Democratic Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib of Michigan on Tuesday sent a letter to House and Senate leaders in which she and nine colleagues argued against expanding the national security state and further curtailing civil liberties in the aftermath of the deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol by a pro-Trump mob.
“In the face of great tragedy, we must reject reactionary demands to further erode the rights and liberties of the American people.”
—Rep. Rashida Tlaib
“The Trump mob’s success in breaching the Capitol was not due to a lack of resources at the disposal of federal law enforcement, and in this moment we must resist the erosion of our civil liberties and Constitutional freedoms, however well-intentioned proposed security reforms may be,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter (pdf), which was endorsed by Demand Progress, Free Press, Win Without War, and the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
“We firmly believe that the national security and surveillance powers of the U.S. government are already too broad, undefined, and unaccountable to the people,” added Tlaib and nine additional Democratic representatives—Earl Blumenauer (Ore.), Jamaal Bowman (N.Y.), Pramila Jayapal (Wash.), Mondaire Jones (N.Y.). Ro Khanna (Calif.), Barbara Lee (Calif.), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.), Ilhan Omar (Minn.), and Ayanna Pressley (Mass.).
“To further degrade those rights and liberties in reaction to this attack,” they wrote, “would undermine our democracy at a time when we must join together to defend it with all our collective might.”
I’m leading the call for national security powers to not be expanded in light of the attack on our nation’s Capitol that occurred two weeks ago, as such measures often lead to the erosion of Americans’ civil liberties. pic.twitter.com/K6IHTPQzne
— Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib (@RepRashida) January 19, 2021
Several initiatives throughout the nation’s history were “sold as being necessary to fight extremism but quickly devolved into tools used for the mass violation of the human and civil rights of the American people,” the ten legislators asserted, including the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Counterintelligence Program (COINTELPRO), the USA Patriot Act, and the FBI’s anti-Black Lives Matter Operation Iron Fist.
“While many may find comfort in increased national security powers in the wake of this attack, we must emphasize that we have been here before and we have seen where that road leads,” they wrote.
The lawmakers stressed how quickly “expanded national security and surveillance powers [are] turned on law-abiding Americans,” especially individuals who are non-white and/or anti-capitalist. They noted that “to expand the government’s national security powers once again at the expense of the human and civil rights of the American people would only serve to further undermine our democracy, not protect it.”
“To expand the government’s national security powers once again at the expense of the human and civil rights of the American people would only serve to further undermine our democracy, not protect it.”
The letter comes amid reports that some Republican lawmakers at the state level are already exploiting the January 6 insurrection to introduce anti-protest bills in what critics say is an opportunistic attempt to build upon preexisting efforts to criminalize left-wing dissent and civil disobedience rather than a push to undermine the growth of right-wing extremism.
As Common Dreams reported earlier this month, many progressives have said the government’s failure to crack down on far-right extremists is a matter of insufficient will, not a lack of power. If law enforcement agencies are given an enlarged toolbox as part of a domestic “War on Terror,” critics say, that counter-terrorism apparatus will be used to diminish rights protected by the First Amendment.
Omar last week denounced crisis-driven attempts to weaken civil liberties and create a “broader security structure or a deeper police state,” characterizing such punitive measures as anti-democratic.
Tlaib and the other lawmakers who signed her letter said that “while it is clear that this attack represents one of the biggest intelligence failures in recent history, this does not mean that our government needs more national security and/or surveillance powers.”
Instead of replicating the injustices of previous surveillance programs, the lawmakers said, Congress should pursue the following objectives in its response to the invasion of the Capitol:
- Fully investigate the violent January 6, 2021 attack in a non-partisan, transparent manner.
- Commit today to release all findings from any investigations into the attack to the public.
- Recognize white nationalist and QAnon groups as the national security threat that they are and take action to combat them through existing laws, powers and regulations, which are more than sufficient to meet this threat.
- Recognize that the reason that the threat posed by these groups hasn’t already been adequately addressed is because of a deeply ingrained unwillingness and/or hesitancy to act against these groups within all three branches of government—and especially in the law enforcement community, including the Department of Justice, FBI, Department of Homeland Security, and the intelligence agencies—and is not the result of insufficient domestic national security and/or surveillance powers.
“In the face of great tragedy, we must reject reactionary demands to further erode the rights and liberties of the American people,” Tlaib said.