Pentagon Calls Protests "Low-Level Terrorism"

By Matthew Harwood

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is asking the Pentagon to immediately remove a question on a test that equates protests with "low-level terrorism," according to a letter from the civil liberties group.

The test is part of a mandatory antiterrorism refresher course given annually to Department of Defense (DoD) "elements and personnel." One question included in the test asks the exam taker "Which of the following is an example of low-level terrorism activity?"

The exam taker is given four possible answers: "Attacking the Pentagon," "IEDs," "Hate crimes against racial groups," and "Protests." The correct answer, however, was protests.

In a letter addressed to Gail McGinn, acting undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness at the Pentagon, the ACLU has asked the DoD to respond in two ways: "by correcting the materials before they are used further and by sending out corrective materials to all DoD employees who received the erroneous training."

Preceding this demand to change the course material, the ACLU gives a full-throated defense of protests as a First Amendment protected activity and reviews recent cases where domestic surveillance programs have overstepped their bounds, according to civil libertarian groups such as the ACLU.

For the DoD to instruct its employees that lawful protest activities should be treated as "low-level terrorism" is deeply disturbing in and of itself. It is an even more egregious insult to constitutional values, however, when viewed in the context of a long-term pattern of domestic security initiatives that have attempted to equate lawful dissent with terrorism. Examples of this shameful pattern can be seen in the Pentagon's monitoring of at least 186 anti-military protests, a North Central Texas Fusion System bulletin that states that law enforcement officers should report anti-war protest groups in their areas, the FBI's surveillance of potential protesters at the Republican National Convention, the Fresno County Sheriff Anti-Terrorism Unit's covert infiltration and surveillance of Peace Fresno, a community peace and social justice organization, and the covert surveillance by the Maryland State Police of local peace and anti-death penalty groups.

Policing ideas, rather than criminal activities, runs counter to our nation's core principles, undermining the very foundations of a free society that the Department of Defense is dedicated to preserving.

UPDATE: The Pentagon has pulled the question. More here.

♦ Photo by tony_the_misfit/Flickr



Protests As Terrorist Activity?

Since when is the right to peaceably assemble, considered a terrorist activity? I was under the impression that it was a right that was afforded to us by the constitution. I am glad that the ACLU called the DoD out on this one. Letting something like this go unchecked is a fairly slippery slope. A slope which no citizen in their right mind should want their country moving down. It may not seem like much, but the subtle shift that occurs in the wording of this question could have devastating consequences. If peaceful protests start being classified as a "low-level terrorist activity", it is only a matter of time before it becomes outlawed. Freedom of speech would be sure to follow. I am all for security. Don't hear me wrong. I'm just saying that I think we should always be afforded the right to express our concerns, and keep those who are providing the security in check.

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