Domestic Surveillance: FBI Spies on Catholic Workers

By Michael Komba 11-02-2010

Since I moved into Casa Maria Catholic Worker in 1999, my work has focused around hospitality for the homeless. We take in families, women with mental health issues, refugees, and students from Iraq whose lives have been interrupted because of the war. We give out clothing, food, infant items, furniture, and support to those in need. Of course being a Catholic Worker house and trying to follow in the steps of Dorothy Day, we also try to work for social justice.

More recently, the Milwaukee Catholic Worker House has been the subject of an FBI investigation as being possibly involved in terrorist acts. A Department of Justice report calls these investigations faulty.

I find it rather surprising, slightly entertaining, and greatly disturbing that our Catholic Worker House in Milwaukee was the subject of an FBI investigation, as being possibly involved in terrorism. I remember in 2003, the FBI came to interview me twice about how they had positive identification of me as a criminal who threw items through an army recruiting center window in Milwaukee. At the time I thought them to be quite deceitful and was very clear with them on this. However, I had no idea they were considering me a possible terrorist.

The truth is, we protest war. We urge people not to pay their federal taxes since so much goes to war. We do sit-ins at our Senatorial offices. We vigil for the rights of farm workers. We picket against companies and banks that invest in ecological destruction and genocide. But we do not destroy property or act secretly. We are very open about all our actions and always have been.

On one hand, I am happy that the Department of Justice came out with this surprising report that holds the FBI accountable. On the other hand, what the report says is quite worrisome. Is it not our duty as Christians and people of conscience to question our government when we feel it is wrong. Is it not our duty as Americans to do the same?

I try to reassure myself that this happened in the frenzy that followed the terrorist acts on September 11. However, I still worry that my government at any time will again overstep its bounds and, perhaps, won't be held accountable. One thing I know for sure, we cannot fear our government. We must continue to challenge it with nonviolent confrontation in the spirit of Jesus himself.

Michael Komba lives at the Casa Maria Catholic Worker in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Learn more about the Catholic Worker movement here.

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