Silencing Dissent in America

Stephen Lendman, Contributor
Activist Post

Freedom in America is endangered. Bipartisan complicity plans destroying it altogether.

America is on a fast track toward tyranny and ruin. Police state laws threaten everyone.

Increasingly, dissent is marginalized. It’s not tolerated. Resistance is called dangerous to National Security.

Federal authorities target activists. So do militarized local police. No-holds-barred tactics are employed.

In October 2010, the Center for Constitutional Rights said:

The growing threat to the right to dissent has been demonstrated in the U.S. government’s efforts to silence speech, and criminalize and target peaceful movements. 

These efforts are becoming more aggressive, emboldened further by the Supreme Court’s increasingly conservative decisions, for instance regarding material support in the form of humanitarian aid to so-called terrorist organizations.

Howard Zinn called dissent “the highest form of patriotism.” Michael Ratner and Margaret Ratner Kunstler’s book Hell No: Your Right to Dissent in Twenty First Century America discusses what everyone needs to know.

It explores how activism and dissent are targeted. Demonstrations are attacked and disrupted. Protesters are called terrorists. They’re arrested and jailed for expressing constitutionally guaranteed First Amendment and other rights.

Authorities claim they give “material support” to perceived enemies. Hell No provides advice on dealing with a menu of police state practices.

American’s First Amendment guarantees free expression, a free press, the right to peacefully assemble, free exercise of religion, and right to petition government for redress of grievances.

Without these rights, all others are at risk. They’ve been fast eroding in America for years en route to eliminating them altogether. Forgotten are numerous Supreme Court decisions upholding free expression and assembly rights.

In Edwards v. South Carolina (1963), the Court ruled against state authorities for prohibiting protesters from marching for civil rights.

In Cox v. Louisiana (1965), the Court held that state government cannot employ “breach of the peace” statutes against protesters engaging in peaceful demonstrations by claiming they may incite violence.

In Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969), the Court ruled government can’t punish inflammatory speech unless it’s “directed” to incite lawless action.

In Texas v. Johnson (1989), Justice William Brennan wrote the majority opinion, saying:

(I)f there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea offensive or disagreeable.

In Wooley v. Maynard (1977), the Court upheld “the right of individuals to hold a point of view different from the majority” with respect to “idea(s) they find morally objectionable.”

Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states:

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

Article 20(1) states:

Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.

Article 29(2) states:

In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society.

Post-9/11, dissent has been increasingly marginalized.

In October 2008, so-called (Attorney General Michael) Mukasey/(FBI Director Robert) Mueller Guidelines gave federal authorities “flexibility (to) protect the Nation from terrorist threats.”

Consolidated new rules include criminal and national security issues. Surveillance restrictions were eased. Domestic spying became institutionalized. Constitutional rights are ignored.

“War on terror” authority escalated FBI abuses. Intrusive surveillance tools used against alleged spies now target ordinary Americans. Mukasey/Mueller Guidelines underwent four separate changes. Each one increased FBI surveillance powers.

Tactics include intrusive spying, commercial database data retrieval, paid informants infiltrating groups or targeting individuals on false pretenses, and letting covert unidentified agents conduct “pretext” interviews for information.

Mukasey/Mueller Guidelines left ordinary Americans increasingly vulnerable to abuse. Anyone may be investigated for any reason or none at all.

Authorization permits surveillance and infiltration of anti-war and other social justice groups. Occupy Wall Street (OWS) activists are targeted. Any organization or individual is vulnerable. Anything goes is now policy. Obama is more repressive than Bush.

Data mining collects vast amounts of information on ordinary Americans. How it’s used, who knows. Against targeted individuals and groups, it’s used abusively.

Everything is fair game. Personal records of all kinds are obtained. Activities are closely monitored. So-called “suspicious activity reports” allege possible criminal activity.

The USA PATRIOT Act authorized so-called National Security Letters (NSLs). They expanded the FBI’s authority to obtain personal customer records from ISPs, financial institutions, credit companies, and other sources without prior court approval.

Innocent people are targeted. Virtually anything in public or private records can be gotten. “Gag” orders prevent targeted individuals or groups from revealing the information demanded. NSL use continues increasing exponentially.

Lawful rights are violated in numerous ways. Classic police state tactics are used. No one’s safe when authorities act this way. Freedom is perilously close to vanishing. Mueller has virtual carte blanche authority.

Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protesters have been targeted and criminalized. Constitutional rights are violated. Beatings and other forms of excessive force are used. Nonviolent protests are called terrorism.

PATRIOT Act provisions criminalized dissent. Innocent people are arrested, indicted and imprisoned. “Terrorist profiles” let FBI and local police investigate anyone for any reason. Obama and congressional allies sold out constituents for Wall Street and other monied interests.

Obama escalated repressive Bush practices. The Oregorian newspaper reported that heavily armed FBI units raided homes of OWS protesters in Seattle and Olympia, WA and Portland, OR over the last month.

Actions have been ongoing since early July. Authorities claim violent crimes are being investigated. Eyewitnesses report dozens of FBI agents in body armor and military fatigues armed with assault rifles involved.

One witness said:

I just heard lots of pounding at 6 o’clock, and I got up and I saw the whole thing. I saw them screaming to get in. They were using the battering ram, and then finally the door just opened.

FBI spokeswoman Beth Anne Steele told the Oregonian”

The warrants are sealed, and I anticipate they will remain sealed.

Authorities alleged searches were for “anti-government or anarchist literature or materials,” as well as “documentation and communications related to the offenses, including but not limited to notes, diagrams, letters, diary and journal entries, address books, and other documentation in written or electronic form.”

In fact, nonviolent activists were targeted, terrorized, and criminalized. At issue is engaging in constitutionally protected protests. Militarized FBI agents used stun grenades and battering rams. Victims were pulled out of bed at gunpoint.

Personal possessions were seized. They included computers, suspect literature and other materials in written or electronic form, cell phones, thumb drives, and clothing with political slogans.

False charges remain sealed. Fundamental rights are criminalized. Post-9/11, similar raids were conducted. At issue is political dissent as well as America’s ongoing war on Islam.

Disproportionate force is used. Victims were handcuffed while homes were searched. Arrests weren’t made, but about six protesters were subpoenaed to appear before grand juries.

On August 1, Dennison Williams and Leah Plante read a statement outside a Portland, OR courthouse, saying:

This grand jury is a tool of political repression. It is attempting to turn individuals against each other by coercing those subpoenaed to testify against their communities. 

The secret nature of grand jury proceedings creates mistrust and can undermine solidarity. And imprisoning us takes us from our loved ones and our responsibilities.

Williams and Plante said they’ll invoke the Fifth Amendment rights and refuse to answer grand jury questions.

America’s Grand Jury System

They’re convened to determine possible probable cause to return indictments. Critics say they rubber stamp aggressive prosecutions.

Federally, they have extraordinary investigative powers. Prosecutors abuse them to manipulate proceedings for outcomes they wish. Victims are vulnerable to bogus indictments. The Fifth Amendment requires grand jury indictments for federal criminal charges.

Prosecutors have extraordinary discretion. They choose witnesses, grant selective immunity, and do nearly all questioning.

Proceedings are conducted in secret. No one may disclose what goes on unless ordered to do so judicially. Anyone may be subpoenaed. Answering questions is mandated unless special privilege is granted. For example: lawyer/client confidentiality or self-incrimination.

Lawyers can’t intervene to help clients while testifying. Double jeopardy doesn’t apply to grand juries, but without indictments, prosecutors need Criminal Division Attorney General permission to try again. Victims have no protections against false witness testimonies perhaps gotten for leniency on existing or threatened charges.

Prosecutors routinely want grand jury indictments. The system is rigged to get them. Targeted victims are defenseless. Many innocent people languish wrongfully in prison. Justice is routinely denied.

Numerous past incidents occurred. In September 2010, administration ordered raids targeted Chicago and Minneapolis anti-war/pro-Palestinian activists. Arrests weren’t made, but homes were ransacked. Computers, cell phones, books, photos, correspondence, papers, and other possessions were seized.

Twenty-three victims were subpoenaed to testify before grand juries. Activists were again targeted during NATO’s May invasion. False terror plots were claimed. Activist homes were raided. Five victims faced terrorism-related charges.

Numerous other arrests were made. Everyone charged is innocent. Police brutality was reported. Most injuries were from baton head and body blows. Over two dozen were hospitalized for broken bones, concussions, knocked out teeth, and open wounds requiring stitches.

NATO arrives nowhere peacefully. Obama officials and local police wage war on dissent. Legal restraints don’t apply for anyone charged with alleged terrorism or conspiracy to commit it. Abolition of constitutional rights shows what everyone faces.

It’s the wrong time to be activist in America. Doing so means possible indictment, prosecution, and imprisonment for doing the right thing.

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Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at His new book is titled How Wall Street Fleeces America: Privatized Banking, Government Collusion and Class War. Also visit his blog site at and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.

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