Monday, September 27, 2010

Surveillance of Activists -- Reprise

I noted in an earlier post that a recently published FBI report essentially exonerates agency personnel of charges that they targeted protesters for surveillance based upon political advocacy.  This potentially disturbing (and related) story shows how federal laws limiting the provision of "material support" to terrorists and terrorist organizations may be used against domestic anti-war and other acativists.  A taste from the story:

FBI agents in Chicago took a laptop and documents from the home of a Palestinian-American anti-war activist in an attempt to silence his advocacy, an attorney said yesterday.

The FBI on Sept. 24 searched eight addresses in Minneapolis and Chicago, including the home of Hatem Abudayyeh, who is the executive director of the Arab American Action Network, attorney Jim Fennerty told the Associated Press.

“The government’s trying to quiet activists,” Fennerty said. “This case is really scary.”

More than half a dozen agents went to Abudayyeh’s home on Sept. 24 and took any documents containing the word “Palestine,” Fennerty said.


Another Rally on the National Mall

No, not by Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert.  It's a coalition of liberal and progressive groups who hope to communicate a message of solidarity rather than division in times of economic distress -- and to make the case that they, rather than teh Tea Party, are the "real" embattled middle class.  The rally is called "One Nation Working Together."  It is scheduled for October 2.  The N.Y. Times has the story here

Student Immigration Protests

Here is an interesting repertoire of public protest, in support of an immigration bill that would open a path to legal status for students unlawfully in the U.S.

FBI Report on Domestic Surveillance of Protest Groups

As reported by the N.Y. Times, an FBI report has cleared agents and officials of targeting anti-war and other protesters for surveillance based upon their political advocacy.  Still, the report "criticized the F.B.I. for classifying certain nonviolent crimes related to protest activities as terrorism. And it sharply attacked the bureau for making a series of 'false and misleading statements to the public and to Congress” about its surveillance of an antiwar protest on Nov. 29, 2002.'"  In addition, the report "criticized several episodes in which it characterized F.B.I. agents as opening or continuing investigations despite scant evidence of a federal crime."  It also "criticized classifying some nonviolent protest-related actions, like trespassing on a military base, as 'terrorism” matters.'"    

U.N. Rallies

Here is a report from the N.Y. Times on recent rallies held near the United Nations.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

G20 Summit Protest Lawsuit

According to this report, the ACLU has filed a lawsuit alleging that police violated the civil rights of protesters at the G20 meetings in Pittsburgh.  Such lawsuits are commonly filed after large-scale protest events.  In many cases, municipalities have paid substantial settlements.  From the story:

The ACLU announced the lawsuit, Armstrong v. City of Pittsburgh, at a plaza near the University of Pittsburgh campus where the protest was staged on Sept. 25, 2009.

"When people see video of peaceful demonstrations in places like Russia and Iran where the police all of a sudden declare the assembly to be unlawful and then come in and arrest everybody ... we recoil in horror and say, 'It's just free speech, it's just peaceful demonstrations. Thank goodness that can't and doesn't happen in this country,'" Walczak [ACLU legal director in Pennsylvania] said.

"Well, I'm sorry to advise you that in fact it does happen in this country and it did happen in the city of Pittsburgh."


Saturday, September 18, 2010

Stewart and Colbert Rallies

Here is a story about John Stewart's proposed "rally for sanity" and Colbert's planned "counter-demonstration" to "keep fear alive."  I'm not sure how I feel about mocking public rallies and demonstrations (although it's not entirely clear this is the intention).  But it is true that those who tend to protest in public often represent small, deeply engaged segments of the public.  I wonder, all joking aside, whether a large crowd of busy, less energized folks will turn out for a rally on the Mall.  For fans of Stewart and Colbert, anything seems possible . . .

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Anti-Quran-Burning Protests Planned

Story here.  Apparently, local officials have denied a Florida pastor a permit to have a Koran bonfire on church property.  But as the story notes, smaller fires may be permitted.  Officials cannot stop the planned burning on the ground that it might offend others, either in the U.S. or abroad.  It does not appear that Pastor Jones intends to threaten others by engaging in this expressive conduct.  The act of burning does not constitute "fighting words."  And the pastor does not appear to have the intent to incite others to commit violent acts -- although they may well be the effect of his speech.  Federal officials, including Defense Secretary Gates and President Obama, have spoken out against the proposed Quran burning.  Government officials can certaintly seek to dissuade a citizen from speaking.  But they cannot punish or threaten to punish him for doing so.  The best response to this hateful speech is not to punish the speaker, but to rely upon counter-speech advocating tolerance for religious beliefs and respect for religious texts and symbols.