Politics & Policy

Unreality Activists

For the ACLU, Bush and Ashcroft have created a climate of fear, not terrorists.

It’s official: The Left doesn’t believe that Islamic terrorism exists. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, terror watch lists are nothing more than the product of John Ashcroft’s paranoid imagination, and should play no more role in government policy than a compendium of his favorite anthems.

The ACLU’s dismissal of terror information is just the latest manifestation of the Left’s blindness to national-security reality. The only remaining question is why such posturers continue to influence national defense.

The ACLU’s diatribe against terrorist watch lists comes as it is caught out in rank hypocrisy and deceit. This self-described fighter for freedom has been misappropriating hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in federal money, contributed by federal employees through a philanthropic payroll-deduction program. To participate in the program, a charity must certify that it does not employ or fund suspected terrorists included on government watch lists. (The necessity for this precaution was demonstrated just last week by the arrests of executives from the Holy Land Foundation, a Virginia-based Muslim charity, for funneling $12 million in charitable donations to Hamas killers.)

The ACLU eagerly signed the pledge (we will leave aside the ludicrous designation of the ACLU as a “charity”) and opened up the federal money spigot. But it turns out that it had its fingers crossed behind its back. In the view of committed civil libertarians, you see, a terror watch list is nothing more than government totalitarianism in disguise. But doesn’t it contain extremely dangerous people, you ask? We don’t know and don’t care, reply the civil libertarians. And so upon learning of the ACLU’s promise not to fund terrorists, several board members accused it of “McCarthyism,” tantamount to accusing George W. Bush of multilateralism.

Not to worry, purred executive director Anthony Romero. Romero smugly revealed that he had never had any intention of actually checking the terror watch lists. Federal law merely prohibits “knowingly” employing or funding terrorists, explained this sophist. So long as the organization carefully avoided actually looking at the government’s terror watch list, it could go right on funding whomever it pleased and still be in compliance with federal requirements.

This argument is nonsense. The point of the terror-watch-list requirement is not to guarantee that recipients of federal payroll deductions remain chastely ignorant of the identities of terror suspects, or worse, that they can plausibly deny knowing that they fund terrorists. The purpose of the watch list requirement is to ensure that money doesn’t actually flow into terrorism, knowingly or not. The idea that the antiterrorism requirement would be satisfied if a charity poured money into an al Qaeda front, as long as the charity was able to say it didn’t know it was funding terrorism, is ludicrous.

Yet Romero has the gall to try to turn the ACLU’s bad faith into an act of moral courage. After the New York Times reported on the board dispute, Romero exploded in self-righteousness. “Let me be clear,” he thundered in a press release, the “ACLU will not be intimidated. We will not compromise. We will never check any of our employees against a government list. And we absolutely will not accept any funding that undermines or threatens our principles or our mission.”

It’s a little late for piety. The idea that the government is somehow forcing half a million dollars a year onto the virtuous ACLU through “intimidation” is laughable. Romero apparently hopes that if he bellows loudly enough, no one will notice that he was deceiving the government in order to scarf up federal money. Hard to see that as a noble expression of “principles or mission.”

But however contemptible the ACLU’s hypocrisy, it pales in comparison to its position on terrorism. According to the ACLU, the government’s “‘war on terror’” (scare quotes in the original) is simply a charade cooked up by the Bush administration and John Ashcroft to enslave the country. In the ACLU’s worldview, it is the administration, not the 9/11 attacks, that has “created a climate of fear” nationally. Al Qaeda? Never heard of it. In all the documents that have poured from the ACLU’s presses since the funding flap became public, you’ll never discover that what the ACLU feverishly refers to as “blacklists” are in fact lists of suspected terrorists and terror organizations. The ACLU can barely bring itself to use the word “terrorism” without putting the offensive phrase in scare quotes.

But the Patriot Act, now that’s something to worry about! Civil society itself is “threatened by the web of fear that emanates from the Patriot Act and the war on terror,” announces the ALCU in its frenzied self-defense.

This replacement of the real threat from homicidal Muslims by the imaginary threat from government is the signature gesture of the left. In a debate on Frontpagemag.com, Santa Cruz, Ca., activist Joe Williams denounces a Patriot Act clause that allows the government to deny visas to aliens who support, or associate with, terrorists. But that’s not how Williams describes the provision. In his phrasing, the law allows the government to bar association with “any group that the attorney general doesn’t like.” Terrorism, in other words, is an epiphenomenon of John Ashcroft’s pique.

Would that it were so. If ever a man had cause not to “like” a group, Ashcroft has several lifetimes’ worth of reasons not to “like” the ACLU and its confreres on the anti-government left. Yet, to the regret of many, none are on the government’s watch lists.

The denial by the Left that Islamic death cells threaten the U.S. clears up one mystery. To outside observers, the refusal to balance the putative claims of unfettered freedom against the desirability of, say, remaining alive can seem the most perverse aspect of civil-libertarian ideology. But civil-rights absolutism makes more sense once you understand that the civil libertarians have apparently convinced themselves that terrorism is just a Republican bugaboo.

Such fantasies make for great fundraising pitches. The ACLU has been raking in the dough–and not just from payroll deductions–since 9/11. But the Left’s blindness to the reality of foreign enemies should utterly disqualify it from government influence. That is not the case. Civil libertarians and privacy advocates exercise veto power over government research in the crucial fields of data mining and computer technology. The Department of Homeland Security recently cancelled a program to screen airline passengers for terrorist connections because privacy advocates objected. The next time a public official feels inclined to listen to a rights lobbyist, he should administer a simple sanity test: Do you believe that terrorism exists?

Heather Mac Donald is a contributing editor at the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal and the author of Are Cops Racist?.


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