Original Link: http://www.salon.com/opinion/greenwald/2009/04/14/surveillance/index.html
By Glenn Greenwald
Right-wing polemicists today are shrieking in self-pitying protest over a new report from the Department of Homeland Security sent to local police forces which warns of growing "right-wing extremist activity." The report (.pdf) identifies attributes of these right-wing extremists, warning that a growing domestic threat of violence and terrorism "may include groups and individuals that are dedicated to a single-issue, such as opposition to abortion or immigration" and "groups that reject federal authority in favor of state or local authority."
Conservatives have responded to this disclosure as though they're on the train to FEMA camps. The Right's leading political philosopher and intellectual historian, Jonah Goldberg, invokes fellow right-wing giant Ronald Reagan and says: "Here we go Again," protesting that "this seems so nakedly ideological." Michelle Malkin, who spent the last eight years cheering on every domestic surveillance and police state program she could find, announces that it's "Confirmed: The Obama DHS hit job on conservatives is real!" Lead-War-on-Terror-cheerleader Glenn Reynolds warns that DHS -- as a result of this report (but not, apparently, anything that happened over the last eight years) -- now considers the Constitution to be a "subversive manifesto." Super Tough Guy Civilization-Warrior Mark Steyn has already concocted an elaborate, detailed martyr fantasy in which his house is surrounded by Obama-dispatched, bomb-wielding federal agents. Malkin's Hot Air stomps its feet about all "the smears listed in the new DHS warning about 'right-wing extremism.'"
It's certainly true that federal police efforts directed at domestic political movements -- even ones with a history of inspiring violence in both the distant and recent past -- require real vigilance and oversight, and it's also true that the DHS description of these groups seems excessively broad with the potential for mischief. But the political faction screeching about the dangers of the DHS is the same one that spent the last eight years vastly expanding the domestic Surveillance State and federal police powers in every area. DHS -- and the still-creepy phrase "homeland security" -- became George Bush's calling card. The Republicans won the 2002 election by demonizing those who opposed its creation. All of the enabling legislation underlying this Surveillance State -- from the Patriot Act to the Military Commissions Act, from the various FISA "reforms" to massive increases in domestic "counter-Terrorism" programs -- are the spawns of the very right-wing movement that today is petrified that this is all being directed at them.
When you cheer on a Surveillance State, you have no grounds to complain when it turns its eyes on you. If you create a massive and wildly empowered domestic surveillance apparatus, it's going to monitor and investigate domestic political activity. That's its nature. I'd love to know how many of the participants in today's right-wing self-victim orgy uttered a peep of protest about any of this, from 2005:
F.B.I. Watched Activist Groups, New Files Show
WASHINGTON, Dec. 19 - Counterterrorism agents at the Federal Bureau of Investigation have conducted numerous surveillance and intelligence-gathering operations that involved, at least indirectly, groups active in causes as diverse as the environment, animal cruelty and poverty relief, newly disclosed agency records show.
After the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, John Ashcroft, who was then attorney general, loosened restrictions on the F.B.I.'s investigative powers, giving the bureau greater ability to visit and monitor Web sites, mosques and other public entities in developing terrorism leads. The bureau has used that authority to investigate not only groups with suspected ties to foreign terrorists, but also protest groups suspected of having links to violent or disruptive activities.
But the documents, coming after the Bush administration's confirmation that President Bush had authorized some spying without warrants in fighting terrorism, prompted charges from civil rights advocates that the government had improperly blurred the line between terrorism and acts of civil disobedience and lawful protest.
One F.B.I. document indicates that agents in Indianapolis planned to conduct surveillance as part of a "Vegan Community Project." Another document talks of the Catholic Workers group's "semi-communistic ideology." A third indicates the bureau's interest in determining the location of a protest over llama fur planned by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
The documents, provided to The New York Times over the past week, came as part of a series of Freedom of Information Act lawsuits brought by the American Civil Liberties Union. For more than a year, the A.C.L.U. has been seeking access to information in F.B.I. files on about 150 protest and social groups that it says may have been improperly monitored.
The F.B.I. had previously turned over a small number of documents on antiwar groups, showing the agency's interest in investigating possible anarchist or violent links in connection with antiwar protests and demonstrations in advance of the 2004 political conventions. And earlier this month, the A.C.L.U.'s Colorado chapter released similar documents involving, among other things, people protesting logging practices at a lumber industry gathering in 2002.
The latest batch of documents, parts of which the A.C.L.U. plans to release publicly on Tuesday, totals more than 2,300 pages and centers on references in internal files to a handful of groups, including PETA, the environmental group Greenpeace and the Catholic Workers group, which promotes antipoverty efforts and social causes.
"It's clear that this administration has engaged every possible agency, from the Pentagon to N.S.A. to the F.B.I., to engage in spying on Americans," said Ann Beeson, associate legal director for the A.C.L.U.
"You look at these documents," Ms. Beeson said, "and you think, wow, we have really returned to the days of J. Edgar Hoover, when you see in F.B.I. files that they're talking about a group like the Catholic Workers league as having a communist ideology."
I was in Minneapolis and St. Paul during the 2008 GOP Convention and witnessed first-hand massive federal police raids and "preventive" arrests of peaceful, law-abiding protesters and even the violent arrests of journalists, and I don't recall any complaints from Jonah Goldberg or Michelle Malkin. I don't recall Glenn Reynolds or Mark Steyn complaining that the FBI, for virtually the entire Bush administration, was systematically abusing its new National Security Letters authorities under the Patriot Act to collect extremely invasive information, in secret, about Americans who had done nothing wrong. Russ Feingold's efforts to place limits and abuse-preventing safeguards on these Patriot Act powers in 2006 attracted a grand total of 10 votes in the Senate -- none Republican.
Indeed, thanks to the very people who are today petulantly complaining about politically-motivated federal police actions (now that they imagine it's directed at them rather than at people they dislike), the Federal Government today has the power to eavesdrop on telephone calls and read the emails of American citizens without warrants; monitor bank records without court approval; obtain all sorts of invasive personal records, medical and financial, without Subpoenas; and obtain and store a whole host of other personal information about American citizens who have not been accused, let alone convicted, of having done anything wrong. Also thanks to them (and things like the War on Terror, the War on Drugs, the Patriot Act, the FISA Amendments Act, etc. etc), most of this is carried out without any real oversight or safeguards, left entirely to the judgment and good faith of federal officials to wield these powers carefully and for proper ends. And, better still, federal officials can hide behind sweeping claims of secrecy and National Security to prevent courts from scrutinizing what they did and determine if it was illegal (we call that "the state secrets privilege").
So what's the problem? As the National Review/Bush-following-Right has been telling us for years now, there's nothing to worry about if you've done nothing wrong and have nothing to hide. The first duty of the Government is to protect us all -- keep us safe and warm from all the scary things out there, like a Good Daddy does -- and if they need to trample on some lofty privacy ideals and so-called civil liberties concerns and supposed Constitutional safeguards, well: that's just how it is. It takes a real paranoid hysteric to think that federal government officials have nothing better to do than target domestic political opponents. And besides, what good is the Constitution if we're all dead at the hands of domestic McVeigh-like Terrorists? After all, the Constitution isn't a suicide pact. Remember all of that? I certainly do.
This is all as laughable as it is predictable. Just a couple months out of power and they have suddenly re-discovered their fear of the Federal Government and their belief in the need to limit its powers. As I wrote in February about the Glenn Beck Movement that is taking over the Limbaugh/National Review Right:
What was most remarkable about this allegedly "anti-government" movement was that -- with some isolated and principled exceptions -- it completely vanished upon the election of Republican George Bush, and it stayed invisible even as Bush presided over the most extreme and invasive expansion of federal government power in memory. Even as Bush seized and used all of the powers which that movement claimed in the 1990s to find so tyrannical and unconstitutional -- limitless, unchecked surveillance activities, detention powers with no oversight, expanding federal police powers, secret prison camps, even massively exploding and debt-financed domestic spending -- they meekly submitted to all of it, even enthusiastically cheered it all on. . . .
But now, only four weeks into the presidency of Barack Obama, they are back -- angrier and more chest-beating than ever. Actually, the mere threat of an Obama presidency was enough to revitalize them from their eight-year slumber, awaken them from their camouflaged, well-armed suburban caves.
I can't wait until these limited-government, super-principled "conservatives" start putting these bumper stickers back on their cars:
For now, though, one can't help but note that these "conservatives" seem so very angry about a federal government program designed to do nothing other than protect the glorious Homeland from Terrorists. And we know that this is the purpose of the DHS program because that's what the Government said its purpose is. So what else is there to know? That's the lesson we all learned over the last eight years: Bush said that all of his secret surveillance programs were only directed at Al Qaeda, so how can anyone say otherwise?
Apparently, though, the Right has forgotten these important lessons about Trusting Our Political Leaders and instead is now embracing a newfound and quite disturbing devotion to Terrorist Rights. To borrow from Sarah Palin, they are apparently more worried about whether the Timothy McVeighs and Eric Rudolphs of the world can plan their next violent attack without interference from the DHS than they are in having the Government keep us all Safe. What kind of twisted, warped, subversive political movement prioritizes Terrorist Rights over the Safety of Americans like this?
UPDATE: In comments, e_five perfectly summarizes the Bush-following Right (as distinct from the small faction of Ron-Paul/Bruce-Fein/Bob-Barr conservatives who stayed true to their limited-government principles during the Bush era): "When they have a club in their hands, no one is more sadistic. When the club is removed, no one is more whiney." Precisely.
And Brendan Calling has some very related thoughts on this right-wing scandal du jour that are worth reading.
UPDATE II: The Right's self-victimizing outbursts are always as fact-free as they are self-pitying. Just marvel at this (h/t sysprog):
Jonah Goldberg, today:
Yes, DHS has done reports on anti-war, environmental, and other groups. But my understanding is that they didn't — and wouldn't — use the all-purpose term "left-wing" to describe those threats. . . . If the Bush administration had issued a sweeping indictment of "left-wing" groups in America, arguing that they needed to be monitored, something tells me we'd be hearing a lot about it.
From the very same Washington Times article he linked to that started the whole scandal:
In January, the same DHS office released a report titled "Leftwing extremists likely to increase use of cyber attacks over the coming decade."
That was in the precise article that he linked to. Also, the Bush Department of Energy published an April, 2001 document entitled "Left-Wing Extremism: The Current Threat." The woe-is-us whining (this would never happen to the Left -- only us!) is just revolting.
Meanwhile, Drudge -- who never bothered objecting in the slightest to the extreme surveillance abuses under Bush -- adds fuel to the fire with big screaming headlines featuring scary pictures of DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, playing the role of Janet Reno, with this warning: "She is watching you." But Drudge doesn't mention that preparation of the report began more than a year ago -- when Bush was still in office -- and that similar reports have been issued about, and actual surveillance programs directed to, so-called "Leftwing extremists." As I said, they're as fact-free as they are unprincipled, hypocritical and self-pitying.
UPDATE III: Greg Sargent does just a small amount of work to prove that DHS is doing exactly the same thing with regard to "left-wing extremists" as it is doing with regard to "right-wing extremists." How many of the Obama-is-coming-to-get-you hysteria-generators from yesterday will bother to tell their readers about that?