In January, Trevor Aaronson, a senior fellow at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University, published The Terror Factor: Inside the FBI’s Manufactured War on Terrorism. I only read an excerpt, reprinted by the progressive list serv, Portside, but it is more than enough to pin down what I, and probably the vast majority of the RFC community, have already suspected.
Here’s a paragraph from the excerpt that presents the gist of Aaronson’s thesis:
“In the ten years following 9/11, the FBI and the Justice Department indicted and convicted more than 150 people following sting operations involving alleged connections to international terrorism. Few of these defendants had any connections to terrorists, evidence showed, and those who did have connections, however tangential, never had the capacity to launch attacks on their own. In fact, of the more than 150 terrorism sting operation defendants, an FBI informant not only led one of every three terrorist plots, but also provided all the necessary weapons, money and transportation.”
Aaronson documents that the FBI has deployed a huge domestic network of spies, ten times larger than the force used to infiltrate the anti-war and civil rights movements of the 1960’s, to “protect” the public from terrorist attacks. They have trolled the internet and Muslim communities throughout the land, looking for young men who express violent opinions or wishes. Once they find them, undercover agents provide these troubled individuals with fake materials and plans to enable them to carry out their fantasies. Finally, agents swoop in to make arrests when these “lone wolves” have gone far enough to assure court convictions, and often multi-decade sentences.
The FBI and Justice Department announce these arrests with great fanfare, before an all-too-eager media that lauds them for keeping us safe. The fact that it is extremely unlikely that most of these individuals would ever have been able to engage in terrorism without the FBI’s assistance is lost in the mainstream media feeding frenzy.
These same agencies have used similar tactics against left-wing activists. They’ve had less success against organized communities in the Pacific Northwest and Midwest, and so have resorted to intimidating their targets with threats of imprisonment and actual indefinite detention for those who refuse to cooperate with Grand Jury investigations. However, they have coerced guilty pleas from several radical young men who were entrapped in much the same manner as those the FBI labels Jihadists.
I have written before that our community should rally to the defense of progressive activists targeted by the FBI, rather than condemning their tactics and washing our hands of them. We must make a greater effort to identify those at risk of such sting operations and do what we can to protect them from the FBI and themselves. There is more than enough necessary political, social and environmental justice work for them to sink their teeth into without falling into traps laid by the forces of repression. We need their energy and idealism more than ever.
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