Thursday, November 8, 2007

Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007

Bill Number: H.R. 1955

Sponsor: Representative Jane Harman (D-CA)
Number of Cosponsors: 14

Bill Summary:
According to supporters, the measure will play an important role in helping government and law enforcement officials understand and prevent domestic terrorism. In a speech on the House floor advocating passage of the bill, Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) -- the coauthor and initial sponsor of the measure -- warned that the next time the U.S. faces a terrorist threat, "my assumption is that many who attack us will already be here, and some will be US citizens." To prevent that attack, she said, the new "legislation will help the nation develop a better understanding of the forces that lead to homegrown terrorism, and the steps we can take to stop it."

Critics of the measure allege that it is a thinly veiled and dangerous attempt to criminalize dissent. Such concern is based on the bill's vague and open-ended language that, critics say, could be used by the government to trample basic rights to free speech and assembly and turn legitimate dissent into thought crimes.

The legislation, for instance, defines "violent radicalization" as "the process of adopting or promoting an extremist belief system for the purpose of facilitating ideologically based violence to advance political, religious, or social change." The bill makes no attempt to define what an "extremist belief system" might be. Nor does it define the action of "facilitating ideologically based violence."

In its section on key findings related to homegrown terrorism, the measure gives lip-service to constitutional rights, but also singles out the Internet and its open market for the flow of ideas and information as part of the problem. According to the measure, "The Internet has aided in facilitating violent radicalization, ideologically based violence, and the homegrown terrorism process in the United States by providing access to broad and constant streams of terrorist-related propaganda to United States citizens."

The unspoken threat implied by that passage is that the government might have to clamp down on free speech online. "At base," wrote retired Col. Dan Smith in Counterpunch, "Harman's proposal seems to be a direct attack on First Amendment rights."

Bill Status:
H.R. 1955 passed the House by a landslide vote of 404-6 on October 23, 2007 (Roll Call Vote 993). The bill has been received by the Senate and was referred to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

Our Position:
The John Birch Society opposes the passage of vaguely worded legislation that could lead federal agencies to arbitrarily define some modes of thought as one or more varieties of "extremist belief systems." In the 18th Century, the British government of King George III certainly believed as much about the manner of thought adopted by America's Founding Fathers. The John Birch Society believes the Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act will have a substantial chilling effect on both free speech and thought and that the Senate should reject the measure.

Recommended Action:
1) Contact your senators using the alert below. Ask them to oppose the passage of H.R. 1955.
2) E-mail this link to others in your sphere of influence, ask them to voice their opposition to H.R. 1955 as well.

Thank you,

The John Birch Society
Standing for family and freedom since 1958