is a clandestine operation with the purpose of programming American citizens for the eventual rounding up and imprisonment of their own children. In terms of the timeline for this conspiratorial takeover, Page states that he believes the takeover will be completed by 2017.

The interview closes with the following exchange (at 56:13 in the audio) about the inevitability of the coming one-world government takeover and loss of American sovereignty:

Dan Page: You have to put that [fear] aside] and make some decisions. God put the man in charge of his household to do two things—provide and protect his family. The males in this country are not doing that, they’ve abrogated that to the police department and somebody else to take care of it. It really grieves me to say, no, it can’t be stopped.

If we could get the men mobilized, to get politically active and hold the local and state officials responsible, we could change this. But I would give you some suggestions on this. Focus your attention at the county and state level, such as the sheriff’s office and things like that. Do not give any support to any federal, career politician. Do not donate to the Republican faction or the Democratic faction of the socialist party that we have in charge. Do not contribute anything to them. Stay at the state and local level. Then I think we have a chance.

Rick Wiles: The bottom line is Jesus Christ is our only hope.

Dan Page: I agree with that.

Rick Wiles: Unless this nation turns to Jesus Christ, nothing we do is is going to work.

Dan Page: Absolutely.

The St. Louis/St. Charles, Missouri Chapter of Oath Keepers has tried to distance the organization from the video of Page’s speech to them now that it has received national attention. However, the video rant, as well as the above interview, is compatible with the ideology voiced by leadership in the organization as well as a spin off of the group called the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association or CSPOA. Both groups have a mission of organizing their members to refuse to enforce federal laws that they believe are unconstitutional.

The St. Louis County Police department is one of the few county-controlled police departments in the nation. Most county departments are headed by elected sheriffs, who are viewed by the Oath Keepers and CSPOA as the supreme law of the land, with a constitutional mandate to counter the federal government, particularly concerning gun laws. Oath Keeper Richard Mack, the head of CSPOA, has described his organization of county sheriffs as the “army to set our nation free,” and claims to have about 500 county sheriffs who have signed on in agreement with their mandate .

Click here for the profile on CSPOA

Click here for the profile on CSPOA

Mack himself is a former sheriff, as well as a former lobbyist for Gun Owners of America  (GOA). The CSPOA 2013 convention was held in St. Charles, the county seat of St. Charles County, Missouri. Over an hour of the highlights of that convention can be watched at their website.

These highlights and other media of the Oath Keepers and CSPOA focus on the role of county sheriffs to stand against “executive orders to derail the Second Amendment,” as described in a letter sent to sheriffs around the country by the the Liberty Group Coalition (comprised of the CSPOA, Oath Keepers, GOA, John Birch Society, and the Tenth Amendment Center).

I have written previously about the CSPOA as part of the national movement promoting nullification and secession in a profile of the organization and in a longer article titled Nullification, Neo-Confederates, and the Revenge of the Old Right. As I wrote in the profile, the May, 2013, CSPOA conference featured religion-infused rhetoric against “tyranny” of the federal government. Speakers included former Constitution Party leader Michael Peroutka, GOA’s Larry Pratt, Joe Wolverton of the John Birch Society, U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman (R-TX), and Mike Zullo.

Zullo is Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s chief “birther” investigator. Part of the conference was dedicated to his latest revelations in this ongoing pursuit. Conference speakers also included several county sheriffs and Tea Party leaders. The highlight video opens with one of the few people of color in the movement, Sheriff David Clark of Milwaukee County.

PRA Fellow Frederick Clarkson has also written extensively about one of the speakers at the St. Charles CSPOA event, neo-Confederate leader and 2004 Constitution Party candidate for president, Michael Peroutka, who switched parties (presumably to gain credibility) and is currently a Republican nominee for the County Council in Anne Arundel County, Maryland. Peroutka is joined on the ticket by longtime ally and graduate of Peroutka’s course on the Constitution, Joseph Delimater, who is running for county sheriff.

Peroutka’s race for county council has already drawn national attention. Paul Rosenberg, writing at Salon, casts the Peroutka race in terms of the Republican Party’s race problem, as racist outbursts undermine the party’s efforts to become more diverse.

My article on nullification and Clarkson’s articles on Peroutka go into greater detail on the religious background of the philosophy behind organizing local and county leaders to lead a revolution against the federal government.

Unedited full version of Dan Page’s interview:


Dan Page was also interviewed on May 12, 2014 on the John Moore Radio Show.  At about 24:50 in this interview, Dan Page states, “You’ve got Sen. Claire McCaskill right now beating the podium about assaults in the military and probably 99.9% of these things are bogus.  One only need to look at a woman in a way she feels uncomfortable and that’s considered sexual assault in the military.” 


On May 29th of this year, Officer Page appeared on the Caravan to Midnight radio program, and claimed that the public education system is full of Caucasian female school teachers who are teaching young Black males to hate White men. According to Page, those young Black men grow up to be willing to violently disarm White men.


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Ban All Racial Profiling Without Exception

On Monday this week, the New York Times announced that its investigation of NYPD “stop and frisk” practices from 2006 through 2010 found police stopped 52,000 people in a small eight-block predominantly black neighborhood called Brownsville. That’s one stop per year for every one of the neighborhood’s 14,000 residents. Police claim that almost half of those stops were prompted by “furtive action” of the resident. Action by Congress to ban profiling based on race, ethnicity, nationality, and religion is long overdue, but Congress has been diverted by politicized and uninformed calls to use race-based profiling as a counterterrorism tool.

Prior to 9/11, a consensus was emerging in the country that racial profiling was a common, destructive practice requiring federal action. Congress is today poised to reconsider the End Racial Profiling Act (ERPA), first introduced in 2001, which would prohibit all law enforcement officers from engaging in racial profiling. The proposed ERPA provides legal options to individuals injured by racial profiling and includes grants to state and local agencies to enable them to meet the bill’s requirements. Arizona’s passage of SB1070 highlights the need for comprehensive federal legislation banning racial profiling, especially since copycat legislation is cropping up in at least eighteen more states. Arizona’s new anti-immigration law will intensify and spread racial profiling because it essentially criminalizes “walking while brown” by requiring law enforcement to act on reasonable suspicion that an individual is in the country illegally and arrest them if they fail to produce papers. Despite candidate Obama’s promise to ban profiling, and support for ERPA byAttorney General Eric Holder, the bill has yet to be introduced in this Congressional term. The House Judiciary Committee held hearings on the bill on June 17, 2010, but there remains strong pressure to carve out an exemption to allow profiling for national security reasons. Political Research Associates calls on Congress to pass ERPA and opposes any effort to water down the legislation with a national security exemption.

A national security exemption would create an enormous loophole in a nationwide ban on racial profiling. Under this loophole, current pretexts for racial profiling such as gang or drug enforcement could be justified under a new national security rationale. In Arizona, border security could easily be twisted to justify detentions and searches based on nothing more than ethnicity and nationality. Since 2003, FBI guidelines that generally prohibit racial profiling by federal law enforcement do allow the practice for purposes of “national security” and “border security.” As a result, racial profiling has become more pronounced since September 11, 2001, particularly among Muslim, South Asian, Middle Eastern, and Arab communities. The U.S. government has also mobilized local cops to gather and report “suspicious activities” in a manner that frequently targets people solely on the basis of nationality and religion.

An exemption for national security is entirely inconsistent with equal protection guarantees in the Constitution. In declaring that racial profiling is wrong and immoral, except where national security is at stake, the government currently asserts that there is something unique about the “War on Terror” that makes ethnicity and race legitimate factors when the same tactics have been found to be ineffective and discriminatory in other criminal investigations. That approach ignores the fact that there has not been a single documented incident where racial profiling by law enforcement resulted in the capture or detention of any suspect related to terrorism. The FBI caught no terrorists when it sought out 8,000 Middle Easterners and Muslims to interview in the months following 9/11. Instead, the interviews may have had a chilling effect on relations between the Arab community and law enforcement. Stereotyping in any context is too blunt, almost always overbroad, and a poor substitute for investigations based on particularized suspicion. Congress should listen to the U.S. intelligence officials who have emphasized that focusing on racial characteristics of individuals wastes resources and diverts attention away from criminal behavior by people who do not fit the profile.

Instead of spending millions of dollars to fill our jails with hard-working people, states like Arizona should be creating living-wage jobs and supporting those who keep the economy afloat. More importantly, the federal government should act quickly to shut down any law that criminalizes groups of people based on their race or nationality. The Department of Justice lawsuit against SB1070 is a good start, but Washington should also set the example by banning all racial profiling in the FBI guidelines and pass the ERPA.

TIPS Reduce: LAPD to expand iWatch Program

The Los Angeles Police Department encourages the public to spy on neighbors and file suspicious activity reports about innocent (non-criminal) activities that seem out of place through its “iWatch” program. A new report by Political Research Associates explains how such programs practically invite racial, ethnic, and religious profiling that not only harms individuals who get singled out, but is ultimately counter-productive in terms of combatting terrorism. This program violates existing rules on domestic intelligence collection because tips need not relate to a crime, but can be something that “raises suspicion.”

In a recent article in Emergency Management, public information director for the LAPD Mary Grady discusses how the iWatch program will be expanded in April 2010 by translating literature and public service announcements into Spanish, Korean, Vietnamese, and Mandarin. According to Grady, the iWatch program has generated several dozen reports from the public so far. It is unclear whether individuals named in such reports are adequately protected from false reports.

Neighbors as Spies: Public Reporting Through iWATCH

iWATCH, a civilian program launched by the LAPD in October 2009, supplements LAPD Special Order No. 11, which orders police officers to report suspicious behaviors that might be indicative of terrorism, including “taking pictures with no aesthetic value.”

“Law enforcement cannot be everywhere and see everything,” notes the LAPD’s blog, “iWATCH adds another tool to assist an agency’s predictive and analytical capability by educating community members about specific behaviors and activities that they should report.”

iWATCH was developed under the direction of LAPD Commander McNamara, and can be used in any community anywhere in the United States. Miami and Boston have similar See Something, Say Something campaigns. iWATCH lists nine types of suspicious behavior the public should look for, assuring tipsters, “this service is truly anonymous.” William Bratton described iWATCH as “the 21st century version of Neighborhood Watch.” In an NPR interview, Bratton provided this rationale:

Any street cop will tell you that crime prevention occurs best at the local level and terrorist-related crime prevention is no different. The problem has always been that individuals have varying thresholds at which they feel compelled to notify authorities when the activity is not overtly terrorist related. The iWATCH program is a giant leap toward overcoming this problem and literally provides millions of new eyes and ears in the terrorism prevention effort.

iWATCH, then, encourages the public to file a report even if people are not convinced that witnessed behavior is criminal. “Let the experts decide,” cajoles a Public Service Announcement.

In this interview, Former Chief Bratton appeared dismissive of concerns that iWATCH would invite racial profiling, saying, “No, I think we’re a more mature society than that.” (query: was the LAPD Rampart Division simple being immature when it generated one of the largest scandals involving documented police misconduct, including convictions of police officers for unprovoked shootings and beatings, planting of evidence, framing suspects, perjury, and subsequent cover-ups in the late 1990s?)

iWATCH is disturbingly similar to the controversial TIPS (Terrorist Information and Prevention System), an initiative created by the Bush administration to recruit one million volunteers in 10 cities across the country. TIPS encouraged volunteers to report suspicious activity that might be terrorism-related. TIPS came under intense criticism by various news media outlets in July 2002 for providing the United States with a higher percentage of citizen spies. According to an editorial in the Washington Post:

Americans should not be subjecting themselves to law enforcement scrutiny merely by having cable lines installed, mail delivered or meters read. Police cannot routinely enter people’s houses without either permission or a warrant. They should not be using utility workers to conduct surveillance they could not lawfully conduct themselves.

TIPS was officially canceled in 2002 when Congress enacted the Homeland Security Act. However, iWATCH seems to be virtually identical to the failed TIPS program. Residents and store owners should report incidents that demonstrate reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, such as purchasing large amounts of explosive chemicals. But the language of iWatch — encouraging untrained people to report vague occurrences that “just don’t seem right” — deserves to meet the same fate as TIPS.

Recipe for Profiling: Boston Transit Police Study the “Legal Wing of Jihad in America”

Why are Boston Transit Police Studying Islam?

While reading the February/March 2010 issue of the industry magazine Counter Terrorist (a publication of Security Solutions International), I came across a troubling advertisement.

On May 10-12, 2010, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority is sponsoring a three-day seminar in Florida that takes participants through the “formative phases of the Islamic religion” and the branches and ideologies of Islam to help them “really understand how extremism is organized in Radical Islam.”

The MBTA is promoting a discriminatory seminar, led by SSISecurity Solutions International, which raises concerns about whether such training is counter-productive, promotes racial and religious profiling, and makes local residents less safe. Why is the cash-strapped MBTA using limited funds to study the political or religious motives of potential terrorists? Is this the best way to keep T riders safe? How will this training affect religious and ethnic/racial bias among intelligence officials and the police?

The course content, according to the advertisement, includes “Arab naming conventions,” “Women in Islam and Female Suicide Bombers,” and “The Legal wing of Jihad in America.” Of what concern is the LEGAL wing of [alleged] jihad in America to theBoston’s transit police since it is, by that definition, legal?

This course promotes thinly-disguised Islamophobia that harkensback to McCarthyistic witch hunts for communist front organizations. It has nothing to do with effective law enforcement. Indoctrinating metro Boston law enforcement with these inflammatory views is a recipe for racial, ethnic, religious, and political profiling. Unquestionably, courses of this nature will lead law enforcement attendees to subject individuals to increased scrutiny (and possibly illegal searches) based on their appearance and beliefs, rather than conduct. Law enforcement resources are better spent protecting infrastructure and observing criminal conduct, not studying (or tracking) peoples’ religious belief systems and political motivations.

Security Solutions International is a Miami-based company founded in 2004 [1] that bills itself as a frontline defense against the threat of “radical Islam” and prime provider of “homeland security training” to a range of clients, including local police forces, corporations, and federal agencies. [2] Employing alarmist rhetoric about Islamic groups’ purported existential threat to the United States in the “war on terror,” SSI’s website encourages “first Responders and interested members of the concerned public to help Security Solutions International fight the war on terror. Radical Islam has an agenda and wants to destroy our country. As part of our mission, we are dedicated to keeping you informed about the enemy and developments in this global conflict.”[3]

According to the bio of SSI’s CEO, Solomon Bradman, he formerly managed “Diplomat Trading, a multi-million dollar exporter of Electronic Equipment specializing in Central America, South America and the Caribbean. He has a Bachelor’s degree from Thomas Edison State College in Aviation. His management and administrative training and experience began while running the fixed base operation at Marathon Airport back in 1984 where he eventually ended up manager, chief pilot, and head flight instructor until moving to Denver to pursue a pilot position with Rocky Mountain Airways. … Over the last three years his responsibilities as CEO of SSI have required his experience and full attention to Administration, Marketing, Sales, Product Development and Public Relations, including being a spokesperson for SSI and appearing on news casts on NBC, CBS, and ABC commenting on SSI programs and security issues. He also provides articles on Aviation-related security issues to top publications such as Business Aviation, Helicopter Monthly and others.” [4]

SSI lists two products that are presumably provided to people who sign up to be SSI “Patriot Partners”: the Counter Terroristnewsletter, an SSI publication that claims to keep readers “up-to-date with developments, technologies, successes and … failures in the global struggle against Islamofascism”; and “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War against the West,” a controversial film described as “hate propaganda” by some critics and distributed by the Clarion Fund, a nonprofit organization closely linked to both the U.S. and Israeli right-wing. [5]

Among the activities SSI advertises on its website are a training course for law enforcement agencies that is entitled “The IslamicJihadist Threat” and a Department of Homeland Security-funded training program in Israel for U.S. clients. According to SSI’s website, this course is a two-day program “designed to give First Responders a deep understanding of the terror mindset and an explanation of the reasons for the Global Jihad as well as practical tips for Law Enforcement in detecting, preventing and responding to acts of terror.” Course topics include “Where does the hatred come from?- Arab naming conventions – Jihad – The Five Pillars of Islam – Ramadan – Domestic Terror groups – International Terror groups – Understanding the culture of Jihad.”[6]

The course has been harshly criticized. In 2008, for example, theWashington state chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) argued that SSI’s training at the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission promoted stereotypes that could lead to prejudicial profiling of Muslims. A CAIRrepresentative told the Seattle Times, “Most police officers don’t have a basic grounding in Islam, so before you teach them about Islam, how can you teach them about radical Islam? It just makes you nervous because when a law-enforcement person pulls someone over, when they see a Muslim person or someone who appears Muslim to them—all this information they just learned kicks in.”[7]

In August 2009, Political Research Associates attended a two-hour presentation by Long Beach, California, Police Detective EbrahimAshabi, SSI’s purported expert on Islamic culture. Det. Ashabi says he is trying to help law enforcement “gain a better understanding of how terrorists think and why they are terrorists.” He offered an explanation of the political and social origins of Islam, the Spread of Islam, Prophet Muhammad, Ottoman Empire, The Crusades, the Muslim brotherhood, Hezbollah, and the long-term goals of terrorism. Such lessons are counter-productive; by suggesting that violent terrorism finds its roots in the Islamic religion, SSI is legitimizing claims by terrorist organizations that their acts are justified by faith, when in fact they are distorting Islam for their own political aims.

Det. Ashabi provided a window into the mindset of some counter terrorism specialists who believe that there are no good Muslims, only bad ones. Ashabi contends that the Muslim Brotherhood aims “to destroy Western civilization from within, through subversive means, legal, political and non-terrorist means, and by changing laws and U.S. constitution. He cited several examples of Islamic “infiltration,” such as the July 29, 2009 arrest of 7 men in North Carolina charged with terrorist conspiracy to wage an Islamic holy war overseas; the Holy Land Foundation case (wherein individuals were accused of giving aid to a group with ties to Hamas that was not on the U.S. government’s list of forbidden charities); and the shooting of police deputy in Fresno by a Kashmir group.

However, with those criminal cases, Ashabi lumps in “on-going threats of lawsuits against police and other law enforcement agencies that offer counter terrorism and race awareness training programs (alleging racial, religious profiling) as means of intimidating police departments to stop training programs.” He cited the July 2009 case (above) of the Seattle Police Department taking criticism from CAIR over its race awareness program. PRA’s investigator, Mary Fischer, observed, “It’s Ashabi’s belief that CAIR is a serious threat to U.S. safety and that the organization continues to permeate all facets of our society in effort to undermine it. One strategy it seeks to use–nominate Muslim sympathizers to political office and law enforcement ranks to then gain access to computer databases.”

So, the MBTA is sponsoring a seminar which views as suspect Muslim-Americans’ participation in the democratic political process. We need to tell MBTA officials that the public does not approve of this religious prejudice. This is not the first time that MBTA has partnered with SSI. In August 2009, PRA requested records related to a similar course held in Massachusetts last year, but the MBTA failed to supply the requested materials. No law enforcement agency should not be lending its name or funds to SSI, whose aim is to stir up suspicion of all Arab, Muslim, Middle Eastern, and South Asian persons, or to get rich trying.

* UPDATE: In response to community concerns, the MBTA canceled its sponsorship of the seminar run by Security Solutions International on March 31, 2010.


1. Market Wire, “Miami Becomes the Homeland Security Capital of the USA during the UASI National Conference April 10th-April 13th,” April 5, 2007.
2. See Security Solutions International website.
3. SSI, “Patriot Partners,” (accessed September 28, 2009)
4. SSI, “Corporate Officers,” (accessed September 28, 2009)
5. SSI, “Patriot Partners,” (accessed September 28, 2009)
6. SSI, “The Islamic Jihadist Threat,” (accessed October 1, 2009)
7. Janet I. Tu, “Does Course on Islam Give law Enforcers Wrong Idea?” Seattle Times, May 26, 2008.

Information for this posting also comes from Right Web, a project of Political Research Associates,


Connecticut State Police Keep Tabs on Greens

Connecticut state troopers’ surveillance of Green Party activists serves as the latest warning of whether we should allow government to conduct political intelligence and engage in “preventive” policing. A May 31, 2009 article in the Hartford Courant describes how political intelligence likely led to the pre-emptive arrest of the Greens’ campaign director at a public event for merely photographing the incumbent Governor.

When Green Party gubernatorial campaign director Ken Krayeske was arrested by Hartford Police at a parade on January 3, 2007, he did not know that the state police Central Criminal Intelligence Unit had identified him as a “potential threat” to incumbent Governor M. Jodi Rell. Krayeske was arrested and held for twelve hours – long enough to miss the parade, and miss the opportunity to make political speech. Krayeske sued the city for his wrongful arrest, requesting that municipal police be ordered not to compile or maintain lists of political activists. According to recent disclosures, it was the state police who kept an eye on Krayeske and other Greens due to past “disruptive behavior” and Krayeske’s 2004 conviction for civil disobedience at the Groton submarine base.

State police apparently conducted a surveillance operation to watch Green Party supporters outsite a gubernatorial debate at Channel 30 on October 18, 2006. The criminal intelligence unit’s surveillance “was a police operation above and beyond the normal protection provided to Rell by her regular state police security detail,” according to the Courant.

What did Krayeske and the Greens do to warrant such attention? Police say that Rell displayed “disruptive behavior” toward Rell at an Apple Festival on October 14, 2006 where he shouted at her for refusing to debate Green candidate Thornton. Police also fault Krayeske’s internet blog wherein he wrote about a possible protest at the January 3rd inaugural ball, noting that he felt “no need to make nice.” Wow, if only the Obama detractors were so kind in their writings. Since when did “no need to make nice” amount to threatening language?

Such behavior “merited monitoring him as one who might break the law.” What happens when police label and target individuals as “one who might break the law”? Apparently, other officers take notice. So when Krayeske stood on a median to snap photos of Rell at a parade, a state police officer noticed him, recognized him, and said a pleasant “Good Morning.” The state police officer saw no reason to arrest Mr. Krayeske and continued along the street. But Hartford Police ushered Mr. Krayeske away and arrested him. Prosecutors dismissed the charges.

Sounds like law enforcement in the Constitution State need a lesson in free speech.

Boston Police Snoop at Celebs – Who’s Next?

So Boston police troll the Criminal Record Information system to find personal information about local movie stars and sports heroes. We know that from a state audit released on May 6, 2009. Today, ACLU Massachusetts director Carol Rose and Michael German correctly point out that misuse of law enforcement databases doesn’t stop with the stars. “Unmonitored access to poorly regulated databases gives power to local law enforcement to pry into and share information about innocent people and potential criminals alike,” said Rose.

In an environment of lax oversight, police and staffers at the Commonwealth Fusion Center and Boston Regional Intelligence Center (BRIC) have little incentive to protect our privacy. Information sharing systems developed since 9/11 increase the potential for government snooping into peoples’ personal affairs. In 2008, Massachusetts launched the State Wide Information Sharing System (SWISS) to reach out, seamlessly collect, and store incident information from its 351 cities and towns in a centralized data warehouse. Such “incident information” is not restricted to criminal data. When fused with personal data from private databases used by the fusion center, such as Choicepoint, the potential for government abuse becomes widespread.

Local civil liberties advocates, together with a state lawmaker from Worcester, are proposing oversight legislation which would ensure greater checks on law enforcement power.


First Amendment Blues: Police Tactics Suppress Free Speech

Co-authored by Abby Scher


Abby Scher is a sociologist and former editorial director of PRA. She also served as PRA’s interim research director.

Public Eye winter 2007 V4

Police block the streets of New York during the 2004 Republican National Convention. Their aggressive tactics silenced protesters. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Three of the cops had jumped out of the white nondescript van and attacked me. They were all wearing ski masks and dressed as anarchist black bloc protesters. I threw up my hands and offered no resistance. They punched me and I fell to the ground and attempted to protect myself. They kept punching me, kicking me, and then they dragged me into the back of the van. They took me to a small windowless room in the police station where they proceeded to interrogate me about my political affiliations, schooling, and friends. They never took off their ski masks.

–Miles Swanson, Legal Observer at the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas meeting in Miami, November 2003

Miles Swanson was a legal observer monitoring whether police stuck to the law in their treatment of protestors at the November 2003 Free Trade Agreement of the Americas meeting in Miami. That was the meeting where busloads of steelworkers were stopped before they could join the demonstrations, while others protesting peacefully on the streets were shot with rubber bullets.

Swanson is active in the National Lawyers Guild, a progressive bar association whose members often serve as legal observers at protests. Even before the demonstration, police featured him in a PowerPoint identifying key people coming to Miami for the protests. Then he became victim of a “snatch squad,” a new police tactic where officers drag protestors off, having singled them out based on their perceived political ideology. Does a protestor dress in black like an anarchist? Is she a ringleader? Better watch out.

Police tamper with evidence in order to justify roundups of peaceful protestors.

It is unconstitutional to target someone for arrest based on their political views, but snatch squads are only one of many new government tactics that are chilling Americans’ free speech rights. These tactics are not authorized by laws passed by Congress or a state legislatures, but are devised and adopted informally through expanding networks of police agencies. Because the tactics emerge in relatively informal ways, the overall impact on activities protected by the Constitution’s First Amendment – particularly free speech and the right of assembly – evades public scrutiny. Yet as police violence and harassment grow, these actions become normalized, sending a message that the very act of protest is unlawful. The police’s aggression heated up as war brewed and burst open, driving a politics of fear, suggesting that activists are violent, activists are terrorists, and strong measures are needed to curb the threat from within. It mutes opposition by raising the stakes of speaking out.

We now know more about these tactics and their spread thanks to lawsuits around the country challenging federal, state and local police targeting of activists. Because some of their worst – and most revealing – offenses took place around the party conventions of 2004 and 2000, progressive lawyers are drawing lessons from the past to prepare for defending constitutional free speech rights in another election year. Even now the U.S. Secret Service and other agencies are preparing for the Democratic Convention, August 25-28 in Denver and the Republican Convention, September 1-4 in St. Paul. Whether or not the lawsuits – or the softening of the hysteria that accompanied Bush’s drive to war – will dampen the police response, those of us defending free speech understand their playbook and will come prepared.

Pre-emptive Policing

These new tactics serve to chill speech even before concerned citizens have spoken. Mass arrests round people up even as they are assembling. Police deny permits for demonstrations based on who is doing the demonstrating and what they want to say. Squads force demonstrators into constricted “free speech” zones, using pop-up police lines to trap protesters before conducting mass illicit arrests and detentions for those caught on the wrong side of the line. They routinely use supposedly nonlethal weapons like rubber or wooden bullets, pepper spray, and Tasers on people gathering peacefully. Less visibly but no less chilling, police used fire code violations as a way to close down activists’ organizing centers, as in Philadelphia before the 2000 Republican convention.1

At the federal level, civil libertarians pay a lot of attention to the way the Bush Administration has enlarged the scope of spying on citizens behind closed doors, with or without the approval of Congress. With the aid of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, organized regionally through Joint Terrorism Task Forces, the same is happening at the local and state levels. New York City, with its own homeland security director, is a lead innovator. To avoid public scrutiny, the city’s police department finds unconventional channels to enact rules that subtly constrict free speech. In 2006, the NYPD proposed requiring permits for a host of mundane activities such as riding bicycles and gathering with friends on sidewalks – prompted by an increased suspicion of bicycle activists who ride monthly in “Critical Mass” events to promote biking and safer city streets. After a judge ruled the proposed parade permit law was beyond the bounds of the constitution and a burden on free expression, the NYPD proposed even more impractical regulations which were eventually enacted. By making protest a threatening or difficult experience – as with free speech zones and pop-up police lines – police are discouraging people from turning out to peaceably assemble and present their views.

The New York Times and others raised an outcry when the city denied demonstrators a permit to gather on the Great Lawn of Central Park during the 2004 Republican Convention. A lawsuit failed to win the permit in time for the convention – clearly legal delays are yet another mode of repressing free speech. More commonly, government agencies raise permit fees or require that the groups sponsoring the gathering take out astronomical levels of insurance. The Pentagon demanded thousands of dollars in fees from those organizing a March 2007 antiwar protest, only to back down in the face of a threatened lawsuit.

There is another, insidious, form of pre-emptive policing: intimidating or preventing concerned citizens from joining a demonstration. Sounding a media drumbeat about all the trouble activists are planning is one way the authorities try to discourage people from coming out. Visiting and intimidating people is another. The FBI used both tactics before the 2004 Republican convention when agents dropped in on activists around the country who the FBI claimed would have information on potential violence. As the New York Times reported at the time:

FBI officials are urging agents to canvass their communities for information about planned disruptions of the convention and other coming political events, and they say they have developed a list of people who they think may have information about possible violence. They say the inquiries, which began last month before the Democratic convention in Boston, are focused solely on possible crimes, not on dissent.2

The article went on to quote Sarah Bardwell of Denver, a 21-year-old intern of American Friends Service Committee who was visited: “The message I took from it was that they were trying to intimidate us into not going to any protests, to let us know that,’hey, we’re watching you.'” The FBI interviewed dozens, and three St. Louis, Missouri men represented by the local American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said they were trailed by agents. An FBI spokeman explained, “We vetted down a list and went out and knocked on doors and had a laundry list of questions to ask about possible criminal behavior. No one was dragged from their homes and put under bright lights.” An April 2006 report by the FBI’s Office of the Inspector General dismissed the idea that the agency had done anything improper or encroached on people’s First Amendment rights.

Sometimes the pre-emptive policing tactics are a bit more immediate, as with the steelworkers trying to get to Miami. During the February 2003 anti-war demonstration on the east side of Manhattan, police detained people in unheated vehicles who were heading for the event, preventing them from attending, as a lawsuit by the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) demonstrated. Police set up a patchwork of crowded pens, then slowed people’s ability to enter them by searching bags, creating logjams in a demonstration that attracted at least 750,000; some frustrated people turned back and never made it to the rally.

One of the most frightening examples of pre-emptive policing involves the gathering of evidence from people merely because of their political opinions. Local police have stopped by activists’ homes requesting DNA for their files, and the NYPD detained hundreds of peaceful protestors for mass fingerprinting during the 2004 RNC. The NYPD only destroyed the fingerprints – which can legally be taken only from people charged with a violation and whose identity is in question – after the NYCLU sued.3

In Washington, D.C., a secret FBI intelligence unit and local police detained a group of protesters in town in April 2002 to demonstrate against the invasion of Iraq. Officers took them to a downtown parking garage where they were questioned on videotape about their political and religious beliefs as well as about protests they had attended and whom they spend time with.4 Police records reveal that the protesters were targeted because they were all wearing black clothing and were thus believed by police to be anarchists. In response to efforts by the activists’ lawyers at the DC-based Partnership for Civil Justice, the police expunged their arrest records. Still unresolved is their lawsuit charging that local and federal law enforcement violated the U.S. Constitution by singling out people for arrest based on their perceived political ideology, targeting people the government perceived by their clothing to be anarchists.

Although officers cannot legally collect purely political information unless they suspect criminal activity, this case shows agents doing exactly that.

The targeting of anti-war demonstrators goes well beyond this incident, as activists themselves have long known. Within the past two years, Freedom of Information Act suits and whistleblowers have documented spying on the pacifist Thomas Merton Center in Pittsburgh, on Oakland’s Direct Action to stop the war, on anti-war groups on the Santa Cruz and Berkeley campuses and scores more, plus the existence of a secret Pentagon database tracking 186 antiwar protests and hundreds of groups in 20 states.5


The USA PATRIOT Act continues to pose a threat to free speech. Section 215 allows government agents to secure records and determine which library books someone has checked out, and which books someone has purchased from a bookstore. Even someone’s browsing on a library computer is open to scrutiny.

Prosecutors failed to convict a computer science graduate student under Section 805 for providing “material support” to terrorists in his role as webmaster. In 2004, a jury declined to convict him. Yet the material support statute remains as a threat to free association and free speech.

The PATRIOT Act loosened restrictions on the use of National Security Letters to gather information in intelligence investigations. The FBI bypasses the courts and uses the letters to get customer records from telephone companies, internet providers, banks and other institutions. The Department of Justice’s Office of Inspector General found widespread abuse in the FBI’s use of the letters. Plus the FBI retains all the information it collects, whether the person is tied to terrorism or not.

Police Tamper with Evidence

One of the most disturbing under-the-radar techniques used to impede free speech is police tampering with evidence in order to justify roundups of peaceful protestors. Once again, the NYPD is the leader in this area. During the 2004 Republican National Convention, police doctored video evidence to justify the unlawful arrests of peaceful bystanders and protesters, giving those altered tapes to defense attorneys and the courts, and engaging in perjury and evidence tampering. Alexander Dunlop was one person exonerated after it came out that the police had given his lawyer a video of his arrest during the RNC which had been edited to justify their claim that he had resisted.6 An unedited version clearly showed Dunlop asking a police officer for directions and that he was not involved with a nearby demonstration.

Targeting Animal Rights Activists

At the highest level, the Justice Department chills free speech by applying the emotion-laden designation of “terrorist” to activists. This opens the door to local police intimidation, the levying of higher charges and penalties, and can influence the outcome of trials. By marking environmental and animal rights activists as “domestic terrorist” threats, the Justice Department emboldens local “intelligence” units, like the one in DeKalb County, Georgia, which was caught taking pictures of vegan demonstrators leafleting a Honey-Baked ham store in 2002.16 The agents arrested two of the vegans, and demanded they turn over their notes on which they’d written the license plate of an undercover officer’s car. The intelligence unit was funded by the feds to the tune of $12 million.

Alabama’s Department of Homeland Security only removed a web site listing environmental and animal rights groups as potential terrorists in May 2007 after bloggers discovered it (The site also listed regional gay rights and anti-abortion groups).

Congress did its part in criminalizing political speech with the sweeping language of the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA), passed in November 2006. This law makes it a crime to cause any business classified as an “animal enterprise” (e.g., factory farms, fur farms, vivisection labs, rodeos and circuses) to suffer a loss in profits – even if the company’s financial decline is caused by peaceful protests.

The damage is already visible in an animal rights case against seven New Jersey members of the group Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty. Jurors found them guilty of criminal conspiracy under a 1992 law for listing the animal testing labs of Huntingdon Life Science on their website as a possible target for protestors. This spring, the defendants received sentences ranging from three to six years, but their convictions reverberate far beyond their families and friends into the courts and other political groups by criminalizing their use of the Internet.

The prosecution presented no proof that anyone had actually attacked or even protested outside the labs as a result of reading the website. The government premised its prosecution on two narrow exceptions to the First Amendment: (1) the defendants used Internet websites to incite others to participate in a campaign to close Huntingdon Life Sciences, and, (2) the words on the websites and the language of the campaign constituted a true threat.

The website did not post targeted threats against specific individuals, as did the website in the so-called Nuremberg Files Case decided in 1992, Planned Parenthood v. American Coalition of Life Activists, which posted personal information about abortion providers, and the names of doctors who were murdered had lines through them, crossing them off.

The extent to which such evidence tampering is occurring in police departments around the country is difficult to know. Had it not been for the volunteer-based group, I-Witness Video, the doctoring would likely not have been discovered. Over 200 I-Witness volunteers documented arrests and police activity at the protests, making sure that their video evidence would be usable, if needed, in later court proceedings. Working in alliance with legal observers from the National Lawyers Guild who monitored most of the RNC demonstrations, their videos helped vindicate several people who were falsely arrested on disorderly conduct charges, and were used in the defense of approximately 400 of the 1,806 people arrested during the Convention. Eileen Clancy was the I-Witness Video volunteer who discovered the tampering on Dunlop’s tape:

It really hadn’t occurred to us that they [the police] were making these kinds of edits. It was really shocking. I mean, when we had to put these two tapes on monitors next to each other and run them at the same time, and we sat there and you saw the – when we saw the cut, I think – I mean, I was astonished that this happened. This is – I mean, it’s just absolutely outrageous. They took out the parts that basically prove he’s innocent. So, I mean, it was – it’s quite extraordinary this happened.7

In addition to physical evidence proving video tampering, other examples of police perjury are now out in the open, thanks to litigation. At a February 2006 Critical Mass ride, NYPD assistant chief Bruce Smolka pulled graduate student and Guild Legal Observer Adrienne Wheeler off her bicycle, pinning her to the ground and causing several injuries. He did not identify himself as a police officer, nor did he ask her to stop her bicycle before hauling her to the ground. Police issued a traffic ticket to Wheeler, based on police testimony that she was riding the wrong way on a one-way street.

As was proven later in court, the officer who gave a sworn statement saying she personally say her riding the wrong way, had lied. In September 2006, a traffic court judge dismissed charges against Wheeler after NYPD Officer Alfred Ortiz admitted he gave false statements under oath. The National Lawyers Guild New York City Chapter provided videotapes of the incident to the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) in March showing clearly that Smolka did not identify himself as an officer nor issue any warning beforehand.

Infiltration and Provacateurs

Beyond police perjury, police infiltration and provocation continues to be a difficult-to-monitor constraint on free speech. Infiltration and provocation change the tone of protest by initiating violence falsely attributed to protesters. Using provocateurs, police can actually change the speech that political groups are trying to communicate.

Jim Dwyer of the New York Times drew on Clancy’s forensic video analysis to reveal police sparking confrontations by arresting police officers who were disguised as activists, both at the RNC and at Critical Mass bicycle events.8 Bystanders objected to the false arrests, and the police thus succeeded in creating a conflict and an unruly situation. As history has shown, during the McCarthy period and other moments in U.S. history, knowing that political activities could be under scrutiny can intimidate people and stop them from stepping forward with their political opinions. Yet infiltration has become widespread, at least in New York City and California, where the ACLU of Northern California catalogued numerous examples in a July 2006 report.9 In California, Camille Russell, a Fresno schoolteacher, discovered Peace Fresno was infiltrated while reading an obituary of a sheriff’s deputy killed in a motorcycle accident who was a member of the group under another name.10 Campus anti-war activists at Fresno State, a United Food and Commercial Workers at a labor rally protesting Safeway supermarkets in Contra Costa, and other activists have also stumbled over plainclothes or undercover officers at events.

In March 2007, Jim Dwyer of the New York Times broke the story of the secret surveillance going on, as New York City police detectives traveled the world to spy on and infiltrate groups that might attend RNC protests.11 Recently released records show they were even interested in the FTAA protest where Miles Swanson was arrested.

Since 2003, New York police officers posed as activists and attended meetings of political, artistic, and church groups, made friends and exchanged email messages, and, during the RNC confrontations, reported daily with the NYPD Intelligence Division. They also spied on a city councilman, Sean Combs, Jay-Z, Alicia Keys, and other stars connected with the Hip Hop Voters Summit. The pages of intelligence reports – with many sections blacked out and unreadable – were only released this spring, leaving you wondering how they saw a threat in the comedy troupe Billionaires for Bush, or Brooklyn Parents for Peace.

To avoid public scrutiny, New York’s police department finds unconventional channels to enact rules that subtly constrict free speech.

The new chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Bennie Thompson, met with the NYPD in May 2007 to express his concern that police spying had violated civil liberties and gone into states and countries outside of its jurisdiction.12 The New York Police Commissioner continues to say the RNC was his department’s finest hour, and continues to ignore a federal court order to release its intelligence records from that period in response to an NYCLU lawsuit.13

Weakening Old Limits on Surveillance

I went to the 2000 DNC prepared for trouble. I saw then-LAPD Chief Bernard Parks brandishing his new toys – an arsenal of “less-lethal” weapons – cavalierly pledging there would be no replay of the Seattle WTO in his city. That’s why, along with pens, paper, and other tools of legal observing, I had a hockey helmet in my backpack. Not that it did much good. It didn’t protect me from the pepper spray in my face or the club across my back. And it certainly didn’t help when I got shot. The rubber bullet hit me on the thigh as I tried to run away, knocking me off my feet and leaving me helpless.

As I watched the LAPD beat peaceful demonstrators at the Immigrant Rights march on May Day [seven years later] I wasn’t surprised. Disregard for the demonstrators’ rights seems to be ingrained in the LAPD, no matter how much settlements, consent decrees or court judgments cost them. They’ll do it again.

–Dave Saldana, Asst. Prof. of Journalism at Iowa State University, attorney, and NLG member.

The NYPD widened its spying on political groups and people in 2003 despite a court ruling restricting its power to do so. It burst the bounds of limits placed on it by the courts following the exposure in the 1970s of decades of spying abuses, not just by cities but by the FBI’s COINTELPRO (counterintelligence program). Police departments across the country faced consent decrees – agreements to modify unconstitutional surveillance and other policies – that were diluted or dropped before but especially after 9/11 under Democratic and Republican administrations. Police returned to the bad old days, once again instilling a fear in people’s minds that their antiwar or other political activities are being watched.

Soon after September 11th, the NYPD asked U.S. District Court Judge Charles Haight to lift the guidelines for investigating religious, political or other “associational” activity set out in 1986 in the wake of the lawsuitHandschu v. Special Services Division.14 The settlement prohibited, among other things, creating files on groups or individuals based solely on their political, religious, sexual, or economic preference. It required police to submit a request for spying to a three-person panel and to show that the group or person had “criminal intent.” Haight agreed that the new threat of terrorism justified changing the consent decree – dropping the need to go to the panel or demonstrate criminal content – and he instructed the police instead to adopt guidelines modeled on new ones created by Bush’s Justice Department to govern the FBI’s political investigations. What that means legally has been in dispute in the courts since early 2004. Nonetheless, the police took the modified decree as an open door for widespread infiltration and surveillance of political groups.

Another longstanding consent decree – Chicago’s Alliance to End Repression Consent Decree, or the Red Squad federal consent decree – was modified in January 2001 after Chief Judge Richard A. Posner for the Seventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals wrote that it essentially left the police helpless to protect the public. Signed in 1981, the original agreement prohibited police from spying on or disrupting a political group unless it is engaging in criminal activity. Now police can spy on demonstrators as long as the intelligence gathering is documented and audited to monitor compliance with the court order. The police admit that they videotape demonstrations with the express purpose of identifying individual protesters for later action.

Denver, the location of the upcoming Democratic convention, has its own sordid history to tell. Its police were spying on the local Amnesty International chapter, American Friends Service Committee, and Chicano activists for years until it came out late in 2002 when someone leaked a printout of some of the records. Following an ACLU lawsuit, the Denver police agreed to purge their files and stop spying. Yet officials worked hard to save funding for Colorado’s “fusion center,” where Denver police, along with federal and state agents, sift through local and national intelligence and other information to find signs of terrorist threats. Even as local police go tocourt to remove themselves from judicial constraints over their spying, the feds poured millions of dollars to set up such intelligence centers outside of these courts’ jurisdiction from coast to coast.

Subpoenas as Intimidation

In the past eight years, we have seen authorities intimidating activists by issuing them subpoenas to appear before a grand jury. Environmental and animal rights activists but also anti-war activists have found themselves hauled before these chambers. The FBI has actually admitted that it uses both email monitoring and subpoenas to gather information on activists.


Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Here is only one example that hit close to home to one of the authors, who is executive director of the National Lawyers Guild. In October 2003, the NLG received word from a member in Des Moines, Iowa that local authorities had told her that her e-mail was likely being monitored. On February 3, 2004 that same member, Sally Frank, a law professor and an advisor to the Guild chapter at Drake University, called to say that the authorities had issued subpoenas for four antiwar protesters in Des Moines to appear before a grand jury. Federal prosecutors also subpoenaed Drake University for records of its National Lawyers Guild chapter, including names of officers, information relating to an antiwar training in November 2003 entitled “Stop the Occupation! Bring the Iowa Guard Home,” and reports dating back two years. The government also issued a gag order on employees of the University. These actions puzzled the locals, mobilized the Guild, and quickly attracted national attention, because they seemed to target individuals based on their political activity. After the U.S. Attorney’s Office took the unusual step of issuing a statement confirming its investigation, the Guild won its motion to quash the subpoena on First Amendment grounds.

Preparing for 2008

Long drawn out lawsuits to defend civil liberties may be victorious, eventually, but rarely soon enough to allow the people to have their say, when they want to say it. So lawyers are working with activists to prepare ahead of time for possible police responses to the next party conventions.

In St. Paul and Denver, Guild and ACLU lawyers are already negotiating with public officials to prevent demonstrators from being channeled into cramped, fenced off “free speech zones” distant from events. As one lawyer reported, “In a free society, a security zone that corrals all dissenting voices and treats us all like criminals cannot substitute for true law enforcement…responding to specific articulable facts that amount to reasonable suspicion that a crime is being committed.” From previous experience, the lawyers have learned to go to court as soon as a so-called free speech zone is proposed.

“In the past, federal judges have expressed concern over the legality of restrictive protest zones but claimed it was too late for them to do anything about it. We have to seek relief sooner,” says NLG member Thomas Cincotta of the law firm Kurtz & Peckham. “But how do you ask a court to enjoin a protest zone that hasn’t even been put in place? We must make the case that these restrictive plans are in place now, despite the government’s refusal to disclose them to us.”

In both cities, the permitting process is being manipulated by authorities. The Twin Cities NLG is prepared for any quick rules change; for instance St. Paul may refuse to even consider demonstration permits until six months before the event, and civil liberties lawyers are prepared to sue. Denver embarked on a review of its permitting policy, and then suspended an application deadline for a permit, saying it had not yet finished its review.

Denver is following New York in its refusal to issue summons to protestors who break the law committing civil disobedience, rather than arrest them. The City Attorney recently enacted a policy of no “cite and release” for protestors, which allows them to be detained and indeed punishes them for exercising their free speech rights. The city already used it at an October Columbus Day protest, where police arrested 83 people and held them overnight although they posted cash bond. And to transmit the idea that these demonstrators were dangerous, police, like those in Miami, New York, and indeed at a November anti-war protest in Seattle, appeared armed in full riot gear. In Seattle, the police brought tanks.

Stonewalling by officialdom has already begun, despite regular meetings. In Denver, says Cincotta, “My frustration… stems from the lack of true dialog concerning security preparations for the DNC. Information-sharing has been a one-way street.” As we’ve seen in New York at the RNC, an incommunicative police force violates laws in their mistreatment of demonstrators, secure that any redress will come long after the event. For citizen’s free expression, the damage will be done.

None of these threats to free speech and the First Amendment could take root without the President of the United States setting the standard. The decision by George W. Bush to authorize warrantless spying on Americans stands as the supreme example of government disregard for the First and Fourth Amendments.



1 Abby Scher, “The Crackdown on Dissent,” The Nation (Feb. 5, 2001).

2 Eric Lichtblau, “FBI Goes Knocking for Political Troublemakers,” New York Times, August 16, 2004.

3 Associated Press, NYPD to Destory GOP Protest Fingerprints,” October 21, 2004.

4 Carol D. Leonnig, “PCJ Reveals FBI Intel Gatherine in Protestor Arrests,” Washington Post, April 3, 2007.

5 Copies of documents obtained under FOIA can be found in “No Real Threat: The Pentagon’s Secret Database on Peaceful Protest,” ACLU (January 2007); Mark Schlesinger, “The State of Surveillance: Government Monitoring of Political Activity in Northern and Central California,” ACLU of Northern California (July 2006). MSNBC broke the database story in 2005: Lisa Myers,, “Is the Pentagon Spying on Americans,” MSNBC, December 14, 2005.

6 “Some Turn to Videotape to Challenge Police,” abc news, id=833389. Links to this and other stories of those exonerated can be found on the I-Witness Video site,

7 Radio interview with Eileen Clancy, “NY Law Enforcement Caught Doctoring Video of RNC Arrests,” Democracy Now, April 14, 2005,

8 Jim Dwyer, “Police Infiltrate Protests, Videotapes Show,” New York Times, December 22, 2005.

9 See Schlesinger.

10 Schlesinger, p. 12.

11 Jim Dwyer, “City Spied Broadly Before GOP Convention,” New York Times, March 25, 2007.

12 Ernie Naspretto and Alison Gendar, “Dem Big to NYPD: Butt Out,” NY Daily News, May 13, 2007.

13 “Federal Court Orders NYPD To Release Intelligence Documents About RNC Surveillance Operation,” New York Civil Liberties Union, August 6, 2007.

14 Chip Berlet and Abby Scher, “Political Profiling: Police Spy on Peaceful Activists,” Amnesty International magazine, Spring 2003.

15 “History Repeated: The Dangers of Domestic Spying by Federal Law Enforcement,” American Civil Liberties Union, May 29, 2007, p. 16.

16 David E. Kaplan, Monica M. Ekman, Angie C. Marek, “Spies Among Us: Despite a troubled history, police across the nation are keeping tabs on ordinary Americans,” US News & World Report, (May 8, 2006), v. 140, no. 17: 40.