Inside the Community United Methodist Church in Bigfork, locals read words posted beside a cross. They read aloud and in unison, just like in church. But the words they read on the evening of Tues., May 18, came not from the Bible, but from the U.S. Constitution: Bigforkers were discussing the USA PATRIOT ACT and reading the Fourth Amendment. The event was hosted by the Northwest Montana Coalition in Defense of the Constitution, a group currently gathering petition signatures requesting that Whitefish City Council pass a resolution stating official support for the repeal of sections of the USA PATRIOT ACT that many legal experts have called unconstitutional. In Montana, Missoula, Dillon, Bozeman, Eureka, Lewis and Clark County and Beaverhead County have already passed similar resolutions. Nationwide, 318 towns and four states have passed resolutions. Most began with community gatherings similar to the one at the Bigfork church.

Mark Rice, a member of the Eureka City Council, held up a local Eureka newspaper showing the headline, “Town opposes USA PATRIOT ACT,” before asking those in attendance to create a similar headline in their local papers.

Rice, a self-described conservative Republican who served in the military, is representative of a growing bi-partisan mutiny against the Act, which allows the federal government vastly increased surveillance powers without standard warrant procedures, among other things.

“I’m about as far from a Buddhist as you can get,” Rice said. “My purpose is to fulfill an oath I took in 1971 [when joining the military]. It was an oath to defend the Constitution.”

•••

Local Twilly Cannon seemed disappointed when he stopped by the office late last week clutching a Xeroxed press release from the Greenpeace website in his hand. The disappointing headline? “Judge dismisses Ashcroft attempt to shut down Greenpeace.”

For those readers not entirely up to speed on the sort of priorities being pursued (in your name) by the Ashcroft Justice Department, here’s a brief recap:

Back in February, 2002, Greenpeace activists boarded the APL Jade, an oceangoing ship off the coast of Miami that the organization suspected of trafficking illegal mahogany to the U.S. Cannon wasn’t among the boarders, but he was on-hand, providing support from a motorized raft.

Flash-forward to late 2003. That’s when Attorney General Ashcroft decided to use your tax dollars to charge Greenpeace with “sailor-mongering,” an obscure 1872 law originally designed to discourage on-shore merchants from luring seamen off of their ships and into brothels with booze and, well, harlots. And nevermind the seeming ill-fit of the charge—had Greenpeace been found guilty, the worldwide organization could have lost its tax-exempt status, been charged a $10,000 fine, and been put on probation, requiring that it report its actions to the government. Cannon wasn’t the only observer who saw Ashcroft’s move as a thinly-veiled attempt to silence Greenpeace, which has been critical of Bush Administration policies; over 100,000 people world-wide protested the prosecution to President Bush and Ashcroft.

But on May 19, Federal Judge Adalberto Jordan in Miami cited insufficient evidence in tossing Ashcroft’s case out on its ear.

The Greenpeace release quoted the organization’s U.S. Executive Director as saying that “the conduct for which the Ashcroft Justice Department seeks to prosecute Greenpeace was, essentially, whistle-blowing—publicly exposing and preventing violations of U.S. law prohibiting the importation of illegally harvested mahogany wood.” The release also noted that the government, while harassing Greenpeace over the action, let the ship-full of illegal mahogany go on its merry way unimpeded.

But all’s well that ends well, right? So why did Twilly—who wasn’t named personally in the government’s prosecution—seem so down?

“I never made Nixon’s enemies list,” he explained. “Making Ashcroft’s would have been a real feather in my cap.”

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