Fearing and loathing the Patriot Act

“Look, the John Birch Society is here!” observed a well-known Nevada liberal standing with a few folks from the American Civil Liberties Union and Alliance for Workers’ Rights. Left- and right-wingers, environmentalists, ranchers, Stonewall Democrats and Republican Liberty Caucus folk had all gathered in front of Reno’s federal building.

“If you live long enough,” he continued, “I guess you’ll see everything.”

Yes, the Nevada Campaign to Defeat the Patriot Act, in its quest to enact local resolutions that oppose the federal legislation, has gained a broad base of support. A Thursday press conference in Reno attracted many groups in opposition to the law—but few members of the press.

“What is with the TV stations?” wondered Bob Tregilus, a Reno organizer of the Nevada Campaign to Defeat the Patriot Act. “If it’s political, it’s like ‘to hell with it.’ ”

The effort has received the endorsement of 45 organizations, some of which represent thousands of individuals—like the 1,000 people (statewide) affiliated with Nevada Women’s Lobby; 50,000 Las Vegans who’re part of the Culinary Workers Union; and the 16,000 voters in the Independent American Party of Nevada.

Press conferences were held in Reno, Carson City and Las Vegas.

The diversity of the group proves the importance of the issue, said Janine Hansen of the IAP of Nevada, the Nevada Committee for Full Statehood and Nevada Families Eagle Forum. She spoke of the importance of citizens not taking their “eyes off the government.”

“The highest form of patriotism is diligence,” she said, quoting Thomas Jefferson: “ ‘When people fear the government, tyranny has found victory.’ … The Patriot Act doesn’t make us more safe, but it certainly makes us less free.”

Speaking of fear, Jesse Gutierrez of Nevada Hispanic Services said the federal law has caused plenty of unrest in the Hispanic community.

“A lot of folks, productive citizens, fear they cannot travel anymore,” he said. “Something that creates fear and anxiety is not fair, not good government.”

The USA Patriot Act was adopted by Congress about six weeks after Sept. 11, 2001. Those in opposition to the act call it “a wish list for prosecutors” that removes safeguards in law enforcement. The Patriot Act, for example, would allow the FBI access to your personal medical and education records and lists of videos you’ve rented or books you’ve checked out of the library. The agency wouldn’t have to inform you that it was delving into this personal information. Also, the law gives agencies the right to seize and hold an individual without charges, without notifying the individual’s family or even revealing the individual’s name, for an unlimited amount of time, said Laura Mijanovich, Northern Nevada coordinator for the ACLU.

“We must not abandon democracy to combat terrorism,” Mijanovich said. “This law is not necessary to fight terrorism.”

Another speaker reminded the audience that the Patriot Act—which expands law enforcement options purportedly to guard against acts of terrorism—has been used to pursue public corruption in the Las Vegas case of strip club owner Michael Galardi and his dealings with three Clark County commissioners.

“While busting corrupt politicians is a good thing, they refuse to do it the old-fashioned way. It’s too much work. … If they want to bust terrorists, go ahead and bust them!”

(In a Las Vegas Review-Journal story Nov. 5, it was reported that government officials can’t name another case like Galardi’s in which the Patriot Act has been invoked by federal agents to obtain records during an investigation of racketeering and bribery of politicians.)

To sign the online petition asking local governments to adopt resolutions in opposition to the Patriot Act, visit the NCDPA Web site,

The group hopes to present its petitions to local governments, such as the Reno City Council and Washoe County Commission, sometime in February or March.

The failure of any of Reno’s three TV networks to send a camera to the event—until it was over—didn’t bother Brad Summerhill, a member of the Nevada Campaign to Defeat the Patriot Act and occasional contributor to the RN&R.

“The media didn’t create this movement, the people did,” Summerhill said. “It’s OK. They’ll catch on.”