Labelling dissenters as domestic terrorists endangers democracy in Canada and the US

Kurt Mahlburg
February 18, 2022
Reproduced with Permission

Two organisers of Canada's peaceful Freedom Convoy, Chris Barber and Tamara Lich, were arrested today, after the Trudeau government earlier this week invoked the Emergencies Act, formerly the War Measures Act.

As part of its crackdown on mandate critics, Canada has also expanded the definition of "terrorist financing" in order to freeze bank accounts and seize the property of protesters and donors.

Canadian civil rights groups have strongly denounced the move, arguing that the high threshold for an emergency has not been met and that the use of these powers must not be normalised. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association has announced that it is suing the government over Trudeau's effective criminalisation of peaceful dissent.

Meanwhile, south of the border, President Joe Biden's Department of Homeland Security has issued a " National Terrorism Advisory System Bulletin ", suggesting that if a citizen opposes mask and vaccine mandates, they may be a "domestic violent extremist".

According to the bulletin, released earlier this month, the United States is experiencing a "heightened threat environment". It warns that "threat actors seek to exacerbate societal friction to sow discord and undermine public trust in government institutions to encourage unrest, which could potentially inspire acts of violence."

In describing the sorts of "false or misleading narratives" that could motivate people to commit violent acts, the bulletin lists "widespread election fraud" at the 2020 election, and the perceived harms of "5G cellular technology".

The DHS dispatch likewise cautioned that "COVID-19 mitigation measures -- particularly COVID-19 vaccine and mask mandates -- have been used by domestic violent extremists to justify violence since 2020 and could continue to inspire these extremists" to carry out attacks.

Among the other dangers listed were more reasonable threats with clear precedents, such as mass shootings or religiously-motivated terrorist attacks by foreign-funded groups.

Adam Turner, director of the watchdog group Center to Advance Security in America, this week denounced the Biden administration's targeting of political opponents.

"What is a 'misleading narrative', and who's deciding what's misleading?" he asked in an interview with the Washington Times . "I think they're referring to people that don't agree with whatever their talking points are for that time," he added.

So slippery was the DHS guidance that under its terms, President Biden himself could be considered a domestic terrorist threat! Last month, Biden questioned the integrity of the upcoming elections, claiming that if the Democrats can't pass certain voting bills before the midterms, this may increase "the prospect of [the results] being illegitimate".

Of course, the bulletin was issued under a White House eager to subdue dissent, and would therefore not apply to the President or his Administration. And that is precisely the problem -- a problem that threatens the social contract that is democracy.

Alarmingly, this isn't the first time that everyday Americans who see things differently to the Biden administration have been labelled a domestic threat.

During the latter half of 2021, news outlets reported on a series of heated exchanges between school boards and parents who wanted to see the end of mask mandates, critical race theory and trans ideology in schools.

Following this, the National School Boards Association (NSBA) wrote to the Biden administration, characterising parents as potential "domestic terrorists" and seeking White House intervention. In response, Biden's attorney general Merrick Garland issued a memo calling for FBI investigations under the Patriot Act -- the United States' controversial anti-terrorism laws.

After public outcry, the NSBA ultimately apologised for its letter.

A month later, it was revealed that the NSBA had been actively engaging with the White House while drafting their "parents-as-domestic-terrorists" correspondence. Indeed, there is strong evidence that a close Biden advisor, the Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, had solicited the letter.

Whether in Canada or the United States, the weaponising of anti-terrorist laws against peaceful opponents is an untenable situation. As explained by philosopher Yoram Hazony , electoral politics only works when both sides recognise each other's legitimacy:

"One party rules for a fixed term, but its rivals know they will get to rule in turn if they can win the next election. It is the possibility of being able to take power and rule the country without widespread killing and destruction that entices all sides to lay down their weapons and take up electoral politics instead."

Western nations have long enjoyed the peace and prosperity that such an arrangement has secured for us. Refusing to label one's political opponents "terrorists" is the minimal precondition for our happy arrangement to survive.

Can we please continue doing so?