The Free Speech Nightmare Is Going To Get Worse

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FBI Agents confiscate material from peace activist's apartment

FBI Agents confiscate material from peace activist's apartment on September 24, 2010

By Bill Sorem

The fallout of the September 24 FBI raid on nine Minneapolis citizens is coalescing into a toxic cloud floating over all of us. The victims of the FBI raids continue to tell their story. On Thursday, two of the targets, Jess Sundin and Katrina Plotz met a small group of concerned citizens in the basement of the Walker Library in Uptown Minneapolis. The basic story hasn’t changed, but the pain gets deeper. Three of the original targets have been issued new subpoenas for appearance before the Chicago Grand Jury around January 25. If they refuse to name names this time they may be imprisoned for the term of the grand jury.

The people who were targeted are experiencing many aspects of loss. Their cell phones, computers and personal documents were confiscated. This means loss of email contacts, personal documents and pictures. In some cases pictures and family memorabilia was taken, ( a box from one person’s recently deceased grandfather). There is no word when or if the property will be returned. One of the targets is a teacher. Her current class material is on the school computers, but all the material she needs to teach a summer class was taken so she won’t be able to teach it this coming summer.

Bruce Nestor, member of The National Lawyers Guild, presented some chilling observations about today’s legal climate. He said the nightmare is going to get worse. The legal framework is being built as part of the war on terror to target immigrants, peace activists and many other groups dissenting from US policies in spite of the First Amendment. The FBI can get a warrant for almost anyone. The court rulings have held that the courts must defer to the executive.

There is a long history of periodic government attacks on civil liberties from Revolutionary days, Civil War, World War I, the 1930s and of course the McCarthy era. Targets have differed from the communists of the 50s to “terrorists” today.

Congress passed a law in 1996 making it a crime for anyone in the US who provides “material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization or attempts or conspires to do so.” Punishment was 10 years, later increased to 15 years.

This June, a 6-3 decision of the Supreme Court, Holder v. the Humanitarian Law Project, expanded the authority stating that nonviolent First Amendment speech and advocacy “coordinated with” or “under the direction of” a foreign group listed by the Secretary of State as “terrorist” was a crime.

A more complete discussion is at:

The definition is so fuzzy that many totally innocent acts can be material support. The government argues that food or blankets allows “terrorists” to divert what was food money to weapons. Conversation can be coordinating action. The draconian aspect puts huge chunks of the populace in danger of government attack.

Congress is forbidden to “interfere with an ongoing FBI operation.” Appeals have been made to members of Congress to consider more serious remedies such as the Church Committee in 1975. So far no progress.

Bill Sorem

Bill Sorem is a longtime advertising professional who started with Campbell Mithun and ended up with his own agency. After a tour as a sailing fleet manager in the Virgin Islands he turned to database programming as an independent consultant. He has written sailing guides for the British Virgin Islands and Belize, and written for a number of blogs. In 2010, he volunteered as a citizen journalist with The UpTake and has stayed on as a video reporter.

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