Privacy SOS

DOJ pilot program in Boston conflates innocuous teen behaviors with potential ‘violent extremism’

FBI director James Comey

Terrorist or teenager? That's the question my colleague Naureen Shah posed in a must-read piece for Slate about the Department of Justice's pilot program to "counter violent extremism" in Boston and other US cities. Countering violence sounds good, so what's wrong with the program? Shah lays it out:

Under a pilot program announced this fall, the U.S. government is tasking local American Muslim communities to monitor the opinions and noncriminal behaviors of their members, especially youth. Under the moniker of “Countering Violent Extremism,” communities are being asked to identify individuals who, based on factors including their political beliefs and behavior, could pose a threat. Some of these individuals will then be counseled or diverted to community-run social programs. Others could be referred to the police or FBI.

That approach may sound innocuous. But it sets American Muslim teenagers apart, stigmatizes them as potential terrorists, and drives a dividing line between them and their non-Muslim peers. It subjects them to the suspicions and conjecture of local mosque elders. It places enormous trust in the judgment of these local community “partners” about whether and when to turn matters over to law enforcement. That is especially dangerous given the FBI’s record of using undercover agents and paid informants to target gullible young men in terrorism sting operations, despite their lack of ability or pre-existing intention to engage in criminal activity.

Innocuous teenaged behaviors like talking back to adults and exploring controversial political ideas are just that: innocuous. But through the lens of this misguided DOJ pilot project, they may become fodder for engagement with FBI officials that could end very badly for young people, their families, Muslim communities, and our larger society.

On Wednesday, November 19, experts including a former FBI official will address the 'CVE' program and its many contradictions at Harvard Law School. The event is free and open to the public. Please come, and help us spread the word.

Boston's "Countering Violent Extremism" Program: The Dangers of Reliance on a Debunked Theory of Terrorism
A Panel Discussion with Michael German, Faiza Patel and David Schanzer
Wednesday, November 19, 6:30 pm
Austin Hall 101, Harvard Law School, Cambridge MA

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