FBI Violated Constitution by Branding Peaceful Occupy Wall Street as Terrorist threat

Second Amendment fundamentalists push for open carrying of firearms in public, and armed gun nuts even attended one of President Obama’s rallies in Arizona. That was apparently just all right with the FBI.

But the peaceful protest movement, Occupy Wall Street, was treated by the FBI as a terrorist threat.

Democracy Now! reports:

The PATRIOT Act and similar legislation and policies have increasingly put any challenge to the status quo into the category of ‘terrorism.’ You wonder if a Civil Rights movement (which involved civil disobedience, i.e. law-breaking) would even be possible today. Militarized police would be charging African-Americans with terrorism and sending them to Guantanamo for sitting at lunch counters in ‘white’ establishments.

We need a First Amendment fundamentalism as assertive as the 2nd amendment commitments of the Right. The status quo has attempted to limit freedom of peaceable assembly (which is *not* confined to presenting petitions to the Federal government). One easy way to do that is to privatize all public spaces and then to declare peacefully assembling a form of trespassing.

The Supreme Court ruled [in De Jonge v. Oregon, 299 U.S. 353, 364 , 365 (1937) ] that the right of peaceable assembly is:

“cognate to those of free speech and free press and is equally fundamental. . . . [It] is one that cannot be denied without violating those fundamental principles of liberty and justice which lie at the base of all civil and political institutions–principles which the Fourteenth Amendment embodies in the general terms of its due process clause. . . . The holding of meetings for peaceable political action cannot be proscribed. Those who assist in the conduct of such meetings cannot be branded as criminals on that score. “

The court’s tying of the First Amendment and peaceable assembly to the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process clause removed restrictions placed on the right by previous rulings.

The Supreme Court ruling forbade Federal authorities to brand Occupy Wall Street members ‘as criminals” for the “holding of meetings for peaceable political action…”

Yet by involving counter-terrorism agents in their monitoring of OWS, that is precisely what the FBI did.

What amazes me is why Attorney-General Eric Holder is never held to account for this sort of thing.

15 Responses

  1. Few Republicans will try to hold him to account for that, because we’re only spying on dirty hippies, not someone important.

    Few Democrats will try, because he’s a Democrat in a Democratic administration that’s constantly under partisan attack by Republicans.

    And so, we get another bit of bipartisan consensus that it’s okay for the feds to spy on peaceful protesters and political movements.

  2. This is not unlike the COINTELPRO program, the CIA’s Operation CHAOS, or the Army Intelligence targeting of anti-war activists and the civil rights movement in the 1960s as potential threats to national security.

    All had a very tenuous link to “national security”. J. Edgar Hoover expressed in a memo that he was concerned that MLK may abandon non-violence and become a messianic leader of a violent black movement. The CIA’s Operation CHAOS kept files on over 300,000 Americans involved in the anti-war movement on the pretext of investigating a potential link to foreign influence and backing.The proffered reason for the Army Intelligence program was that if the anti-war movement became violent and required U.S. Army intervention, the Army would have some background of the forces that they would be encountering. None of these suspicions or concerns were ever substantiated.

    The Church Committee in the 1970s also investigated the National Security Agency and noted that the number of its personnel surpassed that of the CIA, yet most Americans were unfamiliar with even its existence and that neither the Constitution or U.S. Code expressly created that entity -it was authorized by obscure executive directives. Retired Admiral Bobby Inman, a former deputy director of the CIA and NSA director, expressed reservations about the broad scope of surveillance of the ECHELON program and how it impacted the privacy of Americans.

    As to Attorney General Eric Holder, he described a Washtenaw County, Michigan based militia, the Hutarees, as a “dangerous organization” after their members’ federal indictment on sedition-related violations of federal law. Holder ironically came to Washtenaw County to address attendees at a University of Michigan commencement ceremony. U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts during the jury trial, announced their was insufficient proof to allow the case to go to a jury on any sedition-related charges. One of the criminal defendants this year was elected a township constable after his pre-trial detention and dismissal of charges.

  3. Mr. Holder himself may not believe that this treatment of Occupy was just, fair, and legal. However, it is evident that the US DOJ harbors now and has harbored for years throngs of men and women with an axe to grind against those who are much less fortunate and who seek to legitimately organize themselves in order to gain, at a minimum, voice and visibility regarding their plight. There also are those in the DOJ who do not agree with this abuse of authority, dominion, and sovereignty. We the people need to hold them accountable adn to make sure that humanitarians in the DOJ don’t get ent to the gulag, fired, or harrassed.

  4. Yet another reason I voted Green Party.

    Why do you expect the fascist 1% to change while you unconditionally support their two parties?

    Vote Green 2014!

  5. I must admit that – while as an anarchist I don’t expect much of liberals – even I was shocked by the casualness with which those groups and institutions which claim to be the guardians of our civil liberties just shrugged their shoulders at the government’s basically shredding the First Amendment in this way. Not just the FBI involvement, but across the board: the systematic attacks on the camps, extreme violent tactics, destruction of libraries and personal possessions, attacks on and arrests of onlookers with cameras filming illegal actions by cops, all followed by systematic policies of arbitrary and illegal arrest of peaceful protestors to make sure no new camps were established, opening fire with tear gas and plastic bullets even on marches and rallies that involved no civil disobedience at all. In the face of all this, the liberal establishment has basically said nothing, or – even more ridiculously – create an hysterical furor over two or three broken windows by people who might have been associated with protestors months before, as if this was somehow the reason for police repression – or anyway, the only issue really worth talking about. As a result, most readers even of the left press have heard all about a couple coffee shop windows broken in Oakland in October by someone who may or may not have been part of a Black Bloc, and remain entirely unaware of the first store window broken in the course of OWS protests in New York on March 17 – even though it was broken by a police officer, using a protest medic’s head.

    One could even argue this marks a kind of turning point in US history. Not that there isn’t a long history of the US government using violent means to suppress social movements, from the IWW to the Panthers. But just in about every case the violence was directed against either working class people, or people of color – not middle class white people. When any sort of repression is directed against middle class white people, even relatively minor in comparison like the McCarthy blacklists or Kent State, it tended to be followed by a national moral crisis. Now it seems different. OWS was hardly exclusively a middle class white movement but there were lots of middle class white people involved, and systematic militarized violence was directed at them in direct defiance of basic principles of freedom of assembly, and so far, the outrage has hardly materialized at all.

    I think Juan hits the nail on the head when he notes that on the right, there is an institutional culture which is absolutely an unceasingly dedicated to defending the aspect of the Bill of Rights they traditionally care about – the second amendment – where the institutional Left has nothing like the same degree of dedication to the ones that have traditionally mattered to those interested in greater democracy, and the issues they claim to support. Instead, our experience in OWS was that insofar as that institutional structure exists, they first tried to co-opt us and turn us into some kind of left version of the Tea Party; then, when they realized we were serious about our directly democratic principles and didn’t want to enter a formal political process we saw as inherently corrupt, shrugged their shoulders when the attacks began.

    Maybe, just maybe, such evidence might help change things a little. But at the moment I’m not holding my breath.

    • The ACLU and EFF are still on the side of good, while still trying to work within the system.

      I don’t know what you think of as the “institutional left”, but apparently not them.

    • It’s amusing that you still think there is a middle class. What gave the middle class it’s political power was it’s purchasing power. Since the “trickle down economics” proved to actually be oligarchy economics, the bulk of the purchasing power has moved to the top 5% (54.7% of total income in 2010 went to the top 5%) the top 1% has 20% of the total income. They can afford to pay both candidates of any election to make sure that they continue to be taken care of.

      The FBI treated Occupy as a threat because they read history books and KNOW what it took for the turn of the century labor movement to actually get change to happen. I do admire Occupy for honestly trying to make change through discussion and reason. But the 1% are bullies, and bullies only listen to reason AFTER someone knocks them on their butt. That person should have been Obama, but he’s too easily fooled by the idea that meeting political extremists halfway isn’t just another form of losing the election.

  6. Eric Holder will go down in American history as totally absent in prosecuting the abuses of the Bush administration, totally ineffective in prosecuting the financial abuses related to the Crash of 2008, totally disinterested in protecting civil liberties, and totally eager to pursue any revelations possibly embarrassing the Obama administration. His sole responsibility has been to protect corporate power through inaction, a responsibility he has fulfilled admirably.

  7. Not only is Holder not held to account, he is lauded for his civil rights record – for example, see the LATimes yesterday. Not a word about the massive acceleration of attacks on marijuana clinics, the stunning use of century-old espionage laws against whistleblowers, nor the massive acceleration of deportations, not this surveillance operation – which shows what will happen when the austerity agenda being crammed down our throats leads to any substantial national protest movement. The only time the “left” fights back is when a Republican administration attacks the Bill of Rights. I’m beginning to regret that John McCain was not elected…the “left” would never have sat in silence if he had instituted such policies. But now with our “post-partisan” president still playing his 13-dimension chess game while his admirers gawk, policies from DOJ (and many other departments) that are far worse than anything Bush tried, have been institutionalized as “bi-partisan.”

    The spineless corruption of the “left” or the “progressives” is painful to observe.

  8. The problem is that the Attorney General is above the law. Nobody has authority to prosecute him, because (unlike the UK) the US doesn’t have private prosecutions.

    Theoretically any federal grand jury could prosecute Holder, but grand juries are lied to by judges and prosecutors, and you have to get a majority of the random citizens on the grand jury to realize what their rights and duties are, *and* judges will (illegally and unconstitutionally) override “runaway grand juries”.

    (This is a fundamental flaw in the American legal system and will probably only be fixed after a revolution.)

    How else to remove Holder? Impeachment doesn’t work, because it’s impossible; getting 67 votes in the US Senate will never happen for anything ever again. (This is another thing which is completely broken about the US government. It would require a Constitutional amendment to fix, but a Constitutional Amendment would have to go through the US Senate, so it won’t happen until a revolution.)

    That leaves voting the President out of office. But the two-party system created by Duverger’s Law means that there’s very little alternative. If we can get a Kucinich through the primaries we might have a chance, but the media deliberately sandbags such candidates.

    On the whole, the US political and judicial system is completely broken. (I haven’t even listed a quarter of the evidence for this; read Naked Capitalism for a lot more, and that’s not all.) This is the sort of thing which causes revolutions, but it doesn’t cause them for a *long time*, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the revolution doesn’t happen for another 50 years.

    • In the mean time, the thing to watch is the acceleration of civil disobedience combined with alternative governments. The anti-foreclosure movement is one to watch very closely, because when squatters’ rights become more widely respected than the “bank’s paper”, that’s the sign that the preconditions for the replacement of government are present.

  9. From the linked article (that nobody seems to have read):

    The FBI was concerned that the Occupy venues could provide “an outlet for a lone offender exploiting the movement for reasons associated with general government dissatisfaction,” according to the documents

    So, no, the FBI did not “brand Occupy Wall Street a terrorist movement.” They watched OWS protests because they thought non-OWS people might use the protests as an opportunity to start violence – which, in fact, happened. The Black Bloc showed up, smashed storefronts, and did everything they could to try to provoke a riot. In some cities, the actual OWS protesters were so incensed that they began pointing out the non-OWS, Black Bloc provocateurs to the police.

    The write-up this story is getting in the liberal press reminds me of the right wing’s freakout over the right-wing domestic terrorism memo the DHS put out at the beginning of Obama’s term. Remember that? “Oh my God, the Obama administration said that American veterans are likely domestic terrorists!” Uh, no, they said that domestic terrorists might attempt to exploit that group.

    But the false story fits in so well with a pre-existing, beloved narrative that it never gets challenged.

    Sad. I thought our side was better than them.

  10. What I find very troubling is the vilification of the progressive left that I keep seeing in comments to stories like this. Who says the left has just “shrugged their shoulders” or has been silent about the troubling issues that this president and Justice Department are overseeing? People who are not involved, that’s who.

    We have been kinda sorta busy making sure that the rightwing, islamophobic warhawks who are 100 percent behind the 1 percent didn’t end up in office – and we succeeded. We are constantly chosing our battles – its just that with progressivism, the tactics have to be sound and very often subtle because the whole point is that we don’t want to take over the world, we just want those in power in the world to treat everyone more fairly – and that takes time and patience.

    Of course the Obama administration is doing things that infuriate us. But just because we aren’t acting like the bunch of babies and throwing tizzy fits like the Tea Party doesn’t meant we are not POed and working on what to do about it. I agree with John Hayes – we need to make the change happen ourselves, because the Justice Department is filled with career officials, and indeed, was stacked with rightwing idealogues by direction of Karl Rove, which was why Alberto Gonzales had to go. The whole system is stacked against progressives who want to get all the money out of politics…

    So what do you want us to do? What can we do? We can stay informed and get involved in making our government pay attention to our concerns – and for all the naysayers, I predict that there will be massive action against this atrocity, and against the drone program. Momentum is building.

Comments are closed.