Civil liberties not partisan issue

By Steven Greenhut: FNM columnist

Government officials seek to control whatever it is they don’t understand. In my experience, they don’t understand much, so they try to regulate, tax, monitor and control everything.

And now we learn the Obama administration, clueless about the nature of conservative activism in this country, wants to monitor it very carefully.

According to a Department of Homeland Security report released in April, Americans who are active in fighting abortion, same-sex marriage, illegal immigration and gun control, and who prefer state or local authority to federal authority, are potential right-wing extremists who demand closer attention from law enforcement.

The agency warns the bad economy and the election of the first African-American president have created a “fertile recruiting environment for right-wing extremists.”

Such government overreach has consequences. I got to know one family that collected military surplus items on its property in the high desert. After the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, heightened concern about militias gave the authorities the pretext to use eminent domain to take their land. It’s a long and convoluted story, but these folks had to spend years fighting to save their home and family after the authorities got an unsubstantiated and wrong notion about them.

My point: When powerful agencies get paranoid, individual Americans suffer losses of life and liberty.

At this point, right-wingers are no doubt applauding my words. But I wonder where they were during the Bush administration, as it used the terrorism threat to expand federal powers and undermine civil liberties. Actually, I don’t wonder where they were. They were right there, cheering and defending the administration, just as the left-wingers are reliably defending the Obama administration as it seeks to depict decent people as threats to society.

Regarding Obama’s outrageous report, conservative columnist Michele Malkin wrote: “(T)he piece of crap report issued on April 7 is a sweeping indictment of conservatives. And the intent is clear. … In Obama land, there are no coincidences. It is no coincidence that this report echoes Tea Party-bashing left-wing blogs … and demonizes the very Americans” who protested last month during the nationwide Tax Day Tea Party.

She’s right, but Malkin is known in part for her book defending the U.S. government’s internment of innocent Japanese nationals and Japanese-Americans during World War II, and she has been quite vocal in her defense of federal policies targeting Muslim Americans.

In Orange County, Calif., the FBI used a convicted con artist as an informant who inserted himself into local mosques and recorded conversations with mosque-goers about potentially blowing up buildings.

A man named Craig Monteilh says he was the informant and he says he went by the name Farouk al-Aziz. Monteilh is accused of going from one young Muslim to another, trying to engage them in radical talk. Some mosque-goers contacted the FBI to report on this seeming radical in their midst, but according to the local Council of American-Islamic Relations, these men who made complaints then became the subject of FBI scrutiny.

It’s one thing for the FBI to infiltrate a mosque after getting a solid tip that someone there is involved in terrorist activities, and quite another for the agency to go on a fishing expedition.

Even if the FBI’s claims are right that it doesn’t bait people into violent discussions, this infiltration business poses enormous privacy problems.

How would a conservative feel if his Bible-study friend, who once tried to goad him into violent talk about the end times, was actually a plant from the FBI?

Not surprisingly, Muslim groups haven’t uttered a peep about the “right-wing extremism” report, and liberal groups were busy defending the Obama administration and cheering its assault on legitimate conservative activism. No one complains when it’s the other guy’s ox being gored.

Isn’t it time Americans defend everyone’s civil liberties, not just the liberties of those on our side of the political spectrum?

Steven Greenhut writes for Freedom Communications. Contact him at: