Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Thought Crimes

There's been a lot of hubbub on the right in regards to a document released by the Dept. of Homeland Security on the threat from right-wing groups. I read it. Standard boilerplate. Not nearly as offensive as the one out of Missouri. No different than similar reports put out in the past on left-wing groups.

So why do I bring it up? Primarily because I object to the very existence of such reports in the first place, whether they are for right-wing or left-wing groups. The government has no business engaging in anything of this sort, right or left. Their job is to follow up on actual crimes committed. In the end, intent is irrelevant when it comes to a crime being committed. Intend is useful to persuade a jury of guilt, but if a murder or robbery or bombing is done, then intent is and should be irrelevant. There should never be crimes of thought, only crimes of action. And those crimes of action should apply to everyone equally.

Now someone may come along and say, "Well, what if you catch someone planning something?" Well, have they actually done anything? Are they on the way to actually doing the thing they were supposedly planning? Just because someone talks about doing something, does that mean they are actually going to do it? How many times have you said, "Man, I sure would love to . . ." but you in fact have no actual intention of doing a thing?

We think of the government as being there to prevent crimes, but in a real sense this isn't actually true. in an indirect way, by punishing criminals, many if not most crimes perhaps are in fact prevented. But we will never know of these crimes. Otherwise, unless the criminal is caught right as he's getting ready to act, the government cannot prevent crime, but only follow up on crimes committed and punish the criminals.

So what of releases such as this? They amount to the government saying, "Here's some people who we think are thinking wrongly about us. Be on the lookout for them." Is there any other explanation?

Perhaps the real irony here is that this was a Department created by Republicans, and now it's Republicans complaining about it. Might want to be careful what you ask for. The party in power changes, and the system you set up might be able to be turned around on you (an unlikely scenario in this case, as it seems likely the report was in the works during the Bush administration -- but this doesn't invalidate my point). The Democrats might want to keep this in mind as well, that whatever they set up, the Republicans will one day be in charge of.
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