Part 2 of a three-part series on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Read Part 1 here.
In early 2013, Justin Carter, a Texas teen and avid gamer, made a big mistake. After a particularly heated match of “League of Legends” — an online, multiplayer fantasy game, a rival called him “insane” on Facebook. Without thinking, Justin sarcastically responded that he was indeed so insane that he’d “shoot up a kindergarten” and “eat the beating heart of one of them.”
Justin was kidding—and when authorities searched his home they turned up no weapons or other indications of a terror plot.
On the basis of his Facebook comments alone, however, Justin was arrested and charged with making terroristic threats, and spent months in jail. He was only released after an anonymous donor provided $500,000 bail, and a petition for his release collected nearly 230,000 signatures. Justin still faces felony charges for his facebook comment.
Justin Isn’t Alone
Justin is yet another innocent American falling under the government’s ever-expanding definition of “terrorism.”
In 2013, The State of Oklahoma threatened two twenty-something environmental protestors—a youth pastor and a waitress/graduate student-- with “terrorism hoax” charges for unfurling a protest banner and dropping glitter into the lobby of the offices of Devon Energy, an oil and natural gas company. After massive media attention, the terrorism hoax charges were dropped.
Documents obtained by journalists proved that the Joint Terrorism Task Force, TransCanada, and the Oklahoma City Police had all met together prior to the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline to strategize ways to prosecute environmental activists as terrorists.
Carl Malamud, an American public domain advocate, has advocated for government transparency for over 30 years. He is best known for convincing the SEC to release their EDGAR database of corporate filings to the public free of charge. Malamud has also developed a tool to help the average citizen read and understand court cases and case law. Yet when he published Georgia’s state laws online, the State of Georgia sued him, calling his actions a “form of terrorism.”
This Is The Law That We Should All Be Worried About
In 2012, former FBI director William S. Sessions spoke out against the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), arguing that, "It would over militarize America's counterterrorism efforts, effectively making the U.S. military judge, jury and jailer of counter terrorism suspects."
Since the NDAA was passed, the list of people like Justin Carter, Stefan Warner and Moriah Stephenson, and Carl Malamud considered “terrorists” by various branches of our government has grown substantially. Under The 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, these are the exact types of people who could be detained indefinitely, tortured by the U.S. military, denied attorneys, and held without trial.
As part of America’s expanding War on Terror, The 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) contains two provisions (Sections 1021 and 1022) that authorize the indefinite military detention, without charge or trial, of any person merely suspected of being a “terrorist”--including any American citizen or resident.
It removes the pretense of “innocent until proven guilty”, allowing any government official to merely accuse someone of being a “suspected” terrorist, and then hand them off to the American military to be detained indefinitely, without a charge or trial.
Under the 2012 NDAA, a suspected terrorist has no right to an attorney, no right to face their accuser, and no right to trial by a jury of their peers. In essence, we decided that no terrorist should have these rights, so the government decided to expand the definition of the word “terrorist.”
Are you worried yet? Think the Feds will only arrest you if you threaten children, ramble on about jihad on your phone or start building pipe bombs in your basement? Then you should learn about a post-9/11 FBI program called Communities Against Terrorism.
Through the program, a series of documents (including the one above) were handed out to local business owners around the nation. What they ask of these entrepreneurs is beyond crazy.They are expected to report suspicious indicators of terrorism like “paying with cash”, “demanding identity privacy [such as refusing to give a social security number]”, and customers who have changed their hair color or appearance.
The bizarreness continues. A Department of Homeland Security-funded report by the University of Maryland, Hotspots of US Terrorism, describes people who are involved in any single-issue politics, such as pro or anti-abortion, pro-nuclear, or anti-Castro, as potential terrorists.
You could even be considered a “suspected terrorist” based on your beliefs. According to the same “Hotspots of US Terrorism” report, you could be considered a “suspected terrorist” for being “suspicious of centralized federal authority” or “reverent of individual liberty.”
An Interview with One Of The Nation’s Leading Experts On The NDAA
Continuing our conversation on the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act from Part 1 of this series, I spoke with Dan Johnson, the 23-year-old founder of People Against the NDAA (PANDA). I asked Dan to talk more broadly about the future implications for all American citizens.
SM: Some of your critics have said not to worry about the 2012 NDAA because only people on an “approved” terrorist list could be detained and tried in military courts under its provisions.
DJ: That’s simply not true. There’s nothing in the 2012 NDAA, or anywhere in U.S. law, that requires someone to be on a terrorist watch list to be considered a "covered person" under Section 1021.
Anyone can be put on a terrorist watch list. Recently, a seven-year-old and an Air National Guard Brigadier General were added to our secret terrorist “no-fly” watch list. The Daily Wire has a list of thirteen people, including a former Congressman, put on this list that will blow your mind.
At the core of the protection of your civil liberties is the fact that you get due process, a trial, and an attorney. For example, with the no-fly list, our nation’s most prominent terrorist “watchlist”, there are no due process protections to keep you from ending up on that list. There's no jury, no judge and no trial. There's virtually no way to even find out if you are on the list. So anyone, like a Carl Malamud, or a Justin Carter, any one of us who is “reverent of individual liberty” could easily end up on that list and not even know it.
SM: How does someone get on a terrorist watch list?
DJ: All that’s required is for a government official – any official – to inform the Federal government that there is “reasonable suspicion” to believe you are engaged in or aiding terrorist activities. This is all done in secret.
Taking the no-fly list as an example again, Rep. Tom McClintock (R-California) was recently asked why he opposes taking away guns from people on the no-fly list. He responded that, “If your fundamental constitutional rights can be withdrawn at a bureaucrat’s whim” without due process, “then the Bill of Rights means nothing.” Why? He was put on the list himself, along with fellow Congressman John Lewis, just ten years ago.
SM: Haven’t there always been laws that punish domestic terrorism, such as for example, the arson and sabotage attacks engaged in by the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) or the bombings of abortion clinics? What makes the NDAA and the current shift in the enforcement climate different?
DJ: There’s a difference between prosecuting very real domestic terrorism crimes like arson, sabotage or bombings, and this more recent tendency to label people “terrorists” to smear their ideals or beliefs. In the 2006 Missouri Information Analysis Center Report (MIAC), for example, listed displaying the Gadsden flag or Ron Paul and Bob Barr bumper stickers as potential indicators of terrorist activity.
Then there’s the 2010 Department of Homeland Security-funded Hotspots of US Terrorism report, which said that being “reverent of individual liberty,” “suspicious of federal authority” and “believing in conspiracy theories” would qualify someone as a potential terrorist threat.
SM: How does the government define terrorism, and how does that affect this encroachment on our civil liberties?
DJ: “Terrorism” itself is not necessarily a crime. In the dictionary definition, terrorism is simply causing fear. But this is how dangerous the government’s use of the term “terrorism” really is. Terrorism can mean anything, so long as someone is scared of it. So the legal definition of terrorism varies from state to state, situation to situation, and can be far beyond what any American would reasonably consider to be “terrorism.”.
For example, bio-terrorism is any type of chemical warfare. Several environmental protestors in Oklahoma were charged with a bio-terrorism hoax for releasing lots a banner with glitter inside a corporate building.
In another example, in Kentucky, two young pranksters put together a Drano and aluminum foil “bomb” and put it on their neighbor’s porch. It didn’t hurt anyone or damage any property, and just made a loud “pop”, but they’re being charged with operating a weapon of mass destruction in Kentucky.
SM: How do these state examples illustrate the problem with the NDAA, which is a federal law?
DJ: The key here is simply how “terrorism” is defined. Nowhere in the 2012 NDAA does it ever define “terrorism” or “suspected terrorist”, it leaves this definition up to whichever official or agency claims there is terrorist activity. These examples illustrate just how broad the term “terrorist” now is, and thus--unlike its supporters argue--just how broad the 2012 NDAA’s reach is.
We started this War on Terror to go after Al-qaeda and the Taliban. Then we, the American people, in trust of our government, allowed for anyone labeled a “terrorist” to be held without a trial, mainly at Guantanamo Bay. We allowed the government extraordinary power to define the term “terrorist”, and little by little, that power expanded.
Now our “War on Terror,” has come home, and anyone who angers the wrong government official, supports the wrong views, or even says the wrong things online, is in danger of being held without charges or a trial. If we don’t take this power back from our government, it is only a matter of time before the Justin Carters, the Carl Malamuds, the environmental activists, those of us who are “reverent of individual liberty, are next.
In Part 3, I will talk with Dan Johnson about concrete steps his organization is taking to fight the NDAA’s abuse of American civil liberties. Meanwhile, please visit http://pandaunite.org to learn more.