Nonviolent Activists Are Now Terrorists

Heard about this:

The Maryland State Police classified 53 nonviolent activists as terrorists and entered their names and personal information into state and federal databases that track terrorism suspects, the state police chief acknowledged yesterday.

Why did they do that?

Both Hutchins and Sheridan said the activists' names were entered into the state police database as terrorists partly because the software offered limited options for classifying entries.

I know that once we had this "either you're with us or with the terrorists" mentality, but don't you think that -- just maybe -- the software should allow for a little bit more nuance?

Posted on October 9, 2008 at 1:07 PM • 54 Comments

Comments

Brandioch ConnerOctober 9, 2008 1:39 PM

Sorry, Bruce. I cannot agree with you on this one.

"Both Hutchins and Sheridan said the activists' names were entered into the state police database as terrorists partly because the software offered limited options for classifying entries."

They are exercising their LEGAL and CONSTITUTIONAL Rights.

Their names should NOT be entered into ANY law enforcement database.

The database is correct.

The protesters are correct.

The POLICE are wrong for trying to "fit" someone not committing a crime into a database designed to track criminals.

joeyOctober 9, 2008 1:40 PM

> don't you think that -- just maybe --
> the software should allow for a little
> bit more nuance?

Absolutely. They should create a new category for "bleeding-heart activists who are suspected of no crime in particular but it would be funny if we can have them harassed and searched at airports."

JoeVOctober 9, 2008 2:00 PM

I seem to recall a news article, published around the time of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, about US security officials studying the tactics used by the Chinese government to crack down on unwanted protests and such. Of course, such tactics also involved sophisticated internet monitoring, as well.

This sounds like one of those tactics: get all those involved in social protest registered in a data base, so that if their activities evolve from nonviolent to more extreme, they can already be monitored by the 'organs of state security.'

Ideally, in a constitutionally-led democracy, citizens shouldn't need to be 'registered' in a data-base because of their potential for social activism...

[SMACK ON THE FOREHEAD]

...ow, what was I thinking? I think I understand the problem now.

~Joe

dgh94401October 9, 2008 2:08 PM

It would appear the crime committed was opposition to the powers that be.

"I don't believe the First Amendment is any guarantee to those who wish to disrupt the government," he said. (Hutchens)

The excuse given that there is no category for this "crime" is rather lame and is quite misleading.

EricOctober 9, 2008 2:11 PM

I agree that these people shouldn't be entered into any kind of database to begin with.

I also don't agree with protest groups needing to get a permit before staging a protest. That just doesn't make much sense to me.

Joe BuckOctober 9, 2008 2:16 PM

It's appropriate to require a permit if a protest march would block streets, so that appropriate safety and security can be arranged, the parade route can be planned, detours can be arranged, and the like. But for a smaller march where people stay on the sidewalk, requiring permits seems like an infringement of rights.

EricOctober 9, 2008 2:31 PM

@Joe Buck

I agree large protests that cause traffic problems should be delt with accordingly. It's just that the whole idea that we get to protest, but only with the governments permission, is silly. China does this. You can't protest with out permission from the government, and even then I think they only get to fly the state flag. Not much of a protest there...

If people are blocking the street, ask them to move off. If they refuse, then arrest them.

StephenROctober 9, 2008 2:35 PM

The software had an option for "terrorism-anti-government" and
"terrorism-anti-war protesters" which means that the people configuring the software had already decided that anti-war protesters should be in the terrorism category...

JasonOctober 9, 2008 2:40 PM

By entering them into this database, does that give the police authority to arrest them on suspicion of terrorism the next time they protest?

Baron Dave RommOctober 9, 2008 2:47 PM

And the Republican candidate for president doesn't understand e-mail.

I don't have a huge problem with tracking "protestors" in one db, but legal -- and Constitutionally guaranteed -- protests should not be counted as "terror". It seems the real terrorists have won: We are scared of our own shadow.

For an instance of how this type of thing has been used politically, read my mother's account, Ethel Romm and Richard Nixon. http://www.romm.org/dubious.html

MickMacOctober 9, 2008 2:49 PM

ANTI-GOVERNMENT?!?!!?!?!?! An arguement can be made that if you aren't anti-government, you are a terrorist. Right now the "government" terrifies me. I'm as anti-government as one can get. I learned a lot about that reading some works from a fellow y'all may have heard of... he went by the name of Thomas Jefferson.

anonymous canuckOctober 9, 2008 2:56 PM

One would think that the police would have more appropriate data bases.

1. If someone has been charged with an offense there'd be a database
2. If somone has been convicted - there'd be a database
3. They may even have a database for someone's been given a warning

So why are they in a terrorist database?
Oh, because they've comitted no crime! Makes perfect sense. Not to mention how many of your tax dollars were wasted.

I think there is a variantion of Foxworthy's "you might be a redneck" in this somewhere. Or a Monthy Python skit.

Clive RobinsonOctober 9, 2008 2:56 PM

One thing I found that made me curious,

"The former state police superintendent who authorized the operation, Thomas E. Hutchins"

If he was not a "former" would this have come to light?

Secondly would his view of the activists as being "fringe people" have a bearing on him being "former"...

sehlatOctober 9, 2008 3:13 PM

The quotation that bothers me most is:"I don't believe the First Amendment is any guarantee to those who wish to disrupt the government."

By that canon, the Committees of Correspondence, Patrick Henry, Benjamin Franklin, George Washington et. al. had no rights because they wished to "disrupt the government."

War on WorldsOctober 9, 2008 3:29 PM

"the people configuring the software had already decided that anti-war protesters should be in the terrorism category..."

They should have chosen software designers that have experience with war games! In all likelyhood they would have produced a better product.

BrianOctober 9, 2008 3:36 PM

@sehlat

Of course Patrick Henry, Franklin, Washington et. al. had no rights to overflow the government and the British tried to stop them. Show me where in the constitution I have a government-backed right to overflow the same government. That seems kind of silly.

AnonymousOctober 9, 2008 3:41 PM

Hmm, someone should share this post with someone in power in Maryland, I will forward this to someone I know and see where it goes... So many good posts here, I don't think they thought things through...

sehlatOctober 9, 2008 3:44 PM

@Brian

Funny. The founders would disagree with you, or haven't you read the Declaration of Independence:

"...whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it..."

If you prefer Hutchins, you might try living in a country where the wrong blog post can get you jail time ... or worse.

CurmudgeonOctober 9, 2008 3:44 PM

This is not a software problem. The names of non-violent "dissidents" don't belong in government databases. Period.

kangarooOctober 9, 2008 3:52 PM

How long until the obligatory comment supporting the cops? You know, how the cops are just doing their jobs, how the protesters may have the right to protest -- but they're asking for it anyway by being annoying, and I have no sympathy for them?

Really, have the trolls fallen on such hard times they can't continue their work?

BrianOctober 9, 2008 3:56 PM

@sehlat

Nice quote (really) but in practice I'm afraid it doesn't work quite like that. The government won't step aside and honor that, therefore, its not a real *government-backed right*, but rather an intrinsic right of people. I can't see government simply disbanding upon request, its messier and often bloodier than that.

sooth sayerOctober 9, 2008 4:12 PM

Claim of innocence because there is no classification for my activities is certainly a novel thought; just as much it is to be accusing someone.

Dr. Mudd Anyone?

Jon SowdenOctober 9, 2008 4:13 PM

This bit, from the article, amused me:
"Hutchins told the committee it was not accurate to describe the program as spying. 'I doubt anyone who has used that term has ever met a spy,' he told the committee.

'What John Walker did is spying,' Hutchins said, referring to John Walker Jr., a communications specialist for the U.S. Navy convicted of selling secrets to the Soviet Union."

The MD Plod seem to think that it isn't 'spying' unless it's carried out by a card carrying Spy. Which is weird. I wonder if I could get off spying charges by demonstrating that I'm not a member of any spy organisation. And, using that same rationale, what is it that I do at home with food before I eat it? I'm not a chef, so presumably I'm not cooking it.

EricOctober 9, 2008 4:31 PM

"...whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it..."

It does say alter first, but I would wager abolish also doesn't have to mean the *entire* government at one time. There fore you could abolish a couple of scoundral politicians and still have an intact govt.

Davi OttenheimerOctober 9, 2008 4:38 PM

"I'm not a chef, so presumably I'm not cooking it."

Good reasoning, but there's a more sinister element to their arguments.

A candidate for surveillance in their mind is someone they distrust, regardless of imminence or danger. They said they are not spying because good guys observing bad guys simply aren't spies.

See, you just redefine things into perfection -- us good, them bad. Chefs and cooking still have interpreted meaning so you haven't quite achieved the same void of meaninglessness impervious to reason.

Wonder who wrote the software. Comic book authors?

RoyOctober 9, 2008 4:42 PM

Quote from Charlie Mclaren at http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2008/... (item 101) pointing out that police savagery is so routine nobody comments on it anymore:

"American police now routinely tase grade school children. Adults get brutalized by police as matter of standard operating procedure, tortured with tasers long after they've been handcuffed and pepper-sprayed and rendered helpless; tasing and pepper-sprayed is now routinely used by American police as torture to seal the deal after handcuffing and arrest, a reminder that you don't try to stand up against the State. It's so common now that no one even comments on it. Americans now accept this kind of routine police savagery against people who are already handcuffed and defenseless and in many cases have committed no crime, just the way that Soviet citizens came to accept without comment KGB head-bashing against innocent bystanders suspected of having made a subservive remark against the State."

HughOctober 9, 2008 4:48 PM

It seems like, we are building a society of fear where everybody is under surveillance and is a suspect until proven innocent.

sooth sayerOctober 9, 2008 5:12 PM

@Hugh
"It seems like, we are building a society of fear where everybody is under surveillance and is a suspect until proven innocent."

We experimented with the idea that everyone is a victim; repressed memories, hidden molestations, language sensitivities, newly minted natural rights.
Even terrorists claim victimization as their main reason to terrorize others.

We have come in full circle.

AndrewOctober 9, 2008 5:35 PM

>> How long until the obligatory comment supporting the cops?

Yo. Whassup?

You all act like you've never heard of Intelink.

>> You know, how the cops are just doing their jobs

The state police needs to get back to work and out of the FBI's turf.

>> they're asking for it anyway by being annoying, and I have no sympathy for them?

People have a right to demonstrate, to protest, to hold controversial ideas and to advocate stupidity. The police should be keeping a careful eye on those on the fringes of legality. Police managers should keep a careful eye on this practice to keep it legal. The public should keep an even more watchful eye on both police and their managers.

>> Really, have the trolls fallen on such hard times they can't continue their work?

Waiting for Conner to explain to me how I don't know anything about anything and I'm spewing stream of consciousness again . . .

As for the nice police state comment:

>> "American police now routinely tase grade school children. Adults get brutalized by police as matter of standard operating procedure, tortured with tasers long after they've been handcuffed and pepper-sprayed and rendered helpless;

Yes, children have been Tased. Yes, the practice is controversial. It still makes the news . . . it is NOT routine. Child also does not equal teenager.

>> tasing and pepper-sprayed is now routinely used by American police as torture to seal the deal after handcuffing and arrest,

This is a silly lie, if you know about the time stamp mechanism in every Taser unit, plus how carefully Taser use is documented and investigated. How else has Taser survived over eighty lawsuits with only a handful of mixed-bag losses so far?

If someone tried to torture me with pepper spray, I'd laugh and take it. If someone tried to torture me with a Taser, I'd make sure my lawyer took photos of the burn marks and they'd have to rename the department in my honor after I won the lawsuit, plus their John Hancock on the six figure check for damages.

It is true that we are sliding towards a police state. Fortunately we aren't there yet. Those who protest, however inaccurate their facts may be, are at least having the right conversation.

BetaOctober 9, 2008 6:16 PM

It's basically impossible to stop people from making lists, but this is a reminder to be skeptical about the accuracy of a list's title.

One consequence of that is that we should resist laws or other conventions that punish people just for being on a list (such as the idiotic "No-Fly" rule).

Another is that when someone says "that person is on a terrorist/narcotics/child-porn watch list", the correct reply is a bored "so?"


...Say! Maybe we could start a list of our own! We could up a "Terrorist, Drug Trafficker or Other" Watch List wiki, allow anyone to add names but have no mechanism to remove them, and see what happens.... No, we'd probably get sued.

GeorgeOctober 9, 2008 7:58 PM

The software needs a new category: "Suspect has not violated any current law, but has shown an inappropriate lack of respect for authority that merits permanent placement on classified watch list. The resulting harassment at airports and other security checkpoints provides the necessary administrative punishment for this Suspect, which should enhance National Security by instilling appropriate respect for authority. Heil Bush!"

BillOctober 9, 2008 10:58 PM

This has been ruled on before -- that people have the right to speech, even if it incites people to anger:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/...

In that vein, the Maryland government had no right, statutory or otherwise, to list these people as terrorists -- regardless of the ridiculous argument that "the software made me do it!"

yonodelerOctober 10, 2008 2:15 AM

The notification by Maryland of the affected individuals may be exceptional. Feed the information into federal programs such as those under Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and it will be highly unlikely that unjustifiably suspected individuals will receive notification of, much less apology for, what has gone down.

wsindaOctober 10, 2008 3:32 AM

40 Years ago the activists would have been labeled as communists. Seems like Joe McCarthy is alive and well.

mehOctober 10, 2008 3:49 AM

This sort of investigation is happening thanks to anarchist 'Black Blocs' and other violent protesters using the cover of legitimate protest to attack property and people. If you remember back to the Republican National Convention undercover police work and intelligence gathering on the protest groups netted Molotov Cocktails and the like when they pre-emptively raided various protester staging locations. Even with that there were a relatively large number of arrests and lots of law-breaking which is not constitutionally protected.

Reasonable suspicion that there is conspiracy to commit a crime is grounds to investigate further in a non-intrusive manner (surveillance, questioning associates, infiltrating the group). So if these people were planning to do unlawful things such as block traffic and get arrested then there is grounds to investigate them.

See Section 13.2a:
http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/BJA/txt/chap13.txt

There are also legal requirements in place for this data to be purged if nothing comes of it.

This information needs to be stored somewhere. Regardless of all that I don't think you can see this sort of activity as terrorism but have no idea what other options were available to the investigators for selection.

John CampbellOctober 10, 2008 7:34 AM

@Dorian Taylor

This reminds me of Theodor Nelson's definition of "Cybercrud" which is "Putting things over on people using computers" though I would add the suffix "as an excuse for abuse".

John CampbellOctober 10, 2008 7:49 AM

@Beta:

"...Say! Maybe we could start a list of our own! We could up a "Terrorist, Drug Trafficker or Other" Watch List wiki, allow anyone to add names but have no mechanism to remove them, and see what happens.... No, we'd probably get sued."

Such a list would likely still be more accurate than what the government already has, since, for instance, the current prez and VP of the USA would likely float to the top of the list with the most votes for "needs watching" and TSA screeners would ALSO be on the list since they often work to spread terror.

I'm sure Benjamin Franklin provided us with enough epigrams for this world... though the discussion of Thomas Jefferson's writing in the Declaration of Independence (which had to survive a committee of critics) seems, somehow, apropos, for we now have a government that, despite Constitutional Limits, seems bent on intimidating each and every one of us by pointing to a foreign boogeyman.

MikeOctober 10, 2008 9:53 AM

Here's the contact link for the Governor's Office in Maryland. [Warning: a ton of "required" info to send] http://www.governor.maryland.gov/mail/

I have already sent a request for the immediate dismissal of Col Sheridan. If you feel that people like this shouldn't have the power that they do, please write also.

My letter follows:

Hello Mr O'Malley,

I am writing to you today to call for the immediate dismissal of Maryland State Police Superintendent Col. Terrence Sheridan, due to his shocking conduct, spying on non-violent activists and flagging such good and proper citizens as terrorists in state and possibly federal databases. His actions are despicable, unreasonable, unethical and, in my opinion, unforgivable for an officer of his rank and standing.

Please do not let the actions of one man tarnish the name of your great state. My mother proudly lived in Maryland for several years, and had nothing but good to say of it. I shudder to think what she would say if you allow this sort of behavior to be tolerated.

I trust that you will do what you feel is in the best interests of your state, and come to your own conclusions - I applaud your achievements to this end so far. I only ask that you have the courage to do the right thing, which in my opinion is the dismissal of Col Sheridan.

Thank you for your time and consideration,
Michael *******
Dallas, TX

rick jonesOctober 10, 2008 9:54 AM

Points for including the link to the original article, most taken away for the selectivity in quoting:


The department started sending letters of notification Saturday to the activists, inviting them to review their files before they are purged from the databases, Sheridan said.

"The names don't belong in there," he told the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. "It's as simple as that."


JKBOctober 10, 2008 10:54 AM

Vice the side that putting people peaceably assembling in the database is wrong is the fact that these non-terrorist entries dilutes the database and makes the jobs of those perusing actual terrorists more difficult. We can't stop the collection of data about us by the government, marketers, or others but if the user has to sort through similar or multiple entries their picture of you is less clear. By putting activists in the terror database, the morons are forcing the real terrorist hunters to sort through and resolve data that has no relation to real terrorist activity. This slows the investigations and could cause a clue to be disregarded.

I would bet that this action was started not by those doing real terrorist investigations but rather those relegated to looking into activist groups on a better safe than sorry premise. Nothing there but it looks good and they feel important if they're making submissions to the terror database.

Bill ClintonOctober 10, 2008 2:56 PM

I would like to say something to [those of you] who believe the greatest threat to America comes not from terrorists from ... beyond our borders, but from our own government.

I believe you have every right, indeed you have the responsibility, to question our government when you disagree with its policies. And I will do everything in my power to protect your right to do so.

But I also know there have been lawbreakers among those who espouse your philosophy.

...

But the Weathermen of the radical left who resorted to violence in the 1960s were wrong. ... The people who came to the United States to bomb the World Trade Center were wrong.

...

If you treat law enforcement officers who put their lives on the line for your safety every day like some kind of enemy army to be suspected, derided...you are wrong.

...

How dare you suggest that we in the freest nation on Earth live in tyranny.

...

There is nothing patriotic about hating your country, or pretending that you can love your country but despise your government.

MozOctober 10, 2008 3:44 PM

Meh,

The problem with that observation is that govt agents have been convicted both of fabricating the type of evidence you refer to, and of providing weaponry etc like that to people who would otherwise have either not attended or not carried weapons. Having been involved in organising around protests like the RNC I have seen this first hand.

Also, protests, like any other public event, are open to all. Until the govt requires a permit to attend there is nothing stopping violent thugs joining in, just like they do at Mardi Gras and St Patricks Day.

The trick is to focus on the violent thugs rather than on the public event.

brasscountOctober 10, 2008 4:50 PM

@Bill Clinton

As a former police officer, I can only say, fie to the lawmakers, and judges who allow this type of activity to occur.

Law enforcement is by its very nature consumptive. It consumes every law and uses it as a means to control the populace. That is its nature. Community Policing ensures that law enforcement remains a part of the community that it controls, not apart from it. That generally creates a control over law enforcement that keeps it from becoming a tyrannical force.

However, when laws are written that require officers of the law to take action that violate the rights of the subject, then those law enforcement officers will violate the rights of the subject. It is their role to enforce the law, fairly, and impartially. They are not authorized to make value judgements. The lawmakers write the laws, and the law enforcement officers enforce them. Regardless of how evil, wrongheaded, or horrible the law may be. Some officers may draw the line and leave law enforcement, rather than enforce an unjust law. Most will not, however.

The courts will then decide whether the law enforcement officer's action was correct, and whether the law violates the rights of the citizens. The courts are both a part of the community and apart from it, however. They are not held accountable for their actions, except where the judge is elected, and in many places, like Virginia, they are not governed by popularity. If the judge finds no wrong, then there is no wrong.

So, if judges never overturn unjust laws, and lawmakers continue to create unjust laws, and law enforcement continues to enforce unjust laws, eventually we live in an unjust society. It is this that this board is concerned with, because we want to live in the America of Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin. We want to believe in Common Sense as defined by Thomas Paine.

We also want to live without fear of the people who are supposed to be protecting us.

But when a normal person can have their right to property abrogated because Target corporation wants to build on the plot that the citizen owns, and the government can and has chosen to use eminent domani to remove the property of the private citizen, we must fear our government.

And when a normal person is no longer secure in their property or papers, because the government can and has given itself the administrative authority (not subject to congressional oversight) to search the laptop computer of a traveller at the border without a warrant, even if that traveller is a citizen, we must fear our government.

And when a citizen is no longer guaranteed his liberty, because the government can label him an enemy combatant, and hold him without the right to an attorney or a trial of his peers, then we must fear our government.

I am not afraid of terrorists anymore. They can kill some of us in relatively small numbers. I am afraid of my government, for it can take from me my right to life, liberty and property without due process of law. And this is supposed to be America. Where the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States, and the Bill of Rights guarantee those things. Slowly, they are being stripped away. I can run for office, but since I have written this post, or told that only those with a reason to be afraid of their government are, and those people all are criminals.

So, "Mr. Clinton," I ask you, what about fearing the absolute power of increasingly absolutist government makes me a despiser of my country? I love my country precisely because of those things that are being taken away, one by precious one.

ripOctober 11, 2008 8:36 AM

Everyone who believes that police enforce the law fairly and impartially raise your hand. When drunken police officers put public drunks in the trunk of their car, and drive around jamming on the brakes before arriveing at the county detox where the nurse smells the alcohol on the officers breath, the story makes the news, and the police department sends out spokes persons to explain that putting people in the trunk of the car is "altruism" protecting and serving, etc. When a group of police on a noise complaint invade a womans apartment and persue her to her bedroom before executing her, the story is that they thought there might be someone in danger, therefore it was necessary to homeinvade and execute. these are accepted justifications, made with straight faces by the designated spokespersons. Police use logical fallacies such as this one, 'catastrophizing' to justify actions that are egregious enough to recieve public scrutiny. To tell the public that you know for certain that something specific will happen in the future, if you don't kill someone now is just not honest. You can't see the future that clearly. The system of repression has used war protest, drug wars, and now terrorism as universal 'justifications' to increase state terrorism. The people with the black masks and truncheons live in a world where class repression is the ideal. They would not think that billionaire stock traders would be a far greater threat than terrorists because these are the people the law is in place to support and subsidize.

OneEyedCarmenOctober 13, 2008 10:58 AM

So glad that my tax-dollars as a citizen in the "great" state of Maryland are going to track people who have yet to break the law, when the murder rate in Baltimore is still astronomically higher than the national average. *sigh

mehOctober 14, 2008 5:53 AM

@Moz

'The trick is to focus on the violent thugs rather than on the public event.'

I 100% agree which is why intelligence gathering is required to separate the two. Finding and stopping the violent thugs whilst they are organising is preferable to having to deal with that violence and the results of it in amongst innocent citizens out for a good time/peaceful protest.

The issue of police or informants acting as provocateurs is somewhat offtopic but I agree that they should not do so.

Free State EscapeeOctober 15, 2008 10:16 PM

The Maryland State Police are as politically corrupt as any police force in the nation.

http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m3197/...

[Link is to article detailing the MSP raiding a less-than-favored by the powers-that-be lobbying office on the eve of an election in an attempt to sway voters away from the cause.]

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