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Why are the feds worried about peaceful Americans while true threats are on the rise?

In these days of nuclear threats, violent religious whackos and looming global upheavals, it would be nice to know that our federal government is spending billions of dollars rooting out the truly dangerous individuals in our midst and consigning them to the dustbins of imprisonment.

But I guess that depends on your definition of "dangerous." Having filled the prisons with hundreds of thousands of nonviolent drug users (while ignoring dangerous criminals in the hollowed halls of Washington, D.C.), the feds are onto a new quarry, using an old strategy. Making the most of electronic surveillance, infiltration and provocateurs, G-men are pursuing the practitioners of political dissent, which (thankfully) have been on the rise of late.

The list of recent targets is startling. Perfectly peaceful anti-war groups (including the American Friends Service Committee--the freakin' Quakers, fer chrissakes!), relatively mainstream nonprofit organizations, just about anyone who opposes the war in Iraq or even discusses civil disobedience--they all seem to be showing up on some sort of suspect list these days.

One such organization is School of the Americas Watch, a loosely organized, nationwide nonprofit with a chapter here in Tucson. SOA Watch works to stop U.S.-funded counterinsurgency warfare in Latin America (and its poisonous consequences, which can only be described as state terrorism). They use a potent combination of public education, congressional lobbying and civil disobedience to outflank Pentagon propagandists and cut off funding for the sort of training and weaponry used to terrorize civilians in places like Colombia.

According to documents recently forced into the public domain under the Freedom of Information Act, SOA Watch showed up on an official Federal Bureau of Investigation "terrorist watch list." It has been the target of FBI "counterterrorism" surveillance at least since 2001, when I left my position on the SOA Watch national steering committee. Of course, as those of us who worked for SOA Watch throughout the '90s know, it is highly likely we were being watched long before 2001, even if that was the moment our official designation segued from "communist" to "terrorist."

Although SOA Watch is aggressive and confrontational, they've always adhered faithfully to the nonviolent principles of Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. The absurdity of the FBI suggesting that SOA Watch is a terrorist organization would be a healthy laugh-out-loud diversion from the sour political stew that envelopes our society, if it weren't indicative of a colossal, misguided waste of time, effort and money on the part of our government.

Another current FBI whipping horse is "eco-terrorism," as outlined in a recent Weekly piece by Renée Downing ("Land Lovers," Currents, June 15). Despite the fact that no one has ever been injured in an act of eco-sabotage, let alone killed, the FBI lists it as the No. 1 domestic security threat. Do they really believe that these people are anywhere near as dangerous as al-Qaida or any of the other numerous true terrorist organizations around the world? Do the feds think that the current laws against arson and other forms of property destruction are not sufficient to deal with the threat posed by a handful of militant activists? Is it prudent to pervert the meaning of "terrorism" by applying it to eco-saboteurs, or radical nuns and priests agitating for peace?

It makes a lot more sense if you consider the history of COINTELPRO, the counterintelligence program run by the FBI in the '60s and '70s against domestic political targets. In the words of J. Edgar Hoover, COINTELPRO was designed to "expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit and otherwise neutralize" its targets, which were generally "communist" political opponents. Current FBI targeting of pacifist nuns and priests makes even more sense when you consider that their hero, Martin Luther King Jr., was a primary COINTELPRO target.

So perhaps there is more to this than absurdity. Perhaps the feds aren't delusional, just using old strategies to deal with new political threats. By filing various forms of dissent under "terrorism," they can attempt to "neutralize" the growing opposition to the often lawless, usually destructive initiatives of the Bush regime.

All of which makes you wonder: What would happen to good old Sam Adams and his Boston Tea Party compañeros, who challenged another tyrannical George in a bygone century, if they were still around tossing millions of dollars worth of imperial goods into the sludgy waters of Boston Harbor?

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