What Comes of Silencing People

In the wake of the protest in Charlottesville by white supremacists, many people are demanding a crackdown on “dangerous right-wing extremists”. Apparently they forget the federal government has previously carried out similar campaigns with disastrous results. Such efforts are far more likely to turn nitwits into martyrs and to ravage Washington’s credibility rather than achieve ideological purity on a national level.

Prior federal law enforcement efforts to take down “bad ideas” quickly spiraled out of control.

  • In the 1960s, an FBI COINTELPRO operation set up its own 250-member Klan organization “to attract membership away from the United Klans of America.” One federally-funded informant admitted that he and other Klansmen had “beaten people severely, had boarded buses and kicked people off; had went [sic] in restaurants and beaten them with blackjacks, chains, pistols.”
  • Other FBI COINTELPRO operations sought to destroy black activists, including Martin Luther King Jr. One FBI office boasted of spurring “shootings, beatings and a high degree of unrest … in the ghetto area of southeast San Diego.”

Once the FBI committed to subverting “dissident speech,” its crackdowns became a bureaucratic growth industry that eventually included even women’s liberation movements.

Image result for image of ruby ridgeNixon aide Tom Charles Huston testified in 1975 of COINTELPRO’s tendency “to move from the kid with a bomb to the kid with a picket sign, and from the kid with the picket sign to the kid with the bumper sticker of the opposing candidate. And you just keep going down the line.”

You may have heard of the best-known case of federal right-wing ideological targeting. It climaxed 25 years ago at Ruby Ridge. Randy Weaver and his family lived in an isolated cabin in the mountains of northern Idaho. Weaver was a white separatist who believed races should live apart; he had no record of violence against other races – or anyone else.

Undercover federal agents targeted him and entrapped him into selling a sawed-off shotgun. The feds sought to pressure Weaver, who often indulged in anti-government bluster, to become an informant against the Aryan Nation. When he refused, the FBI decided Weaver was such a bad person that the Constitution no longer applied to him

After Weaver was sent the wrong court date and (understandably) failed to show up, the feds used any and all means to take him down. Idaho lawyer David Nevin noted that U.S. “marshals called in military aerial reconnaissance and had photos studied by the Defense Mapping Agency. They prowled the woods around Weaver’s cabin with night-vision equipment. They had psychological profiles performed and installed $130,000 worth of long-range solar-powered spy cameras. They intercepted the Weavers’ mail. They even knew the menstrual cycle of Weaver’s teenage daughter, and planned an arrest scenario around it.”

On August 21, 1992, six U.S. Marshals outfitted in full camouflage and carrying automatic weapons trespassed onto Weavers’ property. Three marshals circled close to the Weaver cabin and threw rocks to provoke the Weavers’ dogs. As Weaver’s 14-year old son, Sammy and Kevin Harris, a 25-year-old family friend living in the cabin, ran toward the barking, a marshal shot and killed a dog. Sammy Weaver, defending a cherished family member, fired in the direction of the shots. As Sammy was leaving the scene, a marshal shot him in the back and killed him. Harris, in fear for his own life, responded by fatally shooting a federal marshal who had fired seven shots.

Snipers from the FBI Hostage Rescue Team were sent in the next day and ordered to shoot-to-kill any adult male outside the Weaver cabin. A federal appeals court ruling noted that “a group of FBI agents formulated rules of engagement that permitted their colleagues to hide in the bushes and gun down men who posed no immediate threat. Such wartime rules are patently unconstitutional for a police action.”

On August 22, 1992, FBI sniper Lon Horiuchi shot Randy Weaver under the arm after he stepped out of his cabin. As he struggled to return to his home, Horiuchi shot and killed Vicki Weaver as she stood in the cabin door holding their 10-month old baby. They were given no warning before they were gunned down by federal agents.

Harris and Weaver, who never fired any shots at FBI agents, surrendered after an 11-day siege. At their 1993 trial, federal prosecutors asserted that Weaver long conspired to have an armed confrontation with the government. An Idaho jury found Weaver innocent of almost all charges and ruled that the shooting of the U.S. marshal was self-defense. Federal Judge Edward Lodge released a lengthy list detailing the Justice Department’s and FBI’s misconduct and fabrication of evidence in the case.

After an elaborate cover-up unraveled (a top FBI official was sent to prison for destroying key evidence), the feds in 1995 paid the Weaver family $3.1 million to settle their wrongful death lawsuit. This was not simply a right-wing cause: the American Civil Liberties Union was in the forefront of condemning federal misconduct at Ruby Ridge.

I wasn’t particularly anti-government until I learned about Ruby Ridge, which set me looking at other federal attacks on citizens going about their lives. Attacks like this wake up complacent people like me.

In August, a Nevada jury, in a “stunning setback to federal prosecutors,” found four supporters of rancher Cliven Bundy not guilty for their role in a 2014 confrontation with federal agents in a dispute over cattle grazing on government land. Even though federal judge Gloria Navarro muzzled defendants and prohibited them from invoking their constitutional rights, jurors scorned federal claims that the men were part of a conspiracy against the government.

As at Ruby Ridge, the feds pulled out all the stops to get their targets: The FBI created a bogus “independent” documentary film crew that spent almost a year visiting and pursuing the Bundy family and their supporters, seeking to gather incriminating evidence during interviews.

In a nation with 300+ million people, there will be plenty of folks with antisocial or hare-brained notions. Even if the government could eliminate everyone with currently heretical beliefs, the sheer extent of repression would spawn legions of new pissed off people and rabble-rousers. Freedom of speech is a more reliable antidote to toxic ideologies than unleashing the FBI or other federal agencies. People can vent and be ignored and eventually wear themselves out. The vast majority of devotees to crackpot ideas will never do anything violent unless the government forces them to defend themselves as they did at Ruby Ridge.

Posted September 29, 2017 by aurorawatcherak

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