Criminalizing Dissent: When Courage Is the Moral Imperative

 By Jill McLaughlin

When I think of the Supreme Court ruling that came down on June 21st in the Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project, case No. 08-1498, Tom Morello’s song The Iron Wheel comes to mind. 

 
Sometimes they'll tell you to just sit still
When you know that it's time to run
Sometimes they'll tell you it's all over
When you're sure that it's just begun
The iron wheel slowly spins around
It takes you from the cradle
'Til you're six feet underground
You can push and pull against it
But you'll ride it 'til it's through
And those who spin the wheel
Well those fuckers ride it too

Sometimes they'll tell you to move along
When you're sure you should stand and fight
Sometimes they'll tell you you're a lucky man
But the numbers they don't add up right
 
When I think of the Supreme Court ruling that came down on June 21st in the Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project, case No. 08-1498, Tom Morello’s song The Iron Wheel comes to mind.
 
While this ruling claims to be in the interest of national security, what it is really in the interest of is the ruling class’s desire to expand U.S. Empire. The message by the Supreme Court is saying to people who would dare stand up to the immorality and illegitimacy of U.S. Imperialism, “If you get in our way, if you try to stop our agenda then we will come after you.” As Ken Theisen of World Can’t Wait relates in his article, The Supreme Court Criminalizes Dissent,
 
The Monday ruling found a federal law that criminalizes the provision of “material support” to alleged terrorist organizations to be constitutional, even if the assistance should take the form of training or counsel for peacefully resolving conflicts.
 
Chief Supreme Court Justice John Roberts wrote the majority opinion in the 6-to-3 decision. He argued that Congressional intent to prohibit intangible assistance to groups designated by the State Department as terrorist groups does not violate First Amendment rights of free speech and association.
 
The "material support" law was originally signed by President Bill Clinton in 1996. After 9/11 it was expanded in the USA Patriot Act that President George W. Bush signed in 2001. Since the law’s enactment, the Department of Injustice has charged approximately 150 individuals with violating the law, with about half of those so far being convicted.
 
But this law not only adversely impacts these defendants, it also intends to intimidate all those who seek to stand up to U.S. imperialism or even those who seek solutions other than the U.S. global war of terrorism to solve political and other problems. The so-called material-support law prohibits not only such tangible aid such as cash, weapons and other material objects, but also “training,” “personnel” “service” and “expert advice or assistance.”
 
Dissenting Justice Stephen Breyer stated that the majority opinion’s logic amounts to “a rule of law that, contrary to the Constitution’s text and First Amendment precedent, would automatically forbid the teaching of any subject in a case where national security interests conflict with the First Amendment.”  
 
You can read Ken Theisen’s full article here.
 
What Theisen rightly asserts is that this ruling is about intimidation of those who, acting in the interest of humanity, would stand up to this government’s crimes. This intimidation extends not only to anyone who is an activist or organizer who is opposing and resisting these crimes, but to those who would support them financially or legally. This is “guilt by association.” But while conventional wisdom would guide one to keep their head down, stay out of the way, and go home and lock the door, people of conscience must remember that courage in the face of this kind of intimidation is the moral imperative here. Like the verse goes, Sometimes they'll tell you to move along when you're sure you should stand and fight.
 
It is important to remember that in an Imperialist country that is waging an immoral and illegitimate war of terror, especially when this war of terror is continually exposed as such and becoming unpopular among sections of society, that the ruling class will do anything and everything to assert its authority under whatever guise necessary to appear legitimate in the eyes of the people.
 
One recent clear example of this assertion is the government’s attempt to intimidate Julian Assange of Wikileaks who released over 92,000 documents that reveal war crimes and other unsavory facts in the U.S. war/occupation in Afghanistan. The Pentagon has demanded that the documents be handed over to them, they are pressuring U.S. allies to shut down Wikileaks, and just this weekend Assange was charged by Swedish authorities with rape, a charge that was determined to be unfounded and dropped twelve hours later. So it is important that people of conscience see rulings like this and other similar actions on the part of the government for what they are and call it out.
 
We need to not only expose and resist the crimes of the government but give exposure to their attempts to squash those who would expose these crimes and dissent. We need to be at the ready to tell people why the ruling class is doing what they’re doing and we need to continue to struggle with people to come forward in stopping these crimes.
 
It is not so much a question of whether those who stick their necks out have a lot at stake. We all do. But the larger question is what is at stake for humanity if we keep quiet when we’re told, “you're a lucky man or woman and I think you’d be wise to keep it that way,” We have to remember that for most of humanity and as the song says, the numbers they don't add up right - U.S. Imperialism is a living nightmare for them. While the ruling class is cajoling, demanding, and threatening in its assertion that it’s all over for those who would dissent and stand up to the immorality and illegitimacy of U.S. Empire we need to remember that our mission to act in the interest of humanity by stopping these crimes has just begun.