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From Red Squads to Counterterorism: Keeping the U.S. Safe FROM Democracy

  • Left Forum - John Jay College of Criminal Justice 524 West 59th Street, Room 1.1 New York, NY, 10019 United States (map)

In 1877, following the Haymarket Massacre the Chicago police formed a “red squad” to investigate radical political groups. This trend soon continued nationwide and in the early 20th Century the Justice Department even opened up a Radical Division--headed by J. Edgar Hoover. As the Radical Division eventually became the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the FBI made it a central part of their mission to surveil, disrupt, and neutralize “radical and subversive” groups.

Following the mass movements of the 1960s and 1970s, the political police were put on the defensive. The FBI, as well as many local police departments, claimed to have been reformed and insisted they would no longer investigate free speech, but crime. Yet, as soon as these “reforms” were implemented, the FBI, along with local law enforcement, began using counterterrorism authorities to investigate peace groups, racial justice groups, and economic justice groups--in other words the same old targets.

This panel will trace the history of the FBI, as the political police, as well as look at how in spite of claims of “reform” the FBI continues to carry on the same political investigations just using different powers. It will also examine recent cases of spying by the FBI and local law enforcement.


Chip Gibbons is the Defending Dissent Legal Fellow. He heads the Activism is Not Terrorism Campaign, which seeks to protect activists' First Amendment rights with an emphasis on the use of “anti-terrorism” policy to silence dissent. In addition to working at BORDC/DDF, he is a freelance writer whose work has appeared on Truthout and Counterpunch.

Dr. Maha Hilal is the Executive Director of the National Coalition to Protect Civil Freedoms, an organization dedicated to addressing civil and human rights abuses related to preemptive prosecutions and thoughts crimes in the War on Terror. She is also an Adjunct Professor at George Mason University, where she teaches classes on Muslims and Muslim American responses to the War on Terror.

Kris Hermes is an activist and author of Crashing the Party: Legacies and Lessons from the RNC 2000 who for years has provided legal support for political dissidents.

Brendan Dunn was part of Port Militarization Resistance, which was infiltrated and spied on by the U.S. military.