Qualitative Sociology

, Volume 31, Issue 3, pp 251–270 | Cite as

The Impacts of State Surveillance on Political Assembly and Association: A Socio-Legal Analysis

  • Amory Starr
  • Luis A. Fernandez
  • Randall Amster
  • Lesley J. Wood
  • Manuel J. Caro


Based on group interviews conducted in 2006 that included 71 social justice organizations, this paper analyzes the impact of surveillance on the exercise of assembly and association rights. We link these protected legal activities with analytic frameworks from social movements scholarship in order to further a socio-legal conception of political violence against social movements.


Social movements Surveillance Repression Assembly Association Political violence First Amendment 


  1. ACLU-National Capital Area (NCA). (2005). First Amendment police standards bill becomes law. Retrieved April 15, 2008, from http://www.aclu-nca.org/boxSub.asp?id=76
  2. Boykoff, J. (2006). The suppression of dissent: How the state and mass media squelch USAmerican social movements. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  3. Christie, G. C. (1972). Government surveillance and individual freedom: A proposed statutory response to Laird v. Tatum and the broader problem of government surveillance of the Individual. New York University Law Review, 47, 871–902.Google Scholar
  4. Churchill, W., & VanderWall, J. (1988). Agents of repression: The FBI’s secret wars against the Black Panther Party. Boston: South End Press.Google Scholar
  5. Churchill, W., & VanderWall, J. (1990). The COINTELPRO papers: Documents from the FBI’s secret wars against dissent. Boston: South End Press.Google Scholar
  6. Corradi, J. E., Fagen, P. W., Merino, M. A. G., & Garretón, M. A. (1992). Fear at the edge: State terror and resistance in Latin America. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  7. Coutin, S. B. (1993). The culture of protest: Religious activism and the U.S. sanctuary movement. Boulder: Westview Press.Google Scholar
  8. Cunningham, D. (2004). There’s something happening here: The New Left, the Klan, and FBI. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  9. Davenport, C. (2005). Understanding covert repressive action: The case of the U.S. government against the Republic of New Africa. Journal of Conflict Resolution, 49, 120–140.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Davenport, C. (2006). Killing the afro: State repression, social movement decline and the death of Black Power. Draft presented at the Workshop on Contentious Politics, Columbia University.Google Scholar
  11. della Porta, D. (1995). Social movements, political violence, and the state: A comparative analysis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  12. della Porta, D., & Herbert Reiter (Eds.). (1998). Policing protest: The control of mass demonstrations in western democracies. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
  13. Donner, F. J. (1980). The age of surveillance: The aims and methods of America’s political intelligence system. New York: Vintage Books.Google Scholar
  14. Donner, F. J. (1990). Protectors of privilege: Red squads and police repression in urban America. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  15. Eisinger, P. K. (1973). The conditions of protest behavior in American cities. The American Political Science Review, 67, 11–28.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Fernandez, L. A. (2008). Policing dissent: Social control and the anti-globalization movement. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.Google Scholar
  17. Flam, H. (1998). Mosaic of fear: Poland and East Germany before 1989. East European Monographs, Boulder. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  18. Goldstein, R. J. (1978). Political repression in modern America. Cambridge, MA: Schenkman Publishing Company.Google Scholar
  19. Johnston, H. (2005). Talking the walk: Speech acts and resistance in authoritarian regimes. In C. Davenport, H. Johnston, & C. M. Mueller (Eds.), Repression and Mobilization (pp. 108–137). Minneapolis: U of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
  20. Johnston, H., & Klandermans, B. (Eds.). (1995). Social movements and culture. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  21. Kaminsky, T. (2003). Rethinking judicial attitudes toward freedom of association challenges to teen curfews: The First Amendment exception explored. New York University Law Review, 78, 2278–2304.Google Scholar
  22. Klatch, R. E. (2002). The development of individual identity and consciousness among movements of the Left and Right. In D. S. Meyer, N. Whittier, & B. Robnett (Eds.), Social movements: Identity, culture, and the state (p. 384). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  23. Lichbach, M. I. (1995). The rebel’s dilemma. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.Google Scholar
  24. Mahmood, C. K. (Ed.). (1997). The ethnography of political violence series. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.Google Scholar
  25. Mansbridge, J. J., & Morris, A. D. (2001). Oppositional consciousness: The subjective roots of social protest. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  26. Marx, G. T. (1970). Civil disorders and the agents of social control. The Journal of Social Issues, 26, 19–57.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Marx, G. T. (1974). Thoughts on a neglected category of social movement participant: The agent provocateur and the informant. American Journal of Sociology, 80, 402–442.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Marx, G. T. (1979). External efforts to damage or facilitate social movements. In M. N. Zald, & J. D. McCarthy (Eds.), The dynamics of social movements: Resource mobilization, social control, and tactics, Frontiers of Sociology Symposium, Vanderbilt University (pp. 94–125). Boston: University Press of America.Google Scholar
  29. Marx, G. T. (1988). Undercover: Police surveillance in America. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  30. Marx, G. T. (1992). Under-the-covers undercover investigations: Some reflections on the state’s use of sex and deception in law enforcement. Criminal Justice Ethics, 11, 13–24.Google Scholar
  31. McCarthy, J. D., & Zald, M. N. (1977). Resource mobilization and social Movements: A partial theory. The American Journal of Sociology, 82, 1212–1241.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Melucci, A. (1996). Challenging codes: Collective action in the information age. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  33. Meyer, D. S., & Minkoff, D. C. (2004). Conceptualizing political opportunity. Social Forces, 82, 1457–1492.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Polletta, F. (1997). Culture and its discontents: Recent theorizing on the cultural dimensions of protest. Sociological Inquiry, 67, 431–450.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Polletta, F. (2004). Freedom is an endless meeting: Democracy in American social movements. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  36. Powers, R. G. (1987). Secrecy and power: Life of J. Edgar Hoover. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
  37. Robben, A. C. G. M. (2005). Political violence and trauma in Argentina. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.Google Scholar
  38. Schultz, B., & Schultz, R. (1989). It did happen here: Recollections of political repression in America. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  39. Schultz, B., & Schultz, R. (2001). The price of dissent: Testimonies to political repression in America. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  40. Snow, D. A., Rochford Jr., E. B., Worden, S. K., & Benford, R. D. (1986). Frame alignment processes, micromobilization, and movement participation. American Sociological Review, 51, 464–481.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Starr, A., & Fernandez, L. (2008). The legal arena of social control: Protest policing since Seattle. Social Justice, 35.Google Scholar
  42. Tarrow, S. (1998). Power in movement: Social movements and contentious politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  43. Theoharis, A. G. (1978). Spying on Americans: Political surveillance from Hoover to the Huston Plan. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.Google Scholar
  44. U.S. Congress Senate Select Committee to Study Government Operations Activities. (1976). Final report—Book III: Foreign and military intelligence. Washington, DC: 94th Government Printing Office.Google Scholar
  45. White, R. W. (1989). From peaceful protest to guerrilla war: Micromobilization of the Provisional Irish Republican Army. American Journal of Sociology, 94, 1277–1302.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Zald, M. N., & Ash, R. (1966). Social movement organizations: Growth, decay and change. Social Forces, 44, 327–341.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Zwerman, G., & Steinhoff, P. (2005). When activists ask for trouble: State-dissident interactions and new left cycle of resistance in the United States and Japan. In C. Davenport, H. Johnston, & C. M. Mueller (Eds.), Repression and Mobilization (pp. 85–107). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
  48. Zwerman, G., Steinhoff, P., & della Porta, D. (2000). Disappearing social movements: Clandestinity in the cycle of New Left protest in the U.S., Japan, Germany, and Italy. Mobilization, 5, 85–104.Google Scholar

Legal Citations

  1. ACLU v. NSA, F. Supp. 2d 754 (E.D. Mich. 2006)Google Scholar
  2. Bates v. City of Little Rock, 361 U.S. 516 (1960)Google Scholar
  3. Dombrowski v. Pfister, 380 U.S. 479 (1965)Google Scholar
  4. Kusper v. Pontikes, 414 U.S. 51 (1973)Google Scholar
  5. Laird v. Tatum, 408 U.S. 1 (1972)Google Scholar
  6. NAACP v. Alabama, 357 U.S. 449 (1958)Google Scholar
  7. Roberts v. United States Jaycees, 468 U.S. 609 (1984)Google Scholar
  8. U.S. v. Robel, 389 U.S. 258 (1967)Google Scholar
  9. Zweibon v. Mitchell, 516 F.2d 594 (D.C. Cir. 1975)Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Amory Starr
    • 1
  • Luis A. Fernandez
    • 2
  • Randall Amster
    • 3
  • Lesley J. Wood
    • 4
  • Manuel J. Caro
    • 5
  1. 1.Los AngelesUSA
  2. 2.NAU Department of Criminology and Criminal JusticeNorthern Arizona UniversityFlagstaffUSA
  3. 3.Peace Studies and Social ThoughtPrescott CollegePrescottUSA
  4. 4.Department of SociologyYork UniversityTorontoCanada
  5. 5.Centro Norteamericano de Estudios InterculturalesSevillaSpain

Personalised recommendations