Critical lessons still to learn

Since the battle cry “Keep government out of (blank)” is so popular these days, let’s add another one:

Can we, for the love of all that’s holy, keep the government out of church-based peace groups whose main tenet is nonviolence?

The FBI’s investigation of domestic advocacy groups after the 9/11 terror attacks were “improper” and “factually weak,” a Department of Justice review released this week concluded.

The groups included Greenpeace, PETA, and the anti-war groups the Catholic Worker and the Thomas Merton Center in Pittsburgh.

In the aftermath of 9/11, Americans sought assurance that such an attack would never happen again. We took action abroad and at home, including passing broad laws like the Patriot Act, still in effect today. But these “terrorism investigations” show how easily those powers are abused.

The Justice Department review concluded that the FBI, acting on tips, didn’t “target” the groups, but did find the FBI’s tactics “troubling.”

That’s an understatement.

“In several cases there was little indication of any possible federal crimes,” Inspector General Glenn Fine said. “In some cases, the FBI classified some investigations relating to nonviolent civil disobedience under its ‘Acts of Terrorism’ classification.”

That’s actually very troubling.

It’s understandable that some tipsters might not recognize the difference between groups or individuals that espouse nonviolent civil disobedience and those that preach terrorism. But it’s the FBI’s job to know the difference.

It doesn’t take five years to determine that the next terrorist isn’t coming from the Thomas Merton Center. Terrorists seeking recruits look for disaffected individuals, not those trying to work within the system. (“Inaccurate information” led the FBI to believe that “certain persons of interest” were expected to attend a 2002 anti-war rally at the center. Never mind that attending a rally is not the same as joining a group, if the suspects even existed in the first place.)

This week, Obama administration officials warned that foreign terrorist groups are currently trying to recruit Westerners. Warning noted. However, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, independent of Connecticut, said that since 2009, at least 63 American citizens have been charged or convicted for terrorism or related crimes. “An astoundingly high number of American citizens who have attacked — or intended to attack — their own country,’’ he said. (Think Andrew Joseph Stack III, who flew his plane into the Austin IRS building earlier this year.)

Since these weren’t terrorists with an al-Qaida agenda — that would have made news — can we concede that lone-wolf American terrorists and/or militia groups are currently a bigger threat to our country than foreigners? And that they aren’t likely lurking in peace groups?