Part II - Internet Thought Control Bill Under Fire
Internet Thought Control Bill Under Fire
House Committee Dismisses Criticisms of
Internet Thought Control Bill – H.R. 1995
On Monday, Dec. 17, the House Committee on Homeland Security posted this document in response to the many criticisms of House Resolution 1955, The Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007. Part 1 of this series examined the dangers that this bill posed to citizens and political groups using the Internet.
Based on the bill contents and the witnesses called to elaborate on the supposed problem of "homegrown terrorism," it appears that House bill and the Senate look alike (S.1959) pose a significant threat to political expression and free speech, particularly on the Internet (see Thought Control on the Internet and this collection for more detail).
H.R. 1955 passed by a 404-6 margin on Oct 23, 2007. On Nov. 6, 2007, the Subcommittee on Intelligence, Information Sharing and Terrorism Risk Assessment held a one hour plus hearing. Witnesses from "think tanks" elaborated on the need for the legislation. (Full video) Mark Weitzman was highly specific in portraying the Internet as a major source of violent radicalization. He showed slides of Internet web sites; he included some domestic political groups with very high visibility, and defined the threats as net-based communication and proselytizing. (Video of Weitzman testimony)
Sen. Barak Obama (D-IL) wrote The Independent and said
he has no position on S. 1959 (the Senate equivalent of H.R.
1955). This followed The Independent's story that
his emails to constituents indicated support for the bill.
There was a huge reaction to this hearing by U.S. political groups across the political spectrum. The reaction was so strong that presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) revised his apparent position of support as indicated in emails to constituents. In a recent email to The Independent the candidate's staff said that “Senator Obama has not taken a position on S. 1959. Should the bill be considered by the Homeland Security Committee, he will carefully evaluate it, as he does with all pieces of legislation,”
Committee on Homeland Security Staff Issues Response
Rep. Harman's subcommittee hearings sparked the controversy surrounding this legislation. Yet the main committee staff issued the three page response, not the subcommittee staff. The use of the committee staff may indicate some serious damage control. The Internet is not the third rail of U.S. politics but its heading in that direction.
On the first page of their response, the committee staff stated:
This legislation in no way restricts thought or speech. Both of these are legal activities that should be encouraged by all segments of our society and are welcomed in our system of open debate and dialogue. Radical thinking is not a crime and this legislation does not turn radical thinking into criminal behavior.
It's good to know that free thought and speech are still legal. However, there have been several extended periods in U.S. history where free thought and speech were seriously threatened. The most recent is the period dominated by McCarthyism from the late 1940's through the 1950's. The Smith Act (Alien Registration Act) of 1940 has a 20 year jail term for anyone who "prints, publishes, edits, issues, circulates, sells, distributes, or publicly displays" information that would lead to the overthrow of the government. The McCarran Internal Security Act also enabled this period calling for "alien exclusion and deportation laws and allowing for the detention of dangerous, disloyal, or subversive persons in times of war or internal security emergency… "
During this time, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R-WI) terrorized citizens by calling them as before congressional committees where they were accused of being disloyal to the United States. Victims included people who merely attended a rally deemed subversive; those who formerly sympathized with the left but were disillusioned; active leftists; and completely uninvolved citizens smeared through guilt by association.
Few prosecutions came of these hearings. But for years, the message was clear – "watch what you say, don’t be too critical, and be careful who you associate with or we'll defame you by simply calling you before either of these committees."
Now we're told, "Trust us." We're supposed to trust despite heavy self censorship by the corporate news media since 911. We're supposed to trust despite the rapidly expanding "legal" options for spying and surveillance by federal law enforcement. We're supposed to trust despite the smear tactics used against administration opponents.
"Myths and Facts" from the Committee Staff
The committee devoted a page to what they called "myths and facts" about H.R. 1955.
Here are their "myths" stated in the exact terms of the document. These are the errors by critics of the legislation and the committee. Through our flawed logic and the magic of the Internet, we've already created "myths" about major legislation passed at a time when the House was supposed to consider only routine bills.
"Myth: H.R. 1955 is a “thought crime” bill that attempts to legislate constitutionally-protected speech." Staff, Senate Committee on Homeland Security (Committee staff)
The criticism of the bill wasn't that it "attempts to legislate constitutionally-protected speech." Rather, the concerns expressed were that the legislation lays the foundation for subsequent laws to do just that. In the mean time, just the hearings put a chill on those who adamantly oppose the current administration. Another concern was that strong opposition to elected officials was not the same as opposition the "government" since many administration opponents believe strongly that those officials are subverting the government.
This myth is only in the minds of the committee staff since the bill consists of definitions, findings, and the creation of a commission and academic centers to define what constitutes violent radicalization.
"Myth: H.R. 1955 is a “thought
crime” bill that attempts to legislate
constitutionally-protected speech". Committee
Who said that? As with the first myth, the committee staff has created what's called a "straw man" – misstating an opponent's argument. By refuting what wasn't said, the committee staff raise suspicions that the fears expressed are valid; namely that this bill lays the foundation fur such legislation.
"Myth: H.R. 1955 discriminates against particular races, ethnicities and religions." Committee staff
This bill is an equal opportunity enabler of thought control and limitations on free speech. The key witness supporting the entire concept chose to mention those who doubt the veracity of official explanations for 911 and those who adamantly oppose the government's immigration and border policies. These two groups mentioned in slides presented by the witness, slides which just happened to be among others mentioning "pro Iraqi sympathizers. The guilt by association was no accident.
"Myth: H.R. 1955 will lead to Internet censorship." Committee staff
Correctly stated and very accurate! Both House and Senate bills define "violent radicalization" as a problem leading to "homegrown terrorism." The definitions section of H.R. 1955 is clear that simply "facilitating ideologically based violence" is a major threat to national security.
(2) VIOLENT RADICALIZATION- The term `violent radicalization' means the process of adopting or promoting an extremist belief system for the purpose of facilitating ideologically based violence to advance political, religious, or social change. H.R. 1955 SEC. 899A. DEFINITIONS
What does "facilitating" mean? Posting strongly worded charges against elected officials can inflame terrorists who read the posts. The Internet poster doesn't need to know the individual or be affiliated in any way, by the bill's definition. It's the loosest possible standard allowing a purely arbitrary connection between those with strong views and those who commit violent acts. Who will make these judgments?
The Internet is a key part of the process.
(3) The Internet has aided in facilitating violent radicalization, ideologically based violence, and the homegrown terrorism process in the United States by providing access to broad and constant streams of terrorist-related propaganda to United States citizens. H.R. 1955 SEC. 899B. FINDINGS.
If you define "facilitating" terrorism over a key medium, the Internet, what else will the bill do but result in restrictions, i.e., censorship? Are they going to study this, then say, "OK, the Internet allows these evil deeds to take place. Interesting isn't it." No, they're going to hold more hearings, have those doing the "facilitating" called to showcase their inflammatory political views, and then come up with legislation to stop the activity. They don't even need a law for these hearings. Investigation is sufficient cause to ruin a career or movement, as they tried with the 911 Truth movement.
Myth: H.R. 1955 is unnecessary because the threat of violent radicalization and homegrown terrorism does not exist in the United States. Committee staff
This is a cheap rhetorical trick. By using the double negative, the committee staff tries to corner critics of the legislation and label them as fools who think that there's no threat of homegrown terrorism in the United States. We've already seen defamation and guilt by association presented to an attentive Harman subcommittee for two domestic political groups mentioned at the hearing. The Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth (Video at 5:10) seeks to clear up the causes of the WTC towers collapse in order to understand who the true terrorists are. The anti immigration advocates who so strongly oppose current border policies are clear that one of their concerns in that porous borders are an opportunity that can be turned to the advantage of terrorists.
These groups don't have to be right to have the right to free speech. Their views don't need to be comforting to have the protection necessary to exercise that free speech. What the committee staff talking about? Who thinks that there's no threat from "homegrown" terrorist acts?
The first, second, and last "myths" are examples of misstating an opponent's case by creating "a straw man," then responding to that misstatement. That leaves just two myths that might characterize the position of the critics.
The stated myth of discrimination against one group is one belied by the cross section of groups opposing the legislation. It's the fear that this bill will be universally applied that drives the opposition.
The claim that this is not "internet censorship" is myth propagated by the Committee, subcommittee, and their supporters. Right now, the bill creates a standard for "facilitating violent radicalization" that could include many individuals and groups on the Internet who simply despise the Bush – Cheney administration and hold Congress in extreme contempt.
On the one "myth" that the committee got straight, that of "Internet censorship," we're left with "Trust me." Isn't that what Bush and Cheney said when they convinced Congress to pass the Iraq War Resolution? Aren't we paying for that naïve trust right now? Won't the unjust costs continue for decades to come?
Trust has to be earned. The characterization of critics and their arguments was misleading as presented by the committee statement. The response to the one accurately stated criticism, internet censorship, amounts to nothing more than "Trust me." The nature of the dialog at this point is hardly encouraging given the response of the committee staff.
Efforts will continue to stop this legislation before it becomes yet another tool in the arsenal of those who wish to end dissent and reinstitute conformity and quiescence. This is not what's called for given the state of the nation and the world today.
If Congress is looking for the cause of "violent radicalization," it need look no further than 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and within its own chambers. Wasn't it the White House that proposed the Iraq War Resolution and the Congress that passed it? Are they not responsible for the incredible brutality of the war on Iraq, the clear cause of the severe hostility toward the United States?
Passed 404-6: H.R. 1955 Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007
Understanding H.R. 1955: The Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007 Majority Staff, Committee on Homeland Security, Dec. 17, 2007