Stop Unfair Surveillance Targeting of Activists

Target: Senate and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley

Goal: Investigate unfair surveillance targeting of activist groups.

Ever since the 1970s and the unearthing of COINTELPRO, an FBI program that targeted the Black Panthers and other dissident groups, the government has continued to actively spy on political protest groups. Some groups that have been targeted recently include Black Lives Matter, Greenpeace, Occupy Wall Street, and anti-Keystone XL Pipeline protest groups. None of these groups are particularly dangerous or related to terrorism, so why are government agencies actively surveying them and violating their First Amendment rights?

A letter written by the Bill of Rights Defense Committee and Defending Dissent Foundation to Congress back in March detailed concern over how the FBI and Department of Homeland Security unfairly target activist groups in their surveillance. The letter came at the 45th anniversary of COINTELPRO and detailed evidence such as the monitoring of social media related to Black Lives Matter, or how they sent agents to the Pacific Northwest region to interrogate anti-Keystone XL Pipeline activists. They also detailed how various agents have infiltrated groups and attempted to repress their actions–preventing the protesters from ever actually protesting. The FBI and DHS use the guise of “counterterrorism” laws and authority to justify their actions in taking down peaceful protest organizations.

Chip Gibbons, a legal fellow at the Bill of Rights Defense Committee spoke to Salon about the programs.  “The FBI claims to no longer investigate groups for their political beliefs, but look at who the FBI investigates under its counterterrorism authority — peace groups, racial justice groups, economic justice groups — the very same types of organizations that were targeted during the heyday of J. Edgar Hoover.” Tell Congress to open an investigation into the unfair targeting of political protest groups by signing this petition.


Dear Chairman Grassley,

One of the fundamental rights of Americans, one the founding fathers felt so important they included it in the very first right in the Bill of Rights, is the right to dissent and organize a protest. The ability to speak out against your governing body is something very highly valued in American politics, especially as most of our progressive changes come out of nonviolent protest. Americans being able to organize to create effective change is a longstanding tradition in this country, something that the founding members felt imperative to protect.

So why is it that the FBI and DHS are so intent on targeting protest and activist groups under the guise of “counterterrorism” and use their authority to infiltrate and suppress protest groups? Ever since the 70s, the FBI has been proven time and time again to single out activist groups, particularly nonviolent groups, to survey and infiltrate. With the launch of the COINTELPRO program 45 years ago, the FBI has legitimized their efforts in subduing activist groups by spying on them, learning their operating methods, then sending agents inside the groups in an effort to suppress their actions.

Suppressing the actions of activist groups is not only wrong, but it’s counterintuitive to American values. This country was founded on a protest movement by a “radical group,” so to target similar groups and claim that they are the problem is actively un-American. It is because of this we must call on Congress to create reforms within the FBI and DHS to prevent the unfair and unjust targeting of peaceful protest groups. An investigation must be put in place to determine the full extent of the FBI and DHS’ surveillance and legislation must be passed to prevent this sort of un-American surveillance from happening in the future.


[Your Name Here]

Photo Credit: Rick Harris

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