In the years since 9/11, America’s police state has been expanding rapidly. The “Patriot Act” gave nominal legal approval to a vastly expanded surveillance and detention authority, but in some startling new cases, police are not even seeking legal justification for working in areas that are clearly illegal and unconstitutional.
The latest abuses come courtesy of the New York Police Department. New reports indicate that the NYPD has been surveiling and profiling Jewish and Christian communities and individuals, often in areas that are far outside of NYPD’s jurisdiction, including Buffalo, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. As always, the bogeyman of “terrorism” is cited as the justification for these acts.
Police have been trawling daily through websites for Christian student groups at universities throughout New England. They have staked out kosher delis and grocery stores. They talked with local authorities about religion professors and even sent an undercover agent on a whitewater rafting trip, where he recorded student’s names in police intelligence files along with information about how often they prayed while on the trip. Check out the details from the ensuing police report:
“In addition to the regularly scheduled events (Rafting), the group prayed at least four times a day, and much of the conversation was spent discussing Christianity and was religious in nature,” the report says.
These reports of NYPD’s expansion of police power come in the wake of several high-profile terrorism investigations and attacks cited by authorities to prove that Christian and Jewish extremism is on the rise. In 2010, 9 members of the Hutaree, a Christian militia organization, were indicted on charges including seditious conspiracy, teaching the use of explosive materials, and possessing a firearm during a crime of violence. The militia was well-armed and authorities indicate they were planning a violent overthrow of the United States government.
Scholars list other Christian militias as holding similar ideologies and of being a threat to national security, including organizations with such malevolent and violent names as “The Sword”, “The Arm of the Lord”, among others.
The surveillance efforts were given new impetus following Norway’s terrorist incident last year involving Anders Behring Breivik. A car bombing and shooting left 151 people injured and 77 dead. Officials say it was one of the biggest terrorist attacks apparently motivated by the Christian ideology, which some scholars accuse of having an inherently violent component. Scholars note verses in the Bible which encourage slavery, murder, human sacrifice and call for believers to forcibly convert unbelievers to Christianity or face death, much like the infamous Islamic “Jihad”. Breivik called himself a “Christian Crusader”, alluding to the medieval Crusades which saw Christians invade the Middle East in search of converts and treasure.
Given these terrorist incidents, NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said “As a result, the NYPD deemed it prudent to get a better handle on what’s happening [with these Christian organizations]“. Mayor Bloomberg and police commissioner Kelly have so far indicated support for the program, saying that they are only investigating leads in an attempt to stop future terrorist incidents and that they don’t profile anyone for surveillance based on their religion. Mayor Bloomberg’s justification was especially vehement:
“The police department goes where there are allegations. And they look to see whether those allegations are true,” said the Mayor. “That’s what you’d expect them to do. That’s what you’d want them to do. Remind yourself when you turn out the light tonight.”
Senator Chuck Schumer has also signaled approval, saying:
” There is nothing wrong with the NYPD collecting and assessing publicly available information from New York, New Jersey, the other 48 states or around the world in the effort to prevent another terror attack like 9/11. In fact, it is widely understood that the NYPD’s actions have kept us safer. . . .”
Leaving aside that much of the information they compiled was not “publicly available”, nor were there any allegations of criminal activity made, such justifications have done little to blunt outrage coming from the Christian community and civil-liberties groups. Critics like these say the NYPD’s actions amount to profiling and illegal surveillance, infringing on the basic rights included in the Bill of Rights, including the freedom of religion, freedom of association, and freedom from unreasonable search and seizure. Clearly, supporters of the program are painting it in the best possible light, given how broad the surveillance was and how little oversight was involved. The files are incredibly detailed, and contain photographs of churches, schools, and even functions run by Christian homeschooling groups. Hundreds of Americans and their business dealings are detailed in the NYPD’s secret files:
- “A White Christian male was working in the rear of a store” an NYPD detective wrote after a clandestine visit to a dollar store in Shirley, N.Y., on Long Island.
- “The manager of this restaurant is an Indian Christian male named Vicky Amin” was the report back from an Indian restaurant in Lindenhurst, N.Y., also on Long Island.
- “Owned and operated by an African Christian (possibly Sudanese) male named Abdullah Ddita,” read another report.
And Glenn Greenwald reminds us just how pervasive such surveillance is in the years since 9/11:
This government spying on the perfectly innocent activities of innocent Americans and other legal residents is just a tiny though illustrative fraction of the dossiers being regularly compiled by government agencies. The Surveillance State compiles a massive amount of data about even the most innocuous activities of Americans – recall that the Washington Post‘s “Top Secret America” 2010 series reported that ”every day, collection systems at the National Security Agency intercept and store 1.7 billion e-mails, phone calls and other types of communications” – and the scope of what it gathers always expands and never constricts.
So, what’s up, America? Are you going to stand for this? How much further out of control are we going to allow this government to become?
NOTE: some of the details in the post above may have been changed, including the religion of those investigated, just to see if it makes any difference to you.