2011-08 "Sit down and shut up: the Patriot Act renewed" by Jim Lafferty, Executive Director of the Los Angeles Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild.
A poster on ACLU's website (www.aclu.org).
By now it should be clear to all thinking people that the U.S. Patriot Act has nothing to do with protecting the public from terrorists, and everything to do with protecting this nation’s ruling elite from we the people. When Obama signed the renewal of the act for four more years on May 26, it included none of the Fourth Amendment protections against secret access to personal information sought by librarians and others. It did include “roving wire-taps” of all communications by a person under investigation and the draconian provision that even rubber-stamps surveillance of individuals not tied to any organization deemed “terrorist.”
So what we read and say and do are still fair game for FBI spies. The fact that the very way the law is being used is classified, caused Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) to say on the Senate floor that, “when the American people find out how their government has secretly interpreted the Patriot Act, they will be stunned and they will be angry.” Of course, given the power of the corporate media, there is little danger of that happening.
Skirting the constitution is the point. In a memo written on 9/11 itself, then Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld stated that the government should seize the “opportunity” presented by the 9/11 attacks to “round them all up, whether related or not.” And after 9/11 and the initial passage of the Patriot Act, a reporter asked then Vice-President Cheney how long such laws might be in effect. His answer: “I like to think of this as the new normal.” And so it is.
If the Patriot Act and its kin were not enough to satisfy the ruling class’s desire to insulate themselves from public opposition to their policies, both at home and abroad, we now have the Supreme Court’s ruling in what is popularly known as the “Holder” decision. Under Holder it is extremely easy to violate the “material support” provisions of the Patriot Act and similar laws without doing anything that most of us would think constituted support to a “terrorist group.”
“Material support to terrorism” — really? Let’s say, for example, that you go to Gaza to support the Palestinians and bring back with you some documents prepared by Hamas. Once home, you photocopy and distribute those documents. You have just given “material support” to Hamas, a designated “terrorist group.”
Or, let’s say you’re a lawyer who thinks Hamas should not even be on the government’s list of “terrorist organizations,” and you offer to represent Hamas free of charge on behalf of an effort to get them off of the list. Oops! You’ve done it again. Yes, you cannot, even as a lawyer, offer to help get a group off the list without running afoul of the law.
About all that is left of free speech involving groups deemed “terrorist” by the government, is an expression of support unrelated to anything “material.” I can, for instance, stand outside of the Israeli Consulate in Los Angeles and say that in any negotiations between the parties to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Hamas must be at the table. But if I distribute any document I’ve received from Hamas on behalf of my position, I have crossed the line and run the risk of being prosecuted under the “material support” laws.
And if you think I’m kidding, ask those 24 individuals who’ve recently had their homes searched by the FBI, their belongings removed, and who have been called to testify before federal grand juries.
In short, we are still in the fight of our lives for freedom; for the freedom to dissent from, and protest against, this government’s foreign and domestic policies. It was to prevent such dissent that these anti-democratic acts were passed in the first place.
And what is the most effective tool we have for fighting back against this repression, and the wars and attacks on workers carried out under it? Our voices.
So long as we are not intimidated by so-called “patriot acts”; so long as we continue organizing in the streets on behalf of our causes; so long as we refuse to be silenced, we are winning. And this repressive government is losing.