I have often lamented my being just a bit too young to have truly experienced the ’60s. Woodstock wasn’t an option for me at eleven, and though I wore an “MIA” bracelet for some tragically missing American soldier in Vietnam for years, I was too young to really participate in the political dialogue that grew out of that conflict. But thanks to our government, there is at least one thing I can experience just as my older brothers and sisters experienced it in the ’60s: a heavy-handed, mean-spirited approach to law enforcement.
The recent raid on the Longhaul/Infoshop, a decades-old organizing center, library, and activist space, should be a wake-up call to all who believe the now-infamous COINTELPRO counterintelligence program, popular in the ’50s and spanning into the ’70s, is a relic of the past. The purpose of COINTELPRO was to “expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize” political targets. Now we know that government harassment of the innocent and efforts to breed paranoia among those spirited enough to question the powers that be is alive and well in the 21st century.
The ninety-minute raid at Longhaul was conducted by combined forces of the FBI, UC Berkeley police, and Alameda County Sheriff’s deputies. Bursting onto the scene, with weapons drawn, the overly zealous team broke into the space without even asking to gain entry, which workers say they would have granted had they seen a warrant.
The ostensible reason for the raid was information linking Longhaul computers to threatening animal rights emails sent to UC professors. Police, fully aware of the public nature of the space and of the organizations that utilize the computers, including the radical newspaper, Slingshot, took more than a dozen computers and other documents and equipment in their sweep.
The government isn’t supposed to be able to investigate anyone that they want to in society. There are limits to its power imposed by the first and fourth amendments to the US constitution. And though the police acted on authority of a warrant in the raiding Longhaul, their justification for the breadth of the police action and the extensiveness of the search was questionable, at best.
Most worrisome, though, is the fact that this was not an isolated incident. Similar recent FBI-assisted raids have taken place all around the country. Gun-toting officers entered the convergence space for protesters against the Democratic National Convention in Denver. In St. Paul, police stormed the convergence space of the RNC Welcoming Committee, an anarchist group described by the Ramsey County Sheriff as “a criminal enterprise intent on committing criminal acts,” as well as private homes of activists. FBI and St. Paul police also targeted independent journalists in the days leading up to the Republican National Convention when they surrounded a house where members of I-Witness Video Collective were meeting. And that is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
Law enforcement has gone on record describing their infiltration of groups and their use of informants. There has been a particular focus on environmental and animal rights activists. But no one engaged in challenging the status quo should feel safe from the prying eyes of the government.
There is no question that we live in difficult times. Still, we should not be willing to surrender our rights in the name of war and fear. After all, the ostensible justification for this “war on terror” is freedom and democracy. It may seem a remote concern or of no concern at all to many that “suspected terrorists” are having their phones and e-mails monitored and their homes and workspaces raided. But in these times of relaxed restrictions on politically motivated investigations, the definition of “terrorist” is an ever-widening chasm. If there are no limits on governmental intrusions into our privacy, then it won’t be long before you and I are caught in a web of suspicion by a government that knows no limits. We are all a bit less free today for these politically repressive and abusive measures.