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Is Congress Trying to Sneak a Thoughtcrime Bill?

November 1, 2007 - by Donny Shaw

If it hadn’t been for the blogs, I, like many others, wouldn’t have noticed H.R.1955, the Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007. The bill was quietly approved by the House last week on a near-unanimous vote and the main stream media has all but ignored it. But as bloggers everywhere have pointed out, the bill’s language is so ambiguous that it seems to define thoughtcrime and, since it is unlike most terrorism bills in that it’s focus is on U.S. civilians, it raises important questions about the safety of our civil liberties.

OpenCongress metadata shows that something’s up with this bill (and the main stream media). While our aggregator usually collects about twice as much blog coverage than news coverage for important bills, the homegrown terrorism bill has sat atop our list of most blogged about bills while it hasn’t even made it to the front page for bills most covered in the news. In total OpenCongress has collected 167 blog posts about the bill and only 15 news articles.

In an interview for Democracy Now! activist and academic Ward Churchill, who has been a leading critic of the bill, stated the concern that’s been echoing through the blogosphere:

>"HR 1955, as I understand it, provides a basis for subjective interpretation of dissident speech that allows those in power to criminally penalize anything they considered to be particularly effective in terms of galvanizing an opposition that might conceivably in some sense disrupt or destabilized the status quo, so it’s to keep everything in that nice sanitized arena that I was just talking about where you’re actually a collateral functionary of the state by participating."

The bill would establish a national commission and a university-based “center of excellence for the study of radicalization and homegrown terrorism in the United States” to assist Federal, State, local and tribal homeland security officials through training, education, and research. But what raises concerns about the bill is its broad definitions of “homegrown terrorism,” “radicalization” and “ideologically-based violence.” Straight from the bill’s text:

>(1) HOMEGROWN TERRORISM- The term ‘homegrown terrorism’ means the use, planned use, or threatened use, of force or violence by a group or individual born, raised, or based and operating primarily within the United States or any possession of the United States to intimidate or coerce the United States government, the civilian population of the United States, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.
>(2) RADICALIZATION- The term ‘radicalization’ means the process of adopting or promoting an extremist belief system for the purpose of facilitating ideologically-based violence to advance political, religious, or social change.
>(3) IDEOLOGICALLY-BASED VIOLENCE- The term ‘ideologically-based violence’ means the use, planned use, or threatened use of force or violence by a group or individual to promote the group or individual’s political, religious, or social beliefs.

Bloggers are worried that these definitions are so vague that they could include almost anybody that the government wants them to. For example, “unions are especially at risk under this bill’s definition of “VIOLENT RADICALIZATION,” Robert Stone of the ”"target="_blank">IntelStrike Blog Network writes. “It would take just one fight between union members and their employer, or with police, scabs or strike breakers for a union to be labeled a ‘violent radical organization with an agenda, terrorists.’”

And at the Thoughtcrime blog, HAC writes, “if these were made into law during the founding of the United States, our Founding Fathers would be considered terrorists by their own country. Of course they were considered that by the British, but now U.S. citizens will be terrorists.”

This bill, like the FISA amendments bill that is slowly emerging in the Senate, rides a fine and important line between protecting national security and protecting civil liberties. Whether or not the concerns voiced in the blogs actually come to fruition if and when this bill gets final approval from the Senate, as Jeralyn at TalkLeft says about the bills low-profile advance in Congress, “this shouldn’t be happening with so little public discourse.”

Pictured above is Jane Harman (D-CA), the bill’s primary sponsor.

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