Statement – Tim Vining, Target of Illegal FBI Spying

March 14, 2006

Illegal FBI / JTTF Spying >>

The Thomas Merton Center for Peace & Justice was founded in 1972 to bring people from diverse philosophies and faiths together to work, through nonviolent efforts, for a more just and peaceful world. Through protests and ongoing projects, members of TMC aim to instill in our society a consciousness of values and to raise the moral questions involved in the issues of war, poverty, racism and oppression.

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I am the former Director of the Thomas Merton Center for Peace & Justice and am currently a PhD candidate in Social Movements in the Sociology Department at the University of Pittsburgh. I was at the protest on November 24, 2002 that we now know the FBI was monitoring and I remember that event as pretty typical of what the Thomas Merton Center does, we were handing out flyers.

It was the day after Thanksgiving and we figured that lots of people would be shopping so we went out to leaflet. A small group of us met at the Pavilion in Market Square with some anti-war, global justice and transit advocacy flyers. I remember that day so clearly because the anti-abortion people were there at Fifth and Smithfield so we had to move to another corner of the square. All we were doing that day was handing out leaflets to people who were walking by.

The FBI documents say that we are a pacifist organization. So why were they investigating us? All we were doing was handing out leaflets, which is a perfectly legal way to spend an afternoon. All we want to do is exercise our First Amendment rights and hand out flyers in a peaceful and organized manner. Is handing out flyers now considered a terrorist activity? What will be next?

TMC may have members who are pacifists, but the organization has never identified itself as a ‘pacifist organization.' But I sure don't see how we could be a threat to anyone. If the threat is violence or causing harm to people, then there's no way we'd be dangerous, but if the threat is speaking out and shaking the tree then maybe we are. Do we threaten the current administration's erosion of civil liberties by exercising our democratic rights? I would hope so. Taking action to defend human and civil rights is a time-honored tradition in this country.

We've never had anything to hide from the authorities, in fact we often advise them of what we're planning. When we have big events we work with the police and over the years we've built solid relationships based on communication and trust. If we plan an event and a lot more people show up than we expected, we go to the police and work with them to make sure that the event stays peaceful and safe for all the participants. Having a great relationship with the police in exercising our rights to assemble is a priority for TMC.

It seems we were also targeted for building relationships of trust among members of various religions including our Muslim sisters and brothers. Some of the documents from that day specifically note that one of the people with us “appeared to be Middle Eastern.” The Thomas Merton Center is proud to stand in solidarity with all those who are targets of hatred and ignorance. And during a time when religious differences often lead to so much violence and war, we feel it is more important than ever to build relationships and solidarity across lines of religion. In fact, for doing this, our government ought be encouraging us, not spying on us. We will never allow the actions of our own government to deter us from doing what is right, promoting peace in a world that so desperately needs it.

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