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The Eighth Annual Muzzle Awards
The FBI leads our annual roundup of those who undermined free speech and personal liberties
Dishonorable mentions

• One-legged World War II veteran Noel Dube has the dubious distinction of having two of his First Amendment rights violated — freedom of speech and of religion. Dube, 85, had to take the Town of Pepperell to court in order to keep a religious shrine on his property that included a 24-foot illuminated cross. Fortunately, Middlesex Superior Court judge Kenneth Fishman ruled last January that Dube was within his rights to practice his religion as he saw fit.

• The Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation already sells Henry David Thoreau’s classic Walden at the Walden Pond Reservation. Its employees might consider reading it as well. Last July, a state park ranger ordered Eric Eldred to leave Walden Pond because he was trying to give away copies of Walden. "If you’re going to give away books for free," park supervisor Denise Morrissey explained, "it might take away business."

• The University of New Hampshire taught Timothy Garneau a lesson on the perils of political correctness last November. After Garneau wrote and distributed a flier joking that freshman women could lose 10 to 15 pounds by taking the stairs instead of the elevator, he was ordered out of his dorm, and was forced to live in his car for three weeks. After the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education intervened, Garneau was reinstated.

• Rowdyism — and worse — among college students has become an increasingly pernicious problem in Boston. But Boston city councilors Michael Ross and Jerry McDermott do not have the answer. Last fall they proposed an ordinance that would require colleges and universities to provide the city with the names and addresses of students who live off campus. And it passed. "We’re not trying to take away your civil liberties or go after you," Ross said. Uh, yes, councilor, you are.

• In 2001, ex-governor Paul Cellucci earned his third Muzzle Award for ordering the MBTA not to accept advertising from Change the Climate, a Greenfield-based group that favored the decriminalization of marijuana. This year, a Dishonorable Mention goes to the MBTA itself for vowing to keep the ban alive — even after the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruled that the T had engaged in "viewpoint discrimination" (see "Free Speech," This Just In, December 3, 2004).

— DK

In Cambridge, Keith Harvey, New England director of the American Friends Service Committee — the Quakers — reports that he was followed by plainclothes law-enforcement agents last August around the time of the Republican National Convention. Government officials have labeled the anti-war organization a "potential threat entity."

In Rhode Island, the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force was involved in the arrest of a Pawtucket resident who had failed to appear in court on a minor larceny charge. The FBI’s interest in the case might seem puzzling — except that the suspect had a Middle Eastern name.

In Maine, peace activist Bruce Gagnon, coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space, recently learned that his organization had been infiltrated by government agents while he was based in Florida. "It has been happening all over the country," says Gagnon.

It is because of incidents like these that the FBI has been chosen as the worst offender among the winners — that is, the losers — of the Eighth Annual Muzzle Awards. Since July 4, 1998, the Phoenix has been dishonoring those who have done the most to suppress free speech and personal liberties in New England during the previous year. Unfortunately, there is never a shortage of candidates (see "Dishonorable Mentions," sidebar). So once again, we mark Independence Day by singling out those who would take away our independence.


Spying, infiltrating, and protecting us against Quakers

The Muzzle Awards were inspired by noted civil-liberties lawyer and Phoenix contributor Harvey Silverglate, and are named after similar awards given by the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Freedom of Expression. They were compiled by tracking freedom-of-expression stories in New England since last July 4, and are based on reporting by various news organizations — especially the Boston Globe, the Boston Herald, the Providence Journal, and the Portland Press Herald, as well as other local and national sources — and the Phoenix newspapers in Boston, Providence, and Portland.

This year, the main threat to the First Amendment isn’t necessarily censorship (although there is still plenty of that), but, rather, the state of surveillance that has arisen in post-9/11 America. In the name of protecting us from ourselves, the government has cast a wary eye on everyone who fails to march in lockstep with the agenda of our self-styled protectors. We are being followed. We are being watched. And we are being forced to give up even our precious bodily fluids, to quote from Dr. Strangelove, lest we be suspected of having committed terrible crimes.

No government agency has done more to advance this total surveillance state than the FBI. The Sons and Daughters of J. Edgar Hoover are still dealing with such dubious legacies as their harassment of Martin Luther King Jr. and their evil alliance with mass-murdering gangster James "Whitey" Bulger — but, by God, they’re going to make damn sure they protect us from the Quakers.

This past May, the ACLU took action to get to the bottom of the FBI’s activities. The national organization, as well as chapters in a number of states — including Massachusetts, Maine, and Rhode Island — filed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests in an attempt to determine the nature and extent of the FBI’s spying. "We don’t want to return to the days when peaceful critics become subjects of government investigations," Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, said in a statement announcing the FOIA requests. "We think the public deserves to know more about the FBI’s secret spying agreements with the local police through the Joint Terrorism Task Forces."

Among the Massachusetts organizations and people on whose behalf the ACLU filed FOIA requests are the American Friends Service Committee, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, the International Action Committee Boston, and such well-known local activists as former ACLU of Massachusetts director John Roberts, Boston city councilor Chuck Turner, historian Howard Zinn, and linguist Noam Chomsky.

Maine organizations that are the subject of FOIA requests include Peace Action Maine, the Maine Coalition for Peace and Justice, Veterans for Peace, the Peace and Justice Center of Eastern Maine, the Center for the Prevention of Hate Violence, and the People’s Free Space. Among the individuals is Timothy Sullivan, who also makes a cameo in our Muzzle for the City of Augusta, which last year tried to charge Sullivan and his fellow peace activists nearly $12,000 for the right to protest against the war in Iraq.

The Rhode Island ACLU’s FOIA request does not mention any specific organizations or individuals. Rather, it seeks all documents related to activities of the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force in that state.

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Issue Date: July 1 - 7, 2005
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