The Bush Administration and Attorney General John Ashcroft may have been able to pull a fast one in the wake of 9/11, winning passage of the draconian and grotesquely named USA PATRIOT Act, but a grass-roots resistance movement is starting to blow up in the administration’s face.
As of today, 104 towns, cities and even the state of Hawaii, have passed resolutions in defense of the Bill of Rights which in often forceful language instruct state and local law enforcement not to participate in the act’s assaults on civil liberties. The latest jurisdiction to consider such fight-back legislation is the state of Alaska, a bastion of conservative libertarianism. The city of Fairbanks has already passed its own resolution, and another is being considered in Anchorage, where key sponsors are representatives of the NAACP and the NRA.
But the language of the bill just passed by the state’s House of Representatives, and now being debated by the state Senate, is powerful indeed.
House Joint Resolution No. 22 reads, in part:
“It is the policy of the State of Alaska to oppose any portion of the USA PATRIOT Act that would violate the rights and liberties guaranteed equally under the state and federal constitutions; and S in accordance with Alaska state policy, an agency or instrumentality of the State of Alaska, in the absence of reasonable suspicion of criminal activity under Alaska State law, may not (1) initiate, participate in, or assist or cooperate with an inquiry, investigation, surveillance, or detention, (2) record, file, or share intelligence information concerning a person or organization, including library lending and research records, book and video store sales and rental records, medical records, financial records, student records, and other personal data, even if authorized under the USA PATRIOT Act, (3) retain such intelligence information; (and that) an agency or instrumentality of the state may not, (1) use state resources or institutions for the enforcement of federal immigration matters, which are the responsibility of the federal government; (2) collect or maintain information about the political, religious, or social views, associations, or activities of any individual, group, association, organization, corporation, business, or partnership, unless the information directly relates to an investigation of criminal activities and there are reasonable grounds to suspect the subject of the information is or may be involved in criminal conduct; (3) engage in racial profiling; law enforcement agencies may not use race, religion, ethnicity, or national origin as factors in selecting individuals to subject to investigatory activities except when seeking to apprehend a specific suspect whose race, religion, ethnicity, or national origin is part of the description of the suspect.”
The bill goes on to say the state legislature implores the United States Congress “to correct provisions in the USA PATRIOT Act and other measures that infringe on civil liberties, and opposes any pending and future federal legislation to the extent that it infringes on Americans’ civil rights and liberties.”
If passed by the state legislature’s upper house, copies of resolution–a powerful slap at the civil liberties assault by the federal government–will be officially sent to the President Bush, Attorney General Ashcroft, the governor of Alaska, Frank Murkowski, and to the state’s three-member congressional delegation.
Ashcroft and his minions appear to be worried about the wildfire civil liberties defense movement that has sprung up against his campaign to gut the Bill of Rights. When Ithaca, NY’s city council recently passed its own version of a Bill of Rights defense resolution, it promptly received a letter from the FBI’s Albany regional office claiming that the bill was not needed, since “As you know, FBI investigations are scrutinized by the courts to ensure that proper Constitutional standards are maintained,” and that “Unlike foreign intelligence services, FBI investigative techniques must be sanctioned by judges.”
Of course, this is a blatant falsehood, since Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act expressly allows G-men to rifle through library and video store records without a warrant and without showing “probably cause”–precisely the kind of thing that has prompted all these state and local resolutions.
The strategy behind the Bill of Rights protection movement is to present congressional delegations with evidence of widespread support for civil liberties, so that they will develop the spine needed to overturn the USA PATRIOT Act, or at least let it expire in 2004. So far over 11 million Americans live in jurisdictions which have passed such resolutions, and the campaign is scarcely a year old as yet.
DAVID LINDORFF is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. A collection of Lindorff’s stories can be found here: http://www.nwuphilly.org/dave.html