Sneaky feds need no warrants
Politically diverse locals unite to challenge the USA Patriot Act
So, remember back when you were checking out various political theories? You went down to your favorite Washoe County library and checked out Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky and even some good old Tolstoy?
Maybe you’re a dark-hearted anarchist.
Or the time you rented the movie about heroin addicts, Trainspotting?
You must be a junkie or an evil drug dealer.
Maybe that’s why the feds are bugging your house.
For nearly two years now, federal agents in the United States have had powers to spy on you—whether or not you’re suspected of terrorism or any other crime. Federal agents can stop by your house while you’re playing the nickel slots at Rail City or while you’re singing worship tunes at your mega-church. They can inventory the contents of your bookshelves, count the number of rifles and ammunition in the gun collection passed down from Grandma and scan your computer’s hard drive for any files of interest.
They can take the guns or the computer—if they are the least bit suspicious of you for any reason, like those Arabic-language tapes you checked out at the library.
They can even take you.
At least 2,000 individuals, including U.S. citizens have been arrested by feds since Sept. 11, 2001. Some have been held without access to attorneys. Some complain of having been beaten.
In the name of fighting terrorism, the right to engage in the above activites was extended to the feds thanks to the USA Patriot Act, a piece of legislation hastily rammed through the U.S. Congress during those testy days following the destruction of the World Trade Center.
People don’t give much thought to the implications of the Patriot Act. But the few who’ve taken the time to look into the law are worried. That’s why a new diverse group that includes a broad spectrum of political thought, the Nevada Coalition to Defeat the Patriot Act, is forming in northern Nevada. The group’s purpose is to educate Nevadans about the law and to encourage local government entities to pass resolutions showing opposition to the Patriot Act. Such resolutions have been passed in other cities across the nation. That’s what caught the attention of Bob Tregilus, chairman of the Libertarian Party in Washoe County.
Tregilus brought the issue to the attention of his fellow party members, but they didn’t seem too interested. So Tregilus and others began to find like-minded individuals from organizations as diverse as Nevada Families Eagle Forum—a right-wing group with a fierce interest in constitutional rights—and the American Civil Liberties Union, a left-wing group with a fierce interest in constitutional rights.
This ideological mix could make for, um, interesting meetings.
“We stay strictly focused on the issue,” Tregilus says. “We try to respect differing political views and stay away from discussions of divisive political topics. We try to remain as neutral as possible.”
More than a dozen organizations have already signed on to support the coalition in its fight to educate the public and see the Patriot Act overturned. But when making cold calls to individuals or groups who may sign on, Tregilus and others confront an epidemic of cluelessness.
“What we found is that people have no idea what the Patriot Act is,” Tregilus says.
PATRIOT is an acronym: “Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism.” The act is “the Justice Department’s wish list of new police powers,” in the words of an ACLU report, “Insatiable Appetite: The Government’s Demand for New and Unnecessary Powers After September 11.”
To combat a new crime, “domestic terrorism,” U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft asked Congress to extend the government’s authority to monitor the private goings-on of citizens, from telephone conversations to computer use. To detain individuals without probable cause—and with less judicial oversight than ever. To track medical, financial and student records.
The law made a prediction by Osama bin Laden (remember him?) come true: “I tell you, freedom and human rights in America are doomed. The U.S. government will lead the American people, and the West in general, into an unbearable hell and a choking life.”
One obvious target has been international students. A new tracking system at the University of Nevada, Reno, for example, collects information about foreign students including grades, marital status, club membership and fingerprints. Last year, representatives from the Immigration and Naturalization Service were showing a strong interest in obtaining the records of six Muslim students at UNR, the RN&R reported in October.
Racial, religious profiling anyone? Better hope a group of white fundamentalist Christians don’t blow up anything in the near future or they’ll be rounding up Mom, Dad and Uncle Mitch—and holding them at Guantánamo Bay.
If the USA Patriot Act itself weren’t enough for the feds, in February a new piece of yet-to-be unleashed legislation (now dubbed Patriot II) was leaked to the press. The document contained the makings of a bill that would expand the Patriot Act—and activists found they couldn’t sit still any longer.
“We see fallout far beyond the act itself,” says Janine Hansen of Nevada Families Eagle Forum. Hansen also represents the Independent American Party and the Nevada Committee for Full Statehood, which have all signed on to endorse the coalition’s efforts to defeat the Patriot Act. “We saw four pieces of anti-terrorist legislation in the Nevada Legislature. There, we worked with the ACLU to change the definition of terrorism so that, in Nevada, people actively engaged in the political process wouldn’t fear being prosecuted as terrorists.
“We did it in Nevada. Now we need to address the federal legislation. It’s critical.”
The Nevada Coalition to Defeat the Patriot Act began meeting only about three weeks ago. It hasn’t even settled, yet, on the group’s name. At a Monday meeting, new names and corresponding acronyms were considered, like Nevada Alliance for the Bill of Rights, NABOR, a durable name that would allow the group to tackle other issues should the Patriot Act issue be solved. Some group members liked the names Nevada Patriots Against Tyranny, NPAT, or Patriots Against the Patriot Act, for which the acronym PAPA could connote thoughts of Big Brother.
No one at the meeting, convened in the conference room of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, liked the name Nevadans Organized to Reclaim the Homeland. Sieg heil!
The group planned future forays into the community. There’s a Web site maintained by Tregilus, www.possiblebag.com/patriot. And the group will likely have a booth at the upcoming Rally to End the Nuclear Nightmare on Aug. 9 in UNR’s Manzanita Bowl (see story below). It’s considering a rally to coincide with Constitution Day or the second anniversary of the Patriot Act’s passage. But that’s in October, and Hansen will be in New Orleans.
It’s fun to eavesdrop on the ground level of activist effort. Federal agents, eat your hearts out.
Nine participants attended the recent meeting, and little consideration was given to the group’s first real donation—a check for $100 from a concerned individual. (No large corporate grants here.) Tregilus almost forgot about the money when wondering how to pay for printed materials.
“Oh yeah, we have that $100," he said.