September 18, 2012

Political Repression and Illegal Books in Portland

Just in time for Banned Books Week, here is a bit of news that I hope comes to your attention if you are concerned with civil liberties and the freedom to read.

A couple of young people in Portland, fresh faced college students who like to say that they’re anarchists, have been arrested as part of an investigation of vandalism of a courthouse in Seattle. It doesn’t seem that they were involved, but the FBI regards anarchists not as a tribe of harmless bohemian-ish young intellectuals with a vague, semi-coherent political philosophy and taste for history, but as “criminals seeking an ideology to justify their actions” who are “not dedicated to a particular issue” (according to the FBI’s Domestic Terrorism Guide). The FBI’s search warrant that ordered the raid on their house specified that they were looking for “anarchist literature”…. which seems to imply that books containing anarchist political philosophy are considered illegal by the FBI.

In my opinion, this is a matter that deserves our attention during Banned Books Week. Not to minimize the importance of protecting the rights of teens to read novels that have mature themes that some members of their communities believe they are not ready to be exposed to yet (or the importance of questions about what teens are in fact ready to be reading), but this seems to be a case of political repression based in part on what books these young idealists may own. Raising further red flags about civil liberties questions is the fact that their subpoenas have been to appear before secret grand juries where the proceedings can’t be monitored by the press.

I read about this issue at Sound and Noise.

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