Cyber-Cops, Watchdogs and the Thought Police

“Bad boyz,
Bay boyz,
What-cha gonna
What-cha gonna do
when they come for

Ah yes, the theme song of my favorite TV program – next to The McLaughlin Group, of course: it could serve as the theme song of the new millennium. Cops – they’re everywhere. Rounding up wild-eyed Algerian “terrorists” as they try to scoot over the border; sending back poor little Elian even as he swims ashore – and now, it seems, they’re even online, as cyber-cops surf the Internet looking for those bad boyz (and girlz) of cyberspace. Janet Reno’s on the job, wouldn’t you know it, and ready with a proposal for the Web Patrol, “an online network of law enforcement agents” that, according to news reports, would stamp out “the dark side of the Internet.”KEYSTONE CYBER-COPS

“There is a dark side of hacking, crashing networks and viruses that we absolutely must address,” she said – forgetting that the hackers’ biggest successes have been government sites, such as the White House, the FBI, NATO. If the feds can’t protect their own sites from a continuing assault, how are they supposed to protect the rest of us from “the dark side of hacking”? Just asking.


Never mind ‘the dark side of the Internet” – I’m worried about the dark side of Janet Reno. This is a woman at the head of an agency that we are now learning machine-gunned the inhabitants of the Waco “compound” for the “crime” of having nonconformist religious beliefs. And now she wants to set up “LawNet,” a brand-new federal agency charged with hunting down “cyber-criminals.” “I envision a network that extends from local detectives to the FBI to investigators abroad,” she told the National Association of Attorneys General.


This would be useful in getting around all those messy jurisdictional obstacles to total federal power, and give her cyber-cops the kind of reach that a real national police force needs to keep tabs on the Bad Guyz. Who be they? According to Reno, the FBI took a survey of the Fortune 500 and discovered that a whopping 62 percent claimed that the security of their computer systems had been breached this year. This statistic, however, is widely derided in computer circles. As Thomas C. Greene put it in The Register (UK), this figure “strikes us as somewhat inflated, and most likely the result of considerable statistical massaging intended to alarm the public.” Yes, indeed, and the key word here is intended . . .


We all saw how the government generated and manipulated the Millennium/terrorist/Y2K hysteria to launch a nationwide witch hunt, crack down on domestic dissidents, and fund a massive federal “upgrade” program In this context, is anyone surprised that the New England Journal of Medicine reports “outbreaks of mass hysteria, including fears of poison gases in the air, may be on the rise”? Researchers say fear of “bioterrorism” and “environmental toxins” is increasing – and with it “outbreaks of short-term, widespread psychogenic illness.” Doctors called in to investigate reports of mass illness often diagnose it as yet another case of mass hysteria, but are afraid to say so for fear of offending their patients and exacerbating their anxiety. And the contagion is airborne, says the study, spread over the airwaves: “Dramatic and prolonged media coverage frequently enhances such outbreaks.”


The authors of the study, according to Reuters, “recommended that officials make a return to normality in the affected community their main goal.” But normality is precisely what our power-mad government officials do not want to return to, for they thrive on crises, on threats – real or imagined – to the commonweal, and the bigger the better. Their power, prominence, and purses all swell with the tide of mass hysteria, and they have been going all-out lately to stoke the public’s anxiety to a fever pitch. Everything new is a crisis requiring some kind of regulatory campaign or law enforcement crackdown: the coming of the new millennium, the coming of the computer age, the phenomenal growth of the Internet – the Janet Renos of this world miss no opportunity to extend their reach – in this case, right into your computer.


If you’re in a state constant hysteria, however, you may not notice that you’re sinking into serfdom. This is the key role played by mass hysteria – over terrorism, global warming, or the “threat” posed by Slobodan Milosevic to the peace of Europe – and it therefore should hardly come as a shock that governments, and especially the US government, are the main source and spreaders of what is in effect a collective mental illness.


Reno’s proposal is essentially a revamped version of the “FIDNET” scheme that had civil libertarians and the cyber-community up in arms last year. The Clinton administration’s proposal is a truly Orwellian vision of virtually every computer system in the country embedded with “intrusion detection monitors” at all “key nodal points.” As the Center for Democracy and Technology commented: “FIDNET is an ill-defined monitoring system of potentially broad sweep. It seems to place monitoring and surveillance at the center of the government’s response to a problem that is not well suited to such measures.”


Naturally the government is not interested in developing a rational strategy to protect the security of computer systems: since this is a technological problem, and not political or even a matter of law enforcement, government agencies can do little to guard against cyber-sabotage. Their only interest is to get a monitoring system in place now, before the system – like society itself – gets too big and complex to be controlled.


In the fully-monitored society of the new millennium, the surveillance starts early – and once again computers are tools in the hands of the super-snoops. Dozens of schools in the Los Angeles area, and elsewhere, are testing a computer program called “Mosaic 2000” designed to sniff out potential troublemakers and “violence-prone” youths. Janet Reno is naturally at the center of this particular web, which gives schools and local law enforcement the same kind of authority and legal tools now used to protect celebrities and government officials. Acting to pre-empt and prevent criminal acts that authorities think they have reason to believe may occur, the FBI will soon issue a list of “risk factors” – including, reports the Conservative News Service, “those who write essays reflecting ‘anger, frustration, and the dark side of life,’ and those who show a preference for TV shows, movies, or music expressing violent themes and acts.”


Boy, am I glad I grew up before the wondrous computer age, when everyone read books. I can’t even begin to imagine what would have happened if the FBI had gotten hold of my essay Junior High School English class essay extolling the virtues of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead. Here is a novel about a young architect, Howard Roark, an individualist who will not compromise his artistic integrity and is outraged when his yuppie rival steals his design and then changes it. Roark responds by blowing up the building – the Cortlandt Tower, a government housing project for the poor. In my subversive essay, I remember quoting with approval from Roark’s speech at his trial: “I designed Cortlandt. I gave it to you. I destroyed it.”


Gee, am I glad the Janet Renos of yesteryear never got their palsied hands on that! Today, of course, the young admirer of Rand’s wonderful novel would be “profiled” as a budding Tim McVeigh and locked up tight before he even got to read Atlas Shrugged – Rand’s 1000-page-plus magnum opus which features, among other characters, a philosopher turned “pirate,” Ragnar Danneskold, who attacks government ships on the high seas and returns stolen tax money to the productive entrepreneurs who earned it. Any students caught with that, nowadays, is bound to find themselves in some very deep trouble – and now they’ll be able to track ‘em down, with the help of compliant teachers and Mosaic 2000. Isn’t progress wonderful?


The Thought Police are everywhere, and not only in government but also in the private sector: witness the rise to prominence of the self-appointed “watchdog” groups. that keep tabs on so-called “extremists,” as a vital and growing part of the law enforcement apparatus. They extend the government’s reach and its ability to monitor and even infiltrate dissidents it has deemed dangerous. And they act as instant “experts,” who can be quoted as authorities by government officials and journalists to buttress the case for increased surveillance of “subversives.”


During the cold war, the target was the Left: and it wasn’t just the FBI that was monitoring “subversive” activities, but also many private groups that kept comprehensive files on domestic “Reds.” In the post-cold war era, the focus is on the Right, and a whole industry has grown up around the alleged threat of right-wing “extremism.” The “extremist”-baiting business has roots that go all the way back to the 1930s, when such groups as the “Friends of Democracy” and the Anti-Defamation League launched a campaign to smear and discredit the antiwar movement, led by the American First Committee. In cooperation with the British intelligence operation in the US, these early “watchdog” groups infiltrated and planted agent provocateurs America First local units in order to tar the AFC with the brush of anti-Semitism and pro-Nazi sympathies.


After the war, the anti-rightist jihad died down somewhat, but soon sprang back into action with a series of Anti-Defamation League books and public campaigns smearing prominent Old Rightists as bigots and dangerous radicals. Even William Buckley was looked at with some fair amount of suspicion. Then there was the indefatigable Harry Overstreet, who wrote a seemingly endless series of books, including The Strange Tactics of Extremism, targeting the hapless cadre of the John Birch Society. The Society was essentially the last gasp of the Old Right in Cold War America: anti-interventionist, anti-internationalist; their leader, Robert Welch, strategically oriented its members to believe that the main danger to liberty is not abroad but at home. For this extreme heresy – a no-no during the cold war years – Welch was smeared from one end of the country to the other, his every utterance examined under a microscope and subjected to the then-current standards of political correctness. Like McCarthy, Welch believed that a great part of the American foreign policy establishment had been infiltrated not only by wooly-minded liberals but also by Communists, i.e. conscious agents of the Soviet Union.


As we know now from digging in old Kremlin archives, much of what McCarthy and his followers sensed about their political opponents turned out to be entirely correct: Communist agents had penetrated deeply into the New Deal bureaucracy during Stalin’s wartime alliance with FDR. Liberal and left-wing extremist-baiters had to be careful, during the cold war years, to always couple their attacks on the “ultra-conservative” Right with denunciations of Communism. But the great bulk of their written works were concentrated on the great problem of rooting out “extremism” of the Right.


Almost anything could get you identified as an “extremist” and earn you a dossier in the Anti-Defamation League’s extensive library of reports on subversive right-wing activities. A series of books churned by the prolific tag-team of Arnold Forster and Benjamin R. Epstein consists, in large part, of verbatim reports by ADL field agents who regularly kept tabs on such dangerous elements as the “isolationist” Congress of Freedom, headed by early libertarian philosopher Robert Lefevre. The ADL had a vision of a gigantic conspiracy that had resisted the war effort and opposed Roosevelt, two political positions they invariably identified with anti-Semitism. Overstreet and other, lesser figures in the anti-rightist movement faded with the onset of the sixties, when it became clear that the Birchers – unlike the Weathermen – were not the real revolutionaries. But with the end of the cold war, and the rise of right-wing populism and “antigovernment” sentiment, the “extremist”-baiters are back, and in a big way.


Laird Wilcox’s booklet, The Watchdogs: A Close look at Anti-Racist “Watchdog” Groups, is an excellent introduction to this milieu. Tracing the history of the “watchdogs,” left and right, from the prewar era to the present day, Wilcox draws a frightening picture of a “privatized” surveillance system in league with government authorities, state-privileged vigilantes with their own ideological axes to grind. I have written extensively about the Southern Poverty Law Center and its founder, Morris Dees, but just to recapitulate:


It was only natural that Dees, whose SPLC has become a virtual arm of Janet Reno’s Justice Department, would attempt to smear the antiwar movement during the Kosovo war. In a ridiculous article that transcribed the racist rantings of one Louis Beams, the alleged Svengali of a nationwide “leaderless resistance” movement – as if he were the virtual leader of right-wing opposition to the war! This is the favorite technique of “watchdog” groups like the SPLC: quote some completely unknown and marginal crackpot as representative of the position one is trying to discredit: isolationism during World War II, opposition to US intervention in the Kosovo conflict, or whatever.


Another favored tactic is what Laird Wilcox calls the “links and ties” technique, really introduced in the 1930s by the veteran anti-Communist (and anti-Semite) Elizabeth Dilling, the moving force behind the Patriotic Research Bureau. Her book, The Red Network, consisted simply of alphabetically-arranged entries, which listed prominent politicians and intellectuals, along with a detailed analysis their “Communist front” and other connections. As Wilcox puts it:

“According to Dilling’s reasoning, if ‘A’ was a liberal who was on the board of some organization with ‘B,’ a socialist, and ‘B’ had written for the same journal as ‘C,’ a communist, then ‘A’ was ‘linked and tied’ to Communists.”


The technique of “links and ties,” says Wilcox, has been inherited and even improved upon by the contemporary witch-hunters, such as Chip Berlet, of Political Research Associates. In researching my column on “Fulani, Buchanan, and the Smear Machine,” I kept coming upon Berlet’s name as an “authority” on the subjects of both Fulani and Buchanan. As I pointed out in that column, Berlet’s animus toward Fulani was born of his orthodox leftism: here was someone allying herself with the right-wing enemy, and for that, in Berlet’s view, she needed to be exposed as a dangerous “cultist.” In his voluminous writings on the subject of Fulani, and her associate Fred Newman, these two are depicted as virtual devils, sinister totalitarian cultists with no redeeming features. And so I was somewhat surprised to discover, in Wilcox’s useful booklet, that Berlet, once associated with the New York Guardian, a Marxist-Leninist weekly, had himself been in an alliance with Fred Newman and his followers, in the mid-eighties.


As law enforcement moved against the remnants of the New Left radicals who imagined they could conduct “armed struggle” against the US government, a support group formed to protest this great “injustice.” Then known as the International Workers Party, Newman and his small group of New Left radicals were involved in the defense: they signed a statement, along with William Kunstler, Berlet, his associate Jean Hardisty, and a host of other prominent figures in “the Movement,” protesting the government’s investigation into the activities of armed leftist revolutionaries. The statement was published in the January 13, 1984 issue of the now-defunct Guardian. Berlet, in his propaganda today, makes much of how Newman and his group were involved in a sinister alliance with Lyndon LaRouche, and involved in arming themselves for some kind of armed confrontation with the authorities. But if Berlet himself was in a political alliance with the Newmanites, then is he tarred with the same brush? According to Berlet, Pat Buchanan’s association with Fulani is yet more proof that Pat’s the center of a conspiracy to impose “producerist” fascism on the US. But what does Berlet’s own connection to the Newmanites say about his own politics, not to even mention his motivations?


The “links and ties” technique, when turned on its practitioners, yields interesting results. Now, it is one thing to be a leftist: these days, at least on college campuses, it is the norm. Red-baiting, in the absence of the Soviet Union, has gone out of fashion, and seems largely incomprehensible to the younger generation, which can barely remember Gorbachev and the fall of the Berlin Wall. But in Berlet’s case, it turns out, we have a true case of extremism par excellence. For, in this instance, we aren’t talking, really, about the New Left or some hippie commune: we are talking hardcore totalitarianism of the very sort that Berlet depicts as characteristic of Newman and Fulani. It is one thing to belong to the National Lawyers Guild, the longstanding Communist Party front organization that is a kind of living museum of American Stalinism: it is quite another, however, to have been a paid-up member of the Chicago Area Friends of Albania (CAFA), an organization founded in 1983 and dedicated to those who “are friendly and supportive of the People’s Socialist Republic of Albania.”


Wilcox informs us that, in 1985, when Enver Hoxha, the paradigmatic Albanian Stalin, passed away, CAFA sent out a letter to its members and fellow travelers asking for “condolences” to be sent to Hoxha’s elderly widow, Nexhmije Hoxha,. Fess up, Chip – you sent her a Hallmark.


Albania was the most ferociously Stalinist of all the former Communist regimes. Hoxha denounced all varieties of Communism other than the Albanian version as deviations from the straight-and-narrow Marxist-Leninist path. Russia, China, and Yugoslavia were all examples of “revisionism” – Albania was declared to be the only “bastion of socialist revolution,” as the American supporters of Tirana declared in their propaganda. Completely shut off from the rest of the world, with brutal repression against all dissent, all religion, all expression of individualist or “bourgeois” tendencies, Albania was more repressive than even North Korea. This was the ideal society, in the view of Berlet and his pro-Albanian Commie friends in CAFA: a regime that sent thousands to their deaths, many by torture in prison, and mercilessly stamped out the slightest expression of political dissent.


In the eyes of the American enthusiasts of Albania, however, perhaps the most admirable institution in this “bastion of socialism” was undoubtedly the secret police, the notorious Sigurimi, which ruthlessly hunted down all dissidents. Political Research Associates, originally based in Chicago, was given a big going-away party by the Chicago Area Friends of Albania when they decided to move. Wilcox reproduces the text of a CAFA flyer, which declares “Chip and his family are moving to the Boston area to continue his anti-fascist work. Chip was one of our founding members, and a steadfast friend of Albanian through thick and thin.”


Yes, it sure has been a little thin for the champions of authoritarian regimes and ideologies. Alas, Albania, that “bastion of socialist revolution,” is fallen, and the dream of socialism deferred. But hardcore activists like Berlet are not about to give up. He may have let his membership in CAFA lapse, now that Hoxha-ism in Albania is defunct, but Berlet and his crew carry on in the tradition of the Sigurimi with Political Research Associates – dedicated to hunting down and demonizing the “enemies of the people,” spying and smearing and fingering dissidents, whose only “crime” is opposition to the government and the political status quo. As the Commies used to say during the sixties and seventies: A lotta continua. “The struggle continues.”


It is certainly not surprising that Berlet, the SPLC, and other professional character assassins have homed-in on the growing opposition to global interventionism, and wide-spread protests against attacks on US sovereignty, as manifestations of the dreaded “right-wing extremism.” Their continuing attacks on the Buchanan campaign, and their attempt to link antiwar organizing to racism, should be watched, and carefully. These guys are killers: they will do anything to destroy those they perceive as enemies. They are especially desperate to head off any left-right alliance over the twin issues of foreign wars and globalization. What these anti-“extremist” “experts” desperately need is full exposure, and Laird Wilcox certainly does an admirable job. He is the founder of the Wilcox Collection on Contemporary Political Movements, housed in the Kenneth Spencer Library at the University of Kansas, and is the author of Nazis, Communists, Klansmen, and Others on the Fringe: Political Extremism in America (Prometheus Books, 1999). His email is The booklet is available, from him, for $19.95.

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].