Michelle Malkin, sometimes known as Bill O’Reilly in drag, opened one of her recent syndicated rants with this question:
“Oh, dear. Oh, dear. Civil-liberties activists, anti-war organizers, eco-militants and animal-rights operatives are in a fright over news that the nefarious FBI is watching them. Why on earth would the government be worried about harmless liberal grannies, innocent vegetarians, unassuming rainforest lovers and other ‘peaceful groups’ simply exercising their First Amendment rights?”
Ms. Malkin was referring to a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, charging that the FBI had amassed hundreds of pages of secret files on that organization and similar groups.
Well, let me suggest that this cute-looking new darling of the salivating right is asking the wrong question. What she should want to know is why the FBI is snooping on the ACLU. After all, the rights the ACLU defends include those that allow Ms. Malkin to write exactly what she wants to write, no matter how misinformed.
Ms. Malkin is too young to remember, and obviously hasn’t read much American history, but if she wants an answer to that question, there are lots of answers. Here are a few.
Back in the 1960s and 1970s, the FBI engaged in widespread spying on ordinary Americans. The targets back then were left-wing groups and individuals, civil rights and anti-Vietnam activists and, of course, President Nixon’s “enemies list.”
The leader of the pack was the FBI’s powerful first director, J. Edgar Hoover. J. Edgar started his witch-hunting career in the 1920s under Attorney General Mitchell Palmer. Palmer’s infamous ‘Red Raids’ were enabled by a national environment of fear and suspicion and led to the jailing or deportation of hundreds of communists, anarchists, Bolsheviks, and other dissidents, including Emma Goldman, the well-known Russian émigré poet.
The FBI under Hoover collected information on all America's leading politicians. Known as Hoover's “secret files”, this incriminating material was used to make sure that the eight presidents under whom he served would be too frightened to sack him. The strategy worked and Hoover was still in office when he died in 1972.
Not even Martin Luther King, Jr. got a free pass. The FBI used wiretaps and a covert operation, personally directed by Hoover, to unearth derogatory information intended to destroy King as a national civil rights leader.
In between the Red Raids and Martin Luther King, there was the internment of 120,000 Japanese-Americans during World War Two -- an action for which the United States Government finally apologized, but which young Ms. Malkin thinks was just a dandy idea.
Even earlier in the life of our Republic, there were the Alien and Sedition Acts, passed in 1798 under the administration of President John Adams. They were sold as measures to protect the United States from “dangerous” aliens, but were actually used by the Federalists to stop the growth of the Democratic-Republican Party.
The four laws making up the Act authorized the president to imprison or deport any alien associated with any nation the United States was fighting in a “declared war,” and deport any alien considered dangerous, even in peacetime, extended the duration of residence required for aliens to become citizens, nearly tripling it from five years to 14, and made it a crime to publish “false, scandalous, and malicious writing” against government or government officials.
These unambiguous violations of the First Amendment were vigorously opposed by such well-known lefties as Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.
Ms. Malkin saves her fiercest invective for the “eco-radicals” who urge their followers to take “direct actions” against American military establishments, urban centers, corporations, government buildings, media outlets, and the financial centers of the country through “massive property destruction,” “online sabotage,” “physical occupation of buildings,” and large-scale urban rioting.
Ms. Malkin conveniently ignores that fact that such eco-radicals have nothing whatever to do with the ACLU’s lawsuit. She also ignores America’s long history of civil disobedience -- which started with the Revolutionary War that created the country, continued through the Civil Rights movement, and is still alive and well today.
No one wants to see mass destruction of anything by anyone, but Ms. Malkin would do well to acknowledge that it was acts of civil disobedience that gave her many of the rights she now enjoys.
Ms. Malkin concludes: “‘Dissent is patriotic’ is a bromide no responsible agent can swallow blindly. Tolerating the unfettered free speech of saboteurs has threatened enough lives already.”
How about your free speech, Michelle?
I forget who said it, but it’s a statement Ms. Malkin needs to think about: The greatest threat to democracy is the unbridled power of government.
Funny how often small-government states-rights conservatives like Michelle Malkin forget what it is they’re supposed to stand for!
William Fisher writes for Inter Press News Service. He has managed economic development programs in the Middle East and elsewhere for the US State Department and the US Agency for International Development. He served in the international affairs area during the Kennedy Administration.
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