Archive for February, 2014

 

“We live in a small rural town. Moved here in 1961. I don’t remember what year the State Troopers moved a headquarters into our town. Our young people were plagued with tickets for even the smallest offense. Troopers had to get their limits for the month. People make jokes about that but it has been true. Every kid I knew was getting ticketed for something. But now it is so much worse. I raised my kids to respect police. If they did something wrong and got caught they deserved it and should take their punishment. But now I have no respect for the police. I feel threatened and fearful of them. They are aggressive and intimidating. They lie and are abusive and we do not know how to fight them. I am not a minority here but people are afraid if they speak out they will be targeted. We are just a small town. I just don’t care anymore if they do target me. I am afraid they are going to kill someone.”—Letter from a 60-year-old grandmother

The following incidents are cautionary tales for anyone who still thinks that they can defy police officers, even if it’s simply to disagree about a speeding ticket, challenge a search warrant or defend oneself against an unreasonable or unjust charge, without deadly repercussions. The message they send is that “we the people” have very little protection from the standing army that is law enforcement.

For example, Seattle police repeatedly tasered seven-months pregnant Malaika Brooks for refusing to sign a speeding ticket. While Brooks bears permanent burn scars on her body from the encounter, police were cleared of any wrongdoing on the grounds that they didn’t know that tasering a pregnant woman was wrong.

Eight Los Angeles police officers fired 103 bullets at two women in a newspaper delivery truck they mistook for a getaway car during a heated manhunt. The older woman was shot twice in the back and the other was wounded by broken glass. The women were offered a $4.2 million settlement for their injuries, while the officers were reprimanded for acting inappropriately, “retrained” and put back on the streets.

During the course of a routine investigation, a group of Los Angeles police officers beat, punched, and tasered Kelly Thomas, schizophrenic, homeless and suspected of vandalizing cars, until he was brain dead. The two officers charged for their role in the beating were acquitted and will face no time in prison. A third officer who was supposed to be charged will also walk free.

New York City police, pursuing a man who had reportedly been weaving among cars in Times Square, fired into a crowd, shooting a 54-year-old woman in the knee and another woman in the buttocks. Although the officers faced no repercussions for their reckless behavior, prosecutors charged the suspect with felony assault on the grounds that he was responsible for the injuries caused by the police.

Chicago police arrested, beat, and sodomized with a gun Angel Perez, pushing in his eye sockets, driving his elbows back into his head, and sticking a gun into his rectum, all in an effort to “persuade” him to be a drug informant. All of the officers remain in active duty, patrolling the streets.

Houston police shot and killed Brian Claunch, a mentally ill double amputee, who had refused to drop a ballpoint pen. The police officer was cleared of any misconduct and remains on the force. Curiously, in the last six years, the Houston Police Department has yet to find a single police shooting unjustified. Between 2007 and 2012, the HPD officers injured 111 civilians while fatally shooting 109 people.

This phenomenon we are experiencing with the police 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 henchmen, a.k.a. its guns for hire, a.k.a. its standing army, a.k.a. the nation’s law enforcement agencies.

Indeed, there can no longer be any doubt that armed police officers, the end product of the government—federal, local and state—and law enforcement agencies having merged, have become a “standing” or permanent army, composed of full-time professional soldiers who do not disband. Yet these permanent armies are exactly what those who drafted the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights feared as tools used by despotic governments to wage war against its citizens.

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

Let that sink in a moment, and then consider that not a day goes by without reports of police officers overstepping the bounds of the Constitution and brutalizing, terrorizing and killing the citizenry. Indeed, the list of incidents in which unaccountable police abuse their power, betray their oath of office and leave taxpayers bruised, broken and/or killed grows longer and more tragic by the day to such an extent that Americans are now eight times more likely to die in a police confrontation than they are to be killed by a terrorist.

Making matters worse, when these officers, who have long since ceased to be peace officers, violate their oaths by bullying, beating, tasering, shooting and killing their employers—the taxpayers to whom they owe their allegiance—they are rarely given more than a slap on the hands before resuming their patrols. Ironically, even when the victims are awarded multi-million dollar settlements to compensate for the injuries suffered at the hands of out-of-control police, amped up on the power of the badge and the gun, it’s the taxpayers who must sacrifice, scrimp and save in order to pay for their transgressions, all the while, the officers, never held accountable for their actions, continue to collect regular paychecks, benefits and pensions.

Before I am drowned out by howls of outrage from those who consider all individuals in uniform blameless and noble to a fault, let me acknowledge that there are undeniably many honorable law enforcement officials (some of whom are among my closest friends) who strive to abide by their oath to uphold the Constitution and serve and protect the citizens of their communities. However, they are fast becoming a minority in a sea of police officers who take advantage of their broad discretion and repeatedly step beyond the bounds of the law, ignoring their responsibility to respect the Bill of Rights. These latter individuals are little more than vigilantes—albeit vigilantes with a badge—and our communities are presently being overrun by individuals entrusted with enforcing the law who are allowed to operate above the law and break the laws with impunity.

This lawlessness on the part of law enforcement, an unmistakable characteristic of a police state, is made possible in large part by police unions which routinely oppose civilian review boards and resist the placement of names and badge numbers on officer uniforms; police agencies that abide by the Blue Code of Silence, the quiet understanding among police that they should not implicate their colleagues for their crimes and misconduct; prosecutors who treat police offenses with greater leniency than civilian offenses; courts that sanction police wrongdoing in the name of security; and legislatures that enhance the power, reach and arsenal of the police.

As I document in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, we’re entering the final phase of America’s transition to authoritarianism, a phase notable for its co-opting of civilian police as military forces. American police forces were never supposed to be a branch of the military, nor were they meant to be private security forces for the reigning political faction. Instead, they were intended to be an aggregation of countless local police units, composed of citizens like you and me that exist for a sole purpose: to serve and protect the citizens of each and every American community.

As a result of the increasing militarization of the police in recent years, however, the police now not only look like the military—with their foreboding uniforms and phalanx of lethal weapons—but they function like them, as well. Thus, no more do we have a civilian force of peace officers entrusted with serving and protecting the American people.  Instead, today’s militarized law enforcement officials have shifted their allegiance from the citizenry to the state, acting preemptively to ward off any possible challenges to the government’s power, unrestrained by the boundaries of the Fourth Amendment. As journalist Herman Schwartz observed, “The Fourth Amendment was designed to stand between us and arbitrary governmental authority. For all practical purposes, that shield has been shattered, leaving our liberty and personal integrity subject to the whim of every cop on the beat, trooper on the highway and jail official.”

This brings me to the looming question, the one to which there is no easy answer: what can “we the people” do to protect themselves from the police? While there are scattered attempts to combat police abuses underway, ranging from increased surveillance of on-duty police officers through the use of lapel cameras, and campaigns to film police interactions with one’s smart phone, to legislation authorizing citizens to use force against a police officer who is acting unlawfully, few bring about any lasting change.

The solution is far simpler yet so much more difficult to achieve. As with all things—no matter what level of government, whether you’re talking about abuses within law enforcement, Congress, the National Security Agency, or within your own community—for real change to occur, it will take Americans getting outraged enough to speak up and speak out. It will take them showing up at City Council meetings, picketing in front of police stations, and demanding that their concerns, complaints and fears about police brutality—not only for themselves but for their fellow citizens of lesser incomes, darker skin tones and questionable lifestyles—be acknowledged and acted upon.

To put it another way, there can be no hope for freedom unless “we the people” recognize that every time the police shoot an unarmed citizen, taser an elderly person, or beat someone senseless or crash through a homeowner’s door, they are really shooting me, tasering you, and beating senseless your children, your neighbors and your loved ones. — John W. Whitehead

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“It’s a future where you don’t forget anything…In this new future you’re never lost…We will know your position down to the foot and down to the inch over time…Your car will drive itself, it’s a bug that cars were invented before computers…you’re never lonely…you’re never bored…you’re never out of ideas… We can suggest where you go next, who to meet, what to read…What’s interesting about this future is that it’s for the average person, not just the elites.”—Google CEO Eric Schmidt on his vision of the future

Time to buckle up your seatbelts, folks. You’re in for a bumpy ride.

We’re hurtling down a one-way road toward the Police State at mind-boggling speeds, the terrain is getting more treacherous by the minute, and we’ve passed all the exit ramps. From this point forward, there is no turning back, and the signpost ahead reads “Danger.”

Indeed, as I document in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, we’re about to enter a Twilight Zone of sorts, one marked by drones, smart phones, GPS devices, smart TVs, social media, smart meters, surveillance cameras, facial recognition software, online banking, license plate readers and driverless cars—all part of the interconnected technological spider’s web that is life in the American police state, and every new gadget pulls us that much deeper into the sticky snare.

In this Brave New World awaiting us, there will be no communication not spied upon, no movement untracked, no thought unheard. In other words, there will be nowhere to run and nowhere to hide.

We’re on the losing end of a technological revolution that has already taken hostage our computers, our phones, our finances, our entertainment, our shopping, our appliances, and now, it’s focused its sights on our cars. As if the government wasn’t already able to track our movements on the nation’s highways and byways by way of satellites, GPS devices, and real-time traffic cameras, government officials are now pushing to require that all new vehicles come installed with black box recorders and vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications, ostensibly to help prevent crashes.

Yet strip away the glib Orwellian doublespeak, and what you will find is that these black boxes and V2V transmitters, which will not only track a variety of data, including speed, direction, location, the number of miles traveled, and seatbelt use, but will also transmit this data to other drivers, including the police, are little more than Trojan Horses, stealth attacks on our last shreds of privacy, sold to us as safety measures for the sake of the greater good, all the while poised to wreak havoc on our lives.

Black boxes and V2V transmitters are just the tip of the iceberg, though. The 2015 Corvette Stingray will be outfitted with a performance data recorder which “uses a camera mounted on the windshield and a global positioning receiver to record speed, gear selection and brake force,” but also provides a recording of the driver’s point of view as well as recording noises made inside the car. As journalist Jaclyn Trop reports for the New York Times, “Drivers can barely make a left turn, put on their seatbelts or push 80 miles an hour without their actions somehow, somewhere being tracked or recorded.” Indeed, as Jim Farley, Vice President of Marketing and Sales for Ford Motor Company all but admitted, corporations and government officials already have a pretty good sense of where you are at all times: “We know everyone who breaks the law, we know when you’re doing it. We have GPS in your car, so we know what you’re doing.”

Now that the government and its corporate partners-in-crime know where you’re going and how fast you’re going when in your car, the next big hurdle will be to know how many passengers are in your car, what contraband might be in your car (and that will largely depend on whatever is outlawed at the moment, which could be anything from Sudafed cold medicine to goat cheese), what you’re saying and exactly what you’re doing within the fiberglass and steel walls of your vehicle. That’s where drones come in.

Once drones take to the skies en masse in 2015, there will literally be no place where government agencies and private companies cannot track your movements. These drones will be equipped with cameras that provide a live video feed, as well as heat sensors, radar and thermal imaging devices capable of seeing through the walls of your car. Some will be capable of peering at figures from 20,000 feet up and 25 miles away. They will be outfitted with infrared cameras and radar which will pierce through the darkness. They can also keep track of 65 persons of interest at once. Some drones are already capable of hijacking Wi-Fi networks and intercepting electronic communications such as text messages. The Army has developed drones with facial recognition software, as well as drones that can complete a target-and-kill mission without any human instruction or interaction. These are the ultimate killing and spying machines. There will also be drones armed with “less-lethal” weaponry, including bean bag guns and tasers.

And of course all of this information, your every movement—whether you make a wrong move, or appear to be doing something suspicious, even if you don’t do anything suspicious, the information of your whereabouts, including what stores and offices you visit, what political rallies you attend, and what people you meet—will be tracked, recorded and streamed to a government command center, where it will be saved and easily accessed at a later date.

By the time you add self-driving cars into the futuristic mix, equipped with computers that know where you want to go before you do, you’ll be so far down the road to Steven Spielberg’s vision of the future as depicted in Minority Report that privacy and autonomy will be little more than distant mirages in your rearview mirror. The film, set in 2054 and based on a short story by Philip K. Dick, offered movie audiences a special effect-laden techno-vision of a futuristic world in which the government is all-seeing, all-knowing and all-powerful. And if you dare to step out of line, dark-clad police SWAT teams will bring you under control.

Mind you, while critics were dazzled by the technological wonders displayed in Minority Report, few dared to consider the consequences of a world in which Big Brother is, literally and figuratively, in the driver’s seat. Even the driverless cars in Minority Report answer to the government’s (and its corporate cohorts’) bidding.

Likewise, we are no longer autonomous in our own cars. Rather, we are captive passengers being chauffeured about by a robotic mind which answers to the government and its corporate henchmen. Soon it won’t even matter whether we are seated behind the wheel of our own vehicles, because it will be advertisers and government agents calling the shots.

Case in point: devices are now being developed for European cars that would allow police to stop a car remotely, ostensibly to end police chases. Google is partnering with car manufacturers in order to integrate apps and other smartphone-like technology into vehicles, in order to alert drivers to deals and offers at nearby businesses. As Patrick Lin, professor of Stanford’s School of Engineering, warns, in a world where third-party advertisers and data collectors control a good deal of the content we see on a daily basis, we may one day literally be driven to businesses not because we wanted to go there, but because someone paid for us to be taken there.

Rod Serling, creator of the beloved sci fi series Twilight Zone and one of the most insightful commentators on human nature, once observed, “We’re developing a new citizenry. One that will be very selective about cereals and automobiles, but won’t be able to think.”

Indeed, not only are we developing a new citizenry incapable of thinking for themselves, we’re also instilling in them a complete and utter reliance on the government and its corporate partners to do everything for them—tell them what to eat, what to wear, how to think, what to believe, how long to sleep, who to vote for, whom to associate with, and on and on.

In this way, we have created a welfare state, a nanny state, a police state, a surveillance state, an electronic concentration camp—call it what you will, the meaning is the same: in our quest for less personal responsibility, a greater sense of security, and no burdensome obligations to each other or to future generations, we have created a society in which we have no true freedom.

Pandora’s Box has been opened and there’s no way to close it. As Rod Serling prophesied in a Commencement Address at the University of Southern California in March 17, 1970:

“It’s simply a national acknowledgement that in any kind of priority, the needs of human beings must come first. Poverty is here and now. Hunger is here and now. Racial tension is here and now. Pollution is here and now. These are the things that scream for a response. And if we don’t listen to that scream – and if we don’t respond to it – we may well wind up sitting amidst our own rubble, looking for the truck that hit us – or the bomb that pulverized us. Get the license number of whatever it was that destroyed the dream. And I think we will find that the vehicle was registered in our own name.”

You can add the following to that list of needs requiring an urgent response: Police abuse is here and now. Surveillance is here and now. Imperial government is here and now. Yet while the vehicle bearing down upon us is indeed registered in our own name, we’ve allowed Big Brother to get behind the wheel, and there’s no way to put the brakes on this runaway car. — John W. Whitehead

“Twelve voices were shouting in anger, and they were all alike. No question, now, what had happened to the faces of the pigs. The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.” ― George Orwell, Animal Farm

What was striking about this year’s State of the Union address was not the sheer arrogance of the president’s remarks, the staged nature of the proceedings and interactions, or the predictable posturing of the rebuttals, but the extent to which the members of the various branches of government—President Obama, Congress, the Supreme Court, and the assorted government agencies—are just one big, brawling, noisy, semi-incestuous clan.

Watching these bureaucrats, both elected and appointed, interact in the unguarded moments before the event, with their hugging and kissing and nudging and joking and hobnobbing and general high spirits, I was reminded anew that these people—Republicans and Democrats alike—are united in a common goal, and it is not to protect and defend the Constitution. No, as Orwell recognized in Animal Farm, their common goal is to maintain the status quo, a goal that is helped along by an unquestioning, easily mollified, corporate media. In this way, the carefully crafted spectacle that is the State of the Union address is just that: an exaggerated farce of political theater intended to dazzle, distract and divide us, all the while the police state marches steadily forward.

No matter what the president and his cohorts say or how convincingly they say it, the reality Americans must contend with is that the world is no better the day after President Obama’s State of the Union address than it was the day before. Indeed, if the following rundown on the actual state of our freedoms is anything to go by, the world is a far more dangerous place.

Americans have no protection against police abuse. It is no longer unusual to hear about incidents in which police shoot unarmed individuals first and ask questions later, such as the 16-year-old teenager who skipped school only to be shot by police after they mistook him for a fleeing burglar. Then there was the unarmed black man in Texas “who was pursued and shot in the back of the neck by Austin Police… after failing to properly identify himself and leaving the scene of an unrelated incident.” And who could forget the 19-year-old Seattle woman who was accidentally shot in the leg by police after she refused to show her hands? What is increasingly common, however, is the news that the officers involved in these incidents get off with little more than a slap on the hands.

Americans are little more than pocketbooks to fund the police state. If there is any absolute maxim by which the federal government seems to operate, it is that the American taxpayer always gets ripped off. This is true, whether you’re talking about taxpayers being forced to fund high-priced weaponry that will be used against us, endless wars that do little for our safety or our freedoms, or bloated government agencies such as the National Security Agency with its secret budgets, covert agendas and clandestine activities. Rubbing salt in the wound, even monetary awards in lawsuits against government officials who are found guilty of wrongdoing are paid by the taxpayer.

Americans are no longer innocent until proven guilty. We once operated under the assumption that you were innocent until proven guilty. Due in large part to rapid advances in technology and a heightened surveillance culture, the burden of proof has been shifted so that the right to be considered innocent until proven guilty has been usurped by a new norm in which all citizens are suspects. This is exemplified by police practices of stopping and frisking people who are merely walking down the street and where there is no evidence of wrongdoing. Likewise, by subjecting Americans to full-body scans and license-plate readers without their knowledge or compliance and then storing the scans for later use, the government—in cahoots with the corporate state—has erected the ultimate suspect society. In such an environment, we are all potentially guilty of some wrongdoing or other.

Americans no longer have a right to self-defense. In the wake of various shootings in recent years, “gun control” has become a resounding theme for government officials, with President Obama even going so far as to pledge to reduce gun violence “with or without Congress.” Those advocating gun reform see the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms as applying only to government officials. As a result, even Americans who legally own firearms are being treated with suspicion and, in some cases, undue violence. In one case, a Texas man had his home subjected to a no-knock raid and was shot in his bed after police, attempting to deliver a routine search warrant, learned that he was in legal possession of a firearm. In another incident, a Florida man who was licensed to carry a concealed firearm found himself detained for two hours during a routine traffic stop in Maryland while the arresting officer searched his vehicle in vain for the man’s gun, which he had left at home.

Americans no longer have a right to private property. If government agents can invade your home, break down your doors, kill your dog, damage your furnishings and terrorize your family, your property is no longer private and secure—it belongs to the government. Likewise, if government officials can fine and arrest you for growing vegetables in your front yard, praying with friends in your living room, installing solar panels on your roof, and raising chickens in your backyard, you’re no longer the owner of your property.

Americans no longer have a say about what their children are exposed to in school. Incredibly, the government continues to insist that parents essentially forfeit their rights when they send their children to a public school. This growing tension over whether young people, especially those in the public schools, are essentially wards of the state, to do with as government officials deem appropriate, in defiance of the children’s constitutional rights and those of their parents, is reflected in the debate over sex education programs that expose young people to all manner of sexual practices and terminology, zero tolerance policies that strip students of any due process rights, let alone parental involvement in school discipline, and Common Core programs that teach students to be test-takers rather than critical thinkers.

Americans are powerless in the face of militarized police. In early America, citizens were considered equals with law enforcement officials. Authorities were rarely permitted to enter one’s home without permission or in a deceitful manner. And it was not uncommon for police officers to be held personally liable for trespass when they wrongfully invaded a citizen’s home. Unlike today, early Americans could resist arrest when a police officer tried to restrain them without proper justification or a warrant—which the police had to allow citizens to read before arresting them. (Daring to dispute a warrant with a police official today who is armed with high-tech military weapons and tasers would be nothing short of suicidal.) As police forces across the country continue to be transformed into outposts of the military, with police agencies acquiring military-grade hardware in droves, Americans are finding their once-peaceful communities transformed into military outposts, complete with tanks, weaponry, and other equipment designed for the battlefield.

Americans no longer have a right to bodily integrity. Court rulings undermining the Fourth Amendment and justifying invasive strip searches have left us powerless against police empowered to forcefully draw our blood, strip search us, and probe us intimately. Accounts are on the rise of individuals—men and women—being subjected to what is essentially government-sanctioned rape by police in the course of “routine” traffic stops. Most recently, a New Mexico man was subjected to a 12-hour ordeal of anal probes, X-rays, enemas, and finally a colonoscopy because he allegedly rolled through a stop sign.

Americans no longer have a right to the expectation of privacy. Despite the staggering number of revelations about government spying on Americans’ phone calls, Facebook posts, Twitter tweets, Google searches, emails, bookstore and grocery purchases, bank statements, commuter toll records, etc., Congress, the president and the courts have done little to nothing to counteract these abuses. Instead, they seem determined to accustom us to life in this electronic concentration camp.

Americans no longer have a representative government. We have moved beyond the era of representative government and entered a new age, let’s call it the age of authoritarianism. History may show that from this point forward, we will have left behind any semblance of constitutional government and entered into a militaristic state where all citizens are suspects and security trumps freedom. Even with its constantly shifting terrain, this topsy-turvy travesty of law and government has become America’s new normal. It is not overstating matters to say that Congress, which has done its best to keep their unhappy constituents at a distance, may well be the most self-serving, semi-corrupt institution in America.

Americans can no longer rely on the courts to mete out justice. The U.S. Supreme Court was intended to be an institution established to intervene and protect the people against the government and its agents when they overstep their bounds. Yet through their deference to police power, preference for security over freedom, and evisceration of our most basic rights for the sake of order and expediency, the justices of the Supreme Court have become the architects of the American police state in which we now live, while the lower courts have appointed themselves courts of order, concerned primarily with advancing the government’s agenda, no matter how unjust or illegal.

Yes, the world is a far more dangerous place than it was a year ago. What the president failed to mention in his State of the Union address, however (and what I document in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State), is the fact that it’s the government that poses the gravest threat to our freedoms and way of life, and no amount of politicking, parsing or pandering will change that. — John W. Whitehead

“You gotta remember, establishment, it’s just a name for evil. The monster doesn’t care whether it kills all the students or whether there’s a revolution. It’s not thinking logically, it’s out of control.”—John Lennon (1969)

It’s been 50 years since the Beatles—John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr—first landed in America on Feb. 7, 1964, and the news media is awash with nostalgic tributes to the band that “changed everything.” The Grammys will be saluting the Beatles with a 2-hour star-studded tribute. JFK Airport plans to dedicate a historical marker to commemorate the moment the four lads from Liverpool arrived on a Pan Am flight, to be greeted by hordes of screaming fans. And all across the country, including in New York City, conferences, tribute band performances, and reenactments will pay homage to Beatlemania and their music.

While there is much to celebrate about the Beatles coming to America, there is also much to regret, starting with the fact that while we may remember the music of the Beatles, we’ve lost sight of the hope for change and revolutionary spirit that were hallmarks of those days. Indeed, the Beatles opened the floodgates of music with their riveting Feb. 9 performance on the Ed Sullivan Show which was televised to 72 million Americans in what has been dubbed “the night that changed America.” Beatlemania, in turn, helped fuel a social, cultural and political revolution that took aim at everything from war, capitalism and racism to women’s rights, militarization and equality.

Fifty years later, while we may be inundated with a glut of music that passes for art and artists that pass for activists, with no shortage of national problems plaguing us (police abuse, endless wars, government corruption, government surveillance, inequality, etc.), we are sorely lacking individuals with the kind of radicalism and willingness to challenge the status quo. This is the difference between Then and Now, between an America that was ripe for the Beatles’ music andtheir message of change and an America that is celebrating the Beatles’ music while oblivious to their radicalism.

“The Beatles were like aliens dropped into the United States of 1964,” reports Todd Leopold for CNN. Leopold continues:

Kennedy’s assassination 10 weeks earlier had left a gloom on the land. Together, the two events created a dividing line between Then and Now. “A lot of people don’t understand why (Sullivan) was a seminal moment in the history of America and, for that matter, the history of the world,” former Arkansas governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee recalled in a recent speech. “The country had just gone through a very painful time of mourning. … There was an extraordinary amount of despair, heartbreak, disappointment,” he continued. “I think people forget that we were still grieving as a nation. The Beatles brought something to America more than music. They brought hope.”

The Beatles converged with their era—the Sixties generation—in an almost unprecedented way. At no other time in history, or since, has a generation been so connected. The vehicle was rock music. And the Beatles helped create an aural culture. As Randy Lewis notes for the Los Angeles Times:

If they were relatively friendly revolutionaries, with their pressed suits and bemused grins and professional politesse and their malt-shop lyrics, they were revolutionaries nonetheless… Now that everything is at our fingertips, a swipe or click away at any moment anywhere, it is hard to conceive of the effect they once had. The revolution had actually been televised then… Self-contained and self-directed — notwithstanding the guidance of manager Brian Epstein and producer George Martin, who were collaborators and not directors — the Beatles were something new and in no hurry to leave or conform. Other new things followed through doors they helped open. For better or worse, for a while, the world grew young.

The burgeoning baby boomers’ fascination with music brought the sixties generation into a collective whole. “Perhaps the most important aspect of the Beatles’ attraction during that influential era,” writes author Steven Stark, “was their collective synergy.” In other words, the Beatles popularized the sanctity of “the group,” amazingly so in a time when the traditional family was beginning to disintegrate. With the Beatles, the whole was always greater than the sum of the parts. This gave them a dazzling appeal.

Unlike artists before them, the Beatles had power over millions of people worldwide. In 1967, for example, with the release of their Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band album, as one critic noted, it was the closest Europe had been to unification since the Congress of Vienna in 1815. Most thought North America could have been included as well. And the Beatles became the embodiment of the Summer of Love with their live global BBC television broadcast of “All You Need Is Love” in June 1967. Approximately 400 million people across five continents tuned in. This type of power was something new. Previously, only popes, kings and perhaps a few intellectuals could hope to wield such influence in their lifetime.

Some have even argued that the Beatles’ influence helped bring down the Iron Curtain. As Yuri Pelyoshonok, a Soviet Studies professor, says:

The Soviet authorities thought of the Beatles as a secret Cold War weapon. The kids lost their interest in all Soviet unshakable dogmas and ideals, and stopped thinking of an English-speaking person as the enemy. That’s when the Communists lost two generations of young people ideologically, totally lost. That was an incredible impact.

Following the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy in 1968, the optimism of the Summer of Love quickly evaporated and young people revolted worldwide. In the U.S., the cataclysm came as 10,000 demonstrators descended on the Democratic Party’s national convention in August. Police reacted by brutally beating rock-throwing demonstrators as well as passersby, journalists and volunteers. Violence and revolt were now in vogue.

The Beatles, the most influential pop voice of the time, responded to this shift towards violence with “Revolution,” the first Beatles song with an explicitly political statement. As “Revolution” stresses, it was not a movement about physically overthrowing a regime. It was a spiritual revolution, one aimed at overthrowing preconceived notions. Thus, before you can effect a lasting change, as John Lennon sings, you have to “free your mind.” As John Lennon sings in his masterpiece on the need for nonviolent change, “When you talk about destruction, don’t you know that you can count me out?”

The underground press–which at the time included such newspapers as the Village Voice–immediately criticized the song and Lennon for not urging outright rebellion against authority. Lennon was quick to point out that if they really wanted a revolution, it had to begin with changing the way people think: “I’m not only up against the establishment but you too. I’ll tell you what’s wrong with the world: people–so do you want to destroy them? Until you/we change our heads–there’s no choice.”

It didn’t take long for Lennon, the activist of the group, to recognize that he could use his celebrity status to not only communicate his own ideas about the world but change the way people thought about issues of the day. He subsequently began his quest for worldwide peace. In fact, it may be that Lennon was the last great iconic anti-war activist of our age. Indeed, by October 1969, Lennon’s “Give Peace a Chance” had become a universal chant at anti-Vietnam War demonstrations. On November 15, during a peace rally in Washington, DC, the legendary folk singer Pete Seeger led nearly half a million demonstrators in singing “Give Peace a Chance” at the Washington Monument.

Unlike the other members of the Beatles, who are largely remembered for their music, Lennon’s political activism soon became a hallmark of the man himself. As Time magazine contributor Martin Lewis recognizes, “Of all Lennon’s legacies, one of the most enduring, and perhaps the most impressive, is who his enemies were. The true measure of his greatness was that in the 1970s he terrified the most powerful man in the world.” Lewis, of course, is referring to Richard Nixon, who became a determined enemy of Lennon.

Of all the Beatles, it may be Lennon’s activism which speaks most to the concerns of our present day and the ever-growing menace of the police state. In fact, as I document in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, Lennon, enemy number one in the eyes of the U.S. government, was targeted for surveillance by the FBI (most likely in conjunction with the NSA).

Fearing Lennon might incite antiwar protests, the Nixon administration directed the FBI to keep close tabs on the ex-Beatle, resulting in close to 400 pages of files on his activities during the early 1970s. But the government’s actions didn’t stop with mere surveillance. The agency went so far as to attempt to have Lennon deported on drug charges. As professor Jon Wiener, a historian who sued the federal government to have the files on Lennon made public, observed, “This is really the story of F.B.I. misconduct, of the President using the F.B.I. to get his enemies, to use federal agencies to suppress dissent and to silence critics.”

Fifty years after America first fell in love with Lennon and his mop-top comrades, the Beatles’ legacy lives on—at least, their musical legacy lives on.

Yet while the Beatles’ greatest legacy was in effecting a revolution of spirit and mind, today we’re in dire need of revolutionaries willing to challenge the status quo.

The world could use another revolution, don’t you think? — John W. Whitehead