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Hullabaloo


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

 
When protest becomes terrorism

by digby

What happens when the government declares "war" on what is basically a violent political tactic, the working definition of which is in the eye of the beholder? When it further turns it into an existential threat so great that only the suspension of the constitution and the dedication of every possible national resource can keep it at bay, is it only a matter of time before normal dissent becomes a manifestation of that tactic and is thus considered a mortal enemy of the people? We're not there yet. But the seeds are planted in certain dark corners of the country:
It's not uncommon for environmental protesters to face arrest, but here's an apparent first: On Friday, Oklahoma City police charged a pair of environmental activists with staging a "terrorism hoax" after they unfurled a pair of banners covered in glitter—a substance local cops considered evidence of a faux biochemical assault.

Stefan Warner and Moriah Stephenson, members of the environmental group Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance, were part of a group of about a dozen activists demonstrating at Devon Tower, the headquarters of fossil fuel giant Devon Energy. They activists were protesting the company's use of fracking, its role in mining of Canada's tar sands, and its ties to TransCanada, the energy company planning to construct the Keystone XL pipeline. As other activists blocked the building's revolving door, Warner and Stephenson hung two banners—one a cranberry-colored sheet emblazoned with The Hunger Games "mockingjay" symbol and the words, "The odds are never in our favor," in gold letters—from the second floor of the Devon Tower's atrium.

Police who responded to the scene arrested Warner and Stephenson along with two other protesters. But while their fellow activists were arrested for trespassing, Warner and Stephenson were hit with additional charges of staging a fake bioterrorism attack. It's an unusually harsh charge to levy against nuisance protestors. In Oklahoma, a conviction for a "terrorist hoax" carries a prison sentence of up to 10 years.

Oklahoma City Police spokesman Captain Dexter Nelson tells Mother Jones that Devon Tower security officers worried that the "unknown substance" falling from the two banners might be toxic because of "the covert way [the protesters] presented themselves… A lot were dressed as somewhat transient-looking individuals. Some were wearing all black," he says. "Inside the banners was a lot of black powder substance, later determined to be glitter." In their report, Nelson says, police who responded to the scene described it as a "biochemical assault." "Even the FBI responded," he adds. A spokesman for Devon Energy declined to comment.
Is this just silly police paranoia? Probably. It's hard for me to believe these charges will stick. But it is Oklahoma ... and the police in the country have been turned into paramilitary forces fighting "terrorism" wherever they might see it.

Eugene Robinson makes some excellent points in this piece about the need to protect our privacy. He says:
The theory is supposed to be that only by assembling a big enough “haystack” of data can the elusive “needles” be found: patterns of calls, movements and connections that signal a potential terrorist strike. In reality, though, what seems to happen is that our intelligence agencies get some tidbit of information through other means, perhaps a name or a phone number, and then sift through the NSA data for evidence of a plot.

This scenario is actually a targeted search for which the spooks should have no trouble obtaining a warrant. Storing all that communications data in-house seems more a convenience than a necessity. It saves the trouble of acquiring specific chunks of data as needed from the phone companies.

As I read the Constitution, though, it’s supposed to be inconvenient for the government to invade our privacy.
That's exactly correct. Because anyone who knows how power works (and the innate propensity of human beings to use whatever methods they have available to them to obtain their goals) understand that if there's one thing that needs to be very carefully monitored its the power to imprison. For a country that prides itself to the point of fetishism on the concept of individual liberty, we are awfully cavalier about how we deal with it in practice.

And there is another threat that comes from the "collection" of data on everyone. It means that when they decide to target someone, for whatever reason, they can go back into time and construct a case against them using their movements, associations and communications of the past, regardless of whether or not it pertains to the current suspected crime. Basically what they are doing is assembling a government dossier on every person --- just in case. We don't know what's in it and we don't know how they are going to interpret what it contains. For instance, I am two degrees from a major espionage suspect--- me to Greenwald to Edward Snowden. Is that meaningful? Probably not. But who knows? If the government wanted to make a case against me, I'd guess they could at least create enough smoke to make me very uncomfortable. I am uncomfortable.

With NSA officials saying stuff like "I have some reforms for the First Amendment" and local cops arresting protesters on terrorism charges, you have to think about these things. It's not as if our history isn't full of examples of societies that thought they were free ... until they weren't.



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