Thursday, September 04, 2008

Terrorism laws being used to prosecute people arrested for planning to protest

By Nancy Jane Moore

The Independent Media Center reports that Minnesota prosecutors are going to use the state's version of the Patriot Act to prosecute as "terrorists" eight people arrested for planning protests at the Republican National Convention. The eight were arrested before the convention, apparently due to statements from informants.

I'm particularly concerned, because one of the eight, Eryn Trimmer, is the son of a friend of mine. His father told me yesterday in an email that Eryn had been held in jail for five days and was bored. He sounded like things might be resolved soon -- the ACLU is looking into the case -- but that was before the news that the terrorism laws were being used.

It now appears that "planning to protest" is a terrorist act in the Land of the Free. As Glenn Greenwald points out on Salon, the U.S. was oh, so righteous about arrests of demonstrators and potential demonstrators in China, but doesn't seem to have the same attitude here at home.

I don't know all the facts. Apparently the police claimed to have information from informants that the protesters were planning to disrupt traffic and possibly even damage property. Greenwald's account includes information that federal officers were involved.

I am highly skeptical of the police point of view. If you recall the arrests at the 2004 Republican convention, you probably also recall that virtually the charges were eventually dropped. There's a history of inflating protest activities out of all proportion.

Further, this all reeks of the kind of police action that went on back during the Vietnam War protests and Civil Rights Movement -- actions that have been completely discredited.

Informants may or may not be reliable. I'd also note that, in a casual conversation, it's pretty easy to get people worked up enough to say they're going to do things they have no intention of doing, especially if someone is egging them on to act "tough."

I don't know what these protesters were planning, but I wouldn't be surprised if some of them, at the very least, planned some nonviolent demonstrations that would block traffic. Others probably intended to stay within the law. A few -- there are always a few -- probably saw the protests as a good excuse for breaking windows and generally causing trouble.

But I am sure that none of them threatened the personal safety of any of the convention attendees or officials. They were planning demonstrations, not acts of terrorism.

All of you people who said to yourselves, "Oh, well, those laws on terrorism may go too far, but they won't affect me," better think again. The people arrested in St. Paul are U.S. citizens, our children, doing what we're all supposed to be permitted to do under the First Amendment: Speaking their minds.

If the government sends them to prison as terrorists, just how do we differ from China?


Anonymous said...

Well, as Professor Ayers observed in the September 30, 1982, issue of Rolling Stone,
“We’re not urging anyone to shoot from a crowd. But we’re also going to make it clear that when a pig gets iced, that’s a good thing, and that everyone who considers himself a revolutionary should be armed, should own a gun, should have a gun in his home.”
The larger question, of course, is whether a political organization in the United States should be free to hold its meetings and conduct its business without having its activities disrupted by people opposed to its beliefs, and if so, what the state should do about it.
Is "a dramatic form of armed propaganda [taking] action against symbolic targets in order to declare a state of emergency" to be permitted?
Obviously, since 9/11, it's gotten a lot harder to blow up buildings in this country than it used to be. Personally, I don't see that as a problem, even if part of the reason is that people who talk about "armed propaganda" are now being taken at their word, at least until the cops can figure out whether they're just mouthing off, or they really have a big pile of ammonium nitrate in the basement.

Nancy Jane Moore said...

I don't believe Prof. Ayers is among the people who were arrested, so I fail to find any relevance between something he said in 1982 and the current situation.

I personally doubt anyone was planning to blow up a building. Given both the history of political demonstrations and the history of government reaction to them, it's much more logical to assume government overreaction than anything else.