The Bill of Rights Defense Committee (BORDC) was established in November 2001, mainly to work toward repealing the Patriot Act—on grounds that it allegedly violated the civil liberties of many Americans. According to the Committee’s founder, Nancy Talanian, the Act was responsible for a widespread “loss of privacy, a chilling of dissent and other First Amendment rights, and the targeting and mistreatment of people on the basis of their race, religion, or ethnic background.” Asserting that “the country cannot be made safer by sacrificing some rights for all or part of its population,” BORDC today vows to fight not only the Patriot Act, but all “overbroad national security and counter-terrorism policies” that “threaten or deny” protections enumerated in the Bill of Rights.
In particular, BORDC objects to the Patriot Act’s designation of “material support for terror” as a crime; condemns the Act’s authorization of the use of modern technologies to collect intelligence on suspected terrorists; claims (incorrectly) that the Act gives the federal government unrestricted access to private, personal information about Americans; argues that the Act, by authorizing the government to monitor mosques and radical political organizations suspected of supporting terrorist activities, infringes on First Amendment free-speech and free-association rights; and charges that the Act encourages “racial profiling” of North Africans, Middle Easterners, and Asians.
BORDC has compiled a detailed, step-by-step blueprint for activists interested in persuading the political leaders of their own towns and cities to publicly designate those places as “Civil Liberties Safe Zones” that refuse to comply with the mandates of the Patriot Act. As of July 2012, some 414 city, county, and state governments had passed anti-Patriot Act resolutions.
Some of BORDC’s most significant early work took place in 2003 when the Committee co-sponsored, along with the American Civil Liberties Union, a conference on grassroots organizing against the Patriot Act; one of the event’s major financial backers was the Ford Foundation. Also in 2003, BORDC was a signatory to a letter exhorting members of Congress to oppose the Domestic Security Enhancement Act (a.k.a. “Patriot Act II”), on grounds that it “would severely dilute, if not undermine, many basic constitutional rights.”
The following year, BORDC endorsed the Civil Liberties Restoration Act of 2004, which was designed to roll back, in the name of protecting civil liberties, vital national-security policies that had been adopted after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
When radical attorney Lynne Stewart was convicted in 2005 of having illegally provided material support for her incarcerated client (the terror-group leader Omar Abdel-Rahman), BORDC came to Stewart’s defense. While conceding that Stewart “may have erred” in her judgment, the Committee held that her actions ultimately did “no harm.”
In collaboration with the Center for Constitutional Rights, BORDC in 2005 initiated the so-called “Guantanamo Reading Project,” a community outreach effort that used public readings and theatrical productions to focus “attention on the shameful and unlawful detentions at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.” BORDC credits Robert Meeropol and the Rosenberg Fund for Children “for helping develop the idea” of this project.
To spread its anti-Patriot Act message as broadly as possible, BORDC today runs an online blog; makes extensive use of social media resources such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube; distributes a monthly newsletter to some 40,000 subscribers nationwide; and urges its likeminded allies to help spread its message via fliers, postcards, booklets, press releases, and letters to government representatives—all available directly from BORDC. Moreover, each year Committee spokespeople contribute op-eds to dozens of U.S. newspapers and give interviews to many major broadcast outlets and news/commentary websites.
To raise funds for its work, BORDC sells, from its website, a variety of items such as buttons and bumper stickers bearing anti-Patriot Act slogans. The Committee also sells booklets summarizing what it calls “some of the more egregious provisions” of the Patriot Act. In addition, BORDC receives some support from left-wing charitable foundations. Most notably, George Soros‘s Open Society Institute gave the Committee three grants totaling a combined $150,000 between 2004 and 2008.
BORDC’s current president is Lisa Graves (who also serves as executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy), and a key board-of-directors member is Kit Gage. The BORDC advisory board includes such notables as David Cole (Georgetown University law professor); Ben Jealous (NAACP president); Naomi Wolf (bestselling author); Daniel Ellsberg (who infamously leaked the classified government documents known as the Pentagon Papers); Stephen Rohde (chairman of the ACLU Foundation of Southern California); Marc Rotenberg (executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center); and Vince Warren (executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights).
For additional information on BORDC, click here.