Monday, September 8, 2008

Convention crackdown redux

Domestic espionage and arrests get little attention

I try to steer away from electoral politics on this blog, despite the abundance of tantalizing fodder. But the federal law enforcement crackdown on convention protestors - which has gotten little mainstream media attention - is worth noting, harkening back as it does to the bygone era of Cointelpro and the Chicago 7.

Marjorie Cohn, a prominent law professor at the Thomas Jefferson School of Law and the author of a new book called Cowboy Republic, has written an eye-opening piece on the "preemptive tactics" to contain protests surrounding the Republican Convention in Minnesota. Salon.com is also giving the issue some press.

Cohn's report, online here, documents FBI-led infiltration of leftists including - in a modern-day twist on the infamous old Cointelpro snooping - a group of vegans, as well as preemptive searches, seizures and arrests by teams of 25-30 officers in full riot gear with weapons drawn.

The raids targeted members of "Food Not Bombs," an anti-war protest group that provides free vegetarian meals every week in hundreds of cities all over the world. The group fed rescue workers at the World Trade Center after 9/11 and Gulf Coast evacuees after Hurricane Katrina. Also targeted was I-Witness Video, a civil libertarian police watchdog group.

City council members in St. Paul, Minnesota have expressed outrage over law enforcement actions "that appear excessive and create an atmosphere of fear and intimidation for those who wish to exercise their first amendment rights," according to Cohn's article.

Analyzing the legal basis for the crackdown, Cohn states:
Preventive detention violates the Fourth Amendment, which requires that warrants be supported by probable cause. Protestors were charged with "conspiracy to commit riot," a rarely-used statute that is so vague, it is probably unconstitutional. [Bruce Nestor, president of the Minnesota chapter of the National Lawyers Guild] said it "basically criminalizes political advocacy."
Glenn Greenwald over at Salon.com says the most extraordinary thing about the heavy-handed crackdown is how little media attention or outcry it has provoked:
So here we have a massive assault led by Federal Government law enforcement agencies on left-wing dissidents and protesters who have committed no acts of violence or illegality whatsoever, preceded by months-long espionage efforts to track what they do. And as extraordinary as that conduct is, more extraordinary is the fact that they have received virtually no attention from the national media and little outcry from anyone. And it's not difficult to see why. As the recent "overhaul" of the 30-year-old FISA law illustrated -- preceded by the endless expansion of surveillance state powers, justified first by the War on Drugs and then the War on Terror -- we've essentially decided that we want our Government to spy on us without limits. There is literally no police power that the state can exercise that will cause much protest from the political and media class and, therefore, from the citizenry.
Perhaps the lack of attention was because everyone was too busy parodying surprise vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin? (See that more entertaining story over at Newsweek.)

The Salon article, online here, has links to other coverage. Cohn's column, "Preemptive strike against protest at RNC," is online here. The sketch above (in case you are too young to remember it!) is of Bobby Seale, the Black Panther who was shackled and gagged during the "Chicago Seven Conspiracy Trial" stemming from the
antiwar protests outside the Democratic National Convention exactly 40 years ago.
Hat tip: Jane

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