In a blatant attempt to intimidate peaceful protesters and discourage First Amendment protected activities, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) agents reportedly visited the homes of peaceful activists and community organizers in Cleveland, Ohio recently, asking about their plans for the Republican National Convention.1
This type of behavior is not new. The FBI and DHS have conducted ongoing surveillance of nonviolent social justice activists and political organizations for years. They have engaged confidential informants, infiltrated groups, interrogated organizers and used social media to create dossiers on activists with Black Lives Matter, School of the Americas Watch (SOAW), Occupy Wall Street and anti-Keystone XL pipeline groups.
Despite these revelations – and demands for an investigation from the Bill of Rights Defense Committee/Defending Dissent Foundation and more than 60 civil society organizations – Congress has so far refused to fulfill its oversight duty and rein in these attacks on our civil liberties.
With some congressional Republicans already seeking to use the tragedy in Orlando to make it easier for the FBI to spy on Americans without a warrant,2 the potential for expanded surveillance powers increases the threat to political groups and activists. And details of the FBI and DHS surveillance activities show a pattern of abuse.3
- The FBI infiltrated SOAW for 10 years with confidential informants using “counterterrorism authority” — despite acknowledging the group had no relationship to terrorism.
- It engaged in similar “counterterrorism” surveillance of the Occupy Wall Street movement.
- DHS used social media to prepare detailed reports about peaceful Black Lives Matter protests for “situational awareness.”
- FBI agents interrogated Keystone XL pipeline activists, cultivated informants, and created dossiers.
The use of counterterrorism authority to monitor peaceful social justice organizations and organizers is an attack on politically protected activity, and is a threat to civil society. Congress must find out who is being spied on, why it keeps happening and take steps to make sure it never happens again.
Our government should never spy on Americans for exercising our basic Constitutional rights. The time is now to build a groundswell of support and pressure Congress to launch immediate investigations.
Thanks for fighting to defend our civil liberties.
Josh Nelson, Campaign Manager
CREDO Action from Working Assets
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- “FBI and Police are Knocking on Activists’ Doors Ahead of Republican National Convention,” The Intercept, June 23, 2016.
- Dustin Volz, “Invoking Orlando, Senate Republicans set up vote to expand FBI spying,” Reuters, June 20, 2016.
- “Recap: What We’ve Learned About Surveillance of Black Lives Matter,” Bill of Rights Defense Committee/ Defending Dissent Foundation, March 7, 2016.