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The FBI Joint Terrorism Task Forces, rather than routing out terrorist networks, have spent much of the summer picking on college kids heading to the Republican Nation Convention.
Police detectives and FBI agents in at least five states have been calling on young activists at their homes, trying to frighten them into canceling their plans to protest, said those who have been questioned.
Agents have asked the activists, who meet on their college campuses and at each other’s apartments, whether they intend to commit criminal acts. In New York, Massachusetts, Missouri, Colorado, and California, the feds have also questioned parents, friends, and landlords about activists’ political views.
“It is a prodigious waste of time and money for them to harass nonviolent protesters,” said Zachariah Artstien, a 20-year-old student at SUNY-Purchase.
Last month, two members of the NYPD/ FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force visited Artstien’s parents at their home in Lower Manhattan. Artstien’s folks talked to the agents, one of them a New York police detective, for about an hour, said Artstien.
The visitors asked about Artstien’s political leanings and dealings with anti-authoritarian protest groups. “My parents are Democrats and believers in the system,” said Artstien. “They were cooperative.”
Artstien is not a fan of either of the nation’s major political parties, however. He is a founder of the Organization, an anti-authoritarian group that stages “die-ins” at military recruitment centers. Its members wear gray-colored “multiforms” (as opposed to conformist uniforms), and train in self-defense tactics. The Organization has between 100 and 200 members in New York and Massachusetts. Its manifesto, The Gray Book, clearly states the group’s nonviolent nature, said Artstien.
The mission of the nation’s 60-plus FBI Joint Terrorism Task Forces, which work closely with local police departments, is to ensure “the timely collection and sharing of intelligence absolutely critical” to preventing terrorist acts, according to the FBI’s website.
But the Justice Department is now abusing its powers by targeting protesters with no terrorist ties, said a lawyer from the New York Civil Liberties Union. “The FBI acknowledges it has no indication these people have terrorist ties, and yet they are encouraging the JTTFs to investigate them anyway,” said Udi Ofer, director of the Bill of Rights Defense Campaign at the NYCLU. “That’s very disturbing.”
ACLU lawyers in the states affected by the FBI dragnet are looking to see whether law enforcement violated the First Amendment rights of Artstien and others. Agents for the FBI task force in Boston, citing Justice Department policy, refused to comment. Agents in New York ignored requests for comment.
Another student, Hali Vik, said agents in Boston, where she lives, attempted to interview her landlord, roommates, and mother during the Democratic National Convention. Vik, an 18-year-old student at the Massachusetts College of Art, is also a member of the Organization, which she said is being targeted for its anti-government, anti-war stance. “We are not involved in any actions that are at all harmful,” she said. “But we are well-organized, and that’s what frightens the FBI.” MARK BAARD
Wet T-shirts for Kerry
What to do about the single female thirtysomethings and apathetic teens whose votes could determine the election? The answer may be found at the “Free for All Wet Anti-Bush T-Shirt Contest and Water Gun Fight,” to be held on Saturday, August 28, in the Sheep Meadow of Central Park. Everyone is encouraged to bring loaded water guns, and women are asked to wear T-shirts bearing anti-Bush slogans.
Why, you might ask, would any sane lefty promote an event objectifying women? Why, indeed. Organizer Jeff Poster says the contest is a way to sidestep the city ban on assembly in public places. “We have to take advantage of the First Amendment now more than ever in this country’s history,” he says. KEVIN A. O’DONNELL
Masa for the masses
A New York-based group called Tamales for the Revolution is trying to make 1,000 tamales to serve during the RNC. Members plan to ride around on bicycles, handing out vegan black-bean tamales to hungry protesters who, the idea goes, ought to be focusing on matters other than finding food. “Right now our freezer is stuffed with bags full of tamales,” says a spokesperson.
Chief among the group’s goals is to feed protesters newly released from jail. “We hope that eating nice, warm tamales will help them feel comfortable and happy,” the spokesperson says. ABBY AGUIRRE
NY slice of life
The editors of Slice (sliceny.com), an NYC weblog of all things pizza, have created a catalog of pizza protocol for visiting conventioneers. At GOPizza.net, Bushites will learn, in scrupulous detail, the fine art of ordering and holding a slice, along with the history of coal ovens in New York. Slice has even created an iPod-based handbook to the choicest pies in the city. AKIVA GOTTLIEB