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Friday, August 20, 2004

Maybe the FBI should be talking to Jon Carroll...

Potential protesters at the Republican Convention in NYC are getting visits from the FBI. They are asked if they will break the law or if anyone the know plans on breaking the law while visiting the Big Apple.

For the chilling effect this may have on contstitional protected dissent, or travel plans (as if, after being singled out like that you can expect not to be on a no-flight list) Jon Carroll takes note:
You may already have had your visit from the FBI. What rollicking good fun it must have been. Two large men may have already stood on your doorstep and informed you that you were a designated troublemaker. The trouble you were making: being associated with some person or organization that planned to demonstrate at the Republican National Convention.

Of course, it's not illegal to exercise your free speech rights by demonstrating. No one is saying that. Heaven forfend. "No one was dragged from their homes and put under bright lights," said Joe Parris, a spokesman for the FBI. "The interviewees were free to talk to us or close the door in our faces. "

Oh right. We all feel ever so comfortable closing the door in the face of an FBI agent. I usually like to couple the rejection with an example of my Churchillian wit. "I bet you think you're a big shot, don't you?" I will barb.

And the FBI never sees a briskly closed door as suspicious. "Well, Mac, I guess this citizen doesn't want to talk to us. Well within his rights, of course. Let's just cross him off the list." Yeah, that happens.

The FBI wants to prevent violence, it says. It is asking people whether they are planning to be violent. It is asking them whether they know anyone who is planning to be violent. What a marvelous investigative technique! I'll bet that works real well with al Qaeda cell members. And it sure helped catch the guy who mailed that anthrax. No, wait, we don't have him yet.

Only a suspicious person would say that this wasn't an investigation at all; it was the government delivering a face-to-face warning. "Why not stay home this year?" it suggests. "Why not dissent in the privacy of your own home?"

The FBI: once again preserving the peace of mind of the plutocrats.

Meanwhile, left-leaning troublemaking groups are debating about the most useful level of protest. Some are arguing that mass arrests, blocking doors, breaking windows and other acts of semi-civil disobedience are counterproductive; every news photograph of a screaming leftist means a vote for George Bush. Others say that extreme times demand extreme action and that we have to show the world that not all Americans believe in the unilateral invasion of foreign nations.

I myself am in the first camp -- I remember that the Chicago demonstrations in 1968, while cathartic, did end up with Richard Nixon as president. But I am not here to argue that point. I am here to propose a Third Way.

Carrol goes on to suggest a third way that is illegal and one I do not endorse, eventhough I adore Robin Hood...