ACLU of Massachusetts director Carol Rose speaks with Chris Hayes on MSNBC about a phrase we often hear, but don't really understand: 'radicalization'.
Former FBI agent and ACLU policy analyst Mike German has written extensively about the FBI's problematic obsession with 'radicalization' as the primary precursor to and identifier of possible violence.
…after 9/11, our intelligence and law enforcement agencies have  identified “radicalization” as a problem that must be addressed, by promoting a flawed theory that adopting radical ideas is a dangerous first step toward committing terrorist acts. Countering terrorism, the thinking goes, begins with countering radicalization. Based on this discredited model, intelligence and law enforcement agencies implemented flawed and wasteful “preventive” policies that result in discrimination, suspicionless surveillance of entire communities, and selective law enforcement against belief communities and political activists.Congress has sought to entrench the theory with a series of hearings and reports, and has demanded the government establish a “counter-radicalization policy.” We raised concerns when Congress attempted to establish a commission to study radicalization in 2007, and again in 2011. We submitted statements to Congress in 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012, and we worked with coalition partners to point out the factual and methodological flaws in reports that promote this dangerous theory, as have other allies. Rather than challenge the radicalization theory with the many studies that refute it, the Obama administration issued a plan for preventing violent extremism. While the White House deserves some credit for using more careful language and for emphasizing the need for community engagement, it perpetuates the notion that “radicalization to violence” is a discernible process that government can identify, predict and interdict, and establishes policies that again threaten civil liberties.
The simple fact is that we all have a First Amendment right to think “dangerous” thoughts. We do not have a First Amendment right to do violent things. Many people have dangerous thoughts, but never do violent things, and it's virtually impossible to systematically predict which “dangerous” thinkers are going to end up engaging in violence or criminal activity. The Constitution strictly limits restrictions on “radical” speech, and even speech that advocates violence, for precisely this reason. As the Supreme Court explained at another point in our history when the government sought to suppress and literally criminalize ideas:[T]he mere abstract teaching of Communist theory, including the teaching of the moral propriety or even moral necessity for a resort to force and violence, is not the same as preparing a group for violent action and steeling it to such action.