Larry Flynt

Posts Tagged ‘ACLU’

ACLU Thought Police?

Monday, December 9th, 2013


by Nat Hentoff

I have long expressed admiration for the American Civil Liberties Union for ardently defending the Constitution in our legislatures and courts, including the Supreme Court. Since September 2001 the ACLU has had a much tougher task thanks to the Bush-Cheney and Obama administrations. At times, however, I have strongly disagreed with ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero. Such was the case after a jury acquitted Florida neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman—on grounds of self-defense—of fatally shooting Trayvon Martin. Romero wrote to Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. and said “it is imperative that the Department of Justice thoroughly examine whether the Martin shooting was a federal civil-rights violation or hate crime.”

Years ago I had a particularly long, fierce argument with Romero. I tried to explain that giving a convicted defendant additional prison time for a so-called hate crime violates the First Amendment because it imposes punishment of thoughts, not actions.

I brought James Madison into my argument with Romero. He was the Founding Father who introduced the Bill of Rights—including what came to be the First Amendment—to Congress. Madison had previously written to Thomas Jefferson after the Virginia Statute on Religious Freedom was passed: “We have in this country extinguished forever…making laws for the humanmind.” No American, Madison emphasized later, would be punished for his “thoughts.”

By urging that Zimmerman be prosecuted again, Romero disregards the Fifth Amendment, which unequivocally stipulates: “nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy.”

Suddenly, though, reported that Romero was not speaking for the entire ACLU. Laura Murphy, director of its Washington office, sent a letter to Attorney General Holder. She said: “We are writing to clearly state the ACLU’s position on whether or not the Department of Justice should consider bringing federal civil rights or hate crimes charges as a result of the state court acquittal in the George Zimmer man case. The ACLU believes the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Constitution protects someone from being prosecuted in another court for charges arising from the same transaction. A jury found Zimmerman not guilty, and that should be the end of the criminal case.”

Ira Glasser, a true civil libertarian, was the ACLU’s executive director from 1978 to 2001. He said that Romero’s letter to Holder illustrated “the transformation of the ACLU from a civil liberties organization to a liberal bandwagon organization.” He added that “it’s just astonishing to me that a statement like that could go out without any understanding that they [ACLU] were violating their own policy.”

The ACLU wasn’t. Anthony Romero was. My position is: When, as allegedly happened to Zimmerman, someone is standing over you and banging your head hard again and again against the ground, you are entitled to defend yourself.

Romero’s letter prompted this response from my old friend Michael Meyers—a longtime battler for and teacher of civil rights: “No government, much less an angry community, is entitled to a verdict to their liking.…The ACLU is not the NAACP; the ACLU is the guardian of individual liberty, not a victims’ rights or racial grievance group.”

I applaud Laura Murphy for restoring the ACLU’s reputation by overriding Anthony Romero’s appeal to enlist the ACLU as an advocate of double jeopardy. But I cannot stomach the fact that the ACLU champions federal and state hate-crime laws, which violate the First, Fifth and 14th Amendments. On May 13, 2009, after the House of Representatives passed what became the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, I voiced my thoughts on Colorado lawyer Robert J. Corry Jr. cemented them: “A government powerful enough to pick and choose which thoughts to prosecute is a government too powerful.”

I went on to ask: “Is there no non-politically correct ACLU lawyer or other staff worker or any one in the ACLU affiliates around the country or any dues-paying member outraged enough to demand of the ACLU’s ruling circle to at least disavow this corruption of the Constitution?”

Coming: The Total Surveillance State?

Monday, July 30th, 2012


by Nat Hentoff

George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Barack Obama have convinced some Americans that no matter how or where they express themselves, their thoughts may wind up in a Big Brother database. But most of us are more preoccupied with immediate, all-too-real fears like higher gasoline prices and unemployment.

In his article “Dawn of the Drone: The Realization of the Total Surveillance State,” the Rutherford Institute’s John Whitehead offers a scarier scenario: implementation of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Act. In a few years, this legislation may prompt a lot of us to look skyward with chilling apprehension.

“Imagine a robot hovering overhead as you go about your day, driving to and from your work,” Whitehead envisions. “The robot records your every movement with a surveillance camera and streams the information to a government command center. … If you make a wrong move or even appear to be doing something suspicious, the police will respond quickly.”

You see, the FAA Reauthorization Act mandates that there will be about 30,000 pilotless aircraft in our skies by 2020. As I’ve reported, these ghostlike carriers of surveillance cameras have already been sent out by the Department of Homeland Security and local and state police to observe “suspicious” activists’ meetings or to follow likely narcotics distributors.

The ACLU insists that “drones not be deployed indiscriminately unless there are grounds to believe the unmanned aerial planes will collect evidence about a specific crime.” Voicing optimism, the ACLU also acknowledges, “If we can set some good privacy ground rules, our society can enjoy the benefits of this technology without having to worry about its darker potentials.”

We’ll all be protected under the supposedly transparent Obama Administration? And in view of the millions of dollars to be harvested by the aviation industry thanks to law enforcement’s delight in the drone, would a Republican administration be any more of a threat to the rapidly fading Fourth Amendment than Obama and our current Congressional leaders?

Regarding drones, John Whitehead is a deeply experienced realist: “Until the American people succeed in raising their collective voices against this technological tyranny, the powers that be will continue on the path of total control, and the condition of our civil liberties will become more dire with every passing day.”

So will this really be “the realization of the total surveillance state”? Don’t count on it. I have never forgotten the dissenting opinion of Justice Louis Brandeis in the U.S. Supreme Court’s first wiretapping case, Olmstead v. United States (1928). Recognizing that the creation of inventive technologies would be boundless, he wrote: “Ways may someday be developed by which the government, without removing papers from secret drawers, can reproduce them in court, and by which it will be enabled to expose to a jury the most intimate occurrences of the home.”

In Constitution 3.0: Freedom and Technological Change, Jeffrey Rosen—whose byline on these dread matters I never miss—wrote: “The technologies that Brandeis imagined have now come to pass—and they do not only affect privacy; they affect a broad range of Constitutional values.”

Here is how the ACLU is trying to protect you: “Now we have joined together with our coalition partner, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, to petition the FAA to ‘address the threat to privacy and civil liberties involved in the integration of drones in the national airspace.’” Remember: Some drones may soon have facialrecognition capability.

“You should sign too,” the ACLU continues. “Let’s make it clear that Americans are deeply concerned that drones not become a common feature of our skies until strong privacy protections are in place to ensure they do not become tools for routine aerial surveillance of American life.”

Are we “deeply concerned”? Then how come we don’t make that clear? For instance, do you know or care that the FBI publishes characteristics of people we should report as possible terrorists? As U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) notes in his National Review Online article “Indefinite Detention and American Citizens,” the list includes “the possession of ‘meals ready-toeat,’ missing fingers, brightly colored stains on clothing, paying for products in cash and changes in hair color.”

Like his father, Representative Ron Paul (R-Texas), Rand Paul is one of the few members of Congress who truly cares about Americans’ right to privacy. So when you see a drone up in the sky, try to look as if you’re not a national security risk.


Nat Hentoff is a historian of the Constitution, a jazz critic and a columnist for the Village Voice and Free Inquiry. His incisive books include The First Freedom: The Tumultuous History of Free Speech in America and Living the Bill of Rights.

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