September 1, 2008
I know the police cause you trouble;
They cause trouble everywhere.
But when you die and go to heaven,
You won’t find no policeman there.
— Goebel Reeves, “Hobo’s Lullabye”
Glenn Greenwald tells a harrowing tale of police-state tactics in Minneapolis, with armed security forces conducting Baghdad-like raids on the houses of activists, terrorizing many and arresting some for thought crimes — such as “planning to cause a riot” — and other bogus charges. The sweeps — guided and aided by the federal government — are designed to “ensure domestic tranquility” during the imminent Republican convention in the city. As Greenwald points out, not one of those who were shackled, arrested and hauled out at gunpoint had committed any crime whatsoever.
Heinous indeed, and entirely worthy of the anger that Greenwald marshals in his reports from the scene. But we must disagree with him on one crucial point: his repeated declaration that these incidents are “extraordinary.” On the contrary, there is nothing at all remarkable about them. They are all of a piece with the similar tactics employed to cleanse the city of Denver of any unseemly expressions of old-fashioned, long-gone American liberties during the Democratic convention, where any protests that escaped the grotesque official “cage” set aside for them were strangled by militarized police and mass arrests.
Such tactics are not confined to major political events with “national security” implications — i.e., the presence of afflatus-bloated muckity-mucks who must be spared the slightest confrontation with their crimes and complicities. They are now simply part and parcel of modern American society. Greenwald might be mistaken in regarding the Minnesota Monster Mash as “extraordinary,” but he is certainly correct when he notes its deeper implications:
As the recent “overhaul” of the 30-year-old FISA law illustrated — preceded by the endless expansion of surveillance state powers, justified first by the War on Drugs and then the War on Terror — we’ve essentially decided that we want our Government to spy on us without limits. There is literally no police power that the state can exercise that will cause much protest from the political and media class and, therefore, from the citizenry.
Beyond that, there is a widespread sense that the targets of these raids deserve what they get, even if nothing they’ve done is remotely illegal. We love to proclaim how much we cherish our “freedoms” in the abstract, but we despise those who actually exercise them. The Constitution, right in the very First Amendment, protects free speech and free assembly precisely because those liberties are central to a healthy republic — but we’ve decided that anyone who would actually express truly dissident views or do anything other than sit meekly and quietly in their homes are dirty trouble-makers up to no good, and it’s therefore probably for the best if our Government keeps them in check, spies on them, even gets a little rough with them.
After all, if you don’t want the FBI spying on you, or the Police surrounding and then invading your home with rifles and seizing your computers, there’s a very simple solution: don’t protest the Government. Just sit quietly in your house and mind your own business. That way, the Government will have no reason to monitor what you say and feel the need to intimidate you by invading your home. Anyone who decides to protest — especially with something as unruly and disrespectful as an unauthorized street march — gets what they deserve.
Isn’t it that mentality which very clearly is the cause of virtually everyone turning away as these police raids escalate against citizens — including lawyers, journalists and activists — who have broken no laws and whose only crime is that they intend vocally to protest what the Government is doing? Add to that the fact that many good establishment liberals are embarrassed by leftist protesters of this sort and wish that they would remain invisible, and there arises a widespread consensus that these Government attacks are perfectly tolerable if not desirable.
True enough. But Arthur Silber, among a few others, was there long ago, in numerous essays over the past few years. Of special note in this regard is a remarkable series sparked by the tasering of Andrew Meyer in 2007 — a damning and revealing incident that quickly became a national joke (“Don’t tase me, bro!”) and, for the “left,” a national embarrassment to be flushed away as soon as possible. But from this incident — and the reactions to it — Silber opened a seam of insights into a thoroughly corroded national consciousness. He also provides copious factual detail on the growing use of tasers as a means of social control (and official murder) by state authority — a cancerous repression that has only spread and worsened in the ensuing months. From Silber (see original for links):
See the connection, and the similarity: the United States launches criminal wars of aggression against nations which constitute no serious threat to it, and which are known to constitute no serious threat — for the sole purpose of gaining compliance, that is, of installing governments in other countries that will act in accordance with our demands. This has long been the purpose of our interventionist foreign policy: to ensure that other countries act in accordance with our orders, even when genuine issues of national defense are altogether absent. America is God. God’s Will be done. Even after the catastrophe of Iraq, leaders of both political parties threaten war against Iran, another nation that does not threaten us, because Iran dares to thwart our will.
Is it any wonder then that, within our own borders, law enforcement will use potentially lethal weapons in the absence of any serious threat — simply to gain compliance? When the state decides that your behavior matters, you will obey. Yes, you may engage in debate — within the parameters established by the state. Yes, you may ask questions — if the state approves them. If you dare to step outside the boundaries set by the state, you will be brought into line, by force as required — and by possibly lethal force. The United States government murders a million innocent people who never threatened it; of what significance is the life of a single student, especially since he’s a “troublemaker” anyway?
We all know that if, say, Vladimir Putin or Hugo Chavez had put on the kind of display we’ve seen in Minneapolis and Denver, the entire American media-political establishment would be in full condemnatory cry about such “anti-democratic repression.” But of course, there is nothing extraordinary about this blatant and brutal hypocrisy, either; Americans have long exempted themselves from the legal and moral standards they apply to others. (Others who fail to kowtow properly to the Washington line, that is; only they are subject to condemnation for failing to meet these lofty standards. Meanwhile, those those who play ball with the Beltway barons — such as Egypt, Israel and Saudi Arabia, to name a few — are allowed to get away with murder. Literally.)
What happened in Minneapolis is neither extraordinary nor surprising. It is simply what happens in a police state, one in which the Leader claims the power to ignore every law, to order torture, murder and wars of aggression as he sees fit, to declare anyone on earth an “enemy combatant” (on criteria that he alone decides) and detain them, without charges, for as long as he wants — and is never resisted in any of these egregious acts of tyranny by the political “opposition.” Instead his crimes and authoritarian encroachments are continually excused, countenanced, justified, immunized, ignored or fully supported by the “opposition,” whose leaders refuse to take any legal action against the multitude of state crimes, but instead say openly that their main goal is simply to seize power for their own co-opted and corrupted elite faction.
There are probably any number of names one could call such a system — but a constitutional Republic is not one of them. Or as I put it last year:
The game is over. The crisis has passed — and the patient is dead. Whatever dream you had about what America is, it isn’t that anymore. It’s gone. And not just in some abstract sense, some metaphorical or mythological sense, but down in the nitty-gritty, in the concrete realities of institutional structures and legal frameworks, of policy and process, even down to the physical nature of the landscape and the way that people live.
The Republic you wanted — and at one time might have had the power to take back — is finished. You no longer have the power to keep it; it’s not there. It was kidnapped in December 2000, raped by the primed and ready exploiters of 9/11, whored by the war pimps of the 2003 aggression, gut-knifed by the corrupters of the 2004 vote, and raped again by its “rescuers” after the 2006 election. Beaten, abused, diseased and abandoned, it finally died. We are living in its grave.