The Justice Department is treading into dangerous waters by obtaining a warrant to search the computer IDs of all 1.3 million people who visited a website that advocated protests against President Donald Trump’s inauguration.
The group, DisruptJ20, draws its name from the Jan. 20 inauguration date.
Under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, the National Security Agency took advantage of broad post-9/11 powers to sweep up massive amounts of data on Americans that included emails, computer video camera feeds, and internet searches. That was chilling, but only a minuscule percentage of that data was actually examined.
The Justice Department wants to go a step further: Checking to see whose computers were used merely to visit DisruptJ20’s website.
Visitors presumably would become part of a Justice Department investigation into who might have participated in anti-Trump protests.
Doubly chilling is that the warrant comes barely six weeks after a Trump administration commission sought voting records from all 50 states in an attempt to affirm the president’s ridiculous assertion that millions of votes were fraudulently cast against him on Nov. 8. At least 44 states have refused.
DisruptJ20 estimates that 192 protesters were arrested and charged during Inauguration Day protests in Washington. The group’s website states: “We wanted to create conflict that day.
“We wanted to disrupt the inauguration.”
Lawyers for Dreamhost, DisruptJ20’s website hosting company, are correctly challenging the Justice Department warrant in court as an attempt to stifle political dissent.
“This information includes the IP (internet protocol) address for the visitor, the website pages viewed by the visitor, even a detailed description of software running in the visitor’s computer,” Dreamhost’s lawyers contend.
The government warrant, they add, “not only aims to identify the political dissidents of the current administration, but attempts to identify and understand what content each of these dissidents viewed on the website” as well as the content of all e-mail inquiries and comments submitted online.
The Justice Department would seem to have more urgent business, given the threat posed by neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan supporters such as those who attended a violent protest in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Saturday. In an HBO/Vice News video aired Tuesday, white supremacist Christopher Cantwell stated the group’s intent to carry and potentially use firearms in Charlottesville.
“I’m trying to make myself more capable of violence,” he told an interviewer.
Trump repeatedly has attempted to equate openly racist, anti-Semitic groups with leftist radicals — some of whom deny Trump supporters their constitutional right of assembly, break windows, throw gasoline bombs or hurl trash cans at rallies.
These actions by leftist radicals are abhorrent, but there is not even a remote equivalence.
The Justice Department needs to reorder its priorities. The real threat is from those who celebrate the murder of 6 million Jews and defend black enslavement.
This editorial originally was published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.