Grandmother and retired nurse labeled a terrorist

Bette Hoover, of Dayton in western Howard County, is a 61-year-old grandmother, retired nurse and founder of Just Peace Circles, which does conflict mediation. Hoover was a subject of the Maryland State Police spying program.

Bette Hoover, a 61-year-old retired nurse and grandmother of two, learned last fall the Maryland State Police had labeled her a terrorist. It was a fact she couldn't reveal to family members and friends until the following spring.

"Initially I was in disbelief and then I was numb," said Hoover, of Dayton. "I couldn't bring myself to talk about it with anyone for months."

Currently an adjunct instructor at Howard Community College, Hoover's experience began with what she described as a "chilling" Oct. 3, 2008, letter from Col. Terrence B. Sheridan, state police superintendent.

You are "presently described in the MSP's Case Explorer database program as 'suspected of involvement in terrorism,'" wrote Sheridan, while acknowledging they had "no evidence whatsoever of any involvement in violent crime."

Sheridan offered Hoover, also a conflict resolution mediator and founder of Just Peace Circles, an opportunity to review her file before the state police purged the information from its files.

The Maryland State Police's surveillance of area activists and infiltration of local peace groups -- which the agency said was limited to a 14-month period from March 2005 to May 2006 -- received national attention when the story broke last summer.

When Hoover went to see her file in November, she was given only five pages to review, which made her suspicious that she wasn't getting the whole story.

"The last one is numbered 'page 18,'" Hoover said, pointing to the last page of the file she received. "That makes me think I'm missing the rest."

As with the other text document pages she received -- pages 2, 6, 8, 16 -- page 18 is sparse and highly redacted.

Further, the legible information is completely wrong, she said. Her file listed two groups Hoover was said to be a part of: The Ruckus, a social justice organization that trains groups in nonviolent protests, and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

"I have never been a member or had anything to do with either organization," Hoover said. "I have one friend, I'm aware of, who did something with The Ruckus, that's it, and nothing to do with PETA. I love animals, but to be honest, PETA annoys me. I once raised sheep on a farm here and we used to sell their wool at the Howard County Fair, and PETA always came to protest shearing."

Included in Hoover's file was an enlarged Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration photo of her taken from an old driver's license application. Nothing in the document referenced any group she actually belonged to, or demonstration she had joined.

She said she is now active only with the Howard County Coalition for Peace and Justice.

Hoover said she was not active politically over the 14-month period during which the state police have admitted to spying on her and other civilians. Retired from nursing, she was busy finishing her bachelor's degree in social science at the University of Maryland University College at the time.

"The only protest that's in the report they say I attended (and was not redacted), I can prove I wasn't there," she said. "I had just graduated and that weekend I was having people over at my house for a party."

"The one thing I did during that period was fly to England with a 'Woman to Woman' Quaker group," Hoover said.

A Quaker and anti-war activist in the 1980s against U.S. involvement in Central America and more recently against the war in Iraq, Hoover volunteered for 10 years with the American Friends Service Committee's office in Washington. She worked under the daily terrorism alerts in the nation's capital, and seeing the label "terrorist" in a letter from the Maryland State Police affected her profoundly, she said.

"Like nothing else before," she said.

Hoover said, as much as anything, she thought it was the Bush administration's "hype" of the word terrorist that left her emotionally shaken after she received the letter. "It boiled down to fear," Hoover said. "I don't live in fear and I'm fine now, but it took me months even to say the word. And then I got angry."

One positive thing that has come from all of this, she said, was that her daughter-in-law invited her to speak to her high school social studies class.

"They were discussing the need to balance civil rights and security threats," Hoover said. "When I told them about my experience, they didn't know I was related to their teacher, my daughter-in-law.

"When they found out, they were in shock that this could happen to somebody's grandmother."

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