McCarthyism quietly returned in January — repackaged, rebranded, and updated to fit a modern narrative — in an official policy set forth by the FBI that asks high schools to target their students.
“Preventing Violent Extremism in Schools,” an unclassified 28-page manifesto for the ostensible purpose of waging the War on Terror in U.S. schools, opens with a brief summary of what we can expect from the latest in governmental indoctrination:
“High school students are ideal targets for recruitment by violent extremists seeking support of their radical ideologies, foreign fighter networks, or conducting acts of targeted violence within our borders. High schools must remain vigilant in educating their students about catalysts that drive violent extremism and the potential consequences of embracing extremist beliefs.”
Presented as ostensibly well-intentioned guidelines for identifying an individual’s burgeoning extremist ideology, the entire summation, and its accompanying website, are a thinly-veiled excuse to target Muslim-Americans.
But Muslims aren’t the only subject of this alarmingly McCarthyistic program.
While it’s no shock (anti)-abortion extremists and white supremacy extremists appear among the FBI’s “Known Violent Extremist Groups,” some other groups might be — particularly considering the keyword is "violent." Anarchist extremists, sovereign citizens, and both animal rights and environmental extremists are deemed equivalent to the potential threat of ISIL.
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“Anarchist extremists believe that society should have no government, laws, or police, and they are loosely organized, with no central leadership,” the FBI claims. “Sovereign citizens believe they are separate or ‘sovereign’ from the United States even though they live here … Sovereign citizens use their beliefs to justify fraud and other non-violent crimes.”
Despite the document’s claim the FBI “does not advocate the application of any psychological or demographic ‘profiles’ or check lists of indicators to identify students” who may become radicalized, the agency offers precisely that — a checklist of “possible warning signs” worthy of reporting. It continues,
“Using several different cell phones or private messaging apps;” “Talking about traveling to places that sound suspicious”; “Using code words or unusual language”; and even “Studying or taking pictures of potential targets (like a government building).”
According to the FBI page on propaganda, an individual voicing “mistrust of the government,” concern about “environmental destruction,” or criticism of “corrupt western nations” would also be prognostic of future violent actions.
To envision such behaviors — in their own right — as indicative of the potential to conduct a violent attack, speaks to a problematic lack of understanding of people’s common gripes by their government. In the increasingly paranoid atmosphere of this country, fueled by Trump’s demagoguery and Hillary Clinton’s hawkishness, such broad generalizing is downright dangerous.
In fact, it is precisely this paranoia which led to the in-school arrest of Ahmed Mohamed — a 14-year old student genius whose hand-crafted clock was assumed to be a bomb. Despite his insistence the creation was never meant to be anything but a clock, he was charged with misrepresenting it as a bomb.
Sometimes a clock is just a clock, Freud might say, and therein lies the issue with the FBI’s program. As long as the United States government continues to almost indiscriminately bomb populations in the Middle East and elsewhere, those opposed to such programs will protest in earnest. This does not mean those protestations will somehow culminate in the exact sort of violence the participants stand against. The turbulence of adolescence is, indeed, a time when many students seek understanding of and from the world around them, as the FBI repeatedly notes. Adolescence is often the time of discovery, and of the revelation that what has been taught in school is anything but the entire picture — if not wholly inaccurate.
What the FBI seems to be forgetting in its return to a McCarthyistic, If You See Something Say Something crackdown on dissent, is that very criticism by the youth drives future change in policy. And if the angst of youth is given proper outlet and voice, instead of ending in violence, it might just end the continued worldwide violent attacks by the government.
Then again, maybe that’s the real problem the FBI seeks to quash.