Martha Gies Special to The Oregonian 11/18/07

Recent photos speak eloquently to the cost of dissent: in Yangon, police raid Buddhist monasteries, arresting monks who defied a ban on assembly; in Islamabad, police lob smoke canisters into crowds of lawyers protesting the suspension of the constitution.

In Portland, Jules Boykoff launches a timely new book on the suppression of dissent. But Boykoff, who teaches political science at Pacific University, is not writing about Myanmar or Pakistan. “Beyond Bullets: The Suppression of Dissent in the United States” — the subtitle gives it away — is about the suppression of dissent here at home, about a special police unit machine-gunning a Chicago apartment where Black Panther leaders, at 4:45 a.m., were sound asleep; or, less than six months later, the Ohio National Guard opening fire on Kent State students protesting the U.S. invasion of Cambodia.

Boykoff has undertaken an ambitious project: to catalog the various tactics government uses to suppress dissent, and to demonstrate the relationship between dissent, government and mass media. He manages all this admirably while creating a readable and fascinating book that assumes dissent to be a good thing, a safeguard both necessary and precious to a democracy.

In addition to discussing the direct use of force, Boykoff goes “beyond bullets” to the subtler modes of silencing minority voices: public prosecution, with examples from the House Committee on Un-American Activities trials of the 1950s; employment deprivation and President Truman’s loyalty oath; surveillance, a tactic widely used by the FBI between 1956 and 1971 in their Counter Intelligence Program; the use of agent provocateurs who urge others to illegal activity in order to lay the groundwork for arrest and prosecution; schisms created through the use of brownmail, such as the FBI’s inflammatory letter-writing campaign that created distrust and paranoia within Black Panther leadership; and harassment, used, for instance, to intimidate the editors of underground papers who print investigative accounts of governmental malfeasance.

The final chapter on governmental suppression examines a sampling of extraordinary laws, which, taken together, account for some of the most flagrant violations of civil rights in this century: the Palmer Raids (the only example that predates World War II), the internment of Japanese citizens, and the post-9/11 persecution of American Muslims.

The plot thickens when Boykoff turns his attention to the role of media in the suppression of dissent and examines the effects of corporate ownership, one-source stories and the misuse of the sacred journalism precept called “balance.” His discussion of “bi-level demonization” — where the state and mass media link dissidents to a demonized group even if the activists are not working directly with or supporting the demonized external foe — is particularly chilling.

“Beyond Bullets” is worth its price if only for its final chapter on what happened after 9/11, when government readily trampled on First, Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights, and the press circulated its version of everything from “evidence” of weapons of mass destruction to Justice Department press releases about the “terrorism” intended by people with long-established Islamic charities.

This is a complex and important book, written by an author who believes, as did the framers of the U.S. Constitution, that dissent is essential to a just society. It is an admirable book in that its author, even in the face of recent threats to that society, is able to summon the calm and dispassionate social scientist’s voice.

Portland author Martha Gies for many years taught creative writing and human rights through the graduate writing program at Lewis & Clark College.

Reading: Boykoff discusses “Beyond Bullets” at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Annie Bloom’s Books, 7834 S.W. Capitol Highway.