5 Reasons Why Republicans Should Care About the Government Labeling Activists “Terrorists”

by Will Potter on March 5, 2009

in Activism & Activists' Response,Government Priorities

Labeling activism as terrorism violates checks and balances on government power.

Labeling activism as terrorism violates checks and balances on government power.

The coordinated campaign to smear political activists as “terrorists” should concern everyone, from far right to far left and everyone in between:

  1. It puts all Americans at risk. Animal rights and environmental activists have never flown planes into buildings or sent anthrax through the mail, but the FBI labels them the “number one domestic terrorism threat.” Focusing on this Green Scare, and investigating property crimes, civil disobedience, leafleting and even vegan potlucks as “terrorism,” wastes valuable law enforcement resources. With the threat of another terrorist attack constantly looming, scarce anti-terrorism resources should be used to combat true threats to national security, not protect corporate interests and push a political agenda.
  2. It puts all political activists at risk. Targeting these activists as “terrorists” sets a legal precedent that will be used against other social movements. The “terrorism” policies and priorities of the Bush administration could just as easily be applied to a different set of activists on the whim of a new president and new Congress. The word terrorism should not be batted around against the enemy of the hour, to push a partisan political agenda.
  3. It violates checks and balances on government power. Singling out one group of people based on their beliefs puts far too much power in the hands of the government. If conservative lawmakers opposed hate crimes legislation because it mandated disproportionate sentences based on motive and ideology, then they should logically oppose legislation like the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act on the same grounds. Republicans, in the classic sense of that label, have always been distrustful of government power, and for good reason.
  4. It wastes taxpayer money. In this economic crisis, as millions of Americans are worried about their families and losing their jobs, the FBI is wasting law enforcement resources monitoring flier distribution and testing the DNA of bandannas worn at protests. There are better uses for taxpayer money during the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression.
  5. It makes it impossible to have a fair trial. Smearing activists as “eco-terrorists” and “domestic terrorists” in press releases, sound bites and press conferences, before they have even set foot in a courtroom, makes it impossible for them to receive a fair trial. “Terrorist” is the most powerful word in our language. Branding someone with that term automatically skews public opinion against them and in favor of the government. Regardless of how you feel about any individual defendant, a cornerstone of the judicial system should be that they are entitled to a fair trial.

Throughout history, the government has repressed social movements by isolating them from the broader society. That’s exactly what happened during the Red Scare, for instance. The government marginalized suspected communists first from other groups on the “Left,” and then from everyone else. “If you’re not one of those people,” we are always told, “you have nothing to worry about. Just go about your business as usual, and pay no attention to what’s going on.”

Most people who read this site are sympathetic to the civil liberties concerns I raise, and many are very sympathetic to animal rights and environmental issues. I think it’s important to remember, though, that there are plenty of everyday people who might have different views on animal rights and environmental issues (to put it mildly) but who would be just as outraged if they knew what is going on.

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