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The Oregonian

Security or Liberty? It's a False Choice

In an outburst of common sense, a Multnomah County jury recently acquitted an activist group calling themselves the Seriously P.O.'d Grannies on misdemeanor criminal mischief charges.

In his closing arguments, the prosecutor likened the Grannies to terrorists, even though they had simply protested the Iraq war by pressing red-finger-paint handprints on the window of a local military recruiting center. The deputy district attorney beseeched the jury to "think of some evils that could happen and why it is important for the line to be drawn here. On Sept. 11, some people drove planes into a building to prove a point. The defendants say their conduct is necessary to avoid imminent danger because people are dying in Iraq. That is the same thing suicide bombers say."

As preposterous as this comparison is, we can expect an onslaught of similar logic should the Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act become law.

If you're asking yourself what in tarnation this polysyllabic mouthful is, don't feel bad. The bill has been virtually ignored by the media, despite a frenzy of trepidation in the blogosphere.

The Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act -- which zinged through the House last October on a vote of 404-6 -- would create a national commission with the power to recommend counter-terrorism legislation. The act would also jump-start a university-based "Center of Excellence for the Study of Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism" to investigate "the social, criminal, political, psychological and economic roots" of domestic radicalization and violence.

So who, aside from domestic Osama bin Wannabes, would be targeted by this legislation? Well, as former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld might say, we need to "connect the dots."


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Counterterrorism experts from the Rand Corp. have testified multiple times in front of the House Committee on Homeland Security in favor of the bill. In 2005, Rand penned a "Trends in Terrorism" study that made this assertion: "In addition to the terrorist threats posed by al-Qaida . . . a growing groundswell of domestically inspired radicalism has emerged that appears to be based on the spreading phenomenon of anti-globalization."

In reality, this "anti-globalization movement" has no ties whatsoever to jihadist-variety terrorism. But that hasn't stopped the authorities from making that claim. Responding to a 2003 nonviolent anti-war protest, a California Anti-Terrorism Information Center spokesperson asserted, "You can almost argue that a protest against a war ostensibly against international terrorism is a terrorist act. . . . Terrorism isn't just bombs going off and killing people."

The Seriously P.O.'d Grannies help us slice through the fog of ideology. But what if you're just raging and you're not a Granny? Would a protesting tree-sitter receive similar leeway? What about a Muslim imam who questions U.S. foreign policy? An anarchist marching against neoliberal capitalism?

The Portland jury took 30 minutes to acquit the Grannies. Now it's time for the Senate's Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee -- which will soon take up the bill -- to make a similar gesture of level-headed defiance.

The bill isn't yet a done deal. A concerted push from concerned, principled citizens could be the final nail in this misguided legislation's coffin.

Let's get out the hammer.

Jules Boykoff

Jules Boykoff is professor and chair of the Government and Politics Department at Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon. He is the author of "The Suppression of Dissent: How the State and Mass Media Squelch US American Social Movements" (Routledge, 2006), and "Beyond Bullets: The Suppression of Dissent in the United States" (AK Press, 2007). Boykoff is a former professional soccer player who represented the US Olympic Team in international competition.

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