Do these people look like terrorists to you? Photo: david_shankbone via Flickr/CC BY
That either group was on such a list in the first place is troublesome in itself. Regardless, The US Justice Department announced today that activists from both PETA and Greenpeace, as well as other groups, had been "improperly" monitored in the years following the September 11th attacks. Members and activists were placed on the FBI's Terrorist Watch list for "factually weak" reasons between 2001 and 2006, a new report reveals. And the kicker is, the agency never found any evidence that either group was planning anything other than nonviolent protest:The Washington Post reports that the "FBI improperly opened and extended investigations of some U.S. activist groups and put members of an environmental advocacy organization on a terrorist watch list, even though they were planning nonviolent civil disobedience, the Justice Department said Monday."
A report, filed by Inspector General Glenn A. Fine, found the FBI to be not guilty of the most serious charge -- according to the Post, that "agents targeted domestic groups based on their exercise of First Amendment rights." The investigation was conducted in response to allegations that the FBI had targeted groups on such grounds during the Bush Administration. The Post has more:
But the report cited what it called other "troubling" FBI practices in its monitoring of domestic groups in the years between the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and 2006. In some cases, Fine said, agents began investigations of people affiliated with activist groups for "factually weak" reasons.In other words, the FBI, without due reason to believe that Greenpeace or PETA were going to engage in violent activity, were devoting government resources to monitoring both of them -- and in the case of Greenpeace, actually putting its members on the Terrorist Watch List. You know, along with some of the most dangerous criminals in the world (okay, and about a million other people).
In others, the report said, the FBI extended probes "without adequate basis" and improperly kept information about activist groups in its files. Among the groups monitored were the Thomas Merton Center, a Pittsburgh peace group; People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals; and Greenpeace USA. Activists affiliated with Greenpeace were improperly put on a terrorist watch list, the report said.
As of 2007, there were over 755,000 people (up from around 150K in 2004), both citizens and foreigners, on the US's Terrorist Watch List -- far too many to make such a list an effective tool in weeding out truly dangerous suspects. But, while the reason for the gratuitous listing in this case appears to be paranoia and bureaucratic bloat, the US government does have a habit of being unduly suspicious of eco groups. Just look to the current fracas in Pennsylvania over the monitoring of nonviolent anti-drilling protesters for a reminder that this behavior is still going on.
Activist groups, from Greenpeace to the Tea Party, are indispensable to the firmament of American society in that they utilize the First Amendment to peacefully and publicly demonstrate opposition to a political or corporate practice. And it's also why it's of the utmost importance that they not be intimidated against doing so -- both for the sake of the environment and a free society.
More on Activism
USDA Classifies PETA as a Terrorist Threat
Only Public Grassroots Activism Will Force Governments to Act on Climate
Americans No Greener In Past Decade, Environmental Activism Declining: New Gallup Poll