I voted enthusiastically two years ago for Democrat Madeleine Dean to represent the newly un-gerrymandered Congressional district in which I live here in Pennsylvania. An attorney who moved into politics and was a state representative in Harrisburgh at the time she ran for Congress in 2018, Dean sold herself as a new progressive voice in Congress who would far better represent the voters of suburban, liberal Democratic Montgomery County, PA.
My prior representative in what had been a ludicrously-gerrymandered district, was Pat Meehan, a law-and-order Republican and former prosecutor who resigned in a sexual harassment scandal involving a top female aide.
I had high hopes for Dean as my new Congresswoman. She quickly joined the House Progressive Caucus, but sadly I’ve learned first-hand that she lacks the kind of courage and fire that a real progressive must have. I discovered this when I contacted her office last year, both as a constituent in need of assistance and as a journalist for the Nation magazine writing an article about a grave threat to First and Fourth Amendment freedoms posed by the FBI and its vast multiple Terrorist Watch Lists.
Let me start by explaining my personal experience with this threat.
Last spring, on two flights to Europe, one in March and one in late May, I flew to Europe (first Vienna, and then London) once accompanying my musician wife who was performing keyboard music of exiled and murdered Jewish composers on Austrian state radio, and once on business myself, working on a film about Ted Hall, the youngest Manhattan Project physicist who, at 18, decided that to save the world from a US with a monopoly on atomic weapons after the war. He attempted this by volunteering in 1945 to the Soviet Union the plans for the Plutonium bomb he was working on. (Here’s a detailed account of Hall’s story, soon to be a documentary film).
On both of those trips — on the way home while changing planes at Heathrow on the first trip and while preparing to fly home from London on the second — I (but not my travel companion each time) was ordered to undergo a special security check by British security officials that involved having my person and my carry-on luggage and electronic equipment gone over for explosives. Both times I was informed that while they theselves didn’t suspect me, I was “on your government’s Terrorism Watch List.” For a detailed account of those experiences, here’s a piece from the Nation magazine I wrote detailing what happened and explaining the lists, which are actually assembled and maintained by the FBI but used by Homeland Security’s TSA officials, other nation’s security agencies and US law enforcement agencies, and which currently contain the names of over one million people according to FBI court testimony.
After enduring these searches, and learning conclusively from British security officials that I, a veteran award-winning journalist with no criminal record beyond my 1967 arrest for trespass at the Pentagon during the October Mobe March against the Vietnam War, was on one of the FBI’s three Terrorism Watch lists, I contacted my new “progressive” congresswoman, Rep. Dean. I did this not just because she represents me, but because she sits on the House Judiciary Committee which has oversight of the FBI, and which actually held hearings on the abuses of the Terrorism Watch List back in 2014. I called both her constituent services office and her press officer.
As a constituent, what I wanted was for Rep. Dean to look into why I, a journalist with a national reputation, was being labeled a terrorist by the FBI, and to see if she could assist in getting my name removed from that dangerous list (those on the list can be tagged as “terrorists” by local police running a make for something as simple as a minor traffic violation, which could lead to a dangerous police officer response very quickly).
As a journalist, I told Dean’s press officer that I wanted to interview Rep. Dean because I was writing a Nation magazine piece about my experience with being on the Watch Lists, and wanted some statement from her regarding the clear abuse of the list, which already had been exposed and criticized more than five years earlier by the Judiciary Committee, but which had obviously gone even further off the rails since then.
To my astonishment, all I got from constituent services was advice to file a complaint myself with the Homeland Security Department seeking a “traveler’s redress” — an online step I had already taken and which I had also been advised, by a press officer for the DHS, would not confirm or deny whether my name was on a list (I already knew it was!), and would also not lead to my name’s removal from the list.
As for my request for a comment from Dean’s office, I was told by press officer Michael Tucker his boss would not be available for an interview; nor would she provide me with a written comment. Only later, when I was writing another piece about the issue and threatened to condemn her silence and lack of availability for an interview in a letter to our local paper, the Philadelphia Inquirer, did I get a mealy-mouthed comment that was so vague, bland and off the point (and pretty clearly composed by her flak, not her) that it wasn’t worth including..
Now I’m getting campaign messages telling me to vote for Dean’s re-election to a second term, and I cannot do it.
What good is a Congresswoman who cannot take a stand on the development of a list that now includes over one million alleged terrorists — a list (actually three categories of terrorists and those considered to be somehow “linked” to terrorists by up to four degrees of separation) that a federal judge in Virginia in August 2019 already found to be unconstitutional both in how names get placed on it, and in how it provides no credible and explainable way to get off once on it?
In my decades as a journalist writing national stories that involved Congress, I have never found genuine progressive representatives and senators unwilling or afraid to take public stands on this kind of constitutional abuse. Long-time Progressive representatives like Ron Dellums, John Conyers, Jerry Nadler, Carolyn Maloney, Ted Weiss, and others whom I have had occasion to call as a journalist, (and in Nadler’s and Weiss’s case as a constituent), were always responsive, including in person, and were never shy about taking controversial progressive stands on such egregious issues. Most actually seem to enjoy the notoriety and publicity they get for bold statements.
I’m not sure why Dean is such a coward on this issue, but particularly for someone serving on the House Judiciary Committee, and on both its subcommittee on crime, terrorism and Homeland Security and its subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, it is appalling. It certainly belies her claim to be part of a supposed progressive surge in Pennsylvania’s rather lackluster Congressional delegation. And it can’t just be because she’s a freshman Congress member, feeling her way, either. Look at AOC and the rest of the “squad” and their guts and forthright progressive stands.
At a time when our rights and freedoms are under brutal and dangerous attack from all directions, we need more than a placeholder on that Judicial committee. We need a passionate defender of the Bill of Rights.
Rep. Madeleine Dean is not that person.
I cannot and will not vote for her re-election. Nor can I support her Republican opponent, a self-described conservative Black woman — a Trump backer who, on her website, calls abortion “murder” who is also an ardent defender of “Second Amendment” gun rights.
Instead I will cast my protest vote for Joe Tarshish, an independent write-in candidate who supports full legalization of cannabis, opposes separating immigrant children from their parents or confining such families while there cases are pending, calls for rooting racism out of the criminal justice system, supports federal funding for Planned Parenthood and wants quick action on economic support for Americans during the COVID-19 Pandemic crisis. It all sounds good to me. I urge others who are disappointed in Dean, or who find her response to the FBI Watch List outrage wanting, to do the same.
If Dean doesn’t develop a spine over the next year or so, I hope a genuine progressive (maybe Tarshish?) will primary her in 2022.
Meanwhile, for the record, I am happy to report (and Dean’s office please take note), that with the help and support of John Whitehead and his Rutherford Institute, a defender of First Amendment freedom and an opponent of the development of a police state here in America, I have obtained pro-bono representation from a partner in a major Washington D.C. law firm, an attorney who was actually deputy counsel for the original Homeland Security Department at its creation following 9-11. He will be handling my case against the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security, which will be filed sometime next year in federal district court either in Richmond, Virginia or in Philadelphia,. We will be petitioning to have my name removed from the FBI’s Terrorism Watch List, and will also be seeking discovery from the government to learn exactly why my name was included and by what government agency I was “nominated” for that dubious “honor” in the first place.
It appears my inclusion on the Watch List is retaliation for my journalistic work, since I am demonstrably not a terrorist nor linked to anyone who is even remotely connected to terrorism.
That eventuality should bother any Constitution-respecting member of the House Judiciary Committee, but it seems to be of no interest or concern to Rep. Dean.