Our Civil Liberties, RIP

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Amidst all the justified outrage over the apparent targeting of Tea Party and conservative groups by the IRS, not to mention the Associated Press phone tapping brouhaha, an important point is being lost: this is nothing new. The Tea Partiers may be shocked – shocked! – that the Big Government they have spent the last few years complaining about really is a threat to our liberties, but the government targeting certain political groups wholly on account of their views is hardly breaking news. Just ask the Freedom Road Socialist Organization (FRSO), which had set up an “Antiwar Committee” whose members have been spied on, indicted, and arrested for engaging in legal, constitutionally protected activities.

The FBI had sent a pair of infiltrators into the Antiwar Committee, and, on September 24, 2010, a veritable army of FBI agents launched simultaneous raids on antiwar activists in Minneapolis, Chicago, and Grand Rapids (Michigan). They seized computers, cell phones, passports, documents, family photos and even children’s artwork. Agents issued 14 subpoenas ordering the recipients to testify before a Chicago federal grand jury, and showed warrants indicating that the feds were searching for evidence related to “material support for terrorism.” A total of 23 people have since been handed subpoenas commanding them to appear before the grand jury in Chicago: all have refused. The FBI “investigation” – i.e. fishing expedition – is continuing.

At the time of these raids, we heard not a single protest from the “Tea Party” groups that are now loudly protesting their own victimization at the hands of the government: the leftists targeted by the FBI were just another group of “terrorists,” left to fight against their targeting and prosecution largely alone. Now that conservatives have been put in the crosshairs in a similar manner, however – singled out by a government agency for “special treatment” on account of their politics – their sympathizers in Congress are making a big stink about it and the headlines are alight with their outrage.

The Tea Partiers’ problem is that their protests come far too late – because the legal and political precedents targeting dissident groups were established long ago, with the full complicity and even enthusiastic support of most of those who call themselves “conservatives” these days. The “Patriot” Act – passed with conservative support – gives the government the “right” to not only spy on such groups, it also gives them the means to spy on anyone, for any reason, as well as the prosecutorial “tools” to put them away forever. Law enforcement agencies have set up “fusion centers” in order to collect information on American citizens who might be considered a “threat.” A recent report on “right-wing extremism” issued by the Department of Homeland Security” listed groups local law enforcement should keep tabs on, including members of the Libertarian and Constitution parties, as well as Ron Paul supporters. Efforts by the FBI and local police to infiltrate and set up members of the “Occupy” movement have been widespread.

Perhaps the Tea Partiers are unfamiliar with the long history of government repression of marginalized ideological groupings: during the 1960s, the FBI’s “Cointelpro” program targeted left-wing and black nationalist groups, sending in infiltrators, organizing disruption, and setting up prominent activists for “legal” repression.

As long as the subjects of official repression were almost exclusively confined to the left side of the political spectrum – theBlack Panthers, the Communists, etc. – the Tea Party types could not have cared less. After all, these are “anti-American” extremists and the Tea Partiers were happy to join in with the general cry of “Off with their heads!” Now that the shoe is on the other foot, however, they are screaming bloody murder.

The same sort of hypocrisy occurs on what passes for the “left” these days. The response of liberal pundits to the revelation that the IRS has been targeting conservative groups for “special” treatment has brought out their authoritarian streak: these groupsshould be subject to special scrutiny, says Los Angeles Times columnist Michael Hiltzick, because they’re engaged in “chicanery.” Go and read the comments to this article in the Huffington Post about the IRS scandal: they’re all cheering on the IRS! Imagine if this had happened during the Bush II era, and the IRS was caught targeting liberal groups – we’d never hear the end of it from the Huffpo types and the liberal media.

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