Since 1990, I have been aware that I, and the organizations I’ve worked for, have been under surveillance. In May 1990, while I was Co-coordinator of the Mendocino Environmental Center in Ukiah, California, my friends and co-workers Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney were bombed in Judi’s car, while they were on an organizing tour to protect the Redwood forests. Rather than conducting an investigation to find the perpetrator who had bombed them, the FBI engaged in an investigation of the environmental movement in Northern California. Not only were we, and several other activists, interrogated, investigated and surveiled, but phone lists were also confiscated, and many relatives and friends whom we had called were also investigated. The reputations of many innocent people were ruined as a result of being targeted by the FBI. And yet, the people responsible for bombing Judi’s car were never caught and remain at large.
After leaving California for Colorado, I encountered more spying in my work with the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center (RMPJC). In 2003, RMPJC was engaged in several civil disobedience actions, along with other peace and social justice groups. On two occasions, we learned that we had been infiltrated by undercover law enforcement officers who had attended our nonviolence trainings and participated in the actions with us. Our peaceful activities also caught the attention of the FBI. Thanks to Mark Silverstein, an ACLU attorney, we recently received our FBI file and learned that the bureau’s Joint Terrorism Task Force opened a “domestic terrorism” investigation of our peaceful group. According to the FBI report, the investigation was launched after the FBI found a promotion for a local anti-war demonstration on our Web site.
I am outraged that the FBI would use resources devoted to fighting terrorists to spy on a peaceful group like the RMPJC. I am also frightened.
It is true that I have become more motivated to work for justice and social change knowing that the government is abusing its powers like this. But I am worried about how far the government will go to squelch First Amendment rights and silence dissent. Will we all be rounded up and incarcerated? Already so many people have been frightened away from participating in our events, and have asked to have their names removed from our mailing lists, for fear of the consequences of associating with us. I hesitate to call people to discuss plans for rallies or protests because I don’t want them ending up in an FBI file labeled as a “domestic terrorist.”
The people who established this country created the Constitution to protect us from just this kind of abuse by our government. We must be vigilant, and active, in restoring justice to this country, which was founded on liberty and justice for all.
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