The terms of the McCarran Act strategy offer a wide catchment that has the potential to ensnare any progressive or radical movement.
“All those who have even mild criticisms of the US government can— and will—be caught up within the anti-terrorist dragnet.”
While rabid right wing rabble-rousers spit and spume over the more mild brands of leftist thought — like “Critical Race Theory,” that subdiscipline of supposed race-hate, or the 1619 Project, accused of historiographical terrorism — we should not forget that it is liberals, not aytpically, who are quietly and systematically circumscribing the limits of radical speech. Exhibit A: US president Joe Biden’s recently-unveiled strategy for countering “domestic terrorism.”
On the surface, the strategy is meant to monitor and contain the United States’ more vulgar white supremacist tendencies, while overlooking a happily normalized liberal white supremacist culture. Yet the terms of the strategy offer a wide catchment that has the potential to ensnare any progressive or radical movement. Under its definition of “domestic violent extremists” — or the catchy abbreviation “DVEs” — we find descriptions of both “militant violent extremists,” extremists who see the US government as an overreaching, totalitarian presence, and “sovereign citizen violent extremists,” extremists who believe they are immune from the US government’s authority and laws.
The DVE definition also includes “anarchist violent extremists,” extremists who “oppose all forms of capitalism, corporate globalization, and governing institutions, which are perceived as harmful to society.” The danger here is not only in the continued demonization of the range of anarchist philosophy and practice. It is also in the inevitable way by which all those who are tainted with the brush of “anti-capitalism” and all those who have even mild criticisms of the US government can— and will—be caught up within the anti-terrorist dragnet.
“The DVE definition includes ‘anarchist violent extremists,’ extremists who ‘oppose all forms of capitalism, corporate globalization, and governing institutions, which are perceived as harmful to society.’”
Biden’s proposed strategy is part of a longer history of US anti-radical policy that has targeted not only anarchists, but, of course, communists. It is also a history of persecuting immigrants, African Americans and, indeed, any individual or group unwilling or unable to fit into the prescribed norms of US society and citizenship. Among the most notorious examples of this legislative history was The Internal Security Act of 1950 — also known as the McCarran Act (after its sponsor, Nevada senator Pat McCarren), the Subversive Activities Control Act, and the Concentration Camp Law.
The McCarran Act identified Communism as a specter haunting the United States and working to overthrow the US government. Among the most draconian anti-Communist legislation signed into law, in hysterical, paranoid fashion, the Act proscribed a series of measures meant to contain the threat of communism, including the mandatory registration of communists and those accused of being communist, and the detention of anyone presumed to be planning acts of sabotage against the state. The Act explicitly targeted immigrants and would-be migrants, preventing their entry to the U.S. and threatening those considered disloyal or subversive with denaturalization and deportation. The Act functioned through the tribunal-like setting of the Subversive Activities Control Board. Claudia Jones was deported for violations of the McCarran Act while other Black communists, including Claude Lightfoot, were targeted by the Subversive Activities Control Board.
Harry Truman had attempted to veto the act because he saw its potential to infringe on civil liberties. When it comes to his domestic counterterrorism strategy, Biden apparently does not share such concerns. The preamble to the McCarran Act is reproduced below.
To protect the United States against certain un-American and subversive activities by requiring registration of Communist organizations, and for other Purposes.
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That this Act may be cited as the "Internal Security Act of 1950."
TITLE I-SUBVERSIVE ACTIVITIES CONTROL
SECTION 1. (a) This title may be cited as the "Subversive Activities Control Act of 1950" .
(b) Nothing in this Act shall be construed to authorize, require, or establish military or civilian censorship or in any way to limit or infringe upon freedom of the press or of speech as guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States and no regulation shall be promulgated hereunder having that effect.
NECESSITY FOR LEGISLATION
SEC. 2. As a result of evidence adduced before various committees of the Senate and House of Representatives, the Congress hereby finds that-
(1) There exists a world Communist movement which, in its origins, its development, and its present practice, is a world-wide revolutionary movement whose purpose it is, by treachery, deceit, infiltration into other groups (governmental and otherwise), espionage, sabotage, terrorism, and any other means deemed necessary, to establish a Communist totalitarian dictatorship in the countries throughout the world through the medium of a world-wide Communist organization.
(2) The establishment of a totalitarian dictatorship in any country results in the suppression of all opposition to the party in power, the subordination of the rights of individuals to the state, the denial of fundamental rights and liberties which are characteristic of a representative form of government, such as freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, and of religious worship, and results in the maintenance of control over the people through fear, terrorism, and brutality.
(3) The system of government known as a totalitarian dictatorship is characterized by the existence of a single political party, organized on a dictatorial basis, and by substantial identity between such party and its policies and the government and governmental policies of the country in which it exists.
(4) The direction and control of the world Communist movement is vested in and exercised by the Communist dictatorship of a foreign country.
(5) The Communist dictatorship of such foreign country, in exercising such direction and control and in furthering the purposes of the world Communist movement, establishes or causes the establishment of, and utilizes, in various countries, action organizations which are not free and independent organizations, but are sections of a world-wide Communist organization and are controlled, directed, and subject to the discipline of the Communist dictatorship of such foreign country.
(6) The Communist action organizations so established and utilized in various countries, acting under such control, direction, and discipline, endeavor to carry out the objectives of the world Communist movement by bringing about the overthrow of existing governments by any available means, including force if necessary, and setting up Communist totalitarian dictatorships which will be subservient to the most powerful existing Communist totalitarian dictatorship. Although such organizations usually designate themselves as political parties, they are in fact constituent elements of the world-wide Communist movement and promote the objectives of such movement by conspiratorial and coercive tactics, instead of through the democratic processes of a free elective system or through the freedom-preserving means employed by a political party which operates as an agency by which people govern themselves.
“Communist action organizations endeavor to carry out the objectives of the world Communist movement by bringing about the overthrow of existing governments by any available means, including force if necessary.”
(7) In carrying on the activities referred to in paragraph (6), such Communist organizations in various countries are organized on a secret, conspiratorial basis and operate to a substantial extent through organizations, commonly known as "Communist fronts," which in most instances are created and maintained, or used, in such manner as to conceal the facts as to their true character and purposes and their membership . One result of this method of operation is that such affiliated organizations are able to obtain financial and other support from persons who would not extend such support if they knew the true purposes of, and the actual nature of the control and influence exerted upon, such "Communist fronts".
(8) Due to the nature and scope of the world Communist movement, with the existence of affiliated constituent elements working toward common objectives in various countries of the world, travel of Communist members, representatives, and agents from country to country facilitates communication and is a prerequisite for the carrying on of activities to further the purposes of the Communist movement.
(9) In the United States those individuals who knowingly and willfully participate in the world Communist movement, when they so participate, in effect repudiate their allegiance to the United States, and in effect transfer their allegiance to the foreign country in which is vested the direction and control of the world Communist movement.
(10) In pursuance of communism's stated objectives, the most powerful existing Communist dictatorship has, by the methods referred to above, already caused the establishment in numerous foreign countries of Communist totalitarian dictatorships, and threatens to establish similar dictatorships in still other countries.
(11) The agents of communism have devised clever and ruthless espionage and sabotage tactics which are carried out in many instances in form or manner successfully evasive of existing law.
(12) The Communist network in the United States is inspired and controlled in large part by foreign agents who are sent into Commissions, and in similar capacities, but who use their diplomatic or semi-diplomatic status as a shield behind which to engage in activities prejudicial to the public security.
(13) There are, under our present immigration laws, numerous aliens who have been found to be deportable, many of whom are in the subversive, criminal, or immoral classes who are free to roam the country at will without supervision or control.
(14) One device for infiltration by Communists is by procuring naturalization for disloyal aliens who use their citizenship as a badge for admission into the fabric of our society.
(15) The Communist movement in the United States is an organization numbering thousands of adherents, rigidly and ruthlessly disciplined. Awaiting and seeking to advance a moment when the United States may be so far extended by foreign engagements, so far divided in counsel, or so far in industrial or financial straits, that overthrow of the Government of the United States by force and violence may seem possible of achievement, it seeks converts far and wide by an extensive system of schooling and indoctrination. Such preparations by Communist organizations in other countries have aided in supplanting existing governments. The Communist organization in the United States, pursuing its stated objectives, the recent successes of Communist methods in other countries, and the nature and control of the world Communist movement itself, present a clear and present danger to the security of the United States and to the existence of free American institutions, and make it necessary that Congress, in order to provide for the common defense, to preserve the sovereignty of the United States as an independent nation, and to guarantee to each State a republican form of government, enact appropriate legislation recognizing the existence of such worldwide conspiracy and designed to prevent it from accomplishing its purpose in the United States .
Editors, The Black Agenda Review
Please join the conversation on Black Agenda Report's Facebook page at http://facebook.com/blackagendareport
Or, you can comment by emailing us at [email protected]