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We Are All Terror Suspects Under the FBI’s Communities Against Terrorism Program

By Thomas S. Neuberger
July 8, 2015

If you engage in any of the following activities, you could be on a terrorism watch list:

  • Make suspicious comments regarding anti‑US, radical theology, vague or cryptic warnings that suggest or appear to endorse the use of violence in support of a cause.
  • Make unusual comments regarding radical theology, vague/cryptic warnings, or anti‑U.S. sentiments that appear to be out‑of‑place and provocative.
  • Make racist or extreme religious statements coupled with comments that are violent or appear to condone violence.
  • Post environmental and/or anti-government slogans, banners, or signs that threaten or imply violence.
  • Spray anti-government or hate graffiti.
  • Distribute extremist literature at a mall or post it on public bulletin boards.
  • Participate in paintball and make racist or extreme religious statements.
  • Seek to learn close combat or hand-to-hand fighting or kill and restraint techniques with no occupational need.
  • Is overly concerned about privacy in an internet Café, attempts to shield the screen from view of others.
  • Engage in activities on a computer indicative of evidence of a residential-based internet provider, like Comcast, AOL, etc.
  • Take part in unusual activity around radical bookstores, campaign offices, activist group centers, abortion clinics, businesses that have been picketed or protested, tenants with political or religious displays, or pet stores that feature live animals.
  • Purchase firearms and ammunition out of season.
  • Use cash for large transactions.
  • Always pay in cash.
  • Download content of extreme/radical nature with violent themes, or preoccupation with press coverage of terrorist attacks.
  • Have not taken a boating safety course or do not have a boating certification.
  • As a small group, ask for quick scuba certification lessons.
  • Demonstrate unusual interest in remote-controlled aircraft.
  • Arrive with an unusual amount of luggage, or request a specific room assignment or location in a hotel or motel.

We Are All Guilty

We are all probably guilty of one of the above.

How about the revolutionary and violent anti-government sentiments by our ancestors in the Declaration of Independence from Great Britain? What about a modern day Declaration of Independence or call for a constitutional convention to end the surveillance and emergency state?  That would obviously be an “out-of-place and provocative” threatening “anti-U.S.” sentiment? 

Consider an “anti-government slogan” that threatens or implies violence, like “Fuck the NSA.”  “Fuck the Draft” was declared to be a legal statement or slogan, even in a courthouse, when written on the back of a jacket, ruled the Supreme Court in Cohen v. California, 403 U.S. 15 (1971), in the middle of the highly contentious Vietnam war. 

Do similar statements about the NSA threaten or imply violence and so indicate that the speaker is a possible terrorist to be investigated? The FBI thinks so. I think not, that would just be an American angry at the loss of our freedoms.

Consider “Destroy the Keystone Pipeline,” since the FBI reportedly has just admitted that despite its own rules, it has been spying on those environmentalists because they are alleged terrorists.

Communities Against Terrorism Program

In response to 9/11, the FBI has issued approximately 25 posters[1] in its Communities Against Terrorism program which seeks to enlist local police and first responders as Terrorism Liaison Officers (TLOs) to spy on citizens and report back to the FBI on potential terrorism suspects.

What may be less well known is that the FBI distributes these posters in our local communities through the over 77 fusion centers nationwide to enlist the average citizen in reporting suspected terrorist activity to a fusion center “Tip Line.” The fusion center then takes and screens the tip.  If the charge is passed on, the FBI gets first choice on investigating the tip. If it does not take on the suspect, then the matter is left to state law enforcement.

These one-page posters are distributed to the general public, hotels and motels, internet cafes, tattoo shops, banks, shopping malls, mass transportation, vehicle rental agencies, stores, airports, hobby shops, and paintball arcades, among others. The reader is urged to learn “what to look for” so “you can make a positive contribution in the fight against terrorism.”

“You can make a difference in the fight against terrorism,” we are told.

As can be seen from the aforementioned list of overbroad, vague and legally protected activities and speech which the FBI considers to be reliable markers for terrorism, these posters generally do little to balance the FBI’s concerns against our Bill of Rights, including the right to speak, assemble, be free from unreasonable search or seizure, or our privacy.

Indeed, the only poster that actually tries to include free speech protection is the one on tattoo shops. We are told that body art “may be an exercise of the right of free speech or expression.” And so, before turning a customer in to the police as a suspect, the FBI advises that the proprietor assess the tattoo request “based on professional experience” that should lead to possible reporting of the tattoo. [Tongue in cheek, I rest better at night knowing that tattoo shop owners, highly trained in body art, free speech and the Bill of Rights, are screening my next tattoo.]

A Nation of Spies and Informers

This FBI program seeks to make us into a nation of spies and informers on our neighbors at the cost of our heritage, our self-esteem and individuality.

Consider how your annual vacation to that enjoyable spot in Key West, Florida, might be affected. The check-in-clerk at that three story motel along the coastal border has been studying the FBI warnings carefully, because he wants to help win the war on terror. He remembers that you always “request specific room assignments or locations.” Indeed, you want to be on the coast side facing Cuba. You even pay in cash. And the tip-off is that you “arrive with unusual amounts of luggage”—four big bags.

Now when I travel with my wife, we always seek specific rooms or locations. Moreover, my wife is never comfortable unless she takes our entire wardrobe with us, which always means at least four 50-pound big bags going through airport security, and then to the hotel by a van, since a normal cab cannot fit all the luggage. The typical business person at the same hotel comes with one piece of luggage, often just a carry on. And now, out of state and away from home in Key West, am I to be reported to a nearby fusion center and the FBI? Probably yes. 

Pity the poor drone fanatic who frequents his local hobby shop. He too is to be turned in if he “demonstrates unusual interest in remote-controlled aircraft.” But we have entered the age of drone mania, as is reported regularly by the print and other media. Are these drone fans to be reported as potential terrorists?

A Nation of Suspects

Throughout these FBI posters, law enforcement pushes the concept that suspicious comments against the U.S., or for radical theology, or vague or cryptic warnings that suggest or appear to endorse the use of violence in support of a cause are grounds to consider someone as a potential terrorist. But here we should remember Patrick Henry’s statement: “Give me liberty or give me death.” If ever there was a statement endorsing violence, this is it.

The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that government, and this means the FBI, cannot “forbid or prescribe advocacy of the use of force or of law violation except where such advocacy is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action.” Brandenburg v. Ohio, 395 U.S. 444, 447 (1969). So this category is clearly illegal, and in a classic case must lead to the investigation of educators teaching courses on revolutions, Marxism, Communism or whatever failed doctrine is studied, even the radical theories behind the American Revolution in 1776 or the French Revolution a few years later.

The distribution of extremist literature or its posting on public bulletin boards additionally makes you a suspect. But extremist is in the eye of the beholder. Patrick Henry was an extremist, in the eyes of the British, but even President Reagan quoted him on occasion. Indeed, President Franklin Roosevelt was considered an extremist and traitor to his class. Is Senator Rand Paul considered an extremist because he seeks to stop NSA spying? To his opponents in the Senate and the FBI the answer would be “Yes.” And so would be anyone who distributed such literature at a mall, in the eyes of the FBI.

This writer personally is caught up in threatening activity relating to a boat shop for considering “renting water craft for an extended period, or for not having a boating license.” I am too old to try scuba diving. But if I did, I would like to learn it quickly before I kick off. However, that would make me suspect also. Actually, I have been planning to cruise this year on the Chesapeake Bay and rent a 22 foot or so power boat. But I am 68 years old with no boating experience at all. I have no certification or safety course under my belt either. But guess what?  In Maryland I am grandfathered in and I do not need a boat license because I was born before 1972. Apparently, we old codgers are born sailors, and careful too. But if I try, the boat shop people, who want to be good citizens and catch terrorists, will not know me from Adam. To be safe they should turn me in as a suspected terrorist says the FBI, despite what Maryland says about the need for a boating license.

Purchasing firearms and ammunition out of hunting season, or just a large quantity of ammunition, is reportable to the local tip line. There is no need to document here that NRA supporters think that this is perfectly legal activity at any time under the Second Amendment, perhaps to prepare for an eventual war with China or Korea, as in the 1984 movie Red Dawn with Patrick Swayze and Charlie Sheen. Are such suspect NRA members to be investigated to prove their loyalty?

“Using cash for large transactions” is another no, no. But my credit card was stolen the other day at the restaurant and so now I pay in cash. I hope that has not been made illegal by Congress.  But if I purchase a home entertainment system, etc., for cash, am I to be reported to the FBI for such a large transaction by the young person behind the cash register who wants to prove he or she is a loyal citizen?

Always paying in cash at an internet café is clear evidence of a suspected terrorist, we are told.  Especially if you are a Comcast or AOL subscriber or believe in privacy and do not allow anyone to look over your shoulder to read what you have on your screen. And do not read the New York Times on line there because you can be reported for focusing too much on terrorist attacks.  So what if the Times reports such things almost daily worldwide? The police have nothing more important to do than check out what you are reading in the paper, according to the FBI.

And remember, be careful young people with that graffiti, or you may hear that knock at the door. But graffiti is always around. Is “Vote the Green Party, and not Democrat” grounds for a report to the FBI? That is an anti-government statement.

I conclude with a warning for women or men who feel it is not safe to walk the streets where they live and would like some life-saving, self-defense training: that may bring the FBI to your door due to an overzealous neighbor or salesperson. You see, “incorporating close combat or hand‑to‑hand fighting into training” is considered a red flag to the government. So self-defense training for women or wimps is discouraged and looked upon as suspect.

Are you also interested in “learning offensive moves in a confined space?” Be careful. Learning “kill and restraint techniques with no occupational need” is forbidden unless you want to become a cop. Pity the poor office worker who must walk the dark streets at night. He or she has no occupational need for such training so they could be a terrorist in disguise.

And what if racist or extreme religious statements are made during training? What in the world is an “extreme religious statement” anyhow? How about “Catholic priests frequently sexually abuse children” and “Death to those Devils,” as you crack a two by four in half with your hand?  But is that a knock at your door for questioning that I hear?

*Thomas S. Neuberger is an author and has been a constitutional attorney for 41 years.

[1]They are at‑suspicious‑activity‑reporting‑flyers/



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