Thursday, May 19, 2005

May 18, 2005

George's Dirty Tricks

Thirty-eight years ago I was a 21-year old Marine Corps reservist/antiwar activist. I and two Air Force reservists had formed the G.I. Association, an anti Vietnam War group that organized reservists around the county to oppose that mortal sin of a war.

Needless to say the Nixon administration was not amused by our organizing efforts. They had a draft back then but, so many US kids were dying every week they had to keep stoking that furance with warm bodies, and they did not want us messing with those kid's heads.

While we advocated peace rather than violence and broke no laws, national or international, we suddenly found ourselves ass-deep in FBI agents wherever we went, 24/7. When my mail arrived an FBI would rush to the box and copy down the return addresses off the envelopes before returning them to the box. If he and I reached the box at the same time I had to wait until he was done.

This was hardly a covert operation. They wanted us to know they were there, watching. They amused themselves further by loosening the lug nuts on the wheels of our cars parked on the street overnight. After two of my wheels rolled by me on Golden Gate Bridge, I started checking the wheels instead of my oil every morning.

They would also show up at any place I landed a job, ask to see the boss, flash their FBI shields and then show the boss a photo of me. “Does this person work here?” they would ask. When the boss said yes, why are you asking, they would reply, “Sorry we can’t discuss that with you,” and leave. Need I tell you what happened next?

This was the FBI of J. Edgar Hoover and Richard Nixon. It became an agency that spied on and harassed peaceful antiwar priests and nuns, spread false rumors and planted agent provocateurs within our group to create the very domestic violence we refused to ignite.

I thought those days were behind us, filed in the junk-heap of history along with Joe McCarthy’s empty bourbon bottles, Richard Nixon’s paranoia and J.Edgar Hoover’s evening gowns. But alas, that hope was premature.

WASHINGTON: New FBI documents to be released today show that anti-terrorism agents who questioned antiwar protesters last summer in Denver were conducting "pretext interviews" that did not lead to any information about criminal activity. The memos were obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union as part of ongoing litigation and provide a glimpse of the FBI's controversial efforts to interview dozens of members of leftist protest groups before the party conventions last year in Boston and New York. (Full Story)

Let’s be clear about exactly what's going on here. Just as they did nearly 40 years ago, an administration fighting an unpopular, unwinnable and illegal war is trying to use its national police force to silence protest.

It did not work on Vietnam War protestors, and it won’t work now. If we were supposed be scared off, they accomplished just the opposite. The use of the FBI to spy on and harass harmless, law-abiding Americans served only to reinforce our belief back then that the administration in power was corrupt and needed to opposed.

Back in those days, the administration used the threat of “Commies” among us to justify their police-state inclinations. Of course none of us were Commies. In fact most of those I marched with in those days went on to become successful businessmen and women. It was a pretext, just as the implied threat of “terrorists” among us is today. (If the FBI wants to do something that really might keep terrorists out of the country they could help secure our southern border instead of “interviewing” US antiwar activists.)

Because how real a threat is an openly anti-Bush-war activist? How far do you thing the 9/11 hijackers would have gotten if they had run around the US leading anti-US demonstrations? Not far. It’s just not a terrorist M.O.

Nevertheless here we are, right back to Tricky Dick’s dirty tricks, and for the same reason. This administration now has another Vietnam on its hands and they know it. Their options are to either admit they were wrong and withdraw, or to “stay the course,” which translates to “we can’t admit we were wrong because we killed over a 100,000 people already.”

Since the Bush administration will never admit it made a mistake, large or small, they are going with Option 2: Stay the course. They will try to stretch the Iraq operation out three more years and leave pain of the inevitable Option 1: Withdrawal, to the next administration.

But to have any chance of Option 2 succeeding that they need to do what they can to keep you and me quiet. They remember millions of people marching in the streets of San Francisco and New York and Washington filled opposing the Vietnam War, and they are doing what they can to make sure that does not happen on their watch.

It's hardball, pure and simple. Let me tell you, having a FBI agent ring your doorbell and flash his/her badge can be a real rush. (Hello, I am Special Agent Andrews; we’d like to have a word with you. Can we come in?”) And a visit to your workplace to flash your photo around, leaving your boss with the impression you might be Osama bin Laden’s first cousin or something, can be a real career killer.

Such tactics will scare off some.

They scare me too.

They just won’t scare me off.

By Stephen Pizzo
Raconteur at Large

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