People like Tre Arrow (Michael Scarpitti)
are not particularly attractive as test cases for civil liberties.
He's charged with what would be arson in normal times. He was last arrested for breaking into a dumpster that he claimed contained "reusable resources," supposedly to help the needy. He's clearly passionate about environmental causes, having spent 11 days on a high up nine inch-wide ledge to protest a Forest Service decision on logging. The kind of guy who sees himself as a hero and is either that or nuts. Or maybe both or neither.
But he is not charged with arson. He is charged with terrorism for burning gravel and logging trucks. No lives were lost or even endangered. He faces a minimum
of 40 years to life. And because he is being charged as an ecoterrorist, who knows if he will even face a civilian court? Jose Padilla is still jailed without charges, without a chance to argue his innocence.
Arrow/Scarpitti is the kind of cases that should make civil libertarians nervous. Acts that were formerly regarded as simple criminal acts are defined by the word "terrorism" to be acts of war. Enforcement is selective, with people like William Krar and Eric Rudolph being charged under standard criminal law, with plenty of plea bargaining. Meanwhile, others whose acts caused less threat or actual damage to human life are given far harsher punishments for what look like ideological reasons.
This is how a state security apparatus comes into being: not all at once, but by degrees. The law is gradually sculptured and shaped to direct its harshest punishments to people of a given ideology rather than to all people, equally. The power of the state is directed into repression of criminal acts by certain people. Once a group of people have been defined as enemy combatants in a war, the justification is in place to read their mail, tap their phones, and disrupt their lives.
In so doing, the same is done to their families, friends, and associates. A climate of fear is created. Some people make false reports to exact revenge for personal motives. And since the law enforcement people know that what they are doing is wrong, they start doing other wrongs to cover up. For example, they use agent provocateurs to commit crimes which can then be used to justify their unjustifiable acts.
It's a slippery slope. It's hard to say where it begins. It's difficult to say ahead of time whether "Homeland Security" in all its guises will evolve into a KGB or a Gestapo, or whether there will be a backlash as there was in the 1970s against the abuses of Hoover. Or will an incursion against civil liberties be part of a recurrent and widening pattern of law enforcement using wrongful means, as the cases of CISPES and Judi Bari,seem to suggest?
And so, we need to be careful. This case is one to be watched. Arrow/Scarpitti, like the defendant in many civil liberties cases, is probably not someone I would like as a neighbor. But he is, like it or not, an American and a human being. Under our Constitution, any human being is entitled to due process. If his rights are not protected, our rights are not secure.