—George W. Bush’s address to the American people in preparation for war with Afghanistan, September 20,2001.
Cameron D’Ambrosio, a Massachusetts high school student, apparently is not with “us” since he was arrested on “terror” charges last week. The youth faces up to 20 years in prison for making a reference to the Boston Marathon bombings on his Facebook page. He is currently being held on $1 million bail, according to Alternet.
So were the police heroes? Did they act on good evidence, stop a terrorist act in its infancy, and perhaps save hundreds of lives, or was this just another example of overkill, censorship and thought policing?
According to the WSWS, D’Ambrosio posted the following rap lyrics: “F--- a boston bominb (sic) wait till u see the s--- I do, I’ma be famous rapping, and beat every murder charge that comes across me!” Friends insist that he was just emulating the macho, boastful style of other rappers and that, like other rap singers, he was merely singing about current events, not planning to emulate them—they insist that he never would carry out a bombing. More significantly, the police did not find any weapons or tools for making bombs, nor any plans for acquiring them. There were no victims. No specific threats were made against any person or target and he had no affiliations with any terrorist organizations
The Thought Police and America’s War on Youth
One would hope that parents and teachers are educating young people to be very careful what they say and do, especially online, in this hyperparanoid climate. However, that does not make D’Ambrosio’s actions illegal, let alone evidence of terrorism. Unless the authorities can find a compelling motive, plan, and the means to carry it out, their actions signal a willingness of the government to preemptively take out citizens merely for their feelings, artistic interests, or what they might possibly do in the future.
It should be pointed out that people routinely reference illegal or antisocial activities on their Facebook pages (and in musical lyrics) without legal consequences (e.g., drug use, violence against women, gay bashing). More to the point, “terrorist” speech is still protected under the First Amendment of the Constitution (as long as it doesn’t involve a specific, imminent and likely threat). In 1969, for example, in Brandenburg v. Ohio, the Supreme Court upheld the KKK’s right to call for violence against politicians—though plans or action to actually carry out such an attack would be illegal.
D’Ambrosia is not the only teen being sucked into America’s Kafkaesque anti-terror gulag system. According to the WSWS, Alex David Rosario, a high school student in Michigan, faced terrorism charges in January for threatening to shoot coworkers, something he claimed was only a joke, and two Louisiana high school girls were arrested and charged with “terrorism” in February for emailing threats to students and faculty. There was also Kiera Wilmot, who I wrote about last week, arrested and charged as an adult for weapons possession in response to a science experiment.
None of these cases would have been considered acts of terrorism prior to the September 11 attacks and Bush’s assertion that “you are either with us, or you are with the terrorists.” What they signal is that the war against terror, which has been used to terrify the American public for more than a decade now, is increasingly being turned on the American public itself, including kids, and that the criteria used to identify terrorists has been so broadened that virtually anyone can be targeted. Consider investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill’s observation that the Obama administration is now using drone “signature strikes” to assassinate people based solely on their “profiles” (e.g., age, gender, location and who they might be hanging out with), including U.S. citizens, thus eviscerating their rights to a trial, to confront the evidence against them, and to have the representation of an attorney. A “signature” strike was used to take out Denver-born, 16-year-old, Abdulrahman Al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen, who was assassinated by U.S. drones in Yemen in 2011 (see Democracy Now).
The hyperbolic use of the term terrorism—considered comical ten years ago when Bush’s education secretary, Rod Paige, referred to the National Educators Association (NEA) as a terrorist organization—is now being used to arrest, torture and kill innocent civilians and dissidents throughout the world. For example, members of Mexico’s teachers union, (Coordinadora Estatal de Trabajadores de la Educación en Guerrero, CETEG) were recently arrested on trumped up terrorism charges. In June, 2012, 72 members of Turkey’s KESK public sector union were charged with terrorism and imprisoned until April, 2013, according to Labour Start News, while dozens more have been arrested on similar charges over the past few months. And, according to Scahill, dozens of innocent civilians have been killed in “anti-terror” drone signature strikes in Yemen, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Protection for Whom?
One might reasonably wonder who the authorities are trying to protect (and at what cost), when they lock down an entire city (as they did in Boston, and more recently in Valley Springs, CA), conduct warrantless house to house searches, and threaten to arrest anyone who leaves their home. The same might be asked about the Obama administration’s assertion of its right to use drones to assassinate U.S. citizens on U.S. soil.
In this context, being labeled a terrorist becomes all the more significant. If the government can arrest musically-inclined teens on terrorism charges simply for expressing anger and hostility devoid of a credible or imminent threat, will the terror jacket placed on the NEA by Rod Paige one day be used to arrest its members, as occurred in Mexico and Turkey?
Not likely—not unless they actually start to strike in significant numbers and pose a credible and imminent threat to the status quo, something they show no indication of doing. Likewise, if the labor movement were to engage in protracted multiple work stoppages, it seems inevitable that the government would accuse them of being economic terrorists. But this, too, seems remote. Unlike actual terrorists, the labor movement’s response to harassment, abuse and discontent tends toward a retraction from combativeness and collaboration with its persecutors.