Sheriff’s Office should satisfy group’s request

BBy Nathan Paulsen

Bill Chandler, a so-called expert on terrorism with the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office, told Daily reporters on Monday that Students Against War is a “legitimate” organization that is not being “tracked.” A few days earlier, on March 5, the Star Tribune ran an article detailing Chandler’s presentation to emergency responders and law enforcement agents on “Understanding Terrorism in Minnesota,” where he talked about Students Against War in the context of local “domestic identified groups” of which police should be aware.

I firmly believe Chandler’s recent comments about Students Against War is a public relations ploy to avoid further scrutiny of the comments he made during his presentation. Of course, everybody knows Students Against War is a “legitimate” organization. We are a very explicitly nonviolent group of students who organize teach-ins, protests and other events on campus to express our opposition to a war against Iraq that the George W. Bush administration has failed to justify. We consistently work to inform and empower students around domestic and foreign policy issues related to war and militarism that deserve attention, discussion and debate.

The legitimacy of Students Against War is not in question. What is in question is the Hennepin County Sheriff Office’s apparent classification of Students Against War as a “domestic identified group” – something akin to a terrorist organization posing a significant threat to our communities. To understand what is happening, it is important that students at the University know the history of political repression in this nation. The FBI and local law enforcement agencies have a decades-long tradition of surveillance and infiltrating and disrupting peaceful antiwar organizations. During the 1960s and 1970s, hundreds of nonviolent organizations struggling for civil rights and to stop the Vietnam War were labeled as “communist” or “subversive” and thus singled out for extra-legal repression.

Throughout the 1980s, the FBI and local law enforcement agencies again systematized unconstitutional activities, this time in an effort to disrupt the Central American Solidarity Movement.

Some of the tactics the FBI and local law enforcement agencies have employed to disrupt grass-roots organizations include: surveillance, infiltration, frame-ups, disinformation campaigns, bad-jacketing (making activists appear to be FBI agents to fellow activists), blacklisting, psychological warfare (induce paranoia, manipulate tensions between activists, etc.), break-ins, burglary and outright assassination.

These tactics were not limited to just a few extreme cases, but were a matter of policy that affected hundreds of organizations and thousands of persons struggling for social justice.

Now we have a president who has said we are either with him or we are against him. Bush signed the USA Patriot Act into law, one of the most potentially repressive pieces of legislation in U.S. history. In this context, Americans who value their rights have more than enough reason to be concerned about the comments reportedly made by Chandler about Students Against War during his presentation on “Understanding Terrorism in Minnesota.”

Furthermore, Chandler quite obviously does not attend the University. His non-student status, as well as his title as an expert on counterterrorism, is in itself enough to raise serious questions about why he knows of our organization and feels compelled to discuss our organizing efforts at a gathering of emergency responders and law enforcement agents.

Randy Furst’s article in the Star Tribune on March 5 appears to have exposed a top police official encouraging repressive actions to be taken against Students Against War. But why might Students Against War be targeted? Perhaps it might have something to do with the fact that we have been part of an extraordinarily successful effort to organize local high schools and colleges to walk out of their classes on the school day after war begins to express their opposition. Right now, a number of colleges and at least 14 high schools are organizing walk-outs.

To resolve this dispute, and to lay any lingering doubts to rest, the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office should comply with the legal request made by Students Against War’s attorney to release a transcript of the conference. Indeed, it should welcome this request as an opportunity to clear its name and have the truth told. If the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office has nothing to hide, then it should not have any problem with meeting Students Against War halfway by allowing us to see for ourselves that indeed we are not on some list of extremist groups to be watched. Chandler should back up his words by deed.

Until that happens, this issue will not be resolved. We will be left to assume the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office is conspiring to engage in unconstitutional, illegal and antidemocratic police activities aimed at repressing antiwar and other progressive grass-roots organizations. However this may be, Students Against War and like-minded individuals will most certainly and emphatically not be intimidated by police actions. We will go on organizing students in opposition to Bush’s unjust war plans. We know our rights, and we are ready and willing to energetically defend those rights against abuses of police power.

Nathan Paulsen is a University junior studying political science and sociology and a member of Students Against War. Send letters to the editor to [email protected]