Still, the protesters, their lawyers and some national civil liberties advocates described the investigation into the attendance rolls and leadership lists of the lawyers' group as highly unusual in recent years. Some said it could send a chilling message far beyond Iowa, leaving those who consider voicing disapproval of the administration's policy in Iraq, or anywhere else, wondering whether they too might receive added scrutiny.
"I've heard of such a thing, but not since the 1950's, the McCarthy era," said David D. Cole, a Georgetown law professor. "It sends a very troubling message about government officials' attitudes toward basic liberties."
Anthony Romero, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said he feared news of the subpoenas — which was spreading rapidly via e-mail on Monday among activist organizations — might discourage people from showing up to protests, attending meetings at universities or even checking out library books.