House passes thoughtcrime prevention act

In a little-noted move, the US House of Representatives Oct. 23 passed the “Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007” (HR 1955), which is being widely assailed by civil libertarians. The bill, if it becomes law, would establish a “National Commission on the prevention of violent radicalization and ideologically based violence” and a university-based “Center for Excellence” to “examine and report upon the facts and causes of violent radicalization, homegrown terrorism and ideologically based violence in the United States” and develop policy for “prevention, disruption and mitigation.” The bill defines “violent radicalization” as “the process of adopting or promoting an extremist belief system for the purpose of facilitating ideologically based violence to advance political, religious or social change.”

Congressional sponsors of the bill claim it is limited in scope. “Though not a silver bullet, the legislation will help the nation develop a better understanding of the forces that lead to homegrown terrorism, and the steps we can take to stop it,” said Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA), who co-authored the bill, on the day of the vore. “Free speech, espousing even very radical beliefs, is protected by our Constitution — but violent behavior is not.”

But the bill’s purpose goes beyond academic inquiry. In a Nov. 7 press release, Harman stated: “the National Commission [will] propose to both Congress and [Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael] Chertoff initiatives to intercede before radicalized individuals turn violent.” (NY Indypendent, Nov. 15)

Comments this week’s Sacramento News & Review:

The U.S. already has extensive laws on the books related to criminal conspiracy, which the Justice Department has been applying pretty broadly, many say far too broadly, in the so-called war on terror. But these definitions swerve into Thoughtcrime territory. “Smash the state” bumper sticker? You’re a homegrown terrorist. Self-proclaimed anarchist? Maoist poseur? Che Guevara T-shirt? Homegrown terrorist.

The bill also finds: “The Internet has aided in facilitating violent radicalization, ideologically based violence, and the homegrown terrorism process in the United States by providing access to broad and constant streams of terrorist-related propaganda to United States Citizens.”

See our last posts on the domestic police state, the anarchist scare and the politics of cyberspace.