Corporations are trying to use the PATRIOT Act in ways that have nothing to do with Osama Bin Laden because the PATRIOT Act gives transnational corporations the power to snuff out the activism of all those who oppose them.
Terrorism, as it is commonly considered, is the use of violence against civilians to achieve any number of political ends: the destruction of the federal government, the overturning of Roe V. Wade, the restoration of a Caliphate. If you try to kill people – or succeed in killing people for a political purpose – you’re a terrorist. If you blow up the Alfred P. Murrow Federal Building and kill 168 civilians, like Timothy McVeigh, you’ve committed an act of terrorism.
Seems pretty self-explanatory – right? Not according to TransCanada Corp., the Canadian owned energy conglomerate that is the backer of the Keystone XL pipeline extension. A new set of documents obtained by the group Bold Nebraska shows that this foreign corporation is encouraging American law enforcement agencies to treat anti-pipeline protestors like terrorists. Yes, terrorists.
The documents, which Bold Nebraska got a hold of through a FOIA request, were part of a briefing given to Nebraska law enforcement agents about the “emerging threat” of groups like Tar Sands Blockade and Rainforest Action.
And what are the “terrorist” activities that TransCanada is so concerned about? They include things like monkey-wrenching, tree-sitting, and tying yourself to a construction vehicle with a device called a “dragon-lock.”
If this seems familiar, it should, because what groups like Tar Sands Blockade are engaging in is classic civil disobedience. This is not terrorism, but this foreign corporation TransCanada wants American law enforcement agents to start looking at it like it is. By far the most damning document obtained by Bold Nebraska urges Nebraska authorities to consider using “State or Federal Anti-Terrorism laws prohibiting sabotage or terroristic acts against critical infrastructures.” In other words, TransCanada thinks American police should treat the blocking of construction vehicles just like the blowing up of a bus in downtown Washington, D.C.
If a group of Tar Sands Blockade activists were, in fact, planning to bomb TransCanada’s Calgary, Alberta headquarters or to assassinate its CEO, then they would absolutely be terrorists. But right now, they’re just protestors or vandals and should not be treated as terrorists.
So what makes TransCanada think it can get the American police to treat people sitting in trees like Mohammad Atta? The PATRIOT Act. The U.S. Legal Code definition of terrorism was expanded to include a new meaning of “domestic terrorism” by Congress in 2001. This new definition considers domestic terrorism as:
“…activities that involve acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State; appear to be intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States”
According to the ACLU, “this definition is broad enough to encompass the activities of…prominent activists, campaigns and organizations.” Given the right lawyer, TransCanada could convince a federal judge that monkey-wrenching and tying oneself to a construction vehicle is “dangerous to human life” or intended to “intimidate a civilian population.”
We already know, thanks to Edward Snowden, that our government has used the broad powers of the PATRIOT Act to amass a large collection of American citizens’ telephone records, something even one of its authors, Republican Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, has said goes beyond what he thinks was its original intent .
Do we really want to give corporations this sort of power to misuse our criminal justice system? Our Founders envisioned a society in which all were held accountable to and by the law, not a society in which vague and overly broad statutes empowered foreign private corporations to persecute activists. Let’s repeal the PATRIOT Act not only to preserve our civil liberties, but to protect our democratic republic from the predations of transnational corporations.