Is the FBI back in the business
of trying to squelch political dissent? An obscure paragraph in
congressional testimony this past spring by departing FBI Director
Louis Freeh has fanned fears that the agency is planning a surveillance
and disruption effort against anti-globalization groups similar
which focused on the anti-war and Black Power movements in the '60s
Freeh delivered his testimony on the "Threat
of Terrorism to the United States" before the Senate Appropriations
committee on May 10. In the section on "domestic terrorism," Freeh
identified "right-wing extremist groups," such as the World Church
of the Creator and Aryan Nation, as "representing a continuing terrorism
threat." One of the two paragraphs dealing with "special-interest
extremists" focused on the eco-sabotage of the Animal
Liberation Front and Earth
Liberation Front. In contrast, extreme anti-abortion groups,
with their record of murder and clinic bombings, merited only a
But it was the final paragraph in Freeh's assessment of "left-wing
that raised eyebrows among anti-globalization activists: "Anarchist
and extremist socialist groups--many of which, such as the Workers
World Party, Reclaim the
Streets and Carnival Against Capitalism--have an international
presence and, at times, also represent a potential threat in the United
States," Freeh said. "For example, anarchists, operating individually
and in groups, caused much of the damage during the 1999 World Trade
Organization ministerial meeting in Seattle."
"These are extremely dangerous and inappropriate comments," says
Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, co-founder of the Washington-based Partnership
for Civil Justice. Verheyden-Hilliard is the lead attorney on
a lawsuit against the FBI and other police agencies for civil rights
violations during the April 2000 protests at the Washington meeting
of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. Noting that Freeh's
remarks were made in the context of an appropriations hearing, she
says that he "may be trying to legitimate funding for a government-sponsored
war against the social justice movement."
Freeh's comments do provoke serious concerns. No justification
is offered for the naming of Workers World Party, a Marxist group,
and Reclaim the Streets, a network founded in London in 1995 that
merges protests and raves, as representing potential threats. Freeh
seemingly criminalizes all anarchists based on vandalism during
the Seattle WTO protests. "By demonizing this movement and suggesting
these folks pose a threat," says Verheyden-Hilliard, "they justify
declaring some form of martial law [during large demonstrations]."
Verheyden-Hilliard notes that protests in Philadelphia, Los Angeles
and Washington have been met with excessive police response: illegal
arrests, intrusive surveillance, pepper spray and the employment
of agents provocateur. Washington police traveled to Philadelphia,
Quebec and Genoa to observe protests, while local and state police
are cooperating with the FBI on "joint anti-terrorism task forces."
She adds: "It appears there's been substantial funding, sending
people all around the country."
According to Jon Weiss of New York Reclaim the Streets, activists'
initial response to Freeh's testimony was fear "because the phrase
'domestic terrorism' is usually just a packaging tool for the mass
suspension of civil liberties."
Weiss suspects the FBI cribbed the terrorist tag from Scotland
Yard, based on actions that devolved into riots. Reclaim the Streets'
actions in Britain had been nonviolent since the network's founding
in 1995, but that changed on June 18, 1999. As part of an international
"global street party" to protest the G8 meeting in Cologne, Germany,
10,000 gathered in London's financial district. What started as
a street party ended in the trashing of several businesses, including
a McDonald's and a bank.
Chuck Munson, an anarchist and co-editor of Alternative
Press Review, says the feds are grasping at "broad terms
to tar and feather" the movement and dismisses as "demonization"
the "insinuation that all anarchists are violent." The real violence,
Munson argues, is perpetrated by the police. "They're the ones who
bring guns, bullets, gas, dogs and water cannons to protests," he
says, "and they use them."
FBI spokesman Steven Berry would not elaborate on Freeh's reasons
for targeting anarchists, Workers World and Reclaim the Streets
beyond drawing attention to Seattle. But their inclusion wasn't
random. "There are a lot of groups in the anti-globalization movement
who have exhibited some potential to commit a terrorist incident,"
Asked whether these groups or others are under investigation or
subject to counterintelligence operations, Berry says, "We don't
comment on specific investigations." Berry denies that Freeh's comments
were a politically motivated smear. "We recognize that every group
has the right to assemble, the right to meet, has the right to exist
no matter how abhorrent their message is," Berry says. "The FBI
only gets involved when there is a violation of federal law."
Says Weiss, "If blocking a road or having a party constitutes a
terrorist act these days, I suppose we're guilty. The FBI is trying
to get their mind around the concept that there is a global democracy
movement, and they don't quite understand it yet."