One Person's Terrorist Might Be Another's… Conservative?
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After 26 years, the Levi guidelines, imposed on the FBI by President Gerald Ford's attorney general and restricting the Bureau's powers to conduct domestic security and terrorism investigations, have finally been deposited in File 13 at the Justice Department.

There was a time when I would have celebrated, but that time is well past. Because the guidelines are gone, some people who criticize the federal government may have reason to be afraid.

Adopted in the wake of Watergate and congressional hearings on the FBI and CIA, they effectively made it impossible for the FBI to investigate what was then the very real terrorism of the far left. The guidelines imposed what was called a "criminal standard," under which the Bureau could not open an investigation of an extremist group unless it knew the group was involved in or planning criminal activity.

Simply advocating overthrow of the government, assassination of public officials or bombing of public buildings wasn't enough to justify an FBI investigation.

But of course if the FBI knew members of a group actually were planning or involved in crimes, it had no reason to investigate at all; it had reason to arrest them. Moreover, the guidelines contained a Catch-22: You couldn't investigate unless you knew there was criminal conduct. But you couldn't know there was criminal conduct unless you investigated. 

Under the guidelines, the FBI really couldn't do much of anything to keep nutty groups that may have had links with terrorists under surveillance. In some cases, the guidelines almost certainly prevented the Bureau from stopping acts of terrorism before they happened.

In that era, then, there was good reason to get rid of the Levi guidelines, and they probably should never have been adopted anyway.

Today, the situation is different. The FBI needs to be under control.

Back then, the subjects of FBI investigations were usually on the extreme left (though there was a good deal of investigation of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1960s).

The extreme left was often violent itself or had the support of foreign communist governments or other terrorists.

Today, most such groups are defunct or dying. Today, the great enemy is "Hate."

"Hate," of course, does not necessarily mean real hate but what the leftists who have come to cultural dominance in recent years like to call hate—it's mostly merely political dissidence on the right and includes not only real hate groups that carry out violence against minorities (very few, if any to my knowledge) but also groups that simply oppose immigration, support the Confederate flag, oppose abortion and homosexuality, work against gun control or similar issues.

There's an entire industry of "hate hunters" like the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Anti-Defamation League and similar groups that specialize in raising vast sums of money by claiming that "hate groups" are about to unleash violence. Their "research" is usually transparently biased if not factually worthless, and their own political orientation is obvious.

A few years ago I heard a lecture by publications director Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center in which he claimed that Christian conservatives Pat Robertson and Gary Bauer had "provided the moral atmosphere" for the murder of homosexual Matthew Shepard in Wyoming—a claim preposterous on its face.

But the fact is that professional hate hunters like Mr. Potok have influence on both federal and state and local law enforcement agencies. Their "experts" often testify in trials and provide seminars for law enforcement and intelligence agencies on what constitutes the "real threats" to national security. In 1999, they helped produce a report for the FBI itself warning of massive right-wing violence on the eve of the change of the millennium. There was of course no such violence.

While the phony hate hunters were pushing the feds into hunting for non-existent terrorists on the domestic right, the real terrorists carried out the Sept. 11 massacres.

Ever since, some of the hate hunters have tried desperately to "link" their favorite targets on the right to sympathy for or even collusion with the Muslim fanatics. They haven't been very successful.

There is every good reason for the FBI to investigate real terrorists, left or right, and especially so after the Sept. 11 atrocities. But in the future, when the FBI under its new guidelines cruises the Internet and launches investigations of churches and political groups in search of "terrorism," dissidents on the right will be their likely targets. 

Personally I doubt such investigations would turn up much. But they might well terrify law-abiding citizens from joining or supporting such groups.

That's probably not what the FBI wants, but as far as the hate hunters egging them on are concerned, that's the whole purpose—and a good reason for keeping the Bureau on the strong leash the Levi guidelines imposed.


June 10, 2002

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