“You measure a democracy by the freedom it gives its dissidents, not the freedom it gives its assimilated conformists.” -- Abbie Hoffman
It used to be the Red Scare; now it’s the Green Scare.
In the 1940s and ‘50s, the FBI persecuted communists, Lauren Regan, an attorney and director of the Civil Liberties Defense Center (CLDC), said during a May 1 presentation in Bloomington. In the ‘60s, the FBI called the Black Panther Party the No. 1 “domestic terrorist threat” in the United States.
Today, the targets are environmental and animal rights groups, said Regan, who formed the CLDC in 2003 in response to the FBI’s Operation Backfire, which culminated in 2005 with arrests and indictments of Eugene, Ore., activists from the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) and Earth Liberation Front (ELF).
To further its goals, the FBI has established it’s a Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) with 92 offices nationwide, Regan said during her talk, titled “Resistance, Dissent and Government Repression: How the State Responds to Radical Social Movements.” Bloomington has one such office, on west Seventh Street.
In her book Breaking the Sound Barrier, author and Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman quotes Ahmed Bedier, president of the Tampa Human Rights Council, as saying the JTTFs ”include not only federal FBI agents, but also postal inspectors, IRS agents, deputized local police officers and sheriff’s deputies [and] any type of law enforcement.” When one agency fails to take down an individual, another agency steps in.
The CLDC, a Eugene-based nonprofit, fights the Green Scare “by defending and upholding civil liberties through education, outreach, litigation, and legal support and assistance,” according to its Web site.
"The CLDC, a Eugene-based nonprofit, fights the Green Scare 'by defending and upholding civil liberties through education, outreach, litigation, and legal support and assistance.'"
Its brochure calls the CLDC a progressive activist organization that helps activists in the “progressive change movement” and defends “frontline activists and expose(s) and confront(s) the persistent erosion of civil rights and liberties. CLDC provides outreach to movements “with an eye towards revolution.”
Regan, a 1997 University of Oregon School of Law graduate, recognized the need for such an organization after she witnessed the FBI attacks on ALF and ELF. She’s experienced in criminal defense, constitutional and environmental law.
Regan and the CLDC is litigating a constitutional challenge to an Oregon law, Interfering with Agricultural Operations, in the Oregon Court of Appeals. Passed by timber and ranching interests, the law makes it a crime to obstruct, impair or hinder or to attempt to obstruct, impair or hinder agricultural operations.
The CLDC’s Web site says, “[S]ince [the] statute became law in 1999, it has exclusively targeted forest activists for prosecution while creating exemptions for other individuals, groups and ideologies.”
Today’s FBI campaigns against Greens hearken back to COINTELPRO, the agency’s Counter-Intelligence Program, which officially operated from 1956 to 1971. Its job was to infiltrate and spy on left-wing activists with the intention of destroying organizations like the New Left and American Indian Movement.
"The FBI likes to target towns with large universities that have radical student groups."
COINTELPRO used numerous underhanded tactics, including searching and stealing documents from houses and offices without warrants, spreading rumors to foster mistrust and foment violence between different activist organizations or factions, harassing organizations’ members, framing activists, and planting informants and agents provocateurs in activists’ organizations.
COINTELPRO remained secret until a group of activists calling themselves the Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI broke into an FBI office in 1971, seized records related to the program and circulated the documents.
Though the FBI supposedly shut down COINTELPRO in ’71, it continues to apply the program’s dirty tricks today. The strategy is to isolate and create fear in individual activists and to intimidate and demoralize their fellow activists.
In pursuit of its goals today, according to Regan, the FBI seeks out progressive organizations that have “power and promise” and “fundamentally challenge” the U.S. plutocracy. The FBI’s aim is to crush movements before they’re well-established and to “chill” people from asserting their civil rights.
"Today’s FBI campaigns against Greens hearken back to COINTELPRO, the agency’s Counter-Intelligence Program, which officially operated from 1956 to 1971."
The FBI will stop at nothing, she said. It sponsors death squads and assassinations, as was the case with Chicago Black Panther Party leader Fred Hampton, whose FBI-provided map of his apartment enabled the Chicago police department to find and murder him in his bed on Dec. 4, 1969.
The federal government charged ALF activists with actions targeting corporations that exploit animals for experimentation. Allegedly those actions caused $43 million in property damage, but none of their actions caused injury or death.
The FBI rounded up scapegoats and charged them with felonies, similar to what recently happened to Indiana protesters who were charged with four misdemeanors and two felonies for resisting the I-69 Highway. The ALF defendants were convicted of arson and received four- to seven-year sentences, whereas the usual sentence for arson is two years.
Because they were labeled as “terrorist,” the activists’ crimes carried a “sentence enhancement” of extra years in prison.
According to the CLDC’s Web site, on March 12, 2009, four activists “were indicted in Northern California, San Jose Division, for conspiracy and force, violence, and threats involving animal enterprises. … On May 21, 2009, the Civil Liberties Center, Center for Constitutional Rights and other civil rights attorneys moved to dismiss the indictments against [the] 4 individuals charged under the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, which labels the activists as ‘terrorists’ even though they are charged with protesting, chalking the sidewalk, chanting and leafleting, and using ‘the internet to find information on bio-medical researchers.’ All of these are clearly and traditionally protected under the First Amendment.”
Four activists who refused to cooperate with the prosecution were threatened with sentences of 1,015 years, Regan said. Before his trial, one activist was kept in solitary confinement 23 hours a day for months in a Communication Management Unit (CMU).
As Goodman explained in her book, a CMU is “a prison within the actual prison. … The unit doesn’t haven normal communication with your family. … Normal visits are denied. … You have to make an appointment to make one phone call a week, and that needs to be done with the oversight of … a live monitor.”
Joining Regan at the Bloomington discussion was Peter Gelderloos, an American anarchist and activist living in Barcelona.
With the “War on Terrorism” and its vague and elusive targets, Gelderloos said, “The entire population is a potential enemy.” Any activity that hurts corporate profits and threatens capitalism the FBI designates as “terrorist.”
"In pursuit of its goals today ... the FBI seeks out progressive organizations that have 'power and promise' and 'fundamentally challenge' the U.S. plutocracy."
Pursuing “domestic terrorists” is a form of social control, he said. The state makes illegal any activity it doesn’t like.
Gelderloos insisted that the American people have to defeat the War on Terrorism, and they have to do so systemically.
The FBI likes to target towns with large universities that have radical student groups, Regan said. The agency recruits college students as infiltrators. In one case the FBI paid a student $75,000 per year to spy on a student organization, she said.
Informants are pervasive in progressive organizations. Regan said they comprise an estimated 64 percent of the U.S. Socialist Party. Although there’s no foolproof way to identify an informant, according to Regan, several characteristics are suggestive.
They often seem to have no past and no family or friends. They have no visible means of support but have money on hand at all times. They often volunteer for multiple jobs, some of which are key, such as Web master.
Informants are inclined to take over the microphone at meetings and rallies and to make statements that don’t represent the organizations.
Their jobs are to sow conflict, and the FBI provides them with psychological profiles of particular activists to make their efforts easier.
When it comes to infiltration, Regan stressed, activists have to walk the fine line between “paranoia, which is paralyzing,” and “awareness, which is empowering.”
Linda Greene can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.