Fighting the Extremism Fight

Suppose I had in my hands a draft of a bill that Senators Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) were preparing to prevent the Biden Administration from using federal agencies to encourage U.S. persons to inform anonymously on whomever of their families, acquaintances, fellow workers, etc. they suspect of becoming radicalized to violent extremism. The staffers who provided the draft would probably report that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is pressing the senators to stop work on the bill and to deny they had ever started it.

The draft “dear colleague” letter by which the bill’s authors would seek co-sponsors would argue that encouraging people to attribute the undefined term “extremism” on activities, expressions, and even attitudes that no law prohibits makes it possible to hurt persons non-judicially whom the government and its partisans dislike or fear. Thus, say the senators, the Biden Administration is grasping the power effectively to outlaw political opposition. Using anonymous accusations among persons in ordinary contact is sure to politicize ordinary interpersonal difficulties, increase mutual suspicions, and inevitably will lead to bloody fights. Destroying the lives of political opponents through anonymous accusations of shadowy crimes, which the media then hypes, is a standard tactic of totalitarian regimes. It has no place in America.

The letter would also explain the need for legislation to forbid the FBI informants placed within organizations it considers socio-politically extremist to lead subjects of investigation into what can be called crimes. 

Ever since 2009 or so, when serious opposition to government policy developed especially but not exclusively among conservative-minded Americans, the FBI has infiltrated domestic opposition groups with the same Patriot Act tools that it used against affiliates of al-Qaeda. Though the FBI was unable to affect, nevermind control, the massive Tea Party movement, smaller groups such as the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers, and even ad hoc minuscule ones are led and exist largely as creatures of the FBI. 

As with Islamic radicals, the FBI’s antiterrorism work nowadays consists almost exclusively of leading persons in the groups that it influences into near-crimes, and then to prosecutions that it touts as triumphs. The difference is that leading a few conservative Americans into what can be called conspiracies to commit crimes that exist because of the FBI’s own involvement serves to impute illegitimacy if not illegality to the millions of ordinary conservative Americans the government claims these organizations represent. This too, the senators might say, is a totalitarian tactic that America must not tolerate.

The senators then might accuse the Biden Administration of having applied this totalitarian tactic to the Capitol riot of January 6 and of having made it the basis of its domestic policy.

The senators might argue that the promiscuous use of the term “terrorist” has poisoned American political discourse, should be outlawed, and the term reserved for the real thing. 

Here is what such a Cruz-Hawley-Johnson bill might say:  Title I might require any employee of the U.S. government who receives any accusation about the social or political activities, communications, preferences, or attitudes of any U.S. person to post the accusation’s substance on a U.S. government website created by the bill, together with the name, address, and other contact information about the accuser. Any U.S. employee who receives but fails to post such information within 24 hours would be guilty of a felony punishable by a fine of $50,000 and five years in prison.

Title II might repeal what is perhaps the worst of 9/11’s legacies, section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, and forbid the surveillance of U.S. persons for any reason other than probable cause to believe that such persons have committed or are about to commit a crime. It specifies that no employee of the United States shall enter, or cause anyone to enter or associate with any social or political group for the purpose of reporting on its socio-political opinions or activities, or to influence such opinions or activities.

Title III could require any and all employees of the United States to use the term “terrorism” or “terrorist” only with regard to persons and activities the character of which can be shown to fit the term. It makes improper accusations of terrorism, direct or indirect, liable to a fine of $50,000 and imprisonment for five years.

Staff sources would be likely then to report that Senator McConnell’s argument is something like “the whole government will lobby against this. You’ll get no Democrats and a handful of crazy Republicans. Give it up!”


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About Angelo Codevilla

Angelo M. Codevilla was a distinguished fellow of the Center for American Greatness. He was professor of international relations at Boston University and the author of several books including To Make And Keep Peace (Hoover Institution Press, 2014).

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