This is not a conspiracy theory. To say that terrorism is a fabrication of a national security state is to say that when the label “terrorist” starts being indiscriminately applied to anyone who threatens the government we have taken another step towards totalitarianism.
Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., the incoming chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, is calling for WikiLeaks to be designated a terrorist organization.
At Slate, David Weigel writes:
As Republicans come into power, they’re going to explore what can be done. They can’t do much. But let’s be honest. The quest to find some way to define Assange’s group as terrorists is not about fighting terrorism. It’s about indulging the fantasy, well put by Cornell law professor William Jacobson, of Assange being hunted down like a Robert Ludlum villain and possibly “killed while resisting arrest.”
And all of this assumes there’s something talismanic about declaring someone a “terrorist.” In reality, American agents could capture any boogeyman they wanted and prosecute him in the United States. The 1992 decision in U.S. v. Alvarez-Machain affirmed that the government was within its rights when a Mexican citizen was abducted and brought to the U.S. to be tried for the murder of a Drug Enforcement Administration agent. “We have kidnapped people to bring them to justice,” explains David Cole, a law professor at Georgetown. “Whether it applies in this case, I don’t know.”
It probably doesn’t. What’s being lost in the James Bond scenarios about taking down WikiLeaks is that its current, highly embarrassing leaks don’t actually threaten American intelligence assets. They create problems for diplomats, and by extension they embarrass the United States. They cause the State Department to lose face. That’s not terrorism as we define it.
So how does King or anyone else turn Julian Assange into a terrorist? They either have to define terrorism in some real way that would eventually open up media organizations to terror charges of their own, or WikiLeaks actually has to do something materially to benefit terrorists. Neither scenario seems likely. What is likely: None of this gets past the shouting stage.
Weigel’s analysis may be sound in the short term but the broader question is not legal. It is whether in American popular discourse the term “terrorist” continues to acquire legitimacy in broader and broader applications or whether those who criticize the term’s flagrant abuse are able to shout louder and get more widely heard. So far the terrorists are winning.