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Mutualist Blog: Free Market Anti-Capitalism

To dissolve, submerge, and cause to disappear the political or governmental system in the economic system by reducing, simplifying, decentralizing and suppressing, one after another, all the wheels of this great machine, which is called the Government or the State. --Proudhon, General Idea of the Revolution

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Location: Northwest Arkansas, United States

Monday, August 15, 2005

Fighting the Domestic Enemy: Follow-up

In the comments on Fighting the Domestic Enemy: You, Gretchen Ross directed me to this brilliant article by Jeff Wells:

But when [martial law] comes, will Americans recognize it?...

Say "Martial Law" to people, and often their first thought is detainment: multitudes of dissenters being hauled off to FEMA camps, disappearing into an American Gulag. For others, it's soldiers in the streets. For some, military courts.

I'm not denying the essence of those fears - the Gulag is already real enough for Jose Padilla - but that's my point: the fears have already been realized. Padilla and many others have vanished. The soldiers are in the streets. A formal declaration of martial law seems almost a quaint nod to constitutional formalities, when we consider the violence these people have already done to the constitution.

There will be no "Please Stand By" for America. No on/off toggle for totalitarianism will be thrown with Martial Law, and those expecting one may find themselves saying "Hey, this isn't so bad." America is passing through gradations of grey, the next nearly indistinguishable from the last. It's only in stepping back, in comparing now to then - five years ago; 10, 25 or 50 - that you realize how your eyes have adjusted to the dark.

Or how comfy that boiling water feels.

After the shock of a mass casuality event, and during the aftershocks of martial law, what will be the chief tone Homeland Security will want to set? It will be reassurance. Why? Because FEMA may have many camps, but it doesn't have enough to hold everyone. For the few to maintain power, the many need to participate in their own subjugation. They must be self-contained. And so, Michael Chertoff will attempt to alleviate the psychological sting of martial law, while he rubs the poison in, and invite Americans to "go about their business." (Privacy fears unjustified, Chertoff said this week.) It will be a soft sell of "temporary" measures, dictated by a supposed self-necessity. Americans will be encouraged to pretend that things are normal, or normal enough, and that the measures, while serious and unfortunate, don't affect them. And to keep it that way, many will watch what they say and watch what they do, and become detainees under self-monitored house arrest.

Any debate over the PATRIOT Act inevitably includes a challenge by one of its defenders to show an instance in which it's been abused, or explain how we are less free in any concrete way because of it.

In regard to the first question, all our information on how many times two of the more controversial provisions--the "sneak and peak" search, and library record investigations--have been used come from the government. It claims to have used them only in a small number of cases. But it's illegal, a prosecutable offense, to warn anyone that he's fallen victim to either kind of search. So we have no way of knowing whether these provisions of USA PATRIOT have been abused.

We also see stories on an almost daily basis on the abuse of PATRIOT provisions to go after drug dealers, gangs, and the like. It's called mission creep--an inevitable result when you give law enforcement more power in any area. Indeed, the USA PATRIOT expansion of search and seizure and RICO forfeiture was justified by its apologists on the grounds that "law enforcement already has these powers for fighting drugs." But the government shouldn't have had those powers for fighting drugs in the first place. Not only has the drug war, in and of itself, nearly turned the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Amendments into toilet paper, militarized police culture, and generally taken us a long way toward a police state already. But once granted such powers to deal with the trumped-up "emergency" of drugs, the government attempts to use them as justification for granting it still further "emergency" powers, which it will abuse still further. Even before 9-11, Ass-crack was planning to use inter-jurisdictional law enforcemet task forces (patterned on drug task forces) to go after "illegal" gun owners, the same way they currently go after meth labs. And every time some liberal nanny statist proposes using RICO or roving wire-taps to go after some new form of anti-social behavior, like deadbeat dads, it dusts off the "we're already using it against drugs, anyway" argument.

Most importantly, though, I don't think it's that important whether we feel the pinch of the shoe on a daily basis. If the government hasn't yet used its powers to abridge our freedoms of speech and association in ways that the average person feels all that acutely, it nevertheless has the full legal power to do so. What matters is that the government now possesses the complete legal and administrative infrastructure of a police state, and can suspend the Bill of Rights with a simple stroke of the pen; the extent to which it finds it expedient to actually exercise those powers is beside the point.

I have been a passionate defender of gun rights for a long time now. I find many of the "slippery slope" arguments against gun control quite compelling. Licensing and records of gun ownership have been used, in many countries, as the prelude to bans on ownership of specific classes of firearms--often progressing incrementally--until most kinds of private ownership are either illegal or prohibitively expensive for the average citizen. And the government has extensive records of who owns whatever forms of firearms are still legal, so if it should decide to confiscate those, resistance is simply not feasible. Once the government knows who owns what , and where they live, everybody's gun rights are held at the government's discretion. The whole point of an armed citizenry is to provide a bulwark of defense against an out-of-control government. But when the exercise of gun rights is subject to such extensive licensing, tracking and surveillance that the government has the capability of disarming the citizenry, piecemeal, at will, gun rights cease to be rights and instead become privileges granted by the government as a concession of grace.

Ironically, many current right-wing apologists for USA PATRIOT are the same Freepers who used to find "slippery slope" arguments against gun control so persuasive. The Red State folks routinely (and rightly) laughed themselves into a rupture when Million Mom types asked them how the Brady Law interfered with their right to ordinary firearms for hunting and home defense. Our rights are defined, not by what the government currently chooses to do, but by what it can do. Apparently, those "I love my country but fear my government" stickers came off the pickups on Inauguration Day 2001. The same people who so feared and loathed Auntie Jen were A-OK with Crisco John. (Of course, many of the left-wing folks who object so strenuously to USA PATRIOT are the same ones who were on the warpath after Oklahoma City and thought those people at Waco had it coming to them). The partisanship is pretty astounding, considering that so much of Crisco John's anti-liberty agenda was stuff that Auntie Jen had tried and failed to get through Congress, and that pretty much the same bipartisan police state coalition (Schumer, Feinstein, Hatch, Shelby, ad nauseam) supported the jackbooted initiatives of both administrations.

The same "slippery slope" argument applies to all other areas of civil liberty. Consider the extent to which our speech, movement, and association is already subject to routine tracking and surveillance; then consider the extent to which the "only the guilty need fear" crowd want to expand such tracking and surveillance. And consider the ways that computer, eavesdropping, and biometric technologies interact to enable such tracking and surveillance to an unlimited extent. Imagine digital cameras with face-recognition technology routinely checking passers-by against a database of "suspected terrorists," stoplight cameras subjecting your license plate to similar routine checks a dozen times on your way to work or the grocery store, and a bar-code scanner putting you through the same thing every time you write a check. Every time you interact with the camera or the scanner, or go through the internal passport (excuse me, National ID) check at an airport or bus station, you'll be checked against that database of suspected terrorists (which also interfaces with your bank records, credit card purchases, and internet history). The world I'm describing is a dead certainty with the next ten or fifteen years, unless something radical is done to prevent it.

In the real world of our past, the U.S. government has more than once outlawed radical political parties, conducted mass political arrests, or even practiced preventive detention. As one example, consider the Palmer Raids:

The raids are named after Alexander Mitchell Palmer, United States Attorney General under Woodrow Wilson. Palmer stated his belief that Communism was "eating its way into the homes of the American workman," and that Socialists were responsible for most of the country's social problems.

The crackdown on dissent had actually begun during World War I, but accelerated significantly after the end of the war. The Russian Revolution of 1917 was a background factor. Congress in 1919 refused to seat Socialist representative from Wisconsin, Victor L. Berger, because of his views concerning the war. With strong support from Congress and the public, in 1919 Palmer clamped down on political dissent.

On June 2, 1919 a number of bombs were detonated in eight American cities, including one in Washington that damaged the home of Palmer and another one reportedly detonating near Franklin Roosevelt. Following this, Palmer and his 24-year-old assistant J. Edgar Hoover orchestrated a series of well publicized raids against apparent radicals and leftists under the Espionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1918. Victor Berger was sentenced to 20 years in prison on the charge of sedition. (The Supreme Court of the United States later threw out that conviction.) J. Edgar Hoover was put in charge of a new division of the Justice Department's Bureau of Investigation, the General Intelligence Division. By October 1919, Hoover's department had collected 150,000 names in a rapidly expanding database.

Once Palmer and Hoover had a database 'gameplan,' starting on November 7, 1919, Palmer's men smashed labor union offices and the headquarters of Communist and Socialist organizations without search warrants, concentrating on foreigners. In December 1919, Palmer's agents gathered 249 of the arrestees, including well-known radical leaders such as Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman, and placed them on a ship bound for the Soviet Union (The Buford, called the Soviet Ark by the press). In January, 1920, another 6,000 were arrested, mostly members of the Industrial Workers of the World union. During one of the raids, more than 4,000 radicals were rounded up in a single night. All foreign aliens caught were deported. All in all, by January 1920, Palmer and Hoover organized the largest mass arrests in U.S. history, rounding up at least 10,000 Americans.

If WMDs are used on American soil, or there's even another spectacular 9-11 scale attack, do you really think it's that unlikely the government will use a partial declaration of emergency to justify preventive detention of "subversives"? The McCarran Internal Security Act of the late 1940s explicitly provided for it. They probably wouldn't round up most people within the "Chomsky radius" (Samuel Edward Konkin's colorful phrase for the elite media's bounds of just barely permissible opinion). Readers of Mother Jones and In These Times on the left, and The Spotlight on the right, would probably be left at large (although their names would naturally remain in a database for "further questioning" if necessary). But groups like the I.W.W., PETA, and Greenpeace might well be rounded up as "terrorists," along with right-wing nutter organizations that believe they actually need guns to protect themselves against an out-of-control government. And with such an object lesson in the consequenes of "going too far" in your radicalism, I suspect a lot of the folks who read Mother Jones might just start "watching what they say" to be extra-sure they didn't cross that line. Heck, they might even let those MoJo subs lapse.

Had Woodrow Wilson had the technologies described above during the Red Scares, or FDR during the Japanese internments, those arrests would have been a lot more thorough and efficent, don't you think? And don't even think about what Himmler or Beria would have done with them. Here's a hint: don't trust any government with powers you wouldn't entrust to Hitler or Stalin (or Woodrow Wilson). If you're a yellow dog Democrat, don't give Auntie Jen any powers you wouldn't feel comfortable with in Crisco John's hands. If you're a Freeper, don't give Bush any powers you wouldn't gladly give Hillary. You never know what the future will bring.

I'm a Wobbly, a member of an organization already once decimated by mass arrests during one of those past waves of repression. I'm on the Loompanics mailing list, and have two volumes of The Poor Man's James Bond (something I'm sure doesn't fit the FBI's definition of "legitimate defensive needs," any more than the Chinese PLA fits the Pentagon's). Considering how closely PATRIOT's "economic terrorism" provisions resemble direct action on the job, and considering federal law enforcement's hard-on against the anti-globalization movement, I believe any detention round-up list that reached even into the tens of thousands would probably include me. Would it include you?

Back to my main point. As Rudolf Rocker said, liberties are not granted by governments. They are forced on governments from below. The only secure basis for liberty is the government's fear of violating it. If we're not yet at the point where we hold all our rights as a grant of privilege from the government, and can have them taken away at will, we're very near it.


Blogger Bill said...

Traditionally, at this point, I'd note that once you start acepting slippery slope arguments you're on a very slippery slope, and suddeny slippery slopes are appearing everywhere. I'll refrain.

i do think, though, we're getting the same dtreatment this side, the de Menezes case is starting to boil; the government insists, despite leaks to the contrary, that the terrorist bombings were linked; it's taken for granted that naturalised citizens can be stripped of their citizenship - incredible stuff. The rule of law is going on the window - I'm not overly fond of the rule of law, but it's better than bureaucratic fiat.

I'd run to the hills, but sadly the Yorkshire moors don't provide sufficent hinterland for guerilla warfare...

August 18, 2005 6:09 AM  
Blogger Adam said...

That's a lot to think about, but first I need to overcome some simple confusion: In the above post, there are several references to "Cisco John" and "Aunti Jen". My first guess is that these are John Ashcroft and Janet Reno. Right? If so, shouldn't it be Aunti Jan?

August 21, 2005 5:52 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Sorry, Adam. I guess I've spent too much time in comment threads at Atrios, and took for granted everyone would recognize the affectionate nicknames for Ashcroft and Reno. Yes, you guessed right.

Crisco John refers to the fact that Ass-crack had himself annointed with Crisco oil after being elected Senator (I kid you not). Auntie Jen was what Reno's nieces and nephews called her. God knows what they were thinking.

August 22, 2005 6:42 PM  

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