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Are You A Single Issue Terrorist?

CBS reports that the Alabama Department of Homeland Security had a Web site that listed groups it believed to be possible terrorists. The list included “hate groups, anti-government groups and anarchists” and it listed so-called “single issue extremists” such as:

* Environmentalists
* Anti-Genetics (those opposed to genetically-altered crops)
* Animal Rights
* Anti-Abortion
* Anti-Nuclear
* Anti-War
* Pro-Gay Right

CBS’s article quotes the site’s explanation: “Single issue extremists often focus on issues that are important to all of us. However, they have no problem crossing the line between legal protest and change and illegal acts, to include even murder, to succeed in their goals. In many communities, law enforcement officials feel that these groups offer the greatest organized threat to the community.”

At this point, it might seem this type of site is wild and better put to rest. It might have been an error in judgment that was quickly posted and fixed. The odd part is that the site–and its list of groups the Department thought fit the above description–has been up since 2004 and was inspired by a Pennsylvania list (I looked for that list but it seems to have been removed as well). Only because of some recent blog attention has the Alabama list been removed.

Although removing the list so that politically active groups are not publicly labeled terrorists is a start, the bigger issue should be to what extent is the government creating profiles based on these vague notions of danger. Please note that the groups identified may have had supporters who have indeed used violence to further their view of whatever cause they are backing. The problem rests in the broad stroke labeling of these movements as generally willing to engage in illegal acts and violence. To say that these groups are terrorists misstates the phenomenon and tags the groups in ways that harm our political system’s ability to function. There is more to be said on this topic, but for now I offer Dan Solove’s Digital Person as a place to begin to see how the use of technology allows the government to catalogue and label our acts like never before and the implications of that power.