“Our history is littered with examples of initiatives sold as being necessary to fight extremism that quickly devolve into tools used for the mass violation of the human and civil rights of the American people”, write Michigan Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib and nine other representatives, opposing the call from leaders of both US political parties for expanded “national security” powers in response to the 6 January far-right attack on Congress.
"We firmly believe", they say, "that the national security and surveillance powers of the U.S. government are already too broad, undefined, and unaccountable to the people. To further degrade those rights and liberties in reaction to this attack would undermine our democracy at a time when we must join together to defend it with all our collective might."
Measures being advocated include an expanded no-fly list, new crimes on the statute book to give more avenues for prosecution, and expanded use of the death penalty. Democratic House of Representatives speaker Nancy Pelosi has positively referred to the US government’s response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Tlaib and her comrades are pushing back, arguing that the problem is not lack of powers but a reluctance on the part of politicians and the state machine to recognise the threat from white supremacists and the radical right - contrasting with an eagerness to act against left-wing and liberation movements. They cite the historical cases of McCarthyism, the COINTELPRO program targeting black activists in the 1960s and 70s, the post-9/11 Patriot Act and recent FBI targeting of Black Lives Matter activists.
They are backed by 135 civil rights organisations who have written to Congress making similar arguments.
The representatives’ letter to congressional leaders can be read here
The civil rights organisations’ letter is here
British history shows a similar pattern – from powers introduced in the context of the rise of Mosleyism being wielded against the left to more recent infiltration of workers’ and left-wing campaign groups by undercover police.
Tlaib and the others call for a serious, transparent investigation into the 6 January attack, with a commitment to release all findings to the public; recognition of nationalist and QAnon groups as a major threat; and recognition that the threat from such groups has not been addressed because of reluctance to act against them, not a lack of security powers. The civil rights organisations’ statement makes similar demands.