A quick opinion poll: The mass murders of Sept.11, 2001, were allowed to occur because:
Letting airline passengers carry potentially deadly weapons such as
box-cutters was a bad idea.
B. Airport security is a job
too important to delegate to corporations.
doors were either unlocked or missing.
D. Americans enjoy
so much freedom, law enforcement officials lacked the power to
prevent the attacks.
John Ashcroft and George Bush may
have opted for "D," but they haven’t convinced folks in my
home of Bozeman, Mont. Our city commissioners’ meeting hall
couldn’t hold the crowd that turned out recently when an
anti-Patriot Act resolution was on the agenda. Most residents came
to say they thought the Patriot Act threatened their personal
freedom, and they applauded when Bozeman joined more than 80
Western communities --175 nationwide -- and the states of Alaska,
Hawaii and Vermont in passing a resolution opposing the Patriot
Similar scenes are occurring elsewhere, from college
towns like Boulder, Colo., to conservative rural towns like Dillon,
Mont., and North Pole, Alaska. Support also spans the political
spectrum within communities. In Boise, Idaho, the Green Party and
the Gun Owners of America are working side by side to press for a
local anti-Patriot Act resolution.
These resolutions are
an extraordinary demonstration of grassroots opposition to federal
policy, and they’ve become more than symbolic. The resistance
is credited with sparking bills like the one from Idaho Republican
Rep. Butch Otter. His measure to halt secret searches of personal
property --as authorized by the Patriot Act-- was approved 309-118.
Now, senators from Alaska, California and Oregon are sponsoring
similar bills to repeal or limit the Act’s unconstitutional
Attorney General Ashcroft’s recent
public relations tour defending the Act appeared to be a reaction
against the local uprisings. Not surprisingly, Ashcroft failed to
quell public concerns by speaking only to hand-picked audiences and
refusing to answer questions from the press. Just days after his
visit to Las Vegas, the city joined the anti-Patriot Act chorus,
and successful resolutions stepped up around the country.
Bush administration officials claim that the Patriot Act strikes
the "right balance" between freedom and safety, arguing that
terrorism can be defeated by increasing police power and reducing
judicial oversight over detentions and investigations. But the
implicit argument that our freedom endangers us lacks compelling
Legalizing more invasive technology and
granting law enforcement agencies the sweeping power to arrest,
detain and spy on citizens will not guarantee our safety. To the
contrary, history suggests that allowing politically-based
investigations or searches of personal property --without evidence
that passes judicial scrutiny-- simply wastes resources.
The FBI's COINTELPRO operations of the 1960s and '70s, which were
documented in the government's Church Commission Report, support
this conclusion. The farmworker activist Cesar Chavez, for example,
was among those targeted by countless federal investigations. All
produced mountains of files; none produced evidence of dangerous
Rather than viewing political dissent as a
danger sign, we should recognize it as a safety valve that enhances
our stability. People who have the opportunity to create peaceful
change are less likely to turn to violence. Our cherished political
freedom contributes heavily to our comparatively low incidence of
This is not to say that the Patriot Act
contains no sensible measures that could increase our safety
without infringing on civil liberties. It is that obvious and
sensible measures are surrounded by many more dangerous intrusions
Attorney General Ashcroft argued recently that
nine of 10 people polled said the Patriot Act had not infringed on
their personal liberty. It’s hard not to scoff at this
statement, since we are talking about our freedom; not shooting
free throws with a basketball. And how meaningful is this number
when the greatest concern of Patriot Act opponents is the
unprecedented secrecy in which it is used? Groups filing Freedom of
Information Act requests to learn about the Act get nowhere or
receive documents censored to the point of gibberish.
of our congressional representatives approved the 342-page Patriot
Act without adequate time to comprehend or even read it. They may
have been reassured because some of its more drastic measures were
due to expire in 2005.Yet the Bush administration is already
seeking to make the Act permanent, while blocking evaluation of the
its effectiveness or consequences.
across the political spectrum are beginning to put the brakes on
the federal power-grab. Watch out, Mr. Bush: Opponents from Greens
to gun owners might just put the Patriot Act into reverse.