Civil Liberties & Anti-Repression Work
For over 30 years Chip Berlet has written about how political repression, authoritarian ideology, and supremacist bigotry undermine civil liberties and civil rights. Berlet’s work exposing threats to civil liberties has covered censorship, police misconduct, government surveillance, right wing surveillance operations, and covert action.
Berlet is on the board of advisors to the Defending Dissent Foundation. Previously he served on the board of advisors to the Chicago Committee to Defend the Bill of Rights, the National Committee Against Repressive Legislation, and the Committee to Defend the Constitution (DEFCON).
A paralegal member of the National Lawyers Guild for over 35 years, he co-founded the NLG staff union (led by Denis Berger with Riva Enteen and others) and Legal Worker Caucus (led by Kathy Gilberd with Sheila O’Donnell, Riva Enteen, Kit Gage and others).
Berlet was a co–founder and was for several years on the editorial board of the legal newsletter Police Misconduct and Civil Rights Law Report, now published by the West Group.
A paralegal member of the National Lawyers Guild, Berlet served variously as an elected vice–president of the NLG and co–chair of the NLG’s Civil Liberties Committee.
Berlet spent three years as a paralegal investigator at the Better Government Association in Chicago, engaged in research and trial preparation for the American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit against illegal government surveillance by the Chicago Police Intelligence Unit––litigation dubbed the “Chicago Red Squad” case.
He has also served as a paralegal on other intelligence abuse and civil liberties cases filed against local police, the FBI, CIA and Military Intelligence on behalf of groups such as the Spanish Action Committee of Chicago, National Lawyers Guild, American Indian Movement, Socialist Workers Party, Christic Institute, and American Friends Service Committee.
In the early 1970s Berlet began a research project on campus press civil liberties for the United States Student Press Association. In 1971, this led to helping organize a defense team for Dorothy Trujillo, a student editor in Colorado facing censorship by the college administration. The result was the landmark press freedom case Trujillo v. Love
Berlet was introduced to the NLG while in jail for civil disobedience against the war in Vietnam in 1971. His lawyer turned out to be Rudy Schware, a legendary guild attorney and figure in Schware v. Board of Bar Examiners of New Mexico, 353 U.S. 232 (1957).
Berlet dropped out of the University of Denver to work for College Press Service (CPS), the national news agency of USSPA. CPS was relocated to a Denver-based collective housed in the same office building as the Denver chapter of the NLG. Berlet began to work closely with the NLG, with a focus on draft resisters and protecting the civil liberties of antiwar protestors. As the Boulder convention of the NLG in 1971 voted to admit legal workers, Berlet was recruited as a member in 1972 and worked with Marcia Tremmel, Bill Hazleton, and Walter Gerash, among others.
During this period Berlet worked as part of an underground railroad helping draft resisters enter Canada. In late 1972 Berlet moved to the Washington, DC office of the College Press Service.
Because of his expertise in press and publicity matters, the Guild asked Berlet to serve as press coordinator for the 1973 NLG convention held in Austin, Texas, Feb 15-19. The raucous event was held at Austin's Armadillo World Headquarters, and was the first NLG convention open to the general media in over a decade. A few attendees were upset and harassed reporters, leading to incidents that the Guild would later investigate.
After the Austin convention, Berlet travelled to Denver and while there was asked to organize the first press conference by NLG attorneys who had been invited to the Wounded Knee occupation to begin preparing legal defense and representation.
Back in Washington, DC Berlet was contacted by Guild members Sheila O’Donnell and Eda Gordon who had been appointed a Guild Investigative Group to document the role of spies and informers inside the NLG. As it developed, it became clear that two of the attendees at the Austin convention, Sheila O’Connor and John Rees were providing information to the FBI, Congressman Larry McDonald, and right-wing groups such as the John Birch Society in which McDonald was active. O’Connor worked as the staffer for the DC chapter of the Guild until she was exposed.
O’Donnell and Gordon persuaded Berlet to accept their training as a paralegal investigator to help the Guild Investigative Group pursue research into government intelligence abuse. This led to Berlet volunteering to work on Counterspy Magazine, and becoming involved with the Campaign to Stop Government Spying, (later the Campaign for Political Rights).
In late 1975 the Pressmen’s union at the Washington Post became embroiled in a bitter battle with management, leading to a strike and lockout, and resulting in the indictment of 15 pressman accused of property damage and assault. Berlet joined the steering committee of the legal defense effort and worked with the NLG DC Chapter, the Coalition to End Grand Jury Abuse, and the National Jury Project to shape publicity and media outreach.
Berlet wrote the first documented expose of FBI manipulation of the media during the illegal COINTLPRO operations, appearing as “Media OP,” in a 1978 issue of the Public Eye Magazine, which evolved out of Counterspy magazine, the Guild Investigative Group, and other anti-repression activists with a focus on domestic civil liberties violations. In 1979 Berlet was on the steering committee of the National Citizens’ Review Commission on the FBI held in Washington D.C. featuring three days of live testimony by targets of the FBI COINTELPRO operations. That same year he joined the editorial board of the Public Eye Magazine, which was later acquired by Political Research Associates.
The Public Eye BBS (online bulletin board system), which Berlet co-founded in 1985, provided information on civil rights and civil liberties , and included the first online kit for requesting information under the federal Freedom of Information Act. He was the original webmaster for PRA’s site http://www.publiceye.org
Berlet has researched the fear of terrorism as a justification for targeting ecology activists, Muslims, Mexicans, and others. He has written about nativism and anti-immigrant panics as well as right-wing attacks on LGBTQ rights. He has helped set up an online document depository of government files related to targeting dissent and other Internet resources on civil liberties and opposing the Patriot Act and other legal assaults on civil liberties; working in a collaborative effort with the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, Defending Dissent Foundation, National Lawyers Guild, and Political Research Associates. See: buildingliberty.us, stopspying.us, and the Document Depository.
Selected Articles on Civil Liberties and Political Repression
Chip Berlet. “Media OP,” The Public Eye Magazine, [Special Section: COINTELPRO: What the (Deleted) Was It?], Vol. 1, No. 2, 1978 (April), pp. 28-38.
_______. “Carving Up the Constitution: Judicial and Government Attacks on the Press,” Alternative Media, Vol. 12, No. 1, 1980.
_______. “Socialist Workers Party V. Attorney General: Using Civil Rights Litigation Against Federal Intelligence Agencies (Parts I & II), Police Misconduct & Civil Rights Law Report, Vol.1, No.17/18, 1986.
_______. “Private Spies: A New Threat To Constitutional Rights,” The Public Eye, Vol. III, Issues 3 & 4, 1982.
_______. 1985. Privacy and the PC: Mutually Exclusive Realities? Chicago: Midwest Research [now Political Research Associates]. Prepared for the 1985 national conference on Issues in Technology and Privacy—sponsored by the Center for Information Technology and Privacy Law, John Marshall Law School, Chicago, Illinois, June 2123. Conference Coordinator, Professor George Trubow. A project of the National Bar Association Foundation funded by the Benton Foundation.
_______. “The FBI’s Witch Hunt ,” The Boston Globe, op-ed, March 16, 1988, p. 17.
_______. “Bound for Glory: Secret Agencies: Beyond Democracy,” Utne Reader, Oct/Nov 1986.
_______. (1987 [revised 1993)]). The Hunt for Red Menace: How Government Intelligence Agencies and Private Rightwing Countersubversion Groups Forge Ad Hoc Covert Spy Networks that Target Dissidents as Outlaws. Revised.Cambridge, MA: Political Research Associates.
_______ and Rachel Rosen DeGolia, “Political Smears as Disinformation: Political Rights Information Series #3, (pamphlet), New York, NY: Movement Support Network, Center for Constitutional Rights, 1988.
_______. “Forgotten But Not Gone: Violations of Civil and Political Rights in the U.S.,” Extra!, Summer 1989.
_______. “Nibbling Away of Our Civil Liberties,” Utne Reader, September/October 1991.
_______. “The FBI and Right-Wing Spy Networks: Political Rights Information Series #5, (pamphlet), New York, NY: Movement Support Network, Center for Constitutional Rights, 1991.
_______ and Linda Lotz, “Reading List on Intelligence Agencies & Political Repression: Political Rights Information Series #4, (pamphlet), New York, NY: Movement Support Network, Center for Constitutional Rights, 1992.
_______. “Re–framing Dissent as Criminal Subversion,” CovertAction Quarterly, No. 41, Summer 1992.
_______. “Big Stories, Spooky Sources,” Columbia Journalism Review, May/June 1993.
_______. “Frank Donner: An Appreciation,” CovertAction Quarterly, Summer 1995.
_______ and Matthew N. Lyons, 1998. “One Key to Litigating Against Government Prosecution of Dissidents: Understanding the Underlying Assumptions.” Police Misconduct and Civil Rights Law Report, in two parts, Vol. 5, No. 13, January-February Vol. 5, No. 14, MarchApril, West Group.
_______. 2002. “Surveillance Abuse.” Encyclopedia of Crime and Punishment. David Levinson, ed., (Berkshire Reference Works). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
_______. 2002. “Encountering and Countering Political Repression.” In Mike Prokosch and Laura Raymond, eds., The Global Activists Manual: Local Ways to Change the World. New York: Thunder Mouth Press/Nation Books (with United for a Fair Economy). Edited version at http://www.publiceye.org/liberty/countering_repression.html.
_______ and Pam Chamberlain. 2003. “Resisting Repression: Executive Orders and Legislation Curtail Civil Liberties.” Resist Newsletter, Vol. 12 No. 5, July 2003, pp. 1-3.
_______. 2003. “Déjà Vu All Over Again: A Capsule History of Political Repression in the US.” Resist Newsletter, Vol. 12 No. 5, July 2003, p. 3.
_______ and Abby Scher. 2003. “Political Profiling: Police Spying on Peaceful Activists.” Amnesty Now, Amnesty International, USA, Vol. 29, No. 1, Spring, pp. 20-23, 27.
Carol Rose and Chip Berlet, “Romney’s Spy Center,” Boston Globe (June 14, 2005) .
_______. 2005. “Extremists or Dissidents: Remapping and Rehabilitating Movements of Dissent,” The Politic, (Yale) magazine, February.
_______. 2008. Leaderless Counterterrorism Strategy: The “War on Terror,” Civil Liberties, and Flawed Scholarship, The Public Eye Magazine, Vol. 23, No. 3 (Fall), http://www.publiceye.org/magazine/v23n3/leaderless_counterterrorism_strategy.html
_______. 2008. “The History, Definition, & Use of the Term ‘Leaderless Resistance’ PubliEye.org, (online resource) http://www.publiceye.org/liberty/terrorism/insurgency/leaderless-resistance.html
_______.2009. "Violence and Public Policy," Criminology and Public Policy, special issue on terrorism, Volume 8 Issue 3, October, pp. 623-631.
Focus on Right-Wing Movements
Focus on Apocalypticism
Focus on Conspiracism
Chip's Research Website:
Research for Progress
Curator of these Websites:
- Building Our Planet
- Building Democracy
- Building Economic Justice
- Building Equality
- Building Gender Justice
- Building Immigrant Rights
- Building Liberty
- Building Public Education
Building Racial Justice
- Building World Peace
Odds & Ends