National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Issue Date:  February 20, 2004

Dissent in the heartland

The Bush administration’s campaign to quash dissent recently reached the heartland.

A federal grand jury in Iowa issued subpoenas to peace activists (and to Drake University). Which raised many questions, of which two come right to mind: What, exactly, did the federal prosecutors hope to find? And, don’t they have anything better to do?

As Jeff Guntzel’s account (see story) makes clear, some of those subpoenaed are regular lawbreakers. Their presence (and occasional civil disobedience) at the Iowa National Guard headquarters is well known. There’s nothing particularly secretive about these activities. These protesters oppose the war in Iraq and they’re willing to engage in civil disobedience to get their point across. A subpoena is not needed to get that information.

Do the prosecutors suspect that the Catholic Worker activists and others they are harassing are al Qaeda sympathizers? Potential terrorists?

Oh, come on. We went through this silliness in the 1960s and ’70s when J. Edgar Hoover, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon saw the peace movement as nothing more than a front for a foreign government. We went through it in the 1980s, when Edwin Meese and Ronald Reagan moved against those who disagreed with their policies in Central America.

Then, as now, the federal agents and prosecutors tracking Catholic Worker and other antiwar activists expended a vast amount of energy and resources against a benign target. The serious felons were in Washington.

To suggest, as these subpoenas do, that the pacifists of the Catholic Worker movement are soft on terrorism would be hilarious if it wasn’t so serious. And it is serious. Deadly serious.

Given no other reasonable explanation, it is clear that the federal government’s actions against Drake and the peace activists are not really targeted at these Iowans. They are, to be sure, the proximate target, but the greater goal is to chill those who would follow their lead.

It’s a pattern of harassment that became crystal clear after Sept. 11. At that time, Attorney General John Ashcroft overturned restrictions on FBI surveillance designed to protect from investigation those engaged in legitimate protest. He revoked attorney-client privilege for alleged terrorists, locked up thousands without charge (including, amazingly, at least one American citizen), and questioned the loyalty of those who had the temerity to object.

These activities are carried out by a supposedly “conservative” administration. Those conservatives who genuinely care about the oppressive instincts of the state should question what is being done to their cause and to our country.

We’ve seen it all before, which doesn’t make it any less ugly.

National Catholic Reporter, February 20, 2004

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