The Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition (MCCRC) held a public forum on April 18 to discuss what effect “The War on Terror” has had on free expression and grassroots political organizing in Maryland and across the United States since 9/11. The forum featured four speakers whose presentations discussed a number of demonstrations of federal, state and local surveillance and their disruption of peaceful activism. The forum was opened by Kit Bonson, who explained the MCCRC’s desperate formation, saying:
The Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition (MCCRC) started because in the fall of 2010, 7 activists in Minneapolis and Chicago awoke one morning to find that their houses were being raided by the FBI. Boxes and boxes of their possessions were confiscated, including computers, papers, and family photos. Although they were never charged with any crime, they were called to testify in front of a Grand Jury.
In response, activists here in our area, as well as in cities around the country, came together to protest the use of the FBI and the Grand Jury process to harass and intimidate movement organizers. Basically, we wanted to stand in solidarity with activists who had not committed crimes or advocated anything other than nonviolence action. It was from these events that MCCRC was founded.
Saqib Ali, formerly a Maryland state legislator, is now the Director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations Maryland chapter (CAIR-MD). Ali spoke about the overwhelming surveillance of Muslim-American communities throughout the United States, describing the three major issues facing these communities as the “No Fly” list; the FBI’s infiltration of mosques and the growing presence of FBI informants in mosques; and the near-constant surveillance of Muslim communities. Ali explained that the “No Fly” list prohibits many Muslim-Americans from travel back and forth between the United States and countries abroad where family members may still be located. Ali specifically noted that the Transport Security Administration (TSA) compiles their “No Fly” list fairly arbitrarily, and lacks any legal recourse; not only is the reason for being on a “No Fly” list murky at best, but it becomes nearly impossible to remove oneself from that list.
Ali also discussed the FBI infiltration of mosques, both as a means to surveil Muslim community worshiping therein, as well as to persuade mosque members towards terrorist action and subsequently stage their arrests. He also discussed the more local development of an NYPD “Demographics” Unit, which singled out Muslim community centers of all kinds throughout New York and New Jersey for surveillance. He described the “Demographics” Unit as a “wide, indiscriminate dragnet of Muslim everyday things: barber shops, bookstores…”
Sue Udry, the Executive Director of the Defending Dissent Foundation (DDF), broadened the discussion beyond the Muslim-American community to discuss the many different examples of legitimate activism being disproportionately targeted by local, state and federal law enforcement agencies. She specifically mentioned the “Ag Gag laws,” which aim at preventing whistleblowers from exposing any wrongdoing within agricultural operations. Within these Ag Gag laws is the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA) which Udry and DDF describe as: