It doesn’t matter if they are Republicans, Democrats, Greens, Libertarians, or independents: all of the candidates running for federal office in Montgomery County, Maryland agree on one thing – that the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) political spying should be investigated. This was the finding of a candidate questionnaire put together by two local groups, Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition (MCCRC) and Peace Action Montgomery.
MCCRC is a BORDC/DDF grassroots partner, as well as one of the local signatories of our letter to the House and Senate Judiciary asking them to investigate the FBI and Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) spying on First Amendment protected activity. Working together with Peace Action Montgomery, MCCRC supplied a series of questions about civil liberties issues for a joint candidate questionnaire. Candidates were asked their positions on a range of issues, such as efforts to reform the police, surveillance by the National Security Agency, and the Countering Violent Extremism program.
It also contained a question directly referencing BORDC/DDF’s letter to Congress, asking the candidates if they would support such a Congressional investigation. While one candidate commented that he needed more information before being able to respond, every other candidate who responded to the questionnaire responded affirmatively that they would support such an investigation. It was the only one of the thirteen questions to receive an unanimous response.
BORDC/DDF has long been on the forefront of efforts to rein in the FBI’s politically motivated spying. Our predecessor organization and its founder, Frank Wilkinson, incurred not only the wrath of the J. Edgar Hoover and the Bureau, but also a 132,000 page FBI file. The letter came in response to a series of recent revelations – that the FBI and DHS had spied on Black Lives Matter, Occupy Wall Street, School of the Americas Watch, and anti-Keystone pipeline protesters – that also fit into a longer history of FBI misconduct. In the 1970s, the Church Committee in Senate and the Pike Committee in the House investigated the FBI’s spying on dissent. In the 1980s, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence investigated the FBI’s monitoring of the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador. Most recently, a 2010 Department of Justice Inspector General report tackled the FBI’s spying on domestic advocacy groups, such as Greenpeace, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and the Catholic Worker movement. Yet, after all the years the FBI continues to spy on dissent and now it appears the DHS has joined them in doing so.
BORDC/DDF’s letter demands that as part of a Congressional investigation, a substantive report be issued that includes recommendations for meaningful reform. MCCRC also asked candidates if they would support legislation “barring federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies from investigating First Amendment protected activity, absent evidence that a crime is likely to be or has been committed.” Although it did not garner the same unanimous support, 91% of the candidates who returned the survey would support such legislation.
It is impossible to say what caused such widespread support for investigating the FBI amongst the candidates, but a strong movement in support of civil liberties is necessary if we hope to ever see needed action on the FBI’s spying on dissent. That is why BORDC/DDF is not only currently meeting with Congressional offices to discuss the demand to investigate the FBI and the DHS, but is working to build a grassroots movement to pressure Congress to stand up for the Bill of Rights. You can become part of this movement today by signing our petition calling for an investigation into the FBI and DHS, a petition that we plan on hand delivering to the Senate and House Judiciary Committees.