Antiwar.com Meets the New McCarthyism

by Alexander Cockburn And Jeffrey St. Clair

Back in April CounterPunch was invited to an Anti-war.com day-long event in San Mateo, down the peninsula from San Francisco. We were a left presence at an event organized to show that opponents of US wars range across the political spectrum. We were happy to go and tell the crowd our take on things, from the bombing of Serbia, to the sanctions against Iraq, to our view that capitalism has an inherent need for wars. We were given a friendly hearing by the crowd, many of them from the libertarian slice of the political spectrum.

We’d met the Antiwar.com folks a year earlier, at a meeting organized by Socialist Action, protesting the bombing of Serbia. We thought then, as we think now, that we may disagree with much of their economic outlook, but if Antiwar.com wants to protest bombing workers’ homes in Belgrade and the starving of Iraqi kids under US sanctions policy, then on these issues we like them a lot better than the Virtue-through-Bombs crowd that made up all but thirty or so of the Democratic caucus in the House of Reps last year. And their website has a very useful links page, once again running across the spectrum.

It’s not escaped the attention of the Democratic Party that antiwar and anti-WTO alliances stretch across the board. Here at CounterPunch we’ve been following the readiness with which supposedly “liberal” watchdogs are now trying to demonize such alliances and ad hoc coalitions. Six weeks ago we reported Morris Dees’s outfit saying, without a shred of evidence, that the neo-Nazis were out in full force and exerting great influence in the anti-WTO protests in Seattle.

And now we find another “liberal” watchdog, heavily financed by the Justice Department, casually stigmatizing as “militia-related” an outfit like Antiwar.com. To have the militia label hung round one’s neck these days is no laughing matter.

Here’s a report on the matter by Cletus Nelson.

Mark Pitcavage wears two hats and from this fact stems his malign potential. On the one hand this Ohio-based academic is employed as a full-time senior associate researcher by the Institute for Intergovernmental Relations, a non-profit orga nization which provides training services to federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. Pitcavage’s job is to head the research department of the Institute’s State/Local Anti-Terrorism Training (SLATT) Program. From the US Justice Department, funnelled through the Institute, SLATT has gotten since 1997 no less than $4 million, according to the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance (CFDA), with the money supposedly devoted to the training of law enforcement officials in how to recognize and combat domestic terrorism.

So in his capacity as research director for SLATT Pitcavage can provide officially dignified “intelligence information” to law enforcement. But in his private capacity Pitcavage also maintains a personal website called “The Militia Watchdog”, where he maintains a list of outfits he deems to be militia-related.

To give an example, Pitcavage attacked Waco: Rules of Engagement in a New York Times article last September, defending the conduct of the FBI. The article identified him only as “a historian who specializes in right-wing extremist groups” and operator of the Militia Watchdog website, without also stating that Pitcavage makes his full-time living through a grant from the Department of Justice.

So is Pitcavage using information from DoJ files to which he has access in his SLATT capacity to flesh out his speculations on his personal website? And is this self-styled “militia watchdog” importing his personal feuds and piques into government intelligence files which are of course mostly filled with garbage anyway. Piss off Pitcavage and you could find yourself denounced on CNN as a terrorist.

Pitcavage’s expanding purview isn’t limited to Christian patriots and neo-Nazis. He has begun monitoring the political activities of law-abiding 2nd Amendment advocates, libertarian groups, and most recently, the popular on-line forum for bipartisan opponents of US intervention known as Antiwar.com.

While the notion of equating principled opposition to Clinton’s cluster-bomb compassion with sagebrush rebellion sounds ludicrous, Pitcavage justifies his conduct by ominously declaring that Antiwar.com is “essentially an isolationist right-wing libertarian site”. The implication of this tendentious statement is obvious: behind the anti-war rhetoric lurks the Rough Beast.

The relationship between Pitcavage’s pubblic and private roles poses the question whether his recent posting of Antiwar.com on his personal website was done to please his federal paymasters. Eric Garris, director of Antiwar.com says he wouldn’t be surprised if this was part of a concerted attempt by the DOJ to discredit his organization. “The tactics of the Clinton administration are to attack the ability of his opponents to speak openly,” Garris observes. Despite the bipartisan tone of the site, Garris says allegations of right-wing extremism are frequent. “We constantly are getting that sort of thing.”

Garris isn’t alone. Anarchist Bill White, onetime Media coordinator for the Utopian Anarchist Party (UAP), was amazed to see the anti-authoritarian political faction appear on Pitcavage’s web page alongside various rightist groups. “He lists all kinds of groups that really shouldn’t be there”, he observes. White theorizes that a column by Antiwar.com columnist Justin Raimondo assailing Pitcavage for his self-serving attempts to downplay FBI skullduggery during the 1993 WACO siege provided the impetus for the group’s new classification. “When you write something like that and Pitcavage sees it, he adds your name to the list”, White says. From a civil libertarian perspective, these machinations by an asset of the federal government to “expose” and denounce constitutionally protected political speech advertise a highly sinister trend. CP

Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined! and A Colossal Wreck are available from CounterPunch. Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His new book is Killing Trayvons: an Anthology of American Violence (with JoAnn Wypijewski and Kevin Alexander Gray). He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net.

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