Defense Dept. yanks terrorism/protest equation

I blogged last week about the Defense Department equating protests to “low-level terrorism” in an online training exam; today, the DoD says it will remove the question from its training module.

American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California staff attorney Ann Brick, who’d coauthored a letter of complaint to the department last week, said this afternoon she still hasn’t received a direct reply, but a Pentagon spokesman was quoted in a Fox News article earlier today:

“They should have made it clearer there’s a clear difference between illegal violent demonstrations and peaceful, constitutionally protected protests,” Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Les Melnyk said on Thursday.

Asked when a protest becomes an “illegal, violent demonstration,” Melnyk said, “I’m not a lawyer. I couldn’t get into the specifics of when you cross the line.”

“If you’re doing physical damage to people or property, that could fall into that,” he said.


Of the Defense Department’s 3 million employees, 1,546 took the exam, Melnyk said. All will be sent e-mails “explaining the error and the distinction between lawful protests and unlawful violent protests,” he wrote in an e-mail.

“We’re pleased that they’re withdrawing it but it’s very troubling that the distinction between violent actions and peaceful protests got lost in the shuffle,” Brick told me this afternoon. “In addition to antiterrorism training, I think there is a need for some training on basic constitutional values.”

“It’s disturbing to think that the word ‘protest’ is automatically conjuring up an image of unlawful conduct. The one that should be conjured up is one of people exercising their constitutional rights – that should be the immediate image that pops to mind,” she said. “Even if it’s loud or angry, it’s still protected.”

The tenuous nature of the mass protests now unfolding in Iran should give Americans an even deeper appreciation of their right to dissent, Brick said.

The Fox News report notwithstanding, “we still need to have a conversation with the Department of Defense,” Brick said, to discuss how the question made it into the test in the first place, what’s being done to prevent such things in the future, and what kind of training might be undertaken.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • Elwood

    The ACLU would bitch if they were hung with a new rope.

    But, one good thing, it does keep some completely insane radical attorneys off the street.

  • RR

    The ACLU should be thanked for a valuable lesson it has taught: Freedom without responsibility equals lawlessness. The ACLU protects your right to dissent in the same fashion the absence of a Stop sign permits you to freely drive through an intersection. It’s freedom at your own risk.

  • John

    My three year old preschool daughter’s classmate wears a t-shirt fronting a smug & center mug shot of Barack Obama emanating rays (of hope?) with the under lying caption “Believe,” a visual reminder of the patron saints of my early Catholic upbringing.

    It appears Obama has injected his masses with his personalized strain of the “opium of the people,” reinforced by “the hope (they) can believe in.” Our gifted Marxist student president counters a rationale protest of irrational policy with an appeal for faith over substance.

    It would seem that for some the ‘second (or first) coming’ has already come as revealed by this MSNBC Prophet: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zr4VZ8xCzOg

    “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s (government’s) and unto to God that which is God’s.” Perhaps such clarification has become obsolete with the above linked revelation of what some might call the “Mystery of the Twinity,” where it is given unto MSNBC believers to know that the divine and presidential personage are now one and the same. No wonder Obama is cutting the tax incentive for charitable contributions to organized religion. No wonder it’s becoming anti-policy to peacefully protest the divine will of the Mystery of the Twinity.

    “My eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the (pass the Pepto Bismol!) Lord…”