December 27, 2007 - The Pope had his Index of Forbidden Books. Japan had its Thought Police against subversive or dangerous ideologies. And the United States Congress and President Bush have learned nothing from those examples.
Congress is perched to enact the "Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 20007 (Act)," probably the greatest assault on free speech and association in the United States since the 1938 creation of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC).
Sponsored by Rep. Jane Harman, California Democrat, the bill passed the House of Representatives on Oct. 23 by a 404-6 vote under a rule suspension that curtailed debate. To borrow from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, the First Amendment should not distract Congress from doing important business. The Senate companion bill (S. 1959), sponsored by Susan Collins, Maine Republican, has encountered little opposition. Especially in an election year, senators crave every opportunity to appear tough on terrorism. Few if any care about or understand either freedom of expression or the Thought Police dangers of S. 1959.
Denuded of euphemisms and code words, the Act aims to identify and stigmatize persons and groups who hold thoughts the government decrees correlate with homegrown terrorism, for example, opposition to the Patriot Act or the suspension of the Great Writ of habeas corpus.
The Act will inexorably culminate in a government listing of homegrown terrorists or terrorist organizations without due process; a complementary listing of books, videos, or ideas that ostensibly further "violent radicalization;" and a blacklisting of persons who have intersected with either list.
Political discourse will be chilled and needed challenges to conventional wisdom will flag. There are no better examples of sinister congressional folly.
The Act inflates the danger of homegrown terrorism manifold to justify creating a marquee National Commission on the Prevention of Violent Radicalization and Ideologically Based Violence (Commission) in the legislative branch. Since September 11, 2001, no American has died from homegrown terrorism, while about 120,000 have been murdered.
In the so-called post-September 11 "war" against international terrorism, Mr. Bush has detained only two citizens as enemy combatants. One was voluntarily deported to Saudi Arabia; the other was indicted, tried and convicted in a civilian court of providing material assistance to a foreign terrorist organization. And employing customary law enforcement tools, the United States has successfully prosecuted several pre-embryonic terrorism conspiracies amidst numerous false starts.
Prior to September 11, homegrown terrorism consisted largely of Timothy McVeigh, Eric Rudolph, the Unibomber and the D.C. Metropolitan area snipers. The Act, nevertheless, counterfactually finds "homegrown terrorism ... poses a threat to domestic security" that "cannot be easily prevented through traditional federal intelligence or law enforcement efforts."
Former President John Quincy Adams presciently lamented: "Democracy has no forefathers, it looks to no posterity, it is swallowed up in the present and thinks of nothing but itself."