Thursday, May 3, 2012

You're free, as long as you comply.

In Seattle, Occupy-inspired peaceful May Day protests turned violent when a band of masked, hooded anarchists infiltrated the crowd. With lawmakers cracking down on peaceful assembly in this country, always in the name of "national security," these people do us all no favors.

But then what if it's the government doing the infiltrating, in an attempt to bring discredit to the Occupy movement? (Or, more conspiratorially, what if the Occupy movement itself was an invention of the feds to more easily bring about popular support for a de facto police state?)

There's no debating that the FBI and other government agencies send their members undercover to essentially goad people into committing crimes. That's what happened in Cleveland on May Day, and it's happened time and time again since 9/11 -- with the end result that the government, for all practical purposes, creates a terror plot for the purpose of foiling people and groups who may or may not have acted out on their own. The feds hand over the incendiaries, the vehicles, and any number of other weapons, wait for their targets to act, make their arrests, and then go on TV to beat their chests and blather about how they've foiled yet another terror plot.

The upshot from this activity is a chilling effect on free expression. If someone goes online to decry the overreaching antics of our government, will that person get a visit from a stranger who "feels just like they do" and "encourages them to take action"? If you don't fall in line like a dutiful citizen and keep your mouth shut, is your government just waiting to entrap you?

As Justin Raimondo of put it, in reference to the Cleveland incident:
In short, it is a propaganda exercise designed to show that the feds need all the "legal tools" given to them by the "Patriot" Act -- and that these incursions on our constitutional rights need to be preserved and extended. It's propaganda aimed at keeping Americans fearful, so that they'll surrender what is left of their rights to a government ready, willing, and eager to extend its authority into every aspect of our lives -- in the name of "fighting terrorism." Our phony "war on terrorism" on the international front has given the government a blank check to descend on Americans and root out "subversion" while trampling on free speech and narrowing the range of permissible dissent.
The Bill of Rights has been turned on its head. Instead of keeping the government out of your life, now the government says you have the freedom to speak your mind, peacefully protest, and be secure in your personal effects from unreasonable search and seizure only when the government says it's OK and not a threat to "national security."

Just ask Laura Poitras, Jacob Applebaum, and William Binney, who were all interviewed by the Democracy Now! program. Poitras, a filmmaker, has made a number of movies relating to the post-9/11 world, including examinations of Iraq, Yemen, and Guantanamo Bay. Applebaum has worked for WikiLeaks. Binney spent nearly four decades at the NSA. Poitras and Applebaum have been detained numerous times at airports and had their phones and computers confiscated. Applebaum, in particular, was handcuffed, denied access to a lawyer while being interrogated, and told that he "wouldn't do well in prison," where he'd be sexually assaulted. Binney left the NSA after the agency removed safeguards shielding citizens' identities post-9/11. After speaking out, the FBI stormed his house and pointed a gun at his head as agents demanded to sit down and have a friendly chat with him.

Binney warns that the government has records of most of our online communications and is building a massive spy center in Utah, where data mining of all our personal information will be taken to a new extreme.

Oh, sure, I can still come online and complain about all this and not be hauled off to some gulag somewhere -- but as Raimondo brilliantly points out, that's part of the game the government plays. With new tools and laws at its disposal every day, the government can easily intercept and collect any amount of information it wants about you. And so if you ever speak out and try to get the masses fired up, that's when the detentions and intimidations begin. They have a full dossier on you, and they'll hold all the cards. So as you go about your daily life, you're left with the illusion that you're free to speak your mind, and we're still democratic and wonderful and out to catch those Bad Guys in foreign lands who mean to do us harm. As long as you keep your head down and your mouth shut, no harm will come to you.

Do you think that's how a free society is supposed to operate? As Glenn Greenwald said on Salon, in reference to Poitras, Applebaum, and Binney:
Whether a country is actually free is determined not by how well-rewarded its convention-affirming media elites are and how ignored its passive citizens are but by how it treats its dissidents, those posing authentic challenges to what the government does. The stories of the three Democracy Now guests -- and so many others -- provide that answer loudly and clearly.
Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng knows how people are treated in his country when they stand up against the status quo. Chen left the protection of the U.S. embassy after being told that Chinese officials would beat his wife to death otherwise. "Guaranteeing citizens' rights in China is empty talk," Chen said, underscoring the reality that China remains a brutal, oppressive dictatorship, despite all the rosy talk about free-market economic reforms.

It all makes you wonder how long it will be until the situation there is indistinguishable from the situation here -- or how long it will be until this iconic scene plays out somewhere on the streets of America:

And if it does happen here, it's not going to be pretty.

"The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions, that I wish it to be always kept alive. It will often be exercised when wrong, but better so than not to be exercised at all. I like a little rebellion now and then." -- Thomas Jefferson

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