Rep. Rashida Tlaib on why she's rallying progressives to fight back against calls for sweeping new government surveillance powers after the Capitol attack

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
Anthony L. Fisher
·12 min read
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
Rep. Rashida Tlaib resist hat
Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib in Detroit, Michigan, U.S., October 18, 2020 REUTERS/Rebecca Cook
  • Rep. Rashida Tlaib is leading the progressive opposition to a massive expansion of the security state in the wake of the deadly Capitol attack by Trump supporters.

  • A member of the House Democrats' "Squad," Tlaib warned that marginalized groups are typically the selected targets of law enforcement.

  • Tlaib spoke with Insider columnist Anthony Fisher about these security issues, her hopes for the Biden administration's approach to Israel and Palestine, and more.

  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Second-term Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, the outspoken progressive Palestinian-American and member of the "Squad," is leading the opposition to calls from the Biden administration and others to massively expand the security state in response to the Capitol attack.

Rep. Tlaib earlier this week released a letter to congressional leadership, co-signed by nine other progressive Democrats, arguing that the US is already well-equipped to monitor and prosecute the groups behind the deadly Trump-incited attack, and there is no need to hand law enforcement and surveillance agencies new laws and powers.

In the letter, Tlaib noted several other expansions of the security state - especially the PATRIOT Act, passed in the wake of the September 11 attacks - were largely used against marginalized groups. She also warned that eroding civil liberties is not the answer to holding accountable the Trump supporters who stormed the Capitol.

Tlaib also caused a stir this week with her comments on "Democracy Now," in which she described Israel as a "racist state" for not providing COVID vaccines directly to the Palestinians in the occupied territories. Critics have pushed back on similar accusations, noting that Israel is vaccinating Arab Israeli citizens and Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem, that the Oslo Accords place vaccination responsibilities on the Palestinian Authority, and that the Palestinian Authority has reportedly not officially asked for Israeli help in securing vaccines.

Insider columnist Anthony Fisher spoke by phone with Rep. Tlaib this Thursday about her bold opposition to giving law enforcement sweeping new powers, her hope that civil liberties-defending Republicans will join her in this cause, and how she'd like to see the Biden administration address US relations with Israel and Palestine.

This interview has been edited for length, content, and clarity.

You signed a letter to congressional leadership along with nine other House Democrats, opposing the expansion of national security powers as a reaction to the attack on the Capitol, on the grounds that whenever this kind of thing happens in reaction to a seismic event like 9/11, civil liberties are eroded.

Can you expand on the ideas in that letter and what kind of impact you hope it has?

I firmly believe that the national security surveillance powers of the US government are already too broad and undefined and unaccountable to the people. To expand the government's current national security powers - once again at the expense of human and civil rights of the American people - would only serve to further undermine our democracy, not protect it.

And it's really important to know that these white nationalist attackers and those that enabled them have benefited from the increased state surveillance power at nearly every turn in our history. While [it's] not necessarily intentional, [we've] increased the reach and power of our national security systems before addressing systemic racism within our relevant agencies.

These are folks that current powers, current law could have been able to hold accountable. The intelligence failure that allowed the Capitol siege on January 6 to occur was not the result of insufficient surveillance powers or national security. If our government in the previous administration had focused more, instead of enabling the threat of white nationalist terrorism, we probably would not have experienced what we did on January 6th.

Read More: Biden promised a return to 'normalcy,' but it's clear that's not happening anytime soon.

rashida tlaib swearing in
SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images

You mentioned in the letter that the FBI responded to the birth of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2014 by basically treating it as equivalent to a terrorist organization.

Do you think that some of these Trump-supporting groups that participated in the riot - like the Proud Boys or even more amorphous movements like QAnon - should be designated as domestic terror groups?

The hard truth is that these agencies - just like the entire United States government - were built on a foundation of white supremacy. So no matter how many well-meaning, incredible people they employ, the white supremacist influence remains. Many of these groups are not taken seriously. Some of the [Capitol] protesters are seen and weighed differently than groups like Black Lives Matter and civil rights organizations.

It's very important for us to fully investigate the violence on January 6 in a way that's nonpartisan and transparent. We need to look at the foundation of these groups, many of which have been very public, very forthright on social media about where they stand - which is to attack and increase violence towards our country within our own borders. It's really important that we follow the processes, [the] current powers that we have now to hold these groups accountable.

To go back to the question, do you think they should be designated as domestic terror groups?

If they are founded based on a hate agenda that is screaming out violence toward people - like kidnapping our governor in Michigan or kidnapping members of the United States Congress, lynching the vice president, anything of that sort, which according to existing law would designate them as terrorists.

Read More: Biden's inauguration was held in a sad, military-occupied DC. Never forget how Trump got us here.

Have you approached any of the libertarian-ish Republican members of Congress, like Sen. Rand Paul or Rep. Thomas Massie, who've spoken out on civil liberties issues in the past, about joining your opposition to the expansion of the security state?

No, not as of yet. I think right away after hearing the call from many of my colleagues that we need new laws to address this versus changing the culture from within, I needed to move quickly on the letter.

Do you plan on approaching Republicans to join you in this effort?

Oh, yeah. [Former Republican Rep.] Justin Amash - who unfortunately is not in Congress any longer - was someone I always reached out to regarding these issues. [We] actually worked together in the Michigan legislature for two years around these issues and worked with groups like the ACLU and others. So I do intend to reach out to groups and organizations, as well as colleagues, who now have deemed that I am supporting something they might be supporting. I hope they reach out to me as well.

U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) speaks at the opening plenary session of the NAACP 110th National Convention at the COBO Center on July 22, 2019 in Detroit, Michigan. The convention is from July 20 to July 24 with the theme of, "When We Fight, We Win".
U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) speaks at the opening plenary session of the NAACP 110th National Convention at the COBO Center on July 22, 2019 in Detroit, Michigan. The convention is from July 20 to July 24 with the theme of, "When We Fight, We Win". Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

The former CIA director John Brennan on MSNBC this week said that the Biden administration is "moving in a laser-like fashion" to investigate a whole host of groups that he put under the umbrella of a "Trump insurgency." Now some of the people he mentioned were actual extremists and fascists, but he also said "even libertarians."

This is a veteran Democratic official on a mainstream liberal news channel.

What I'd like to know is what is your message to mainstream liberals and the mainstream media on this issue, because it seems like the conventional wisdom is leading towards the direction that, obviously, we must expand the security state. How would you talk to, for a lack of a better phrase, "the center-left" about this?

It's important for us to look at the actions [taken] by these organizations. White supremacist influence within our own current law enforcement agencies. If anything, for us to truly be able to make much more informed decisions, we have to do our due diligence and find the information necessary to make much more informed decisions.

It is so important to recognize the reason that the threat posed by these groups hasn't already been adequately addressed is because of a deeply-ingrained unwillingness and hesitation to act against these groups within all three branches of government, especially in our law enforcement community, including the Department of Justice, FBI, Department of Homeland Security, and intelligence agencies.

We had a House Oversight Committee hearing on the fact that there has been an insurgence of white supremacy within our own agencies, within law enforcement. This study came out and then they buried it. So for me, it's not the result of insufficient domestic national security or surveillance powers. It's the result of the unwillingness and the culture from within to not hold these folks accountable.

Read more: The Capitol siege proves it's finally time to take Trump and other politicians' violent rhetoric both seriously and literally.

To narrow it down a little bit, if you were talking to a mainstream liberal who was outraged by the sight of the Capitol being attacked and thinks the only way for a responsible country to react is to expand the security state - just like they did after 9/11 and other major seismic events - what would be the most succinct way you could try to convince them to consider the unintended consequences?

You are further undermining our democracy, not protecting it, by putting our human and civil rights at jeopardy.

That's exactly what we're doing, they're not going to target the white nationalists that attacked our Capitol. They're going to target Black Lives Matter. Civil rights groups. Protesters. Others that might be speaking up and saying, "please save our lives during the pandemic." That, to me, is what's dangerous.

And I think it's very important for us to realize there are current powers from within now to hold these groups [who attacked the Capitol] accountable. Until we get serious about changing the culture within these agencies, they can't be trusted with expanded national security or surveillance powers, no matter how well-intended.

Rashida Tlaib
US Representative Rashida Tlaib, Democrat of Michigan, questions US Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan during a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, July 18, 2019. SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images

To pivot to Congress, your new freshman colleague Rep. Kat Cammack of Florida tweeted that she put an Israeli flag outside her office specifically so that you'd walk by and see it. What do you think about that?

I'm so laser-focused on the fact that so many Americans have died of COVID, and I represent the third-poorest congressional district. I'm going to be focused on trying to get them reoccurring, direct payments of $2,000. I'm going to be focused on making sure the vaccine is distributed in an equitable way so that Black and brown communities in my own district are not left behind. That's what I'm going to focus on, not those things which is really are really a way to distract from what is actually happening to the districts. And so I hope she focuses on her district and focuses on the needs of her district.

We're dealing with one of the most critical public health crises of of our lifetime and we need to be focused on helping our residents and real meaningful action for them, versus these kinds of rhetoric and these types of actions that don't result in really changing peoples' lives for the better.

Read more: Progressive Rep. Ro Khanna on holding Trump accountable for the Capitol siege, ending the 'forever wars,' and working with conservatives to bridge America's cultural divide

What approach do you think the Biden administration should take with regards to US relations with both Israel and Palestine?

With every foreign government that is not meeting international human rights standards, [we ought to] talk to human rights groups, and use our tax dollars as leverage to promote human rights, principles, and values.

I think it's important for us to begin bringing back our credibility within the global [community] and say that no matter who it is, if somebody is screaming out hate and racism and [imposing] standards that we would not live under ourselves - that we would use, our leverage to really promote equality and justice for all.

I'm a granddaughter first and I share the human impact on my own grandmother in the occupied territories under those kinds of policies. I hope [the Biden administration] takes advantage of having a member of Congress with a living grandmother in the area being directly impacted and bring folks like myself to the table to really humanize what doing nothing means. Which to me is just continuing to promote the status quo, which continues to allow people, including Israelis and Palestinians, living in fear and living under oppressive policies.

I wanted to touch on your recent appearance on "Democracy Now," where you called Israel a "racist state" for not providing COVID vaccines to Palestinians in the occupied territories.

I already commented. What I just said applies to that question.

It's really important for us to understand this is not just me as a member of Congress, but human rights organizations are reiterating the importance of promoting human rights for all in Israel and Palestinian territory. So I think it's really important for us to be so focused on that versus choosing a side. Rather, let's choose some values, let's focus on values. Let's focus on us, one of the most important global partners in the world, that we are promoting international human rights and human dignity for all.

Read the original article on Business Insider