Friday, November 30, 2007

homegrown terrorism, public hysteria

I haven't been here for a while. I have been having too much fun on the new Elderwomanspace.

However, Ronnie Bennet at Time Goes By has again had some posts about the new idiocy that seems to be sweeping our so security-conscious national legislators that it has passed the House with on a vote of 404-6 with only those favoring the act speaking during the 40 minutes allowed for comment. I was curious enough to get into the Congressional Record on line and print out the text of the Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act (which is now in the Senate as S1959 by the way) and the comments concerning it.

I have several complaints concerning this piece of legislation besides the fact that it establishes a committee to study a phenomenon which is being actively studied both outside the government and within it. As one critic noted they could easily take a field trip to any Barnes and Noble store and find shelves of books on this subject. Or they could simply buy copies of Eric Hoffer's "The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements." The book was published in 1951 and Hoffer clearly had no use for mass movements of any kind, social, political or religious. He listed as potential candidates for recruitment the poor, the misfits, the inordinately selfish, the ambitious seeking wider opportunities, minorities, the bored, and the sinner. That just about covers it. And, from what little I have read about the recruitment into urban gangs, religious cults, white supremacists, militias, the pattern still holds. Why do we need a commission to study this that will spend, according to one estimate I have read, $22M. And then the establishment of the Center(s) for Excellence that would be established after the commission finishes its work would spread more money around to which ever academic programs happen to be the pets of whoever is in the White House at the time. More wasted money.

My next objection concerns the incredibly sloppy language. The term 'violent radicalization' targets the thought process itself. What else can it do when the term means 'THE PROCESS of adopting or promoting an extremist belief system.' Under this definition just the process of adopting a belief system, not just violent actions that arise from that belief system, can become a crime. And this is before we get to the definition of 'ideologically based violence' under which almost anything goes. In a country in which a significant number of child development specialists think Bugs Bunny cartoons are 'violent' can we really expect a rational and reasonable determination of what constitutes the potential crime of ideologically based violence?

I could continue but I have found an increasing number of good analyses on various blogs. Consider the Nov. 26th essay by Philip Giraldi on the Huffingtonpost. Giraldi discusses the Homegrown Terrorism Bill within the context of American History from the Alien and Sedition Acts of the early Republic through the Executive Order of April 17, 2007 by which President Bush authorizes the siezure of the property of anyone who 'threatens the stabilization of Iraq' leaving it up to the Jutice department to define what threatens stabilization and provides no means of challenging the information on which the determination is made. I think he is right when he notes at the end 'What is not needed is groups of Congressionally empowered vigilantes roaming the country at will lookin for homegrown terrorists.' We had that in the 1950s. It was the House UnAmerican Activities Committee under Senator Joseph McCarthy. Unfortunately, Terrorism appears to be the new Communism.

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