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Arrested for Feeding the Homeless? 5 Outrageous Government Crackdowns on Peaceful Activists

Activists continue to be arrested, assaulted and otherwise harassed by the nation's police and government agencies for participating in nonviolent protests and other actions.

In recent months, police and government leaders have inappropriately, unfairly, and in some cases illegally targeted peaceful activists on a number of occasions.

That should come as a shock to no one, since government mistreatment of nonviolent activists has been going on for as long as activists have been pushing for social change in the U.S. -- that is, as long as there has been a U.S. government.

Still, it's distressing that after all these years, activists continue to be arrested, assaulted and otherwise harassed by the nation's police and government agencies for participating in nonviolent protests and other actions.

What's more, the recent mistreatment of activists is wildly hypocritical, since the Obama administration has over the past several months scolded governments in the Middle East for their heavy-handed treatment of pro-democracy protesters. For instance, both President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton had stern words for Egyptian authorities earlier this year, as Chris Dunn reported in the Collegiate Times:

“So I want to be very clear in calling upon the Egyptian authorities to refrain from any violence against peaceful protesters. The people of Egypt have rights that are universal. That includes the right to peaceful assembly, association, the right to free speech, and the ability to determine their own destiny,” Obama said in a speech.

Likewise, Clinton said, “We call upon the Egyptian government to do everything in its power to restrain security forces,” and two days later reiterated, “We have sent a very clear message: We want to see restraint, we do not want to see violence by any security forces.”

As Dunn notes, this rhetoric about rights to peaceful assembly and free speech is at odds with the government's treatment of activists at events like the September 2009 G20 summit in Pittsburgh, when police and the National Guard, concerned about the actions of a small group of anarchists, targeted scores of nonviolent protesters with tear gas and excessive force.

Below are several stories of even more recent injustices committed against nonviolent activists and protesters.

1. FBI v. activists. The FBI has a history of targeting nonviolent animal rights, anti-war, and other activists, unjustly labeling many of them domestic terrorism suspects. (Examples here, here, here, and later in this list.)

Now, the bureau has raised eyebrows among the civil liberties and activist communities for expanding its own domestic surveillance powers. The New York Times reports that the bureau's new rules will allow some 14,000 agents "more leeway to search databases, go through household trash or use surveillance teams to scrutinize the lives of people who have attracted their attention," giving them the power "to look into people and organizations 'proactively' and without firm evidence for suspecting criminal or terrorist activity." 

Check out this interview on Democracy Now! with one of the many activists who's already been unfairly watched by the FBI and who is understandably concerned that the FBI's new guidelines could lead to further abuses of power.

2. Activists' homes searched as part of "terrorism" investigation. Here's one recent example of activists getting caught up in FBI anti-terrorism investigations. Last fall, the bureau attained warrants to search the homes of activists in Minneapolis and Chicago who had been involved in protests at the 2008 Republican National Committee. According to the warrant, the FBI was "gathering evidence related to people 'providing, attempting and conspiring to provide material support' to terrorist organizations, and listed Hezbollah, the Popular Front for Liberation of Palestine and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia." The warrant gave permission to seize electronics, letters, photos, and other items.

According to Democracy Now! at least 23 activists were also subpoenaed between September and December as part of the FBI's "terrorism" probe. Maureen Clare Murphy, a journalist and Palestinian solidarity activist and one of the people subpoenaed, told DN's Juan Gonzalez:

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