The FBI is questioning political demonstrators across the country, sometimes subpoenaing them, in an aggressive effort to forestall possibly violent protests at the Republican National Convention in New York City, reports the New York Times. Agents insist that the probes are focused solely on possible crimes, not on dissent.
The Times says that some people contacted by the FBI felt harassed by questions about their political plans. The initiative comes after the Justice Department declared legal controversial tactics used last year by the FBI in urging local police departments to report suspicious activity at political and antiwar demonstrations to counterterrorism squads. The FBI’s legal office said: “Given the limited nature of such public monitoring, any possible ‘chilling’ effect caused by the bulletins would be quite minimal and substantially outweighed by the public interest in maintaining safety and order during large-scale demonstrations.” Current interrogations have covered the same three questions: Were demonstrators planning violence or other disruptions, did they know anyone who was, and did they realize it was a crime to withhold such information.