The FBI Wants Schools to Spy on Their Students’ Thoughts

Imagine you’re a high school principal. An FBI document lands on your desk. It’s called “Preventing Violent Extremism in Schools,” and it’s alarming. According to the paper, “youth are embracing many forms of violent extremism” and “are actively engaged in extremist activities.” Your students, the paper warns, are “ideal targets” for recruitment by violent extremists. What are you going to do?

That’s a question high school principals across the country will have to confront when they read this document, released as part of the government’s countering violent extremism (CVE) programs, a sweeping set of initiatives the government has identified as a top national security priority. A core component of CVE programs asks teachers, social workers, and school administrators to monitor and report to law enforcement on children in their care. In the document, the FBI advises, “high schools must remain vigilant in educating their students about catalysts that drive violent extremism and the potential consequences of embracing extremist beliefs.” The document purports to “serve as a guide to educate school personnel about at-risk behaviors and activities that assist students with reducing social and psychological commitment to violence as a method of resolving a grievance.”

On its surface, this paper indicates some shifts in tone and emphasis compared to the few other CVE-related documents the government has made public. For example, while other CVE documents mostly lack any evidence-based foundation, this document incorporates social science research (although it’s unclear how sound that research is). Other CVE documents have mentioned “off-ramps” or alternatives to criminal prosecution for people suspected of planning to commit political violence, but have failed to explore those alternatives. This paper puts forth a theory for what that intervention might look like (although it’s not clear that the FBI is yet implementing alternatives to its heavy-handed, often-criticized emphasis on prosecution).

At bottom, though, this document fails to substantively address any of the criticisms of CVE programs that have been raised by the ACLU and other advocacy and communitygroups, including concerns about the programs’ impact on Americans’ freedoms of speech, belief, and association — and particularly those of religious and racial minorities.

For example, the FBI says it doesn’t want to limit students’ freedom of speech. Yet the document makes clear that the Bureau essentially expects teachers and administrators to monitor and report on students’ thoughts. It encourages school officials to identify students who “engage in communications indicating support for extremist ideologies” or who are “curious about the subject matter” of extremism. But in the United States, holding beliefs and researching ideas, even extreme ones, are not crimes, and schools should be environments where inquiry — including about controversial topics — thrives.

The FBI’s request that school officials spy and report on students’ ideas and beliefs risks stifling students’ curiosity and free expression, and corrupts the trust that should exist between teachers and students. And we’ve seen examples of just how damaging this sort of suspicion and censorship can be. Similar programs encouraging schools to closely monitor students in the United Kingdom have had harmful consequences. In one case, a university student studying counterterrorism was investigated for reading a book on terrorism. Inanother, a 14-year-old boy was interrogated after simply discussing “eco-terrorists” in school, a topic he had learned at a debate society meeting. That sort of targeting of students for their intellectual curiosity seems to be just what the FBI is inviting in American schools.

The FBI also says that its CVE programs are aimed at all forms of violent extremism, and not at American Muslims in particular. But that’s somewhat disingenuous, and in any event doesn’t address the fundamental problems with law enforcement monitoring students based solely on any belief. Although the FBI document mentions domestic violent extremists and hate crimes, the vast majority of the images and examples used throughout the document, and its focus on “diaspora” and “immigrant” populations, unmask its true focus — American Muslim teenagers. As we’ve written before, CVE programs’ focus on Muslim communities stigmatizes them as inherently suspect and more prone to political violence. Not only is this notion false, it goes against the principles on which this country was founded.

More broadly, in its ongoing attempts to repackage CVE as a program that doesn’t focus just on American Muslims, the government has expanded its scope to such a degree that it has become a vehicle with which to target all extreme beliefs. For example, in this document, the FBI says (without providing any evidence) that students are susceptible to adopting a range of extremist ideologies. These ideologies include “white supremacists, animal rights and eco-terrorists, and anti-government or radical separatist groups.” The FBI has a long history of wrongful investigations of people and groups with beliefs that challenge societal orthodoxies. The fact is, the First Amendment protects all viewpoints, no matter how extreme or what they are, and speech, as long as the speech is not a true threat or incitement to imminent violence. No one should be spied on for their beliefs, without suspicion of actual wrongdoing. Slapping a “violent extremism” label onto a wider range of views simply perpetuates and expands one of the fundamental problems with CVE programs.

The FBI says that it wants to empower school officials and community groups to intervene with students before involving law enforcement. But the paper simultaneously tells principals that American high school students’ purported mobilization to political violence as an alarming problem, stating, in no uncertain terms, that high schools are hotbeds for budding terrorists. (Again, it provides no evidence for that proposition.) The document warns school officials that the time from “flash to bang” — between a student embracing an extremist ideology and resorting to violence — can be very short, and the consequences for failing to act in time can be “abuse, injury, or death.” Imagine how a principal might respond to this kind of alarm.

The document calls for schools to create “threat assessment teams” and “enhance domain awareness” — FBI-speak for intelligence operations. Invoking short timelines and calling for the use of surveillance tactics and law enforcement procedures to thwart future hypothetical potential threats is nothing short of fear mongering. And it will almost assuredly ratchet up the pressure on school officials to go to law enforcement before seeking out alternatives. Our schools are not, and should not become, mini-FBI field offices.

The FBI is suggesting that principals must choose between keeping their schools secure and respecting and upholding students’ rights to free expression and equal protection. But that’s a false choice: Our kids are safer, and our communities are stronger, when we work to protect — not erode — our fundamental values and freedoms.

This post originally appeared at Just Security.

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eqquesz

Just another way to expand illegal profiling. Good Luck. I am an example of illegal profiling, and continuous harassment by local law enforcement as it is; now kids, spying on kids.

Angel of Justice

Hello there eqquesz, I have spotted your comment on the article and agree that fearmongering is getting out of hand. Things won't get any better if Trump is voted in. But you mention what your discriminated for is vague, but I pray for the best for you (I'm Christian, but I "Live and Let Live" so to speak.

FreeTexan

Profiling is rampant in our society and based on each human beings reactions to another. Emotions such as fear, anger, regret, self-loathing, among others are the creation of profiling.
The decision to hate, cause violence, damage, kill or mame is made by each human and influenced by the actions of all others around him or her.
Of course the government is profiling citizens. Their job is to create a "safe" environment for citizens to exercise their rights to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. Freedom is why our country was created and United as individuals must protect this concept and idealogy of freedom as well as its homeland.

I ask why we still allow confederate symbols to dominate our southern courthouses and parks. Not supprising since we still allow Nazi symbols to be proudly displayed along with American flags and clowns in sheets any where they can get a freedom of speech permit. Confederates and Nazis are bigger threats to my "white" American way of life than ISIL.

Point is, Students reading this, track the klan, the nazis, the black panthers, the Daesh sympathizes, the human traffickers, the gay bashers, and anyone who chooses violence over peace in the world. Turn them in, TURN THEM ALL IN, FREEDOM MUST PREVAIL!

But watch the cops like a goddam hawk because those power hungry muthaf****s will do anything for "Jesus".

Anonymous

The Framers of the U.S. Constitution outlawed 100% of all "preemption doctrines" - they are illegal under our form of government.

FBI officials, along with every other national security official, swore an oath NOT to participate in preemption practices without a judicial warrant based on legitimate, not manufactured, probable cause of a past crime.

The U.S. Constitution has never been amended to legalize preemption practices, so why are judges allowing this type of law breaking and disloyalty to one's oath?

Anonymous

The greatest threat to the United States and the top "color of law" crimes being perpetrated against Americans since before 9/11 is "Employment Tampering" by our national security agencies, including the FBI and DOJ.

For example: innocent Americans that would likely have averaged $30,000 to $50,000 annual income since 9/11, have averaged less than $10,000 annually (gross, not net) since 9/11. In other innocent Americans have been punished by unelected bureaucrats, working-poor citizens have lost from $300,000 to $600,000 over nearly 15 years of blacklisting. Higher income Americans have lost even more. Since these crime victims have been defamed and slandered, they also require official government apologies to repair their destroyed work histories.

Since many of these "color of law" crime victims are self-employed, after being destroyed after 9/11, ACLU members could help by using their businesses and services since judges refuse to repair the damage.

Many, if not most, of these citizens were punished by unelected bureaucrats for legal First Amendment exercises - not any real crime or real wrongdoing. Probably most of these victims have never been accused of anything or officially confronted as required by the U.S. Constitution - since no laws were broken.

This should be the ACLU's top priority, many of these innocent people are being destroyed more and more every day. Judges have abdicated their constitutional duty of providing Judicial Review over the political branches after 9/11.

Marlin Wright

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Anthony Anson

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Jessica Brown

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janson

The fact is, the First Amendment protects all viewpoints, no matter essay service uk how extreme or what they are, and speech, as long as the
speech is not a true threat or incitement to imminent violence. No one should be spied on for their beliefs, without suspicion of actual wrongdoing.

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