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Montana vs. the Patriot Act: Red States Rebellion

Karyn Strickler | April 15 2005

"And I've yet to hear a strong argument as to why the Patriot Act should not be reauthorized.''

Alberto Gonzales
U.S. Attorney General San Francisco Chronicle

There is a bi-partisan, grassroots rebellion afoot in American, a movement to resist the USA PATRIOT Act. The Bush Administration, United Stated Congress and mainstream media had better stand-up and take notice as pressure builds to reform provisions of the Act that violate American civil liberties.

As the USA PATRIOT Act is scheduled up for renewal in the U.S. Congress, 5 states* and 378 cities, counties and municipalities have passed resolutions calling on their representatives to take a hard look at eliminating the worst elements of the Act and bringing it into line with U.S. Constitutional guarantees of civil liberties.

Fourteen other red and blue states from Wyoming to Massachusetts have similar resolutions in various stages of development, creating what the Bill of Rights Defense Committee calls "Civil Liberties Safe Zones."

Montana's role in this movement is significant because it's the only state in the continental United States, west of the Mississippi River, that has passed a formal resolution adamantly opposing provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act, which citizens and legislators believe subverts civil rights granted by the U.S. Constitution.

Montana is a red state which voted by a 3-2 margin to re-elect George W. Bush. Paul Edwards, a citizen leader of the Red State Rebellion from Helena said, "Here we are in this sea of red and we're saying 'No' to the Bush Administration's USA PATRIOT Act."

Montana Resolution 19, passed the State House (87-12) and State Senate (40-10) by resounding margins in both parties. The Resolution, regarded as the toughest passed anywhere to date, made its way through the entire legislative process without amendment.

Members of the Montana House and Senate who voted against the Resolution were described by Paul Edwards as those who favor Bush mandates over federal and state Constitutional rights. Edwards characterized opponents as, "sold-out, valueless politicians with mindless, unswerving loyalty to the Bush regime."

The leadership that sheparded the Resolution through the legislative process came from both ends of the political spectrum in Montana. Senator Jim Elliott, a Trout Creek progressive was the lead sponsor in the State Senate. Representative Rick Maedje from Fortine, among the most conservative members of the State legislature, led the charge in the State House.

Unlikely allies included some staunch conservative members of the Montana State Senate like Jim Shockley (R-Victor), Ms. Aubyn Curtis (R- Fortine) and Jerry O'Neil (R-Columbia Falls), whose support led to a unanimous voice vote in the Montana Senate Judiciary Committee to pass the Resolution condemning all acts of terrorism against the Unites States, while resisting a campaign "at the expense of essential civil rights and liberties of citizens."

The Montana Resolution requires that "in the absence of reasonable suspicion of criminal activity under Montana State law, no agency or instrumentality of the State of Montana may" (the following is a partial list of excerpts from Resolution 119):

initiate, participate in or assist with an inquiry, investigation, surveillance or detention;

record, file, or share intelligence information concerning a person or organization, including library lending and research records, book and video store sales, medical records, financial records, student records, and other personal data;

collect or maintain information about the political, religious or social views; associations or activities of any individual, group, organization or business or engage in racial profiling.

Resolution 19 directs the Montana Attorney General to seek, "the names of all residents of the State of Montana who have been arrested or otherwise detained by federal authorities as a result of terrorism investigations since September 11, 2001; the location of each detainee; the circumstances [of] each detention; the charges ... lodged against each detainee, the name of counsel ... representing the detainees."

The Attorney General of Montana is also charged with obtaining information from the federal government about electronic surveillance, monitoring of political or religious meeting and the number of times and circumstances under which citizen's records are obtained under powers granted by the USA PATRIOT Act.

The Security and Freedom Ensured (SAFE) Act was introduced on April 6, 2005 to restore "checks and balances on federal domestic spying powers and narrow several controversial Patriot Act provisions," according to the American Civil Liberties Union. The Montana Resolution calls upon its Delegation in the U.S. Congress to correct provisions in the USA PATRIOT Act that "infringe on civil liberties by supporting passage of the SAFE Act and the End Racial Profiling Act (ERPA)."

In passing the Resolution the at the urging of its citizens, the Montana State Legislature exhorted the Montana Congressional Delegation including U.S. Senators Max Baucus (D) and Conrad Burns (R) to "vigorously oppose any pending and future federal legislation to the extent that it infringes in American's civil rights and liberties, such as the Domestic Security Enhancement Act, Better known as Patriot Act II."

While Governors do not normally sign Resolutions because they do not carry the force of law, Montana Governor Schweitzer is reported to have said that he will sign it next week and that it's a "no brainer" since Montanans are fiercely devoted to their constitutional guarantees of civil rights.

Paul Edwards believes that the Montana Congressional Delegation must carry this charge to George W. Bush, U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, and Congress, who will ignore Resolution 119 and others like it at their own peril. He believes Democracy itself is at stake. He wishes that the mainstream press were paying more attention to this organized opposition, but says that corporate media "has gotten so lazy and co-opted that they can't even see when someone holds up a torch in the darkness."

On the national level, "An unusual coalition of liberal, left, and right-wing groups is convinced that the law's expansion of the government's surveillance and investigatory powers threatens individual freedoms and privacy rights," according to an article on OneWorld.net.

The left-leaning American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the American Conservative Union (ACU) have united in opposition to the USA PATRIOT Act. Former Representative Bob Barr (R-GA) has also spoken out against provisions of the Act as the leader of a new group called Patriots to Restore Checks and Balances, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

U. S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, can you hear us now?

* States which have passed Resolutions to date include: Maine, Vermont, Hawaii, Alaska, and Montana

Karyn Strickler is a writer, campaign expert and political activist. You can reach her at fiftyplusone@earthlink.net.