Beware of Boy and Girl Scouts conducting ‘get out the vote’ drives! A Terrorism Threat Assessment by the Virginia Fusion Center has warned that they may have links to terrorism. Scout troops are among the many worrisome features of life in Virginia that folks at the Fusion Center think may present an opportunity for terrorists. There are universities (“recognized as a radicalization node for almost every type of extremist group”), a diverse population (“affords terrorist operatives the opportunity to assimilate easily into society”) and politically extreme groups, such as the New Black Panther Party, Nation of Islam, Life & Liberty Ministries, Greenpeace and Blue Ridge Earth First. Strikingly, most of the threats uncovered by the fusion center are based on political ideology, race, religion or country of origin, with no evidence or even suspicion that criminal activity. Over the past several years, the Department of Homeland Security and its network of Fusion Centers has reaped the scorn of Congress and the general populace for their sub-par intelligence analysis.
DHS has regularly issued reports that are short on science but long on stereotypes and foolishness. But at least the agency is an equal opportunity offender, urging local law enforcement to beware of radicalized Muslims, environmentalists, and anti-abortion activists among others. A few years ago, DHS was forced to retract a report titled Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence In Radicalization and Recruitment, which targeted legitimate political activities and beliefs for suspicion in the war on terror.
DHS, along with the FBI and other law enforcement agencies improperly identify the threat to the homeland as extreme ideas, rather than violent acts. Our government has latched on to the conveyor belt theory of terrorism: one day you become a vegetarian, the next you might bomb a lab that does animal testing; one day you convert to Islam, the next you might bomb a Synagogue; one day you stick a Ron Paul bumper sticker on your truck, the next you might bomb an IRS office. That justifies surveillance and infiltration of religious and political groups without any evidence of criminal activity. It also justifies a fairly new idea: Countering Violent Extremism, or CVE. The idea is that the government should step in and work with “at risk communities” to ensure that people won’t get too radical. The First Amendment concerns CVE raises are stark: not only does the government label whole communities or groups “at risk” (or more accurately, “suspect”) based on their religion, ethnicity, political beliefs or other non-criminal characteristics, and the government will also decide what ideas are too radical and need to be exorcised from that community. Last fall the Obama Administration announced a Countering Violent Extremism initiative and is piloting programs in Boston, Minneapolis and Los Angeles, despite widespread concern from civil liberties groups.
Now, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX) has proposed a Countering Violent Extremism Act (HR2899), which would create an Office of Countering Violent Extremism to be housed at DHS to the tune of $50 million over the next five years. The bill explicitly authorizes the office to identify “risk factors” that contribute to violent extremism. But empirical studies tell us there is no such thing… which leaves DHS to come up with indicators like “growing a beard,” sporting a “Libertarian” bumper sticker, or, going to college. All legal activities, most protected by the First Amendment, and none valid indicators of future terrorist activity.
Further, the McCaul wants the new office to identify communities “targeted by violent extremist propaganda.” Identification of such communities can only lead to disproportionate investigative scrutiny of those communities, as we have already seen, most notably, the FBI’s infiltration of Mosques. The bill requires the new CVE office to use the internet and social media technology to “counter violent extremism,” which may lead to attempts to censor speech or establish platforms for government propagandizing of domestic populations. The bill was introduced with no co-sponsors, but we’re keeping a close eye on it. In the past, a similar bill, the Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act, sailed through the House before a coalition effort led by DDF killed the bill in the Senate.