Facebook group protests U.S. House bill

When a phrase such as "thought crime" is uttered, things like George Orwell's "1984" and Steven Spielberg's "Minority Report" come to mind.

But a bill that passed the U.S. House of Representatives in October is far from entertaining to many people. Daniel Shay, a Facebook.com protest group creator and junior at Georgia College and State University, dubbed the bill as "the thought crime prevention bill."

"The key point is that this bill is meant to prevent factors which would lead to radicalization," Shey said in an e-mail. "It doesn't directly fight 'thought crime,' but it is a very open document."

Officially titled the Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007, the bill is sponsored by U.S. Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif.

The bill would amend the Homeland Security Act of 2002 to establish a grant program to prevent extremist belief systems and ideologically based violence.

The bill has yet to be voted on in the Senate.

Harman said in a news release that she felt the danger of homegrown terror was large.

"Far from being immune to the danger of homegrown terror, the threat today is infinitely greater and more likely to be influenced by events in the Middle East or by the larger struggle against radical Islam," she said. "Our plan must be to intervene before a person crosses that line separating radical views from violent behavior, to understand the forces at work on the individual and the community, to create an environment that discourages disillusionment and alienation and that instills in young people a sense of belonging and faith in the future."

Tyler College sophomore Ryan Steele, the creator of another protest group called "Students Against H.R. 1955," said he thought the bill broke with the Founding Fathers' view of America, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

"I think it broadens the description of a terrorist," Steele said. "I think it includes U.S. citizens who are against the government in the description."

Shey said he is also worried about the descriptions of terrorists.

"Would '9/11 Truthers' or anti-war protestors, such as Code Pink, constitute having an extremist belief system for the purpose of facilitating ideologically based violence?" he said. "If definitions such as this one are stretched, dangerous conclusions could be reached."

The vague language of the bill caused concern, Shey said.

"On the surface this sounds like a good thing," he said. "Not many people support terrorists or terrorism. However, it is the overall vagueness of the bill that has caused groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights to oppose the act."

Harman said she thought there was a difference between free speech and what her bill was aimed at.

"Free speech, espousing even very radical beliefs, is protected by our Constitution, but violent behavior is not," she said. "If we fail to prevent, the best we can do is manage consequences."

Steele said he thought the bill was rewriting the definition of a crime.

"It starts basing crime as not an act but an idea," he said. "They're starting to take away our right to start a revolution against a government infringing on life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," he said.

Steele said he believed the bill came as an increasing trend of the government working against the people, and he feared the government would continue to pass the bill if people did not speak up.

Steele said he didn't expect the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down the bill.

"The way things are looking, I'm afraid they would let it pass," he said.

Shey said he thought it was possible that the Supreme Court might intervene.

"The Supreme Court may find parts of the bill unconstitutional but probably not the whole bill," he said. "It is generally easier to fight pieces of legislation instead of entire bills."

Besides the two groups created by Shey and Steele, five other Facebook groups that specifically oppose the bill have been created.

"Facebook is an excellent way to reach a lot of people quickly," Shey said. "It also is a great forum for open discussion of ideas. It is also helpful in reaching others with information."

Steele said he chose Facebook as his medium because he thought he could reach the most people with it.

"I use it more than Myspace or any other blogging Web site," he said. "I could reach more people through it."

Neither creator said they had seen any changes or had yet received any response from government officials yet.

"There are many groups out there that are against the act and are posing a vocal and legal defense against the bill, but so far it is not resulting in visible change," Shey said. "I have not even received a response to my e-mails to my representatives."

Steele said he and a friend had discussed widening their protest of a bill to another Web site, and Shey said he was considering further action.

"Some of us have discussed a physical protest, but no plans have come together," he said.

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