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The buzz word of the day for terrorist violence in the U.S. is: Homegrown Terrorism.

Congress, the mainstream media, and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have all warned us about the many young people becoming "radicalized" and ready to commit terrorist acts, right under our noses in our very own  neighborhoods.  Thanks to the ever-terrifying internet, terrorist recruiters have open access to our nation’s youth and are in the process of radicalizing them as we speak.  

With spinning like this, it is no wonder we keep finding out about more improper race or religion-based surveillance on Americans.  Documents released in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) indicate that DHS has spied on Americans exercising their constitutionally-protected rights to speech and assembly at a Muslim conference, circulated an assessment of the Nation of Islam that yielded no evidence and had to be destroyed, and misled Congress about activities related to al Qaeda.  

The menace of this "radicalization" approach to our civil liberties is obvious: government targeting race or religion instead of action and attempting to stifle ideas instead of crimes.  One only need to look at a sampling of the press and congressional talk surrounding the Ft. Hood tragedy – see Sen. Lieberman’s liberty-shredding hearing - to see how a criminal who happens to be Muslim is painted as part of a large, scary movement of "radicalization."

Sure the documents released to EFF indicated DHS condemned the collection of information on First Amendment activities and religious groups and, DHS spokesman Matt Chandler reassured us in the New York Times that

‘"We take very seriously our responsibility to protect the civil rights and liberties of the American people while" protecting the country.'

Somehow though, it is hard to believe DHS takes Americans’ privacy and civil liberties seriously when evidence continually emerges showing DHS targeting groups based on race, religion, or association. DHS can give all the assurances and condemnations after-the-fact it wants, but that doesn’t change the fact that the actions we see are continued inappropriate surveillance and a dangerous misdirecting of our precious national security resources.

These seemingly constant intelligence follies are blatantly offensive to civil liberties, but the dangers of grouping together criminals based on their race or religion are not simply the civil liberates concerns of privacy hawks and bleeding hearts.  While DHS is busy using its gigantic budget to write assessments on the Nation of Islam and stake out a Muslim conference in Georgia and Congress is busy reporting on the dangers of the world wide web, threats from actually violent individuals are going uninvestigated and real dangers to our homeland are being ignored.

If we continue to talk about terrorists in terms of their ideas, instead of in terms of the heinous acts they commit, we will only see more intelligence agency missteps that stomp our civil liberties and miss the real danger.

Originally posted to Jesselyn Radack on Thu Dec 17, 2009 at 06:36 AM PST.

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