Like Big Brother, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft is waging war on political dissent.
The report on FBI surveillance activities, regarding anti-war rallies in Washington and San Francisco (first, reported by The New York Times), surprises few anti-war activists, especially free speech supporters who knew Ashcroft’s drafting of the Patriot Act would be most effective in possible protest intimidation. What is troubling is the timing of the actions, particularly when the majority of Americans now doubt President Bush’s policy of preemption. Ashcroft’s sanction of such surveillance does more than simple attempts to diminish the opposition activities, rather the use of Gestapo “secret files” to gather information to eventually ‘silence’ the opposition itself.
The confidential memorandum to law enforcement detailing its surveillance recommendations leaves open the most troubling conclusion.
As Presidential Advisor Karl Rove indicated to other White House political operatives earlier in the year, President Bush’s standing among likely voters was due to fall to lower levels due to the stagnant economy and (possibly) the outcome of the Iraq conflict. That being said, with the economy still making little headway and security in Iraq disintegrating, concern of political instability taking hold amongst mainstream Americans has been raised to new levels. And in the light of new terror attacks in Turkey overseas and unknown international terror infiltration here at home, Attorney General John Ashcroft has made it his mission to infiltrate domestic opposition as a precautionary measure.
The only problem is, as Saddam Hussein was to Osama bin Laden, again the Bush administration is using scapegoat tactics to conceal the lack of information on true domestic terror threats.
The scapegoat technique will do little to alleviate American’s fears if there is another terrorist attack on U.S. soil, especially one as devastating as September 11th. Besides that, in the year 2003, we are firmly in “the Bush era.” Karl Rove and his ilk cannot portray the poor military execution of the al Qaeda threat as a “Clinton legacy.”
With a Republican House and Senate, President Bush has no excuses (those ran out with the Iraq war began).
With FBI now snooping on protestors, there actually may be some advantages for opposition leaders. With files and dossiers now being collected on groups such as ANSWER (Act Now To End War And Racism) and IndyMedia (an alternative news collective), groups may be able to petition for access to their files and the scope of any intelligence-gathering programs they may be listed under in accordance with the Freedom of Information Act. On a more cynical note, many of these groups would welcome new recruits to bolster such as a grassroots movement of people seeking an end of violence through peaceful means and government reform (even those paid for by Uncle Sam).
If Bush and Ashcroft are serious about attempts to reign in domestic terror threats, the FBI should be used to interview and help gather information on state militias and separatist groups which have not debated in their clandestine activities, since Tim McVeigh and the Oklahoma City bombing in ‘95. It is worthy to note that the Bush administration has made few comments about this movement, even though these groups, such as the Church of the Creator and Ku Klux Klan have large web presences and active fundraising organizations.
Whether or not FBI surveillance will extend as a national policy amongst local law enforcement remains to be seen, but an earlier precedent was set last February when Denver police finally agreed to stop police files on citizen protestors, including a nun.
In the end, the issue of surveillance is a ‘political’ issue which can be decided if the voters feel their tax money is being wasted (which it is) in the issuance of media backlash (which is already occurring). For both the public and private sectors, there is wholesale agreement that the basic right of freedom of speech may be affected, especially when the Patriot Act (trumpeted by Ashcroft) was sold as a method of deterring foreign terrorists within the country.
Clearly, there are better ways to support the patriotism of U.S. troops out in Iraq, Afghanistan, then a politically-malignant, indirect means to influence those patriots who wish those soldiers would come home soon and safe. Unfortunately for the President, bad press on this issue may it more difficult for him to be reelected in 2004 as he will need a moderate-conservative coalition to overcome an undoubtedly, strong Democratic candidate.
That being said, Bush has very little to fear from domestic protesters, simply wanting actual political inclusion in foreign policy. However, he does have to fear angry voters in the voting booth next November.
So far, he is doing little to change their minds.
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Tommy Ates is a writer living in Cincinnati, Ohio. His columns
have appeared in several publications, such as The Houston Chronicle, Fort
Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, The Wichita Eagle, The Macon Telegraph, and Global
Black News, among others. He can be reached at:
Copyright © 2003 Tommy Ates.
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