Archive for May, 2014

WASHINGTON, DC — Ruling in two separate cases in Plumhoff v. Rickard and Wood v. Moss, the U.S. Supreme Court has once again refused to hold law enforcement officials accountable for allegedly violating citizens’ constitutional rights. In the first case, the Court dismissed complaints against police officers who were involved in a fatal shooting, despite Fourth Amendment concerns that the officers needlessly resorted to a deadly use of force, and in the second, the Court granted “qualified immunity” to Secret Service officials who relocated anti-Bush protesters, despite concerns raised that the protesters’ First Amendment right to freely speak, assemble, and petition their government leaders had been violated. Noting that these decisions are part of a recent trend toward granting government officials “qualified immunity” in lawsuits over alleged constitutional violations, John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute, warned that such rulings incentivize government officials to violate constitutional rights without fear of repercussion.

“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,” said constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead, author of A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State. “This lawlessness on the part of government officials, an unmistakable characteristic of a police state, is made possible in large part by the courts, which increasingly defer to law enforcement and prioritize security over civil liberties. In so doing, the government gives itself free rein to abuse the law, immune from reproach, and we are all the worse off for it.”

In Wood v. Moss, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals found that Secret Service agents who removed only anti-Bush protesters (while allowing pro-Bush supporters standing on an adjacent street to remain) were not immune from lawsuit on First Amendment grounds, and had to make a showing that their actions were not unlawfully motivated by the viewpoint of the protesters. In reversing the Ninth Circuit, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the protesters’ rights to “equal access to the President” were not clearly established under the law, and that the agents’ actions were not motivated by the viewpoint of the protesters.

In Plumhoff v. Rickard, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that police officers who used lethal force against a man fleeing police in a high speed car chase were not immune from a wrongful death suit, and that the case should continue to trial. In Plumhoff, the deceased plaintiff led police officers on a high-speed car chase, which came to a halt after his car was spun out in a parking lot.  Officers proceeded to fire three shots at the stopped vehicle, then fired an additional 12 shots as the vehicle backed away, eventually killing both the driver and passenger of the vehicle.  The Sixth Circuit held that it could not conclude that the officers’ conduct was reasonable as a matter of law, and instead should proceed to a fact finder. In reversing the Sixth Circuit’s decision, the Supreme Court held that the officers’ use of deadly force to terminate the car chase did not violate the Fourth Amendment and the officers were immune from suit.

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“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”—John F. Kennedy

Just in time for Memorial Day, we’re once again being treated to a generous serving of praise and grandstanding by politicians and corporations eager to go on record as being supportive of our veterans. Patriotic platitudes aside, however, America has done a deplorable job of caring for her veterans. We erect monuments for those who die while serving in the military, yet for those who return home, there’s little honor to be found.

Despite the fact that the U.S. boasts more than 23 million veterans who have served in World War II through Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Iraq and Afghanistan, the plight of veterans today is deplorable, with large numbers of them impoverished, unemployed, traumatized mentally and physically, struggling with depression, thoughts of suicide, and marital stress, homeless (a third of all homeless Americans are veterans), subjected to sub-par treatment at clinics and hospitals, and left to molder while their paperwork piles up within Veterans Administration (VA) offices.

According to the National Veterans Foundation, the VA has had a backlog of as many as 1.2 million unprocessed claims in recent years, in addition to the fraud and mismanagement within the VA and its network of offices across the country, and secret lists containing thousands of names of veterans who were forced to wait months just to see a doctor.

While President Obama has now declared that he “will not stand” for the mistreatment of veterans under his watch, the time for words is long past. As Slate political correspondent John Dickerson observed, these inexcusable delays represent “a failure of one of the most basic transactions government is supposed to perform: keeping a promise to those who were asked to protect our very form of government.”

Then again, as I detail in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, the government has been breaking its promises to the American people for a long time now, starting with its most sacred covenant to uphold and defend the Constitution. Yet if the government won’t abide by its commitment to respect our constitutional rights to be free from government surveillance and censorship, if it completely tramples on our right to due process and fair hearings, and routinely denies us protection from roadside strip searches and militarized police, why should anyone expect the government to treat our nation’s veterans with respect and dignity?

Indeed, in recent years, military servicemen and women—many of whom are decorated—have found themselves increasingly targeted for surveillance, censorship, threatened with incarceration or involuntary commitment, labeled as extremists and/or mentally ill, and stripped of their Second Amendment rights, all for daring to voice their concerns about the alarming state of our union and the erosion of our freedoms.

For example, a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) program dubbed Operation Vigilant Eagle tracks military veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, and characterizes them as extremists and potential domestic terrorist threats because they may be “disgruntled, disillusioned or suffering from the psychological effects of war.” Since launching Operation Vigilant Eagle, the government has steadily ramped up its campaign to “silence” dissidents, especially those with military backgrounds. Coupled with the DHS’ dual reports on Rightwing and Leftwing “Extremism,” which broadly define extremists as individuals, military veterans and groups “that are mainly antigovernment, rejecting federal authority in favor of state or local authority, or rejecting government authority entirely,” these tactics have boded ill for anyone seen as opposing the government.

An important point to consider, however, is that the government is not merely targeting individuals who are voicing their discontent so much as it is locking up individuals trained in military warfare who are voicing feelings of discontent. Under the guise of mental health treatment and with the complicity of government psychiatrists and law enforcement officials, these veterans are increasingly being portrayed as ticking time bombs in need of intervention. In 2012, for instance, the Justice Department launched a pilot program aimed at training SWAT teams to deal with confrontations involving highly trained and often heavily armed combat veterans.

Unfortunately, as we’ve seen in recent years, the problem with depicting veterans as potential enemy combatants is that any encounter with a military veteran can escalate very quickly into an explosive and deadly situation—at least, on the part of law enforcement.

For example, Jose Guerena, a Marine who served in two tours in Iraq, was killed in 2011 after an Arizona SWAT team kicked open the door of his home during a mistaken drug raid and opened fire. Thinking his home was being invaded by criminals, Guerena told his wife and child to hide in a closet, grabbed a gun and waited in the hallway to confront the intruders. He never fired his weapon. In fact, the safety was still on his gun when he was killed. The SWAT officers, however, not as restrained, fired 70 rounds of ammunition at Guerena—23 of those bullets made contact. Apart from his military background, Guerena had had no prior criminal record, and the police found nothing illegal in his home.

John Edward Chesney, a 62-year-old Vietnam veteran, was killed earlier this year by a SWAT team allegedly responding to a call that the Army veteran was standing in his San Diego apartment window waving what looked like a semi-automatic rifle. SWAT officers locked down Chesney’s street, took up positions around his home, and fired 12 rounds into Chesney’s apartment window. It turned out that the gun Chesney reportedly pointed at police from three stories up was a “realistic-looking mock assault rifle.”

Thankfully, Ramon Hooks’ encounter with a Houston SWAT team did not end as tragically, but it very easily could have. Hooks, a 25-year-old Iraq war veteran, was using an air rifle gun for target practice outside when a Homeland Security Agent, allegedly house shopping in the area, reported him as an active shooter. It wasn’t long before the quiet neighborhood was transformed into a war zone, with dozens of cop cars, an armored vehicle and heavily armed police. Hooks was arrested, his air rifle pellets and toy gun confiscated, and charges filed against him for “criminal mischief.”

Although no toy guns were involved in Brandon Raub’s case, his fact scenario is even more chilling, given that he was targeted for exercising his First Amendment rights on Facebook. The 26-year-old decorated Marine actually found himself interrogated by government agents about his views on government corruption, arrested with no warning, labeled mentally ill for subscribing to so-called “conspiratorial” views about the government, detained against his will in a psych ward for standing by his views, and isolated from his family, friends and attorneys.

On August 16, 2012, a swarm of local police, Secret Service and FBI agents arrived at Raub’s Virginia home, asking to speak with him about posts he had made on his Facebook page made up of song lyrics, political opinions and dialogue used in a political thriller virtual card game. Among the posts cited as troublesome were lyrics to a song by a rap group and Raub’s views, shared increasingly by a number of Americans, that the 9/11 terrorist attacks were an inside job.

After a brief conversation and without providing any explanation, levying any charges against Raub or reading him his rights, Raub was then handcuffed and transported to police headquarters, then to a medical center, where he was held against his will due to alleged concerns that his Facebook posts were “terrorist in nature.” Outraged onlookers filmed the arrest and posted the footage to YouTube, where it quickly went viral. Meanwhile, in a kangaroo court hearing that turned a deaf ear to Raub’s explanations about the fact that his Facebook posts were being read out of context, Raub was sentenced to up to 30 days’ further confinement in a psychiatric ward.

Thankfully, The Rutherford Institute came to Raub’s assistance, which combined with heightened media attention, brought about his release and may have helped prevent Raub from being successfully “disappeared” by the government. Even so, within days of Raub being seized and forcibly held in a VA psych ward, news reports started surfacing of other veterans having similar experiences.

That the government is using the charge of mental illness as the means by which to immobilize (and disarm) these veterans is diabolically brilliant. With one stroke of a magistrate’s pen, these service men are being declared mentally ill, locked away against their will, and stripped of their constitutional rights. Make no mistake, these returning veterans are being positioned as enemy number one.

Indeed, Raub’s case, a prime example of the government’s war on veterans, exposes the seedy underbelly of a governmental system that is targeting Americans—especially military veterans—for expressing their discontent over America’s rapid transition to a police state.

A federal judge actually dismissed Raub’s lawsuit challenging the government’s “Operation Vigilant Eagle” campaign and its increasing view of veterans as potential domestic terrorists as “far-fetched.” Yet what may sound far-fetched to the courts is a grim reality to Americans who are daily being targeted for daring to exercise their constitutional rights to speak their minds, criticize the government, and defend themselves and their families against over-reaching government surveillance and heavy-handed police tactics.

It’s ironic, isn’t it, that we raise our young people to believe that it is their patriotic duty to defend freedom abroad by serving in the military, then when they return home, bruised and battle-scarred and suddenly serious about defending their freedoms at home, we treat them like terrorists. Then again, perhaps it’s not so much ironic as it is tragic and pathetic—a sad tribute, indeed, to those willing to put their lives on the line.

OWS-Police-Brutality

“Police are specialists in violence. They are armed, trained, and authorized to use force. With varying degrees of subtlety, this colors their every action. Like the possibility of arrest, the threat of violence is implicit in every police encounter. Violence, as well as the law, is what they represent.”–Kristian Williams, activist and author

Living in a free society means not having to look over your shoulder to see whether the government is watching or fearing that a government agent might perpetuate violence upon you.

Unfortunately, as I detail in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, subjected as we are to government surveillance, body scanners, militarized police, roadside strip searches, SWAT team raids, drones, and other trappings of a police state, “we the people” do not live in a free society any longer.

Not only are we no longer a free people but we have become a fearful people, as well, helped along in large part by politicians eager to capitalize on our fears. As Julie Hanus writes for Utne: “Since the 1980s, society at large has bolted frantically from one panic to the next. Fear of crime reduced us to wrecks, but before long we were also howling about deadly diseases, drug abusers, online pedophiles, avian flu, teens gone wild, mad cows, anthrax, immigrants, environmental collapse, and–let us not forget–terrorists.”

Now thanks to an increasingly militarized police force and police officers who shoot first and ask questions later, we’ve got one more fear to add to that growing list, and with good reason: fear of the police–local, state and federal agents.

Who wouldn’t be afraid of police officers who go around shooting unarmed citizens, tasering women–young and old alike, and forcing law-abiding Americans to the ground at gunpoint?

Such was the case when a Missouri police officer shot and wounded an unarmed panhandler. Texas police, during a raid on a home where music was reportedly being played too loudly, repeatedly tasered a 54-year-old grandmother, kicking and punching other members of the household. A 20-year-old Florida woman who was tasered by a police officer while she was handcuffed ended up in a permanent vegetative state and eventually died. And then there was the homeless man who was shot and killed by Albuquerque police for squatting on public land.

If it were just a few “bad” cops terrorizing the citizenry, that would be one thing. But what we’re dealing with is a nationwide epidemic of court-sanctioned police violence carried out against individuals posing little or no threat of violence, who are nevertheless subjected to such excessive police force as to end up maimed or killed.

For example, Ron Hillstrom was pacing in the parking lot of his apartment complex asking for help when four officers approached him, unleashed their tasers, and subdued him with electric shocks. When Hillstrom fell to the ground, another officer hit him with a flashlight. Hillstrom died soon thereafter.

Danny Cantu was recently awarded $105,000 after Dallas police rushed into his backyard, threw a flash bang grenade into his window, and broke into his home without warning. Cantu was thrown to the ground and beaten with his hands tied behind his back.

Denise Green is suing San Francisco police after a license plate reader misread her license plate, causing her to be pulled over by five police officers who pointed guns at her under the false belief that she was driving a stolen car. After being held at gunpoint on the ground, Green was handcuffed and her car searched before she was finally released.

The toll such incidents take on adults can be life-altering, but when such police brutality is perpetrated on young people, the end result is nothing less than complete indoctrination into becoming compliant citizens of a totalitarian state. The message is clear and chilling: any deviation from what is “allowed” will be punished severely.

Thus, when a 9-year-old Portland girl got into a fight at a youth club, instead of the incident being resolved by staff members and reported to her family, police showed up at her home, arrested the young girl, took her down to the station, fingerprinted her, and had her mug shot taken.

Similarly, when 13-year-old Kevens Jean Baptiste failed to follow a school bus driver’s direction to keep the bus windows closed (Kevens, who suffers from asthma, opened the window after a fellow student sprayed perfume, causing him to cough and wheeze), he was handcuffed by police, removed from the bus, and while still handcuffed, had his legs swept out from under him by an officer, causing him to crash to the ground.

In Missouri, a 7-year-old child was handcuffed because he was allegedly upset about being teased by his classmates. The inconsolable child, who was screaming in class because of the taunting, was taken by the school’s security officer to the principal’s office and handcuffed until his father arrived at the school.

There might be some hope of reform if only this problem of police brutality were not so widespread and endemic, if the citizenry actually had some sway with their representatives, if communities actually had some say over how law enforcement agencies “police” their communities, if police unions did not have such a stranglehold over the oversight process, if the courts were more impartial and less inclined to blindly sanction the actions of the police, and if the federal government itself had not already coopted state and local police agencies in order to transform them into extensions of the military.

In the absence of any credible scenarios that would hold the police accountable to abiding by the rule of law–our U.S. Constitution–and respecting the citizenry’s right to be treated with respect and dignity, the police have become a law unto themselves.

Clearly, the master-servant relationship upon which American government was based has now been reversed. Government agents in general, and the police in particular, now seem to believe they are the masters and we are the servants. It’s definitely time to reestablish us, the American citizenry, as the masters of our government–even if it means showing the oppressors that we will no longer wear their chains.

Some Americans have already begun pushing back. In Albuquerque, New Mexico, for example, where police have been involved in 39 shootings since 2010–with the most recent being a police shooting of an unarmed homeless man camped out in a public park–residents have begun engaging in nonviolent acts of civil disobedience to disrupt the normal functioning of the city government until the police department is brought under control. Community activists actually went so far as to storm a city council meeting and announce that they would be performing a citizens’ arrest of the police chief, charging him with “harboring fugitives from justice at the Albuquerque police department” and “crimes against humanity.”

This growing tension, seen in Albuquerque and felt throughout the country, is a tension between those who wield power on behalf of the government–the president, Congress, the courts, the military, the militarized police, the technocrats, the faceless unelected bureaucrats who blindly obey and carry out government directives, no matter how immoral or unjust, and the corporations–and those among the populace who are finally waking up to the mounting injustices, seething corruption and endless tyrannies that are transforming our country into a police state.

Where we go wrong is in painting our oppressors–whether it be the police, the courts, Congress, or the president–as absolutely evil and ourselves as powerless to resist.

Hannah Arendt, a Holocaust survivor who reported on the war crimes trial of Nazi Adolf Eichmann, a senior officer who organized Hitler’s death camps, denounced Eichmann not because he was evil per se but because he was a bureaucrat who unquestioningly carried out orders that were immoral, inhumane and evil. This, Arendt concluded, was the banality of evil, the ability to engage in wrongdoing or turn a blind eye to it, without taking any responsibility for your actions or inactions.

Coincidentally, the same year that Arendt’s book Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil was published, Martin Luther King Jr. penned his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” in which he concludes that “the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice.” As King points out, “We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was ‘legal’ and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was ‘illegal.’ It was ‘illegal’ to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler’s Germany.”

In other words, there comes a time when law and order are in direct opposition to justice.

This tension is at the heart of the issue over police brutality, carried out by individuals who may not themselves be evil but are merely following orders, marching in lockstep with a government machine that views us as less than human. So how does one achieve justice without resorting to violence, given that violence only leads to more violence? The only recourse left to us, as both King and Arendt recognize, is mass civil disobedience of the nonviolent sort. As King notes:

[T]here is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience. It was evidenced sublimely in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar, on the ground that a higher moral law was at stake. It was practiced superbly by the early Christians, who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks rather than submit to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire. To a degree, academic freedom is a reality today because Socrates practiced civil disobedience. In our own nation, the Boston Tea Party represented a massive act of civil disobedience.

After all, as King declared, “Freedom is never voluntarily given up by the oppressor; it must be demanded.”

google-surveillance

“The Google services and apps that we interact with on a daily basis aren’t the company’s main product: They are the harvesting machines that dig up and process the stuff that Google really sells: for-profit intelligence.”—Journalist Yasha Levine

“We know where you are. We know where you’ve been. We can more or less know what you’re thinking about.”—former Google CEO Eric Schmidt

What would happen if the most powerful technology company in the world and the largest clandestine spying agency in the world joined forces?

No need to wonder. Just look around you. It’s happened already. Thanks to an insidious partnership between Google and the National Security Agency (NSA) that grows more invasive and more subtle with every passing day, “we the people” have become little more than data consumer commodities to be bought, sold and paid for over and over again.

With every smartphone we buy, every GPS device we install, every Twitter, Facebook, and Google account we open, every frequent buyer card we use for purchases—whether at the grocer’s, the yogurt shop, the airlines or the department store, and every credit and debit card we use to pay for our transactions, we’re helping Corporate America build a dossier for its government counterparts on who we know, what we think, how we spend our money, and how we spend our time.

What’s worse, this for-profit surveillance scheme, far larger than anything the NSA could capture just by tapping into our phone calls, is made possible by our consumer dollars and our cooperation. All those disclaimers you scroll though without reading them, the ones written in minute font, only to quickly click on the “Agree” button at the end so you can get to the next step—downloading software, opening up a social media account, adding a new app to your phone or computer: those signify your written consent to having your activities monitored, recorded and shared.

It’s not just the surveillance you consent to that’s being shared with the government, however. It’s the very technology you happily and unquestioningly use which is being hardwired to give the government easy access to your activities.

In this way, Congress can pass all the legislation it wants—it will have no real effect on the NSA’s activities—because the NSA no longer needs to dirty its hands by spying on Americans’ phone, email and internet activities, and the government can absolve itself of any direct wrongdoing. They can go straight to the source, as evidenced by a Freedom of Information Act request detailing the close relationship between Google higher-ups Eric Schmidt and Sergey Brin and NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander. With Google in its hip pocket, the NSA can just bypass any legislative restrictions dreamed up to appease the electorate and buy their way into a surveillance state.

The government’s motives aren’t too difficult to understand—money, power, control—but what do corporate giants like Google stand to gain from colluding with Big Brother? Money, power, control. As privacy and security expert Bruce Schneier observed, “The main focus of massive Internet companies and government agencies both still largely align: to keep us all under constant surveillance. When they bicker, it’s mostly role-playing designed to keep us blasé about what’s really going on.”

While one billion people use Google every day, none of them pay to utilize Google’s services. However, there’s a good reason that Google doesn’t charge for its services, and it has nothing to do with magnanimity, generosity, altruism, or munificence. If as the old adage warns, there’s no such thing as a free lunch, then what does Google get out of the relationship? Simple: Google gets us.

It turns out that we are Soylent Green. The 1973 film of the same name, starring Charlton Heston and Edward G. Robinson, is set in 2022 in an overpopulated, polluted, starving New York City whose inhabitants depend on synthetic foods manufactured by the Soylent Corporation for survival. Heston plays a policeman investigating a murder, who then discovers the grisly truth about what the wafer, soylent green—the principal source of nourishment for a starved population—is really made of. “It’s people. Soylent Green is made out of people,” declares Heston’s character. “They’re making our food out of people. Next thing they’ll be breeding us like cattle for food.”

Oh, how right he was. Soylent Green is indeed people, or in our case, Soylent Green is our own personal data, repossessed, repackaged and used by corporations and the government to entrap us. In this way, we’re being bred like cattle but not for food—rather, we’re being bred for our data. That’s the secret to Corporate America’s success.

Google, for example, has long enjoyed a relationship with clandestine agencies such as the CIA and NSA, which use Google’s search-technology for scanning and sharing various intelligence. The technology leviathan turns a profit by processing, trading, and marketing products based upon our personal information, including our relationships, daily activities, personal beliefs, and personalities. Thus, behind the pleasant glow of the computer screen lies a leviathan menace, an intricate system of data collection which transforms all Americans into a string of data, to be added, manipulated, or deleted based upon the whims of those in control.

Take, for example, Google’s Street View program, which gives a fully immersive street level view of towns across the world. The program was constructed by Google Street View cars outfitted with 360 degree cameras, which seemed a neat idea to many people, most of whom didn’t realize that the cars were not only taking pictures of all residential and commercial districts which they drove through, but were also “siphoning loads of personally identifiable data from people’s Wi-Fi connections all across the world,” including emails, medical records, and any other electronic documents that were not encrypted.

Even the most seemingly benign Google program, Gmail, has been one of the most astoundingly successful surveillance programs ever concocted by a state or corporate entity. Journalist Yasha Levine explains:

“All communication was subject to deep linguistic analysis; conversations were parsed for keywords, meaning, and even tone; individuals were matched to real identities using contact information stored in a user’s Gmail address book; attached documents were scraped for intel — that info was then cross-referenced with previous email interactions and combined with stuff gleaned from other Google services, as well as third-party sources…”

Google then creates profiles on Gmail users, based upon “concepts and topics discussed in email, as well as email attachments [including] the content of websites that users have visited; demographic information — including income, sex, race, marital status; geographic information; psychographic information — personality type, values, attitudes, interests, and lifestyle interests; previous searches users have made; information about documents a user viewed and or edited by the users; browsing activity; previous purchases.”

Even if one isn’t using Gmail themselves, but merely contacting a Gmail user, that person is subject to this mass collection and analysis of personal data. Google has gone so far as to disingenuously argue that “people who used Internet services for communication had ‘no legitimate expectation of privacy’ — and thus anyone who emailed with Gmail users had given ‘implied consent’ for Google to intercept and analyze their email exchange.”

What Google’s vast acquisition and analysis of information indicates is that we are entering what some have called an age of infopolitics, in which the human person is broken down into data sets to be collated and analyzed, and used for a variety of purposes, including marketing, propaganda, and the squelching of dissent. As philosopher Colin Koopman notes, we may soon find ourselves in a more efficient version of the McCarthy era, in which one’s personal beliefs or associations become fodder for the rising corporate surveillance state.

Email, social media, and GPS are just the tip of the iceberg, however. Google has added to its payroll the best and brightest minds in the fields of military defense, robotics (including humanoid robotics), defense, surveillance, machine learning, artificial intelligence, web-controlled household appliances (such as Nest thermostats), and self-driving cars. As journalist Carole Cadwalladr’s predicts, “The future, in ways we can’t even begin to imagine, will be Google’s.”

Toward this end, Google has been working towards what one investor called “a Manhattan project of AI [artificial intelligence].” For those who remember their history, the Manhattan Project was a top-secret, multi-agency, multi-billion-dollar, military-driven government project aimed at building the first atom bombs. This project not only spawned the nuclear bombs used at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but it also ushered in a nuclear arms race that, to this day, puts humanity on the brink of annihilation.

No less powerful and potentially destructive to the human race are modern-day surveillance and robotic technologies, manufactured by corporations working in tandem with government agencies. These are the building blocks of the global electronic concentration camp encircling us all, and Google, in conjunction with the NSA, has set itself up as a formidable warden.

The question, when all is said and done, is where will all this technology take us? It’s a conundrum I explore at length in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, which looks to film, fiction and art as indicators of the police state that now surrounds us, brought about with the help of the government and its corporate partners.

It won’t be long before we find ourselves, much like Edward G. Robinson’s character in Soylent Green, looking back on the past with longing, back to an age where we could speak to whom we wanted, buy what we wanted, think what we wanted without those thoughts, words and activities being tracked, processed and stored by corporate giants such as Google, sold to government agencies such as the NSA and CIA, and used against us by militarized police with their army of futuristic technologies.

Then again, George Orwell’s description of the world of 1984 is as apt a description of today’s world as I’ve ever seen: “You had to live—did live, from habit that became instinct—in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized.”

holocaust

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”—Martin Niemoller

Despite what some may think, the Constitution is no magical incantation against government wrongdoing. Indeed, it’s only as effective as those who abide by it. However, without courts willing to uphold the Constitution’s provisions when government officials disregard it and a citizenry knowledgeable enough to be outraged when those provisions are undermined, it provides little to no protection against SWAT team raids, domestic surveillance, police shootings of unarmed citizens, indefinite detentions, and the like.

Unfortunately, the courts and the police have meshed in their thinking to such an extent that anything goes when it’s done in the name of national security, crime fighting and terrorism. Consequently, America no longer operates under a system of justice characterized by due process, an assumption of innocence, probable cause and clear prohibitions on government overreach and police abuse. Instead, our courts of justice have been transformed into courts of order, advocating for the government’s interests, rather than championing the rights of the citizenry, as enshrined in the Constitution.

Just recently, for example, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in U.S. v. Westhoven that driving too carefully, with a rigid posture, taking a scenic route, and having acne are sufficient reasons for a police officer to suspect you of doing something illegal, detain you, search your car, and arrest you—even if you’ve done nothing illegal to warrant the stop in the first place.

In that same vein, the U.S. Supreme Court declared in a 5-4 ruling in Navarette v. California that police officers can, under the guise of “reasonable suspicion,” stop cars and question drivers based solely on anonymous tips, no matter how dubious, and whether or not they themselves witnessed any troubling behavior.

And then you have the Supreme Court’s refusal to hear Hedges v. Obama, a legal challenge to the indefinite detention provision of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 (NDAA), thereby affirming that the President and the U.S. military can arrest and indefinitely detain individuals, including American citizens, based on a suspicion that they might be associated with or aiding terrorist organizations.

All three cases reflect a mindset in which the rule of law, the U.S. Constitution, once the map by which we navigated sometimes hostile terrain, has been unceremoniously booted out of the runaway car that is our government, driven over and left for road kill on the side of the road. All that can be seen in the rear view mirror are the tire marks on its ragged frame.

What we are dealing with, as I document in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, is a run-away government hyped up on its own power, whose policies are dictated more by paranoia than need. Making matters worse, “we the people” have become so gullible, so easily distracted, and so out-of-touch that we are ignoring the warning signs all around us and failing to demand that government officials of all stripes—the White House, Congress, the courts, the military, law enforcement, the endless parade of bureaucrats, etc.—respect our rights and abide by the rule of law.

The Supreme Court’s refusal to hear the NDAA indefinite detention case—which challenged whether the government can lawfully lock up American citizens who might be deemed extremists or terrorists (the government likes to use these words interchangeably) for criticizing the government—is one such warning sign that we would do well to heed.

The building blocks are already in place for such an eventuality: the surveillance networks, fusion centers and government contractors already monitor what is being said by whom; government databases track who poses a potential threat to the government’s power; the militarized police, working in conjunction with federal agencies, coordinate with the federal government when it’s time to round up the troublemakers; the courts sanction the government’s methods, no matter how unlawful; and the detention facilities, whether private prisons or FEMA internment camps, to lock up the troublemakers.

For those who can read the writing on the wall, it’s all starting to make sense: the military drills carried out in major American cities, the VIPR inspections at train depots and bus stations, the SWAT team raids on unsuspecting homeowners, the Black Hawk helicopters patrolling American skies, the massive ammunition purchases by various federal agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Education, the IRS and the Social Security Administration.

Viewed in conjunction with the government’s increasing use of involuntary commitment laws to declare individuals mentally ill and lock them up in psychiatric wards for extended periods of time, the NDAA’s provision allowing the military to arrest and indefinitely detain anyone, including American citizens, only codifies this unraveling of our constitutional framework.

Throw in the profit-driven corporate incentive to jail Americans in private prisons, as well as the criminalizing of such relatively innocent activities as holding Bible studies in one’s home or sharing unpasteurized goat cheese with members of one’s community, and it becomes clear that “we the people” have become enemies of the state. Thus, it’s no longer a question of whether the government will lock up Americans for First Amendment activity but when. (It’s particularly telling that the government’s lawyers, when pressed for an assurance that those exercising their First Amendment rights in order to criticize the government would not be targeted under the NDAA, refused to provide one.)

History shows that the U.S. government is not averse to locking up its own citizens for its own purposes. One need only go back to the 1940s, when the federal government proclaimed that Japanese-Americans, labeled potential dissidents, could be put in concentration (a.k.a. internment) camps based only upon their ethnic origin, to see the lengths the federal government will go to in order to maintain “order” in the homeland. The U.S. Supreme Court validated the detention program in Korematsu v. US (1944), concluding that the government’s need to ensure the safety of the country trumped personal liberties. That decision has never been overturned.

In fact, the creation of detention camps domestically has long been part of the government’s budget and operations, falling under the jurisdiction of FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency. FEMA’s murky history dates back to the 1970s, when President Carter created it by way of an executive order merging many of the government’s disaster relief agencies into one large agency. During the 1980s, however, reports began to surface of secret military-type training exercises carried out by FEMA and the Department of Defense. Code named Rex-84, 34 federal agencies, including the CIA and the Secret Service, were trained on how to deal with domestic civil unrest.

FEMA’s role in creating top-secret American internment camps is well-documented. But be careful who you share this information with: it turns out that voicing concerns about the existence of FEMA detention camps is among the growing list of opinions and activities which may make a federal agent or government official think you’re an extremist (a.k.a. terrorist), or sympathetic to terrorist activities, and thus qualify you for indefinite detention under the NDAA. Also included in that list of “dangerous” viewpoints are advocating states’ rights, believing the state to be unnecessary or undesirable, “conspiracy theorizing,” concern about alleged FEMA camps, opposition to war, organizing for “economic justice,” frustration with “mainstream ideologies,” opposition to abortion, opposition to globalization, and ammunition stockpiling.

Now if you’re going to have internment camps on American soil, someone has to build them. Thus, in 2006, it was announced that Kellogg Brown and Root, a subsidiary of Halliburton, had been awarded a $385 million contract to build American detention facilities. Although the government and Halliburton were not forthcoming about where or when these domestic detention centers would be built, they rationalized the need for them in case of “an emergency influx of immigrants, or to support the rapid development of new programs” in the event of other emergencies such as “natural disasters.”

Of course, these detention camps will have to be used for anyone viewed as a threat to the government, and that includes political dissidents. So it’s no coincidence that the U.S. government has, since the 1980s, acquired and maintained, without warrant or court order, a database of names and information on Americans considered to be threats to the nation. As Salon reports, this database, reportedly dubbed “Main Core,” is to be used by the Army and FEMA in times of national emergency or under martial law to locate and round up Americans seen as threats to national security. As of 2008, there were some 8 million Americans in the Main Core database.

Fast forward to 2009, when 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. 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, so-called extremism is not a partisan matter. Anyone seen as opposing the government—whether they’re Left, Right or somewhere in between—is a target, which brings us back, full circle, to where we started, with the NDAA’s indefinite detention provision, whose language is so broad and vague as to implicate anyone critical of the government.

Unfortunately, we seem to be coming full circle on many fronts. Consider that a decade ago we were debating whether non-citizens—for example, so-called enemy combatants being held at Guantanamo Bay and Muslim-Americans rounded up in the wake of 9/11—were entitled to protections under the Constitution, specifically as they relate to indefinite detention. Americans weren’t overly concerned about the rights of non-citizens then, and now we’re the ones in the unenviable position of being targeted for indefinite detention by our own government.

Similarly, most Americans weren’t unduly concerned when the U.S. Supreme Court gave Arizona police officers the green light to stop, search and question anyone—ostensibly those fitting a particular racial profile—they suspect might be an illegal immigrant. Two years later, the cops have carte blanche authority to stop any individual, citizen and non-citizen alike, they suspect might be doing something illegal (mind you, in this age of overcriminalization, that could be anything from feeding the birds to growing exotic orchids).

Likewise, you still have a sizeable portion of the population today unconcerned about the government’s practice of spying on Americans, having been brainwashed into believing that if you’re not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about. It will only be a matter of time before they learn the hard way that in a police state, it doesn’t matter who you are or how righteous you claim to be—eventually, you will be lumped in with everyone else and everything you do will be “wrong” and suspect.

Martin Niemoller learned that particular lesson the hard way. A German military officer turned theologian, Niemoller was an early supporter of Hitler’s rise to power. It was only when Hitler threatened to attack the churches that Niemoller openly opposed the regime. For his efforts, Neimoller was arrested, charged with activities against the government, fined, detained, and eventually interned in the Sachsenhausen and Dachau concentration camps from 1938 to 1945.

As Niemoller reportedly replied when asked by his cellmate why he ever supported the Nazi party:

I find myself wondering about that too. I wonder about it as much as I regret it. Still, it is true that Hitler betrayed me… Hitler promised me on his word of honor, to protect the Church, and not to issue any anti-Church laws. He also agreed not to allow pogroms against the Jews… Hitler’s assurance satisfied me at the time…I am paying for that mistake now; and not me alone, but thousands of other persons like me.