Let's try a modest thought experiment before our right to think is consigned to the same dust bin of history as habeas corpus:
You're a law-abiding, card carrying member of the National Rifle Association. You pay taxes and vote Republican most of the time, but you'll split your ticket if the Democrat is stronger on gun issues and national defense.
You're a reasonable guy, though some might consider you something of a nut because of your fanatical devotion to the Second Amendment and your belief that limits on guns of any kind is un-American.
You've never contemplated pulling your gun on another human unless provoked by a threat to your life or the lives of your loved ones. Your gun is for target practice and relaxation. You believe violent video games are for wimps. With the exception of a sentimental attachment to Charlton Heston movies, you're well adjusted.
You're a typical American, so there's no reason for your government to fear you, or you it. Your movements shouldn't be tracked or your peaceful, nonviolent gatherings monitored. In fact, you'd be outraged if they were, right?
Your attitude would not be a blase "I have nothing to hide, so the government can snoop as much as it wants."
You're already paranoid about the government confiscating your guns. You believe the Second Amendment is under assault every moment of the day. You constantly voice this opinion in your capacity as a loyal and patriotic citizen.
Now, imagine you're a Quaker, a law-abiding member of the Religious Society of Friends. You're a member of a civic-minded religious tradition that is older than America.
Because you believe the spark of divinity rests in every human breast, you're in no hurry to see it extinguished. You believe in peace, justice and nonviolent resistance to evil.
You're a person of integrity, though some might consider you nuts if you're one of those Quakers who refuses to pay the "War Tax." Those who withhold a percentage of their income tax to protest the American "war machine" are more than willing to go to jail for it.
With the terribly ironic exception of Richard M. Nixon, you Quakers have a reputation for standing on principle. You do so as loyal and patriotic citizens.
You're typical Americans, so there's no reason for your government to fear you, or you it. Your movements shouldn't be tracked or your peaceful, nonviolent gatherings monitored. In fact, you'd be outraged if they were, right?
Time for some righteous outrage, folks. One of these two groups has been the subject of Pentagon surveillance, according to documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union. Can you guess which one?
A Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the ACLU dislodged an Orwellian mother lode of evidence that the Pentagon is currently possessed by the spirit of that apostate Quaker Richard Nixon.
Just like in the bad old days of "enemies list," the names and activities of citizens who opposed the Iraq war are housed in the ominous-sounding Threat and Local Observation Notice (TALON) database.
So the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker peace group dedicated to nonviolent anti-war protest, has to deal with the albatross of "terrorist sympathizer" around its neck.
Does Homeland Security keep tabs on NRA chapters around the country? Is Wayne LaPierre in the TALON database? You don't need a FOI petition to know the answer -- not likely.
Earlier this year, the ACLU published documents it acquired through FOI lawsuits detailing FBI surveillance of anti-war activity by the Pittsburgh-based Thomas Merton Center.
In a redacted 11/29/2002 document originally filed "secret," the Merton Center is described as a "left-wing organization advocating, among many political causes, pacificism." [sic].
Horrors! Imagine the dirt the FBI could find on the Amish. The Merton Center apparently got on the FBI's most wanted list for coordinating an event at the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh.
The FBI described the gathering as an attempt "to bring all people of Pittsburgh together in understanding and respecting each other and also to inform them about Islam and Muslims."
I was there, so I can vouch for the FBI's characterization of the event. No one swore allegiance to al-Qaida from where I sat.
Like the AFSC, the Merton Center was targeted because it was staunchly anti-war and sympathetic to Muslims at a time when the Bush administration was itching for war.
Americans of all political persuasions should be appalled that nonviolent citizens' groups are being monitored. Intolerance toward people of conscience is an indicator of the government's attitude toward the rest of us. And once they start rounding up Quakers, can the guns be far behind?
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