Big Brother does not watch us, by his choice. We watch him, by ours. There is no need for wardens or gates or Ministries of Truth. When a population becomes distracted by trivia, when cultural life is redefined as a perpetual round of entertainments, when serious public conversation becomes a form of baby-talk, when, in short, a people become an audience and their public business a vaudeville act, then a nation finds itself at risk; a culture-death is a clear possibility. — Professor Neil Postman

If there are two spectacles that are almost guaranteed to render Americans passive viewers, incapable of doing little more than cheering on their respective teams, it’s football and politics—specifically, the Super Bowl and the quadrennial presidential election.

Both football and politics encourage zealous devotion among their followers, both create manufactured divisions that alienate one group of devotees from another, and both result in a strange sort of tunnel vision that leaves the viewer oblivious to anything else going on around them apart from the “big game.”

Both football and politics are televised, big-money, advertising-driven exercises in how to cultivate a nation of armchair enthusiasts who are content to sit, watch and be entertained, all the while convincing themselves that they are active contributors to the outcome. Even the season schedules are similar in football and politics: the weekly playoffs, the blow-by-blow recaps, the betting pools and speculation, the conferences, and then the final big championship game.

In the same way, both championship events are costly entertainment extravaganzas that feed the nation’s appetite for competition, consumerism and carnivalesque stunts. In both scenarios, cities bid for the privilege of hosting key athletic and political events. For example, San Francisco had to raise close to $50 million just to host the 50th Super Bowl, with its deluxe stadium, Super Bowl City, free fan village, interactive theme park, and free Alicia Keys concert, not including the additional $5 million cost to taxpayers for additional security. Likewise, it costs cities more than $60 million to host the national presidential nominating conventions for the Republicans and Democrats.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that there is anything wrong with enjoying the entertainment that is football or politics.

However, where we go wrong as a society is when we become armchair quarterbacks, so completely immersed in the Big Game or the Big Campaign that we are easily controlled by the powers-that-be—the megacorporations who run both shows—and oblivious to what is really going on around us.

For instance, while mainstream America has been fixated on the contenders for the Vince Lombardi Trophy and the White House, the militarized, warring surveillance state has been moving steadily forward. Armed drones, increased government surveillance and spying, SWAT team raids, police shootings of unarmed citizens, and the like continue to plague the country. None of these dangers have dissipated. They have merely disappeared from our televised news streams.

In this way, television is a “dream come true” for an authoritarian society.

Television isolates people so they are not joining together to govern themselves. As clinical psychologist Bruce Levine notes, viewing television puts one in a brain state that makes it difficult to think critically, and it quiets and subdues a population. And spending one’s free time isolated and watching TV interferes with our ability to translate our outrage over governmental injustice into activism, and thus makes it easier to accept an authority’s version of society and life.

Supposedly the reason why television—and increasingly movies—are so effective in subduing and pacifying us is that viewers are mesmerized by what TV-insiders call “technical events.” These, according to Levine, are “quick cuts, zoom-ins, zoom-outs, rolls, pans, animation, music, graphics, and voice-overs, all of which lure viewers to continue watching even though they have no interest in the content.” Such technical events, which many action films now incorporate, spellbind people to continue watching.

Televised entertainment, no matter what is being broadcast, has become the nation’s new drug high. Researchers found that “almost immediately after turning on the TV, subjects reported feeling more relaxed, and because this occurs so quickly and the tension returns so rapidly after the TV is turned off, people are conditioned to associate TV viewing with a lack of tension.”

Not surprisingly, the United States is one of the highest TV-viewing nations in the world.

Indeed, a Nielsen study reports that American screen viewing is at an all-time high. For example, the average American watches approximately 151 hours of television per month. That does not include the larger demographic of screen-watchers who watch their entertainment via their laptops, personal computers, cell phones, tablets and so on.

Historically, television has been used by those in authority to quiet citizen unrest and pacify disruptive people. In fact, television-viewing has also been a proven tactic for ensuring compliance in prisons. “Faced with severe overcrowding and limited budgets for rehabilitation and counseling, more and more prison officials are using TV to keep inmates quiet,” according to Newsweek. Joe Corpier, a convicted murderer, when interviewed said, “If there’s a good movie, it’s usually pretty quiet through the whole institution.”

In other words, television and other screen viewing not only helps to subdue people but, as Levine concludes, it alsozombifies and pacifies us and subverts democracy.

Television viewing, no matter what we’re collectively watching—whether it’s American Idol, the presidential debates or the Super Bowl—is a group activity that immobilizes us and mesmerizes us with collective programming. In fact, research also shows that regardless of the programming, viewers’ brain waves slow down, thus transforming them into a more passive, nonresistant state.

As such, television watching today results in passive group compliance in much the same way that marching was used by past regimes to create group indoctrination. Political advisor Bertram Gross documents how Adolf Hitler employed marching as a technique to mobilize people in groups by immobilizing them. Hitler and his regime leaders discovered that when people gather in groups and do the same thing—such as marching or cheering at an entertainment or sporting event—they became passive, non-thinking non-individuals.

By replacing “marching” with electronic screen devices, we have the equivalent of Hitler’s method of population control. Gross writes:

As a technique of immobilizing people, marching requires organization and, apart from the outlay costs involved, organized groups are a potential danger. They might march to a different drum or in the wrong direction….TV is more effective. It captures many more people than would ever fill the streets by marching—and without interfering with automobile traffic.

Equally disturbing is a university study which indicates that we become less aware of our individual selves and moral identity in a group. The study’s findings strongly suggest that when we act in groups, we tend to consider our moral behavior less while moving in lockstep with the group. Thus, what the group believes or does, be it violence or inhumanity, does not seem to lessen the need to be a part of a group, whether it be a mob or political gathering.

So what does this have to do with the Super Bowl and the upcoming presidential election?

If fear-based TV programming—or programming that encourages rivalries and factions—makes people more afraid and distrustful of one another, then our current television lineup is exactly what is needed by an authoritarian society that depends on a “divide and conquer” strategy.

Moreover, according to Levine, authoritarian-based programming is more technically interesting to viewers than democracy-based programming. War and violence, for example, may be rather unpleasant in real life. However, peace and cooperation make for “boring television.”

What this means is that Super Bowl matches and presidential contests are merely more palatable, less bloody, manifestations of war suitable for television viewing audiences.

This also explains why television has become the medium of choice for charismatic politicians with a strong screen presence. They are essentially television performers—actors, if you will. Indeed, any successful candidate for political office—especially the President—must come off well on TV. Television has the lure of involvement. A politically adept president can actually make you believe you are involved in the office of the presidency.

The effective president, then, is essentially a television performer. As the renowned media analyst Marshall McLuhan recognized concerning television: “Potentially, it can transform the presidency into a monarchist dynasty.”

If what we see and what we are told through the entertainment industrial complex—which includes so-called “news” shows—is what those in power deem to be in their best interests, then endless screen viewing is not a great thing for a citizenry who believe they possess choice and freedom. Mind you, the majority of what Americans watch on television is provided through channels controlled by a corporate elite of six megacorporations with the ability to foster a particular viewpoint or pacify its viewers on a large scale.

Unfortunately for us, the direction of the future, then, may be towards a Brave New World scenario where the populace is constantly distracted by entertainment, hooked on prescription drugs and controlled by a technological elite.

Freedom, as I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, is an action word. It means turning off your screen devices—or at least greatly reducing your viewing time—and getting active to take to stave off the emerging authoritarian government.

Battlefield_Cover_300Aldous Huxley, George Orwell, and the countless science fiction writers and commentators have warned that we are in a race between getting actively involved in the world around us or facing disaster.

If we’re watching, we’re not doing.

As television journalist Edward R. Murrow warned in a 1958 speech:

We have currently a built-in allergy to unpleasant or disturbing information. Our mass media reflect this. But unless we get up off our fat surpluses and recognize that television in the main is being used to distract, delude, amuse, and insulate us, then television and those who finance it, those who look at it, and those who work at it, may see a totally different picture too late.

“Never has our future been more unpredictable, never have we depended so much on political forces that cannot be trusted to follow the rules of common sense and self-interest—forces that look like sheer insanity, if judged by the standards of other centuries.” ― Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism

Adding yet another layer of farce to an already comical spectacle, the 2016 presidential election has been given its own reality show. Presented by Showtime, The Circus: Inside the Greatest Political Show on Earth will follow the various presidential candidates from now until Election Day.

As if we need any more proof that politics in America has been reduced to a three-ring circus complete with carnival barkers, acrobats, contortionists, jugglers, lion tamers, animal trainers, tight rope walkers, freaks, strong men, magicians, snake charmers, fire eaters, sword swallowers, knife throwers, ringmasters and clowns.

Truly, who needs bread and circuses when you have the assortment of clowns and contortionists that are running for the White House?

No matter who wins the presidential election come November, it’s a sure bet that the losers will be the American people.

Despite what is taught in school and the propaganda that is peddled by the media, the 2016 presidential election is not a populist election for a representative. Rather, it’s a gathering of shareholders to select the next CEO, a fact reinforced by the nation’s archaic electoral college system.

Anyone who believes that this election will bring about any real change in how the American government does business is either incredibly naïve, woefully out-of-touch, or oblivious to the fact that as an in-depth Princeton University study shows, we now live in an oligarchy that is “of the rich, by the rich and for the rich.”

When a country spends close to $5 billion to select what is, for all intents and purposes, a glorified homecoming king or queen to occupy the White House, while 46 million of its people live in poverty, nearly 300,000 Americans are out of work, and more than 500,000 Americans are homeless, that’s a country whose priorities are out of step with the needs of its people.

As author Noam Chomsky rightly observed, “It is important to bear in mind that political campaigns are designed by the same people who sell toothpaste and cars.”

In other words, we’re being sold a carefully crafted product by a monied elite who are masters in the art of making the public believe that they need exactly what is being sold to them, whether it’s the latest high-tech gadget, the hottest toy, or the most charismatic politician.

As political science professor Gene Sharp notes in starker terms, “Dictators are not in the business of allowing elections that could remove them from their thrones.”

To put it another way, the Establishment—the shadow government and its corporate partners that really run the show, pull the strings and dictate the policies, no matter who occupies the Oval Office—are not going to allow anyone to take office who will unravel their power structures. Those who have attempted to do so in the past have been effectively put out of commission.

So what is the solution to this blatant display of imperial elitism disguising itself as a populist exercise in representative government?

Stop playing the game. Stop supporting the system. Stop defending the insanity. Just stop.

Washington thrives on money, so stop giving them your money. Stop throwing your hard-earned dollars away on politicians and Super PACs who view you as nothing more than a means to an end. There are countless worthy grassroots organizations and nonprofits working in your community to address real needs like injustice, poverty, homelessness, etc. Support them and you’ll see change you really can believe in in your own backyard.

Politicians depend on votes, so stop giving them your vote unless they have a proven track record of listening to their constituents, abiding by their wishes and working hard to earn and keep their trust.

Stop buying into the lie that your vote matters. Your vote doesn’t elect a president. Despite the fact that there are 218 million eligible voters in this country (only half of whom actually vote), it is the electoral college, made up of 538 individuals handpicked by the candidates’ respective parties, that actually selects the next president.

The only thing you’re accomplishing by taking part in the “reassurance ritual” of voting is sustaining the illusion that we have a democratic republic. What we have is a dictatorship, or as political scientists Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page more accurately term it, we are suffering from an “economic élite domination.”

Of course, we’ve done it to ourselves.

The American people have a history of choosing bread-and-circus distractions over the tedious work involved in self-government.

As a result, we have created an environment in which the economic elite (lobbyists, corporations, monied special interest groups) could dominate, rather than insisting that the views and opinions of the masses—“we the people”—dictate national policy. As the Princeton University oligarchy study indicates, our elected officials, especially those in the nation’s capital, represent the interests of the rich and powerful rather than the average citizen. As such, the citizenry has little if any impact on the policies of government.

We allowed our so-called representatives to distance themselves from us, so much so that we are prohibited from approaching them in public, all the while they enjoy intimate relationships with those who can pay for access—primarily the Wall Street financiers. There are 131 lobbyists to every Senator, reinforcing concerns that the government represents the corporate elite rather than the citizenry.

We said nothing while our elections were turned into popularity contests populated by individuals better suited to be talk-show hosts rather than intelligent, reasoned debates on issues of domestic and foreign policy by individuals with solid experience, proven track records and tested integrity.

We turned our backs on things like wisdom, sound judgment, morality and truth, shrugging them off as old-fashioned, only to find ourselves saddled with lying politicians incapable of making fair and impartial decisions.

We let ourselves be persuaded that those yokels in Washington could do a better job of running this country than we could. It’s not a new problem. As former Senator Joseph S. Clark Jr. acknowledged in a 1955 article titled, “Wanted: Better Politicians”: “[W]e have too much mediocrity in the business of running the government of the country, and it troubles me that this should be so at a time of such complexity and crisis… Government by amateurs, semi-pros, and minor-leaguers will not meet the challenge of our times. We must realize that it takes great competence to run a country which, in spite of itself, has succeeded to world leadership in a time of deadly peril.”

We indulged our craving for entertainment news at the expense of our need for balanced reporting by a news media committed to asking the hard questions of government officials. The result, as former congressman Jim Leach points out, leaves us at a grave disadvantage: “At a time when in-depth analysis of the issues of the day has never been more important, quality journalism has been jeopardized by financial considerations and undercut by purveyors of ideology who facilely design news, like clothes, to appeal to a market segment.”

We bought into the fairytale that politicians are saviors, capable of fixing what’s wrong with our communities and our lives, when in fact, most politicians lead such sheltered lives that they have no clue about what their constituents must do to make ends meet. As political scientists Morris Fiorina and Samuel Abrams conclude, “In America today, there is a disconnect between an unrepresentative political class and the citizenry it purports to represent. The political process today not only is less representative than it was a generation ago and less supported by the citizenry, but the outcomes of that process are at a minimum no better.”

We let ourselves be saddled with a two-party system and fooled into believing that there’s a difference between the Republicans and Democrats, when in fact, the two parties are exactly the same. As one commentator noted, both parties support endless war, engage in out-of-control spending, ignore the citizenry’s basic rights, have no respect for the rule of law, are bought and paid for by Big Business, care most about their own power, and have a long record of expanding government and shrinking liberty.

Then, when faced with the prospect of voting for the lesser of two evils, many simply compromise their principles and overlook the fact that the lesser of two evils is still evil.

Perhaps worst of all, we allowed the cynicism of our age and the cronyism and corruption of Beltway politics to discourage us from believing that there was any hope for the American experiment in liberty.

Granted, it’s easy to become discouraged about the state of our nation. We’re drowning under the weight of too much debt, too many wars, too much power in the hands of a centralized government, too many militarized police, too many laws, too many lobbyists, and generally too much bad news.

It’s harder to believe that change is possible, that the system can be reformed, that politicians can be principled, that courts can be just, that good can overcome evil, and that freedom will prevail.

So where does that leave us?

Benjamin Franklin provided the answer. As the delegates to the Constitutional Convention trudged out of Independence Hall on September 17, 1787, an anxious woman in the crowd waiting at the entrance inquired of Franklin, “Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” “A republic,” Franklin replied, “if you can keep it.”

What Franklin meant, of course, is that when all is said and done, we get the government we deserve.

A healthy, representative government is hard work. It takes a citizenry that is informed about the issues, educated about how the government operates, and willing to make the sacrifices necessary to stay involved, whether that means forgoing Monday night football in order to attend a city council meeting or risking arrest by picketing in front of a politician’s office.

Most of all, it takes a citizenry willing to do more than grouse and complain.

We must act—and act responsibly—keeping in mind that the duties of citizenship extend beyond the act of voting.

The powers-that-be want us to believe that our job as citizens begins and ends on Election Day. They want us to believe that we have no right to complain about the state of the nation unless we’ve cast our vote one way or the other. They want us to remain divided over politics, hostile to those with whom we disagree politically, and intolerant of anyone or anything whose solutions to what ails this country differ from our own.

Battlefield_Cover_300What they don’t want us talking about is the fact that the government is corrupt, the system is rigged, the politicians don’t represent us, the electoral college is a joke, most of the candidates are frauds, and, as I point out in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, we as a nation are repeating the mistakes of history—namely, allowing a totalitarian state to reign over us.

Former concentration camp inmate Hannah Arendt warned against this when she wrote, “No matter what the specifically national tradition or the particular spiritual source of its ideology, totalitarian government always transformed classes into masses, supplanted the party system, not by one-party dictatorships, but by mass movement, shifted the center of power from the army to the police, and established a foreign policy openly directed toward world domination.”

Clearly, “we the people” have a decision to make.

Do we simply participate in the collapse of the American republic as it degenerates toward a totalitarian regime, or do we take a stand at this moment in history and reject the pathetic excuse for government that is being fobbed off on us?

March on Albany

March on Albany, NYPL Digital Collection, Image ID 1602566

“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”― George Orwell

Free speech is not for the faint of heart.

Nor is it for those who are easily offended, readily intimidated or who need everything wrapped in a neat and tidy bow. Free speech is often messy, foul-mouthed, obscene, intolerant, undignified, insensitive, cantankerous, bawdy and volatile.

While free speech can also be tender, tolerant, soft-spoken, sensitive and sweet, it is free speech’s hot-blooded alter ego—the wretched, brutal, beastly Mr. Hyde to its restrained, dignified and civil Dr. Jekyll—that tests the limits of our so-called egalitarian commitment to its broad-minded principles.

Unfortunately, our appreciation for a robust freedom of speech has worn thin over the years.

Many Americans have become fearfully polite, careful to avoid offense, and largely unwilling to be labeled intolerant, hateful, closed-minded or any of the other toxic labels that carry a badge of shame today. We’ve come to prize civility over freedom. Most of all, too many Americans, held hostage by their screen devices and the talking heads on television, have lost the ability to think critically.

Societies that cherish free speech relish open debates and controversy and, in turn, produce a robust citizenry who will stand against authoritarian government. Indeed, oppressive regimes of the past have understood the value of closed-mouthed, closed-minded citizens and the power inherent in controlling speech and, thus, controlling how a people view their society and government.

We in the United States have a government with a ravenous appetite for power and a seeming desire to turn the two-way dialogue that is our constitutional republic into a one-way dictatorship. Emboldened by phrases such as “hate crimes,” “bullying,” “extremism” and “microaggressions,” the government is whittling away at free speech, confining it to carefully constructed “free speech zones,” criminalizing it when it skates too close to challenging the status quo, shaming it when it butts up against politically correct ideals, and muzzling it when it appears dangerous.

Free speech is no longer free.

Nor is free speech still considered an inalienable right or an essential liberty, even by those government entities entrusted with protecting it.

We’ve entered into an egotistical, insulated, narcissistic era in which free speech has become regulated speech: to be celebrated when it reflects the values of the majority and tolerated otherwise, unless it moves so far beyond our political, religious and socio-economic comfort zones as to be rendered dangerous and unacceptable.

Consider some of the kinds of speech being targeted for censorship or outright elimination.

Offensive, politically incorrect and “unsafe” speech: Disguised as tolerance, civility and love, political correctness has resulted in the chilling of free speech and the demonizing of viewpoints that run counter to the cultural elite. Consequently, college campuses have become hotbeds of student-led censorship, trigger warnings, microaggressions, and “red light” speech policies targeting anything that might cause someone to feel uncomfortable, unsafe or offended.

Bullying, intimidating speech: Warning that “school bullies become tomorrow’s hate crimes defendants,” the Justice Department has led the way in urging schools to curtail bullying, going so far as to classify “teasing” as a form of “bullying,” and “rude” or “hurtful” “text messages” as “cyberbullying.”

Hateful speech: Hate speech—speech that attacks a person or group on the basis of attributes such as gender, ethnic origin, religion, race, disability, or sexual orientation—is the primary candidate for online censorship. Corporate internet giants Google, Twitter and Facebook are in the process of determining what kinds of speech will be permitted online and what will be deleted.

Dangerous, anti-government speech: As part of its newly unveiled war on “extremism,” the Obama administration is partnering with the tech industry to establish a task force to counter online “propaganda” by terrorists hoping to recruit support or plan attacks. In this way, anyone who criticizes the government online is considered an extremist and will have their content reported to government agencies for further investigation or deleted.

The upshot of all of this editing, parsing, banning and silencing is the emergence of a new language, what George Orwell referred to as Newspeak, which places the power to control language in the hands of the totalitarian state. Under such a system, language becomes a weapon to change the way people think by changing the words they use. The end result is control.

In totalitarian regimes—a.k.a. police states—where conformity and compliance are enforced at the end of a loaded gun, the government dictates what words can and cannot be used. In countries where the police state hides behind a benevolent mask and disguises itself as tolerance, the citizens censor themselves, policing their words and thoughts to conform to the dictates of the mass mind lest they find themselves ostracized or placed under surveillance.

Even when the motives behind this rigidly calibrated reorientation of societal language appear well-intentioned—discouraging racism, condemning violence, denouncing discrimination and hatred—inevitably, the end result is the same: intolerance, indoctrination and infantilism.

Thus, while on paper, we are technically still free to speak, in reality, we are only as free to speak as a government official or corporate censor may allow.

Battlefield_Cover_300The U.S. Supreme Court has long been the referee in the tug-of-war over the nation’s tolerance for free speech and other expressive activities protected by the First Amendment. Yet as I point out in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, the Supreme Court’s role as arbiter of justice in these disputes is undergoing a sea change. Except in cases where it has no vested interest, the Court has begun to advocate for the government’s outsized interests, ruling in favor of the government in matters of war, national security, commerce and speech. When asked to choose between the rule of law and government supremacy, this Court tends to side with the government.

In the 225 years since the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was adopted, the rights detailed in that amendment—which assures the American people of the right to speak freely, worship freely, peaceably assemble, petition the government for a redress of grievances, and have a free press—have certainly taken a beating, but none more so than the right to free speech.

Nowhere in the First Amendment does it permit the government to limit speech in order to avoid causing offense, hurting someone’s feelings, safeguarding government secrets, protecting government officials, insulating judges from undue influence, discouraging bullying, penalizing hateful ideas and actions, eliminating terrorism, combatting prejudice and intolerance, and the like.

Unfortunately, in the war being waged between free speech purists who believe that free speech is an inalienable right and those who believe that free speech should be regulated, the censors are winning. Free speech zones, bubble zones, trespass zones, anti-bullying legislation, zero tolerance policies, hate crime laws and a host of other legalistic maladies dreamed up by politicians and prosecutors have conspired to corrode our core freedoms.

If we no longer have the right to tell a Census Worker to get off our property, if we no longer have the right to tell a police officer to get a search warrant before they dare to walk through our door, if we no longer have the right to stand in front of the Supreme Court wearing a protest sign or approach an elected representative to share our views, if we no longer have the right to voice our opinions in public—no matter how misogynistic, hateful, prejudiced, intolerant, misguided or politically incorrect they might be—then we do not have free speech.

What we have instead is regulated, controlled speech, and that’s a whole other ballgame.

Just as surveillance has been shown to “stifle and smother dissent, keeping a populace cowed by fear,” government censorship gives rise to self-censorship, breeds compliance, makes independent thought all but impossible, and ultimately foments a seething discontent that has no outlet but violence.

The First Amendment is a steam valve. It allows people to speak their minds, air their grievances and contribute to a larger dialogue that hopefully results in a more just world. When there is no steam valve—when there is no one to hear what the people have to say—frustration builds, anger grows and people become more volatile and desperate to force a conversation.

The problem as I see it is that we’ve lost faith in the average citizen to do the right thing. We’ve allowed ourselves to be persuaded that we need someone else to think and speak for us. The result is a society in which we’ve stopped debating among ourselves, stopped thinking for ourselves, and stopped believing that we can fix our own problems and resolve our own differences.

In short, we have reduced ourselves to a largely silent, passive populace, content to watch and not do. In this way, we have become our worst enemy. As U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once warned, a silent, inert citizenry is the greatest menace to freedom.

Brandeis provided a well-reasoned argument against government censorship in his concurring opinion in Whitney v. California (1927). It’s not a lengthy read, but here it is boiled down to ten basic truths:

1. The purpose of government is to make men free to develop their faculties, i.e., THINK. 2. The freedom to think as you will and to speak as you think are essential to the discovery and spread of political truth. 3. Without free speech and assembly, discussion would be futile. 4. The greatest menace to freedom is a silent people. 5. Public discussion is a political duty, and should be a fundamental principle of the American government. 6. Order cannot be secured through censorship. 7. Fear breeds repression; repression breeds hate; and hate menaces stable government. 8. The power of reason as applied through public discussion is always superior to silence coerced by law. 9. Free speech and assembly were guaranteed in order to guard against the occasional tyrannies of governing majorities. 10. To justify suppression of free speech, there must be reasonable ground (a clear and present danger) to believe that the danger apprehended is imminent, and that the evil to be prevented is a serious one.

Perhaps the most important point that Brandeis made is that freedom requires courage. “Those who won our independence by revolution were not cowards,” he wrote. “They did not fear political change. They did not exalt order at the cost of liberty.” Rather, they were “courageous, self-reliant men, with confidence in the power of free and fearless reasoning applied through the processes of popular government.”

In other words, the founders did not fear the power of speech. Rather, they embraced it, knowing all too well that a nation without a hearty tolerance for free speech, no matter how provocative, insensitive or dangerous, will be easy prey for a police state where only government speech is allowed.

What the police state wants is a nation of sheep that will docilely march in lockstep with its dictates. What early Americans envisioned was a nation of individualists who knew exactly when to tell the government to go to hell.

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?—Langston Hughes, “Harlem”

Martin Luther King Jr. could tell you what happens to dreams deferred. They explode.

As I point out in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, more than 50 years after King was assassinated, his dream of a world without racism, militarism and materialism remains a distant dream.

Indeed, the reality we must contend with is far different from King’s dream for the future: America has become a ticking time bomb of racial unrest and injustice, police militarization, surveillance, government corruption and ineptitude, the blowblack from a battlefield mindset and endless wars abroad, and a growing economic inequality between the haves and have nots.

King’s own legacy has suffered in the process.

The image of the hard-talking, charismatic leader, voice of authority, and militant, nonviolent activist minister/peace warrior who staged sit-ins, boycotts and marches and lived through police attack dogs, water cannons and jail cells has been so watered down that younger generations recognize his face but know very little about his message.

Rubbing salt in the wound, while those claiming to honor King’s legacy pay lip service to his life and the causes for which he died, they have done little to combat the evils about which King spoke and opposed so passionately: injustice, war, racism and economic inequality.

For instance, President Obama speaks frequently of King, but what has he done to bring about peace or combat the racial injustices that continue to be meted out to young black Americans by the police state?

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump plans to “honor” Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy by speaking at a convocation at Liberty University, but what has he done to combat economic injustice?

Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton will pay tribute to King’s legacy by taking part in Columbia, South Carolina’s King Day at the Dome event, but has she done anything to dispel her track record’s impression that “machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are still considered more important than people”?

Unlike the politicians of our present day, King was a clear moral voice that cut through the fog of distortion. He spoke like a prophet and commanded that you listen. King dared to speak truth to the establishment and called for an end to oppression and racism. He raised his voice against the Vietnam War and challenged the military-industrial complex. And King didn’t just threaten boycotts and sit-ins for the sake of photo ops and media headlines. Rather, he carefully planned and staged them to great effect.

The following key principles formed the backbone of Rev. King’s life and work. King spoke of them incessantly, in every sermon he preached, every speech he delivered and every article he wrote. They are the lessons we failed to learn and, in failing to do so, we have set ourselves up for a future in which a militarized surveillance state is poised to eradicate freedom.

Practice militant non-violence, resist militarism and put an end to war.

“I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today—my own government.”—Martin Luther King Jr., Sermon at New York’s Riverside Church (April 4, 1967)

On April 4, 1967, exactly one year before his murder, King used the power of his pulpit to condemn the U.S. for “using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted.” King called on the U.S. to end all bombing in Vietnam, declare a unilateral cease-fire, curtail its military buildup, and set a date for troop withdrawals. In that same sermon, King warned that “a nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

Fifty-some years later, America’s military empire has been expanded at great cost to the nation, with the White House leading the charge. Indeed, in his recent State of the Union address, President Obama bragged that the U.S. spends more on its military than the next eight nations combined. Mind you, the money spent on wars abroad, weapons and military personnel is money that is not being spent on education, poverty and disease.

Stand against injustice.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere… there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.”― Martin Luther King Jr., “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” (April 16, 1963)

Arrested and jailed for taking part in a nonviolent protest against racial segregation in Birmingham, Ala., King used his time behind bars to respond to Alabama clergymen who criticized his methods of civil disobedience and suggested that the courts were the only legitimate means for enacting change. His “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” makes the case for disobeying unjust laws when they are “out of harmony with the moral law.”

Fifty-some years later, we are being bombarded with unjust laws at both the national and state levels, from laws authorizing the military to indefinitely detain American citizens and allowing the NSA to spy on American citizens to laws making it illegal to protest near an elected official or in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. As King warned, “Never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was legal.”

Work to end poverty. Prioritize people over corporations.

“When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.” —Martin Luther King Jr., Sermon at New York’s Riverside Church (April 4, 1967)

Especially in the latter part of his life, King was unflinching in his determination to hold Americans accountable to alleviating the suffering of the poor, going so far as to call for a march on Washington, DC, to pressure Congress to pass an Economic Bill of Rights.

Fifty-some years later, a monied, oligarchic elite calls the shots in Washington, while militarized police and the surveillance sector keep the masses under control. With roughly 23 lobbyists per Congressman, corporate greed largely dictates what happens in the nation’s capital, enabling our so-called elected representatives to grow richer and the people poorer. One can only imagine what King would have said about a nation whose political processes, everything from elections to legislation, are driven by war chests and corporate benefactors rather than the needs and desires of the citizenry.

Stand up for what is right, rather than what is politically expedient.

“On some positions, cowardice asks the question, is it expedient? And then expedience comes along and asks the question, is it politic? Vanity asks the question, is it popular? Conscience asks the question, is it right? There comes a time when one must take the position that is neither safe nor politic nor popular, but he must do it because conscience tells him it is right.”—Martin Luther King Jr., Sermon at National Cathedral (March 31, 1968)

Five days before his assassination, King delivered a sermon at National Cathedral in Washington, DC, in which he noted that “one of the great liabilities of life is that all too many people find themselves living amid a great period of social change, and yet they fail to develop the new attitudes, the new mental responses, that the new situation demands. They end up sleeping through a revolution.”

Freedom, human dignity, brotherhood, spirituality, peace, justice, equality, putting an end to war and poverty: these are just a few of the big themes that shaped King’s life and his activism. As King recognized, there is much to be done if we are to make this world a better place, and we cannot afford to play politics when so much hangs in the balance.

It’s time to wake up, America.

To quote my hero: “[O]ur very survival depends on our ability to stay awake, to adjust to new ideas, to remain vigilant and to face the challenge of change. The large house in which we live demands that we transform this world-wide neighborhood into a world-wide brotherhood. Together we must learn to live as brothers or together we will be forced to perish as fools.”

Original post can be found at http://rutherford.org/publications_resources/john_whiteheads_commentary/what_happens_to_a_dream_deferred_ask_martin_luther_king_jr

 

“There will be, in the next generation or so, a pharmacological method of making people love their servitude, and producing dictatorship without tears, so to speak, producing a kind of painless concentration camp for entire societies, so that people will in fact have their liberties taken away from them, but will rather enjoy it, because they will be distracted from any desire to rebel by propaganda or brainwashing, or brainwashing enhanced by pharmacological methods. And this seems to be the final revolution.”—Aldous Huxley

There’s a man who contacts me several times a week to disagree with my assessments of the American police state. According to this self-avowed Pollyanna who is tired of hearing “bad news,” the country is doing just fine, the government’s intentions are honorable, anyone in authority should be blindly obeyed, those individuals who are being arrested, shot and imprisoned must have done something to deserve such treatment, and if you have nothing to hide, you shouldn’t care whether the government is spying on you.

In other words, this man trusts the government with his life, his loved ones and his property, and anyone who doesn’t feel the same should move elsewhere.

It’s tempting to write this man off as dangerously deluded, treacherously naïve, and clueless to the point of civic incompetence. However, he is not alone in his goose-stepping, comfort-loving, TV-watching, insulated-from-reality devotion to the alternate universe constructed for us by the Corporate State with its government propaganda, pseudo-patriotism and contrived political divisions.

While only 1 in 5 Americans claim to trust the government to do what is right, the majority of the people are not quite ready to ditch the American experiment in liberty. Or at least they’re not quite ready to ditch the government with which they have been saddled.

As The Washington Post concludes, “Americans hate government, but they like what it does.” Indeed, kvetching aside, Americans want the government to keep providing institutionalized comforts such as Social Security, public schools, and unemployment benefits, fighting alleged terrorists and illegal immigrants, defending the nation from domestic and foreign threats, and maintaining the national infrastructure. And it doesn’t matter that the government has shown itself to be corrupt, abusive, hostile to citizens who disagree, wasteful and unconcerned about the plight of the average American.

For the moment, Americans are continuing to play by the government’s rules. Indeed, Americans may not approve the jobs being done by their elected leaders, and they may have little to no access to those same representatives, but they remain committed to the political process, so much so that they are working themselves into a frenzy over the upcoming presidential election, with contributions to the various candidates nearing $500 million.

Yet as Barack Obama’s tenure in the White House shows, no matter how much hope and change were promised, what we’ve ended up with is not only more of the same, but something worse: an invasive, authoritarian surveillance state armed and ready to eliminate any opposition.

The state of our nation under Obama has become more bureaucratic, more debt-ridden, more violent, more militarized, more fascist, more lawless, more invasive, more corrupt, more untrustworthy, more mired in war, and more unresponsive to the wishes and needs of the electorate. Most of all, the government, already diabolical and manipulative to the nth degree, has mastered the art of “do what I say and not what I do” hypocrisy.

For example, the government’s arsenal is growing. While the Obama administration is working to limit the public’s access to guns by pushing for greater gun control, it’s doing little to scale back on the federal government’s growing arsenal of firepower and militarized equipment.

In fact, it’s not just the Department of Defense that’s in the business of waging war. Government agencies focused largely on domestic matters continue to spend tens of millions of taxpayer dollars to purchase SWAT and military-style equipment such as body armor, riot helmets and shields, cannon launchers and police firearms and ammunition. The Department of Veterans Affairs spent nearly $2 million on riot helmets, defender shields, body armor, a “milo return fire cannon system,” armored mobile shields, Kevlar blankets, tactical gear and equipment for crowd control. The Food and Drug Administration purchased “ballistic vests and carriers.” The Environmental Protection Agency shelled out $200,000 for body armor. And the Smithsonian Institution procured $28,000 worth of body armor for its “zoo police and security officers.”

The national debt is growing. In fact, it’s almost doubled during Obama’s time in office to nearly $20 trillion. Much of this debt is owed to foreign countries such as China, which have come to exert an undue degree of influence on various aspects of the American economy.

Meanwhile, almost half of Americans are struggling to save for emergencies and retirement, 43% can’t afford to go more than one month without a paycheck, and 24% have less than $250 in their bank accounts preceding payday.

On any given night, over half a million people in the U.S. are homeless, and half of them are elderly. In fact, studies indicate that the homeless are aging faster than the general population in the U.S.

While the U.S. spends more on education than almost any other country, American schools rank 28th in the world, below much poorer countries such as the Czech Republic and Vietnam.

The American police state’s payroll is expanding. Despite the fact that violent crime is at a 40-year-low, there are more than 1.1 million persons employed on a full-time basis by state and local law enforcement in this country. That doesn’t include the more than 120,000 full-time officers on the federal payroll.

While crime is falling, the number of laws creating new crimes is growing at an alarming rate. Congress creates, on average, more than 50 new criminal laws each year. This adds up to more than 4,500 federal criminal laws and an even greater number of state laws.

The prison population is growing at an alarming rate. Owing largely to overcriminalization, the nation’s prison population has quadrupled since 1980 to 2.4 million, which breaks down to more than one out of every 100 American adults behind bars. According to The Washington Post, it costs $21,000 a year to keep someone in a minimum-security federal prison and $33,000 a year for a maximum-security federal prison. Those costs are expected to increase 30 percent by 2020. Translation: while the American taxpayer will be forced to shell out more money for its growing prison population, the private prison industry will be making a hefty profit.

The nation’s infrastructure—railroads, water pipelines, ports, dams, bridges, airports and roads—is rapidly deteriorating. An estimated $1.7 trillion will be needed by 2020 to improve surface transportation, but with vital funds being siphoned off by the military industrial complex, there’s little relief in sight.

The expense of those endless wars in Afghanistan and Iraq will cost taxpayers $4 trillion to $6 trillion. That does not include the cost of military occupations and exercises elsewhere around the globe. Unfortunately, that’s money that is not being invested in America, nor is it being used to improve the lives of Americans.

Government incompetence, corruption and lack of accountability continue to result in the loss of vast amounts of money and weapons. A Reuters investigation revealed $8.5 trillion in “taxpayer money doled out by Congress to the Pentagon since 1996 that has never been accounted for.” Then there was the $500 million in Pentagon weapons, aircraft and equipment (small arms, ammunition, night-vision goggles, patrol boats, vehicles and other supplies) that the U.S. military somehow lost track of.

Rounding out the bad news, many Americans know little to nothing about their rights and the government. Only 31% can name all three branches of the U.S. government, while one in three says that the Bill of Rights guarantees the right to own your own home, while one in four thinks that it guarantees “equal pay for equal work.” One in 10 Americans (12%) says the Bill of Rights includes the right to own a pet.

If this brief catalogue of our national woes proves anything at all, it is that the American experiment in liberty has failed, and as political economist Lawrence Hunter warns, it is only a matter of time before people realize it. Writing for Forbes, Hunter notes:

The greatest fear of America’s Founding Fathers has been realized: The U.S. Constitution has been unable to thwart the corrosive dynamics of majority-rule democracy, which in turn has mangled the Constitution beyond recognition. The real conclusion of the American Experiment is that democracy ultimately undermines liberty and leads to tyranny and oppression by elected leaders and judges, their cronies and unelected bureaucrats.  All of this is done in the name of “the people” and the “general welfare,” of course.  But in fact, democracy oppresses the very demos in whose name it operates, benefiting string-pullers within the Establishment and rewarding the political constituencies they manage by paying off special interests with everyone else’s money forcibly extracted through taxation. The Founding Fathers (especially Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Adams, Madison, and James Monroe), as well as outside observers of the American Experiment such as Alexis de Tocqueville all feared democracy and dreaded this outcome.  But, they let hope and faith in their ingenious constitutional engineering overcome their fear of the democratic state, only to discover they had replaced one tyranny with another.

So are there any real, workable solutions to the emerging American police state?

A second American Revolution will not work. In the first revolution, the colonists were able to dispatch the military occupation and take over the running of the country. However, the Orwellian state is here and it is so pervasive that government agents are watching, curtailing and putting down any resistance before it can get started.

A violent overthrow of the government will not work. Government agents are armed to the teeth and will easily blow away any insurgency when and if necessary.

Politics will not help things along. As history has made clear, the new boss is invariably the same as or worse than the old boss—all controlled by a monied, oligarchic elite.

Battlefield_Cover_300As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, there is only one feasible solution left to us short of fleeing the country for parts unknown: grassroots activism that strives to reform the government locally and trickles up.

Unfortunately, such a solution requires activism, engagement, vigilance, sacrifice, individualism, community-building, nullification and a communal willingness to reject the federal government’s handouts and, when needed, respond with what Martin Luther King Jr. referred to as “militant nonviolent resistance.”

That means forgoing Monday night football in order to actively voice your concerns at city council meetings, turning off the television and spending an hour reading your local newspaper (if you still have one that reports local news) from front to back, showing your displeasure by picketing in front of government offices, risking your reputation by speaking up and disagreeing with the majority when necessary, refusing to meekly accept whatever the government dictates, reminding government officials—including law enforcement—that they work for you, and working together with your neighbors to present a united front against an overreaching government.

Unfortunately, we now live in a ubiquitous Orwellian society with all the trappings of Huxley’s A Brave New World. We have become a society of watchers rather than activists who are distracted by even the clumsiest government attempts at sleight-of-hand.

There are too many Americans who are reasonably content with the status quo and too few Americans willing to tolerate the discomfort of a smaller, more manageable government and a way of life that is less convenient, less entertaining, and less comfortable.

It well may be that Huxley was right, and that the final revolution is behind us. Certainly, most Americans seem to have learned to love their prison walls and take comfort in a dictatorship without tears.

WASHINGTON, DC – Attorneys for The Rutherford Institute have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to declare its own ban on expressive First Amendment activity on the Supreme Court plaza unconstitutional. In asking the Court to hear the case of Hodge v. Talkin, Rutherford Institute attorneys argue that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia’s decision to uphold a 60-year-old federal statute criminalizing expressive First Amendment activity on the Supreme Court plaza conflicts with the high court’s own rulings regarding expressive activity in public elsewhere. For example, in 1972, the Supreme Court struck down limits on similar protests on the Capitol grounds, located across the street from the Court’s plaza. The Court of Appeals ruling was issued in response to a lawsuit filed by Rutherford Institute attorneys on behalf of activist Harold Hodge, who was arrested while standing silently in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on a snowy day wearing a sign voicing his concerns about the government’s disparate treatment of African-Americans and Hispanics.

Affiliate attorney Jeffrey Light is assisting The Rutherford Institute in defending Hodge.

“This is definitely a first: asking the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court to declare unconstitutional their own statute limiting expressive activity,” said constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of Battlefield America: The War on the American People. “It’s our hope that the Supreme Court will reconcile the inconsistencies inherent in this First Amendment ban on what is essentially their front porch and reinforce their historic commitment to free speech activities in public places.”

On January 28, 2011, Harold Hodge quietly and peacefully stood in the plaza area near the steps leading to the United States Supreme Court Building, wearing a 3’ X 2’ sign around his neck that proclaimed: “The U.S. Gov. Allows Police To Illegally Murder And Brutalize African Americans And Hispanic People.” The plaza is a place where the public is allowed to gather and converse, and is in all relevant respects like a public square or park where citizens have traditionally met to express their views on matters of public interest. However, Hodge was handcuffed, placed under arrest, and then transported to U.S. Capitol Police Headquarters for violating 40 U.S.C. § 6135, which broadly makes it unlawful to display any flag, banner, or device designed to bring into public notice a party, organization, or movement while on the grounds of the U.S. Supreme Court, thereby banning expressive activity on the Supreme Court plaza. Rutherford Institute attorneys subsequently filed a lawsuit challenging § 6135, and in June 2013 a district court judge struck down the law finding the ban to be “repugnant” to the Constitution, “unreasonable, substantially overbroad, and irreconcilable with the First Amendment,” not to mention “plainly unconstitutional on its face.” In response, the government not only appealed that ruling, but the marshal for the Supreme Court—with the approval of Chief Justice John Roberts—issued even more strident regulations outlawing expressive activity on the grounds of the high court, including the plaza. Rutherford Institute attorneys have since filed a related lawsuit challenging the Supreme Court’s more strident regulations.

 

“When it gets down to having to use violence, then you are playing the system’s game. The establishment will irritate you – pull your beard, flick your face – to make you fight. Because once they’ve got you violent, then they know how to handle you. The only thing they don’t know how to handle is non-violence and humor.”—John Lennon

Yes, the government is corrupt.

Yes, the system is broken. By broken, I mean it’s “dysfunctional, gridlocked, and, in general, incapable of doing what needs to be done.”

Yes, the government is out of control and overreaching on almost every front.

Yes, the government’s excesses—pork barrel spending, endless wars, etc.—are pushing the nation to a breaking point.

Yes, many Americans are afraid. Who wouldn’t be afraid of an increasingly violent and oppressive federal government?

Yes, the citizenry has little protection against standing armies (domestic and military), invasive surveillance, marauding SWAT teams, an overwhelming government arsenal of assault vehicles and firepower, and a barrage of laws that criminalize everything from vegetable gardens to lemonade stands.

Yes, in the eyes of the American surveillance state, “we the people” are little more than suspects and criminals to be monitored, policed, prosecuted and imprisoned. As former law professor John Baker, who has studied the growing problem of overcriminalization, noted, “There is no one in the United States over the age of 18 who cannot be indicted for some federal crime.”

Yes, the United States of America is not the democracy that is purports to be, but rather an oligarchy ruled by a wealthy corporate elite.

Yes, politics is a sham. Average Americans have largely lost all of the conventional markers of influencing government, whether through elections, petition, or protest, have no way to impact their government, no way to be heard, and no assurance that their concerns are truly being represented.

Yes, the Obama administration’s efforts to identify, target and punish “domestic extremists” through the use of surveillance, corporate spies, global police and the Strong Cities network sends a troubling message to all Americans that any opposition to the government—no matter how benign—will be viewed with suspicion and will likely be treated with hostility.

Yes, we have reached a tipping point. The freedoms we once enjoyed are increasingly being eroded: speech, assembly, association, privacy, etc.

Yes, something needs to be done about the government’s long train of abuses, power grabs, erosion of private property, and overt acts of tyranny.

Yes, many Americans, increasingly dissatisfied with the government and its heavy-handed tactics, are tired of being used and abused and are ready to say “enough is enough.”

No, violence is not the answer.

A handful of armed protesters are not going to fix what’s broken in the government by forcing a showdown with government agents. In fact, this kind of scenario plays right into the government’s hands by provoking a violent confrontation that allows government officials to sanctimoniously justify their use of surveillance, military weaponry and tactics, and laws criminalizing guns and hate speech in order to target anyone who even vaguely resembles an “anti-government extremist.”

Take the latest spectacle in Oregon, for example.

Armed activists led by brothers Ryan and Ammon Bundy have occupied a federal wildlife refuge. The Bundys (infamous for their 2014 standoff with the Bureau of Land Management over grazing rights on federal land in Nevada) are protesting the government’s prosecution of two ranchers, Dwight and Steven Hammond, who have been sentenced to five years in prison for allegedly setting back fires on government-owned land in Oregon. (Mind you, the government owns more than half the land in Oregon.)

Few conflicts are ever black and white, and this situation involving the Bundys, the Hammonds and the BLM is no exception. Yet the issue is not whether the Hammonds are arsonists as the government claims, or whether the Bundys are anti-government extremists as the government claims, or even whether ranchers should have their access to government-owned lands regulated as the BLM claims.

Battlefield_Cover_300No, as I point out in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, the larger question at play here is who owns—or controls—the government: is it “we the people” or private corporations?

Are American citizens shareholders of the government’s vast repositories, or are we merely serfs and tenant farmers in bondage to corporate overlords? Do we have a say in how the government is run, or are we merely on the receiving end of the government’s dictates? What recourse do we have if we don’t approve of the government’s actions?

Almost every struggle between the citizenry and the government is, at its core, about whether we are masters or slaves in this constantly evolving relationship with the government.

  • Do parents have a right to allow their children to play outside alone, or must they abide by the government’s dictates about how to raise their families?
  • Do activists have a right to freely associate with one another, assemble in public, and voice their opinions publicly or privately, or must they be constrained by what the government and its corporate partners deem to be appropriate?
  • Do residents of a community have to obey whatever a police officer says, lawful or not, or do Americans have a right to resist an unlawful order without getting shot or arrested?

It doesn’t matter what the issue is—whether it’s a rancher standing his ground over grazing rights, a minister jailed for holding a Bible study in his own home, or a community outraged over police shootings of unarmed citizens—these are the building blocks of a political powder keg.

Much like the heated protests that arose after the police shootings in Ferguson and Baltimore, there’s a subtext to the Oregon incident that must not be ignored, and it is simply this: America is a pressure cooker with no steam valve, and things are about to blow.

This is what happens when a parasitical government muzzles the citizenry, fences them in, herds them, brands them, whips them into submission, forces them to ante up the sweat of their brows while giving them little in return, and then provides them with little to no outlet for voicing their discontent.

As psychologist Erich Fromm recognized in his insightful book, On Civil Disobedience: “If a man can only obey and not disobey, he is a slave; if he can only disobey and not obey, he is a rebel (not a revolutionary). He acts out of anger, disappointment, resentment, yet not in the name of a conviction or a principle.”

Let me say it again: an armed occupation of a government property only plays right into the government’s hands and increases its power over the citizenry. Yet it speaks to a growing tension over how to bring about meaningful change when dealing with a government that refuses to listen to its citizens.

This is what happens when people get desperate, when citizens lose hope, and when lawful, nonviolent alternatives appear pointless.

Whether the parties involved are blameless or not, whether they’re using the wrong tactics or not, whether their agendas are selfless or not, this is the face of a nation undergoing a nervous breakdown on all fronts.

Now all that remains is a spark, and it need not be a very big one, to set the whole powder keg aflame.

The government has been anticipating and preparing for such an explosion for years. For example, in 2008, a U.S. Army War College report warned that the military must be prepared for a “violent, strategic dislocation inside the United States,” which could be provoked by “unforeseen economic collapse,” “purposeful domestic resistance,” “pervasive public health emergencies” or “loss of functioning political and legal order”—all related to dissent and protests over America’s economic and political disarray. Consequently, predicted the report, the “widespread civil violence would force the defense establishment to reorient priorities in extremis to defend basic domestic order and human security.”

In 2009, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released two reports, one on “Rightwing Extremism,” which broadly defines rightwing extremists as individuals and groups “that are mainly antigovernment, rejecting federal authority in favor of state or local authority, or rejecting government authority entirely,” and one on “Leftwing Extremism,” which labeled environmental and animal rights activist groups as extremists.

Incredibly, both reports use the words terrorist and extremist interchangeably.

That same year, the DHS launched Operation Vigilant Eagle, which calls for surveillance of military veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, characterizing them as extremists and potential domestic terrorist threats because they may be “disgruntled, disillusioned or suffering from the psychological effects of war.” These reports indicate that for the government, anyone seen as opposing the government—whether they’re Left, Right or somewhere in between—can be labeled an extremist. Under such a definition, John Lennon, Martin Luther King Jr., Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson and Samuel Adams—all of whom protested and passionately spoke out against government practices with which they disagreed—would be prime targets.

Fast forward a few years, and you have the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which President Obama has continually re-upped, that allows the military to take you out of your home, lock you up with no access to friends, family or the courts if you’re seen as an extremist. Now connect the dots, from the 2009 Extremism reports to the NDAA and the UN’s Strong Cities Network with its globalized police forces, the National Security Agency’s far-reaching surveillance networks, and fusion centers that collect and share surveillance data between local, state and federal police agencies.

Add in tens of thousands of armed, surveillance drones that will soon blanket American skies, facial recognition technology that will identify and track you wherever you go and whatever you do. And then to complete the circle, toss in the real-time crime centers being deployed in cities across the country, which will be attempting to “predict” crimes and identify criminals before they happen based on widespread surveillance, complex mathematical algorithms and prognostication programs.

Hopefully you’re getting the picture, which is how easy it is for the government to identify, label and target individuals as “extremist.”

All that we have been subjected to in recent years—living under the shadow of NSA spying; motorists strip searched and anally probed on the side of the road; innocent Americans spied upon while going about their daily business in schools and stores; homeowners having their doors kicked in by militarized SWAT teams serving routine warrants—illustrates how the government deals with people it views as potential “extremists”: with heavy-handed tactics designed to intimidate the populace into submission and discourage anyone from stepping out of line or challenging the status quo.

What we’re grappling with is a double standard in what the government metes out to the citizenry, and how the citizenry is supposed to treat the government.

SWAT teams can crash through our doors without impunity, but if we dare to defend ourselves against unknown government assailants, we’ll be shot or jailed.

Government agents can confiscate our homes, impound our cars and seize our bank accounts on the slightest suspicion of wrongdoing, but we’ll face jail time and fines for refusing to pay taxes in support of government programs with which we might disagree.

Government spies can listen in on our phone calls, read our emails and text messages, track our movements, photograph our license plates, and even enter our biometric information into DNA databases, but those who dare to film potential police misconduct will likely get roughed up by the police, arrested, and charged with violating various and sundry crimes.

This phenomenon is what philosopher Abraham Kaplan referred to as the law of the instrument, which essentially says that to a hammer, everything looks like a nail. In the scenario that has been playing out in recent years, we the citizenry have become the nails to be hammered by the government’s battalion of laws and law enforcers: its police officers, technicians, bureaucrats, spies, snitches, inspectors, accountants, etc.

This is exactly what those who drafted the U.S. Constitution feared: that laws and law enforcers would be used as tools by a despotic government to wage war against the citizenry.

That is exactly what we are witnessing today: a war against the American citizenry.

Is it any wonder then that Americans are starting to resist?

*This article can also be found at The Rutherford Institute.