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“Protests” = “Terrorism”?



My good friend of nearly forty-years, John Michael Grant, brought a very disturbing item to my attention. From FOX News:

A written exam administered by the Pentagon labels “protests” as a form of “low-level terrorism” — enraging civil liberties advocates and activist groups who say it shows blatant disregard of the First Amendment.

The written exam, given as part of Department of Defense employees’ routine training, includes a multiple-choice question that asks:

“Which of the following is an example of low-level terrorism?”

— Attacking the Pentagon

— IEDs

— Hate crimes against racial groups

— Protests

The correct answer, according to the exam, is “Protests.”

What? For a moment, I thought I was reading one of those bizarre articles that ciriculates on the Internet about Henry Kissinger being an alien from Zenon. But this is a real test. On June 10th, the American Civil Liberties Union issued a press release:

Anti-terrorism training materials currently being used by the Department of Defense (DoD) teach its personnel that free expression in the form of public protests should be regarded as “low level terrorism.” ACLU attorneys are calling the approach “an egregious insult to constitutional values” and have sent a letter to the Department of Defense demanding that the offending materials be changed and that the DoD send corrective information to all DoD employees who received the erroneous training.

“DoD employees cannot fully protect our nation and its values unless they understand that a core American value is the constitutional right to criticize our government through protest activities,” said ACLU of Northern California attorney Ann Brick. “It is fundamentally wrong to equate activism with terrorism.”

The ACLU also send a letter to Gail McGinn, Acting Under-Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness “asking that the materials be corrected immediately.” The text of the letter can be found here.

So what does DoD have to say? According to the FOX report:

Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Les Melnyk said the Defense Department is looking into the matter and expects to provide more information later Wednesday.

“We need to determine if it’s something we’re currently doing,” Melnyk said. “A lot of the information in this exam is intended for people stationed abroad. We counsel those people to avoid demonstrations.

I will have to see if the Pentagon has, in fact, been able to provide more information. But unless they tell is this was a joke, they have made a horrible mistake. This test question is an outrageous affront to the Constitution that all officials of the U.S. Government swear to uphold.

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One Comment

  • Samuel Peck says:

    Wow, I have to agree with the ACLU’s action for once. Who does Obama have in charge of the defense department right now? That is outrageous. now maybe ACORN’s protests can turn into (or be from the beginning) low level terrorism sometimes, but you could turn a shopping trip into a violent incident too.

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Welcome! Who am I?

Anthony Clark Arend is Professor of Government and Foreign Service at Georgetown University and the Director of the Master of Science in Foreign Service in the Walsh School of Foreign Service.

Commentary and analysis at the intersection of international law and politics.