What's wrong with this picture? The federal government spends billions on homeland security, but apparently can't stop foreigners from illegally crossing the border or overstaying their visas. The Obama administration wants to bring violent terrorists captured overseas to the mainland and close the military detention center at Guantanamo Bay. Yet in the latest bizarre twist, legislation quietly making its way through Congress would give the White House power to categorize political opponents as hate groups and even send Americans to detention centers on abandoned military bases. Rep. Alcee Hastings - the impeached Florida judge Nancy Pelosi tried to install as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee until her own party members rebelled - introduced an amendment to the defense authorization bill that gives Attorney General Eric Holder sole discretion to label groups that oppose government policy on guns, abortion, immigration, states' rights, or a host of other issues. In a June 25 speech on the House floor, Rep. Trent Franks, R-AZ, blasted the idea: "This sounds an alarm for many of us because of the recent shocking and offensive report released by the Department of Homeland Security which labeled, arguably, a majority of Americans as 'extremists.'"
Another Hastings bill (HR 645) authorizes $360 million in 2009 and 2010 to set up "not fewer than six national emergency centers on military installations" capable of housing "a large number of individuals affected by an emergency or major disaster." But Section 2 (b) 4 allows the Secretary of Homeland Security to use the camps "to meet other appropriate needs" - none of which are specified. This is the kind of blank check that Congress should never, ever sign.
It's not paranoid to be extremely wary of legislation that would give two unelected government officials power to legally declare someone a "domestic terrorist" and send them to a government-run camp. After all, the federal government has done exactly this sort of thing before. During World War II, more than 120,000 law-abiding Japanese Americans were rounded up by the government and confined for four years in ten internment camps surrounded by barbed wire and armed guards. Joy Kogawa chronicled the trauma her family experienced firsthand under FDR's executive order: "Families were made to move in two hours. Abandoned everything, leaving pets and possessions at gun point..."
It was wrong then, and it would be doubly wrong now should members of Congress somehow fail to learn from past mistakes.