Molly Ivins November 27
AUSTIN, Texas — This being the season, let us give thanks for freedom. As President Bush said in London: "Freedom is beautiful. It is a fantastic thing to come to a country where people are able to express their views." Indeed, freedom is so beautiful, so precious that one needs to be zealous, to be watchful, lest this priceless beauty come to harm.
Imagine my surprise to see in the headlines this Thanksgiving week that the Federal Bureau of Investigation is "targeting peace groups." Operation Cointelpro is back. Now, of the various menaces faced by our republic, I must admit peace groups are not high on my list. A motley assortment of vegetarians, Unitarians, Quakers, miscellaneous pacifists, unclassified idealists, sweet damn fools, followers of Gandhi and Dr. King, and some others I suspect are far ahead of the rest of us both morally and politically.
I have watched peace people sitting in ditches in the Texas Panhandle in August singing "Kumbayah" in hopes of stopping nuclear war. I have seen them give blood and get arrested for trespassing on their government's property. I have seen them keep silent vigils and hold candlelight marches for peace. I have heard them sing and pray for peace. I have watched them carry funny and touching signs in demonstrations for peace. One thing I have never seen them do is anything that calls for investigation by the FBI.
Clearly, being in favor of peace is not sufficient grounds for an FBI surveillance effort — right? We don't investigate and start files on people in this country for their political opinions, even opinions so extreme, so extraordinary, so unheard of as believing that war — on the whole, really — is not a good thing.
Ah, but perhaps these peace people — these lovely, gentle, harmless, pacific peace people — perhaps they are being infiltrated by people who are not real peace people. This has in fact happened in the past — people with no real interest in peace join peace groups and try to manipulate them for their own purposes.
I am pleased to report that peace people are perfectly well of aware of this, on the qui vive, en garde, ready, prepared to fend off these interlopers. Their rule is simple: "Anyone Who Suggests That a Peace Group Do Anything Illegal Is Automatically Assumed to Be an Agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation."
This rule stems from years of painful practical experience with FBI efforts to spoil, stain and blacken the reputation of the peace movement.
But don't peaceniks get arrested a lot? A few of them do — the American Civil Liberties Union is now investigating over 300 cases of peace protesters who were arrested unfairly and-or violently during the lead-up to the war in Iraq, using videotape of the arrests — a tactic that the FBI memo outlining the new crackdown describes as "intimidation" against the police.
Some peace people also use civil disobedience as a tactic. For those who need a refresher course, civil disobedience — as opposed to just getting arrested at a demo — is deliberately breaking a law you consider unjust and being prepared to pay the legal penalty for doing so. Those engaging in civil disobedience do not attempt to avoid or evade arrest, they go willingly, often limply, and stay in jail singing "Kumbayah" as long as the law prescribes. Not a public menace.
So just whom is the FBI attempting to infiltrate and foil here? Why, it turns out, anarchists — anarchists have been associated with demonstrations against world trade agreements, it says right in the FBI memo, and protests against the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Furthermore, these anarchists wear black masks and run around breaking store windows, a tactic that is not only a breach of the peace but also considerably less effective against GATT and NAFTA than singing "Kumbayah."
So, I have a question — really just a suggestion here: If the FBI is worried about anarchists opposed to free trade agreements, why doesn't the FBI infiltrate anarchist groups that are opposed to free trade agreements, instead of the peace movement? Eh? Why should one's freedom be undermined or should one be a suspect because one is for peace? Are we not allowed to be for peace? What would Jesus say?
In a repeated pattern — Phoenix; Evansville, Ind.; Kalamazoo, Mich.; St. Louis; Trenton, N.J.; Albuquerque, N.M.; Neville Island, Pa.; Columbia, S.C.; Houston; Richmond, Va.; and Washington, D.C. — protesters holding anti-Bush signs or antiwar signs have been either arrested or segregated further away, often into so-called "free speech zones," while demonstrators with pro-Bush signs are allowed within hollering distance of the president.
Since when have one's constitutional rights depended on one's political opinions? I have news for the Bush administration: This country is a free speech zone. There are no zoning ordinances that apply to our rights. Freedom is a beautiful thing, and it is fantastic to come to a country where people are free to express their views. Let us give thanks.
To find out more about Molly Ivins and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at www.creators.com.
COPYRIGHT 2003 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.