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The US government is very good at making and then arresting terrorists. The Guardian sums up the most shocking finding of a new Human Rights Watch and Columbia Law School Human Rights Institute report about FBI sting operations in the Muslim community:
Nearly all of the highest-profile domestic terrorism plots in the United States since 9/11 featured the "direct involvement" of government agents or informants.
Human Rights Watch's exhaustive study examined more than 500 so-called "terrorism" cases in the United States since 9/11, finding that far too often, government informants egged on mentally ill or intellectually disabled people into thinking they could become terrorists. The FBI then swooped in to arrest them, declaring themselves heroes and providing justification for further harassment of Muslims—as well as dragnet spying programs.
The FBI often targeted particularly vulnerable people, including those with intellectual and mental disabilities and the indigent. The government, often acting through informants, then actively developed the plot, persuading and sometimes pressuring the targets to participate, and provided the resources to carry it out.
"Americans have been told that their government is keeping them safe by preventing and prosecuting terrorism inside the US," says one of the authors of the report, Andrea Prasow. "But take a closer look and you realize that many of these people would never have committed a crime if not for law enforcement encouraging, pressuring, and sometimes paying them to commit terrorist acts."
Journalist Trevor Aaronson found the same thing when he examined, for Al Jazeera, the FBI's use of informants in Muslim communities. While HRW based its extensive report on interviews with "people charged with or convicted of terrorism-related crimes, members of their families and their communities, criminal defense attorneys, judges, current and former federal prosecutors, government officials, academics, and other experts," Aaronson also gained access to the informants at the heart of the stings. In the documentary embedded above, he interviews men tasked with infiltrating Muslim communities, identifying possible marks, and then helping the FBI squeeze them in a vice—often landing them in prison serving time for "terrorism" offenses.
As HRW's Prasow laments, it's nearly impossible to challenge these sting operations using an entrapment defense.
“The US government should stop treating American Muslims as terrorists-in-waiting," Prasow says. "The bar on entrapment in US law is so high that it’s almost impossible for a terrorism suspect to prove. Add that to law enforcement preying on the particularly vulnerable, such as those with mental or intellectual disabilities, and the very poor, and you have a recipe for rampant human rights abuses."
But the recipe doesn't just make for human rights abuses against Muslims, who are targeted with the kind of bigotry and energy that J. Edgar Hoover's FBI reserved for black people and antiwar activists. The FBI's manufactured terrorist plots also serve to perpetuate the "war on terror", enabling the three letter agencies to maintain a stranglehold over US democratic society. If there are so many scary terrorists in the US, and the FBI does such a good job of putting them in prison, surely congress must allocate billions for surveillance programs and law enforcement to deal with the "threat"—and surely a grateful public will understand that maintaining "our way of life" requires gutting it.
For now, Muslims are directly in the FBI's crosshairs; no other group of people faces the same kind of overt and covert racism and harassment by the FBI. As one of the FBI's former informants tells Aaronson in the Al Jazeera documentary, the bureau's operations in Muslim communities are like a 21st century Stasi performance. There are people watching on every street corner, listening in every mosque. Trust no one.
Islamophobia is the alibi for the current COINTELPRO operations in the United States. But at their heart is the same thing that drove Hoover's war on black people and the left in the 1950s and 60s: an obsession with consolidating power and maintaining the status quo. That hurts not just Muslims, but our entire society. The sooner we realize it, the better.