“This is an example of the banality of evil.”
August 29, 2005
Law enforcement officials in Michigan have been busy slapping the “terrorist” label on domestic groups.
An FBI document, released on August 29 by the ACLU, shows extensive monitoring of a whole bunch of organizations, ranging from the Aryan World Church and the Christian Identity movement to animal rights groups, an anti-war collective, and a leading pro-affirmative action coalition.
The document, dated January 29, 2002, is a summary of a domestic terrorism symposium that was held six days previously.
In attendance were the FBI, the Secret Service, the Michigan State Police, the Michigan State University police, and Michigan National Guard.
“The purpose of the meeting was to keep the local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies apprised of the activities of the various groups and individuals within the state of Michigan who are thought to be involved in terrorist activities,” the document states.
One of those “terrorist groups” is By Any Means Necessary, which says its aim is “to defend affirmative action, integration, and fight for equality.”
The FBI document said a detective, whose last name was blotted out, “presented information on a protest from February 8-10, 2002, in Ann Arbor, Michigan,” by the group.
That “protest” was actually the Second National Conference of the New Civil Rights Movement, which was co-sponsored by the Reverend Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow/PUSH, with keynote speaker Jonathan Kozol.
“We’re standing up for education equity, and the American government is spying on us? That’s an outrage,” says Luke Massie, one of the national co-chairs of By Any Means Necessary. “This is palpable proof of what a lot of progressive people have worried about since 9/11: The Bush Administration is shredding our Bill of Rights before our eyes.”
The February 8-10 conference was designed to build public support for affirmative action just as the Supreme Court was deciding two Michigan affirmative action cases.
“The timing of this shows the political motivation of the Bush Administration,” says Shanta Driver, the group’s other national co-chair. “We’re completely nonviolent. But it’s no surprise to us that people who are devoted to a new civil rights movement and the cause of equality would be targeted for this kind of surveillance and attack.”
The FBI document acknowledged that the group was not violent. “Michigan State Police has information that in the past demonstrations by this group have been peaceful,” the document states.
The FBI and Michigan law enforcement also discussed the Animal Liberation Front, as well as a local group. “Michigan State University (MSU) Public Safety . . . presented information on a group called East Lansing Animal Rights Movement,” the document states. Then, after blotting out information about a student at Michigan State, the document adds: “MSU Public Safety feels that this group has approximately 12-15 members at this time.”
On the web, ELARM identifies itself as a “grassroots animal rights advocacy group” that “believes strongly in the value of all animals, human or non-human, and therefore opposes any and all forms of animal exploitation. Our purpose is to educate the public regarding animal rights issues, and to expose and oppose animal abuse wherever it is found.”
The group actually is defunct now, according to Julie Hartman, who says she revived it in 2001 only to see it fold two years later.
“We did a couple of circus protests and that kind of thing,” she says.
She got a copy of the FBI document last week.
“I was really surprised, considering we never once broke the law, that they would spend the time investigating us,” she says.
The fact that the Michigan State University police estimated that there were twelve to fifteen members in her group creeps her out, she says.
“That seems to indicate that they would have to have come to a meeting to find out how many people were involved,” she notes. “That actually made me start thinking, who was coming to our meetings?”
She believes the university police department has skewed priorities.
“It’s certainly a waste of their resources,” she says. “This is a large university. The number of rapes on this campus is astounding. The police always complain they don’t have enough resources to do their job, but they’re spending their resources to spy on peaceful groups! That’s really just sickening.”
The Michigan State University police gave no comment.
Another local group that law enforcement linked to ELARM is called Direct Action. Interestingly, the document notes that both groups had demonstrated against the FBI local office because of “perceived injustices by law enforcement.” Included as an attachment to the FBI document was a clipping from the Lansing State Journal of January 19, 2002, about the protest, which was ironically entitled: “Dozens march against terrorism.” The first sentence reads: “Dozens of students and others marched Friday to protest racial profiling and terrorism—which they say includes United States military action in Afghanistan.”
On its website Direct Action says, “We desire to challenge the calls for retribution, endless war, and destruction of civil liberties. Direct Action also wants to defend the gains made by the movement against corporate power that was birthed in this country on the streets of Seattle.”
Primarily a youth-based group, Direct Action is now focusing a lot of its work on counter-recruitment efforts.
Tommy Simon, a member of Direct Action, dismisses the terrorist label.
“What is a terrorist? The word is just a propaganda tool used to dissuade people from getting involved in activism—especially young people,” he says. The group has never been violent, unlike the Bush Administration, he adds.
“We’ve organized protests and spoken out against the government, but that does not make us a threat in any way,” he says. “We’re working for peace here.”
Sarah Mcdonald, a longtime member of Direct Action, was taken aback by the designation of her group.
“I was shocked,” she says. “I was really disturbed that the FBI is misusing its power this way. They’re trying to squash dissent, and they’re doing that by monitoring anti-war groups and other groups against the Bush Administration.”
The ACLU also condemns the police surveillance and the use of the label “terrorist” to describe the peace group and the affirmative action group.
“This document confirms our fears that federal and state counterterrorism officers have turned their attention to groups and individuals engaged in peaceful protest activities,” said Ben Wizner, an ACLU staff attorney. “When the FBI and local law enforcement identify affirmative action advocates as potential terrorists, every American has cause for concern.”
Wasn’t me, says the FBI.
“A plain reading of the document clearly notes that there were presentations at the symposium by someone outside the FBI that discussed the groups By Any Means Necessary and Direct Action,” says an FBI press office statement of August 29. “The FBI does not make any representation about these groups in the document other than to note they were discussed during the symposium.”
Kary Moss, executive director of the ACLU of Michigan, is not impressed with that statement. “What else can they say, other than we didn’t do it, someone else did?” The point is, she says, law enforcement, including the FBI, were discussing these political groups on the assumption that they were “involved in terrorist activities,” as the document states.
“Whenever you give police increasing powers, there’s going to be confusion about where to begin and where to end,” Moss says. “And that’s what we’re seeing here.”