[Before the holidays took over our lives for several weeks, I had been intent on keeping up the public conversation on S.1959, The Violent Radicalization and Homegrown terrorism Prevention Act (full text here), better known at Time Goes By and elsewhere on the web as “thought crime bill.”
Now that we have returned to real life, it's time to get back to basics. If you need a refresher on this bill, there are stories listed here, and you can track the progression of the bill through the Senate at govtrack.us.
In mid-November, I emailed Senator Susan Collins through her senate.gov webpage objecting to this bill and to her sponsorship of it, explaining my reasons. In addition to being one of my senators, Collins is the ranking Republican on the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs where S.1959 now sits waiting for debate to be scheduled.
Two days after Christmas, I received a snailmail response from Senator Collins dated December 10. The letter is filled with the empty patriotic rhetoric and excuses for excessive government intervention in citizens’ lives that have become routine in Congress since 9/11:
“Many terrorism experts, including Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, list homegrown terrorism as a significant and growing threat to America’s homeland.”
Let’s stop there for a moment. I've been meaning to mention that I’m not the only one who felt (and still feels) creeped out when the name of the Department of Homeland Security was announced following the attacks on the World Trade Center. I’m 66 years old and I had never heard or read the word except in the context of Nazi Germany. Now, one of my senators (as many others do too) is using the word as though it is a synonym for “land of the free and home of the brave.” In regard to this usage, it’s worthwhile to listen to Naomi Wolf from page 7 of her cautionary book, The End of America:
“By 1930 Nazi propagandists referred to Germany not as ‘the nation’ or ‘the Republic’ – which it was – but rather as ‘the Heimat’ – ‘the Homeland.’ Homeland is a word that memoirist Ernestine Bradley, who grew up in Nazi Germany, describes as saturated with nationalist power […] A Department of Domestic Security is simply a bureaucracy, capable of mistakes; a department protecting our ‘Homeland’ has a different authority.”
Senator Collins continues in her letter repeating what I had made clear in my email note that I already understand (I dislike being patronized):
“[S.1955] will help our intelligence community and homeland security experts better understand the process of violent radicalization, helping to reduce the risk of future terrorist attacks. To do this, the bill established a National Commission on the Prevention of Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism, and requires the Secretary of DHS to establish or designate a National Center of Excellence for the study of violent radicalization and homegrown terrorism. The Commission would examine and report upon the facts and causes of violent radicalization and ideologically based violence. The Commission also would examine how radicalized individuals are enticed to commit violent acts.”
The name, “National Center of Excellence” is almost as creepy as the word “homeland” and I had hoped for an explanation from the senator of how a commission examines facts and causes of “ideologically based violence” without questioning people about their political beliefs, a sacrosanct, personal secret among Americans if we so wish. Alas, Senator Collins repeats only what is in the bill itself.
She finishes her letter with what she appears to believe are assurances of privacy and civil liberties:
“I would like to emphasize that this bill takes specific care to ensure that Americans’ civil rights and liberties are protected. It directs DHS’ Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Officer to ensure that the Commission’s activities do not infringe on civil rights.”
Uh-huh. Just like senators who swear to uphold the Constitution of the United States and then vote for two Patriot Acts and a Military Commissions Act that together limit citizens’ constitutional rights to habeas corpus, free speech, freedom of association, freedom from illegal search, prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment, and freedom from the illegal seizure of private property.
I wonder why I don't feel reassured by Senator Collins.
Senator Collins is up for re-election this year and she just lost my vote based on the vapidness of this boilerplate letter that instead of taking my concerns seriously, beats me over the head with her patriotism. The senator's current announced opponent, Tom Allen, the House member from my district, voted for the thought crime bill, but he is otherwise better aligned with my positions on other issues than Senator Collins and there is talk of other candidates entering the senatorial race.
[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lia muses on the wider implications of city gardens in Subculture II.]