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Friday, September 10, 2004

Dissent and Terrorism

...Homeland Security recommended that local police view critics of the Bush's war on terrorism as "potential terrorists." Mike van Winkle, the California Anti-Terrorism Information Center spokesperson underscored how public dissenters from Bush's policies could morph into real terrorists. "If you have a protest group protesting a war where the cause that's being fought against is international terrorism (all of Bush's wars, of course)," asserted the atavistic Mr. van Winkle, "you might have terrorism at that protest. You can almost argue that a protest against that is a terrorist act."
Writes Fran Shor in his Counter Punch article on dissent in the "age of terror". Based on Mr Shor's and others' description of what went on in New York City during the 2004 Republican National Convention, Mr van Winkle's view had to a large extent been adopted by the security forces when it came to dealing with demonstrators in the city's streets.

I could argue the legal and social issues surrounding the issue of dissent but I think that for now I should leave that to those who are more qualified to argue them than yours truly. And there is no shortage of very intelligent opinions being voiced,- at least in the alternative media. What I intend to concentrate on is purely practical issues surrounding dissent and terror threats,- the "technical" issues, so to speak.

I have to agree with some of what Mr van Winkle is saying. He is certainly correct in noting that "you might have terrorism at that protest". It would also be correct to say that you might have terrorism at your local supermarket or train station.

However, I have yet to hear of a data pattern indicating that protests can reasonably be expected to produce major acts of terror. While we periodically hear of minor property destruction resulting from protests, all major terrorist attacks I can think of were not committed under a cover of a public protest. An exception that comes to mind is the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in Tel Aviv in 1995 but it is worth noting that the crowd at the venue were not protesters but mostly supporters of Rabin amongst whom the assassin had been waiting for his opportunity. Another similar occurrence was the assassination of President John F Kennedy.

For one thing, most protesters, if not all, travel on foot and thus lack the means of delivering equipment necessary for a major terror attack. One would think that what a group attempting a major league bombing would need is a vehicle, or several vehicles, able to travel to the target unimpeded. Vehicles disguised as those belonging to the police force, or medical emergency services, or utility services would seem to be prime candidates.

I think that if Mr van Winkle and the like-minded public safety officials want to be taken seriously by those who refuse to just accept their statements at face value, they have to come up with some data backing up their assertions. Such data ought to show that in fact there have been terror attacks of note perpetrated by political protesters, and that it is reasonable to expect a repeat occurrence of the same nature. Failing that, officials attempting to equate protests fueled by political dissent to terrorism ought to be viewed as political, rather than public safety, operatives. I believe that is most likely the case with Mr van Winkle and his ilk. Based on what I know thus far I can only consider the bulk of their activities as an attempt to suppress and criminalize dissent.

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