Posts Tagged ‘authoritarian regime’

“I was astonished, bewildered. This was America, a country where, whatever its faults, people could speak, write, assemble, demonstrate without fear. It was in the Constitution, the Bill of Rights. We were a democracy… But I knew it wasn’t a dream; there was a painful lump on the side of my head… The state and its police were not neutral referees in a society of contending interests. They were on the side of the rich and powerful. Free speech? Try it and the police will be there with their horses, their clubs, their guns, to stop you. From that moment on, I was no longer a liberal, a believer in the self-correcting character of American democracy. I was a radical, believing that something fundamental was wrong in this country—not just the existence of poverty amidst great wealth, not just the horrible treatment of black people, but something rotten at the root. The situation required not just a new president or new laws, but an uprooting of the old order, the introduction of a new kind of society—cooperative, peaceful, egalitarian.” ― Historian Howard Zinn

America is at a crossroads.

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.

Certainly, this is a time when government officials operate off their own inscrutable, self-serving playbook with little in the way of checks and balances, while American citizens are subjected to all manner of indignities and violations with little hope of defending themselves.

Battlefield_Cover_300As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, we have moved beyond the era of representative government and entered a new age—the age of authoritarianism. Even with its constantly shifting terrain, this topsy-turvy travesty of law and government has become America’s new normal.

Don’t believe me?

Let me take you on a brief guided tour, but prepare yourself. The landscape is particularly disheartening to anyone who remembers what America used to be.

The Executive Branch: Whether it’s the Obama administration’s war on whistleblowers, the systematic surveillance of journalists and regular citizens, the continued operation of Guantanamo Bay, or the occupation of Afghanistan, Barack Obama has surpassed his predecessors in terms of his abuse of the Constitution and the rule of law. President Obama, like many of his predecessors, has routinely disregarded the Constitution when it has suited his purposes, operating largely above the law and behind a veil of secrecy, executive orders and specious legal justifications. Rest assured that no matter who wins this next presidential election, very little will change. The policies of the American police state will continue.

The Legislative Branch:  It is not overstating matters to say that Congress may well be the most self-serving, semi-corrupt institution in America. Abuses of office run the gamut from elected representatives neglecting their constituencies to engaging in self-serving practices, including the misuse of eminent domain, earmarking hundreds of millions of dollars in federal contracting in return for personal gain and campaign contributions, having inappropriate ties to lobbyist groups and incorrectly or incompletely disclosing financial information. Pork barrel spending, hastily passed legislation, partisan bickering, a skewed work ethic, graft and moral turpitude have all contributed to the public’s increasing dissatisfaction with congressional leadership. No wonder 86 percent of Americans disapprove of the job Congress is doing.

The Judicial Branch: The 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 United States Supreme Court have become the guardians of the American police state in which we now live. As a result, sound judgment and justice have largely taken a back seat to legalism, statism and elitism, while preserving the rights of the people has been deprioritized and made to play second fiddle to both governmental and corporate interests.

Shadow Government: America’s next president will inherit more than a bitterly divided nation teetering on the brink of financial catastrophe when he or she assumes office. He or she will also inherit a shadow government, one that is fully operational and staffed by unelected officials who are, in essence, running the country. Referred to as the Deep State, this shadow government is comprised of unelected government bureaucrats, corporations, contractors, paper-pushers, and button-pushers who are actually calling the shots behind the scenes right now.

Law Enforcement: By and large the term “law enforcement” encompasses all agents within a militarized police state, including the military, local police, and the various agencies such as the Secret Service, FBI, CIA, NSA, etc. Having been given the green light to probe, poke, pinch, taser, search, seize, strip and generally manhandle anyone they see fit in almost any circumstance, all with the general blessing of the courts, America’s law enforcement officials, no longer mere servants of the people entrusted with keeping the peace but now extensions of the military, are part of an elite ruling class dependent on keeping the masses corralled, under control, and treated like suspects and enemies rather than citizens. In the latest move to insulate police from charges of misconduct, Virginia lawmakers are considering legislation to keep police officers’ names secret, ostensibly creating secret police forces.

A Suspect Surveillance Society: Every dystopian sci-fi film we’ve ever seen is suddenly converging into this present moment in a dangerous trifecta between science, technology and a government that wants to be all-seeing, all-knowing and all-powerful. By tapping into your phone lines and cell phone communications, the government knows what you say. By uploading all of your emails, opening your mail, and reading your Facebook posts and text messages, the government knows what you write. By monitoring your movements with the use of license plate readers, surveillance cameras and other tracking devices, the government knows where you go. By churning through all of the detritus of your life—what you read, where you go, what you say—the government can predict what you will do. By mapping the synapses in your brain, scientists—and in turn, the government—will soon know what you remember. And by accessing your DNA, the government will soon know everything else about you that they don’t already know: your family chart, your ancestry, what you look like, your health history, your inclination to follow orders or chart your own course, etc. Consequently, in the face of DNA evidence that places us at the scene of a crime, behavior sensing technology that interprets our body temperature and facial tics as suspicious, and government surveillance devices that cross-check our biometricslicense plates and DNA against a growing database of unsolved crimes and potential criminals, we are no longer “innocent until proven guilty.”

Military Empire: America’s endless global wars and burgeoning military empire—funded by taxpayer dollars—have depleted our resources, over-extended our military and increased our similarities to the Roman Empire and its eventual demise. The U.S. now operates approximately 800 military bases in foreign countries around the globe at an annual cost of at least $156 billion. The consequences of financing a global military presence are dire. In fact, David Walker, former comptroller general of the U.S., believes there are “striking similarities” between America’s current situation and the factors that contributed to the fall of Rome, including “declining moral values and political civility at home, an over-confident and over-extended military in foreign lands and fiscal irresponsibility by the central government.”

I haven’t even touched on the corporate state, the military industrial complex, SWAT team raids, invasive surveillance technology, zero tolerance policies in the schools, overcriminalization, or privatized prisons, to name just a few, but what I have touched on should be enough to show that the landscape of our freedoms has already changed dramatically from what it once was and will no doubt continue to deteriorate unless Americans can find a way to wrest back control of their government and reclaim their freedoms.

That brings me to the final and most important factor in bringing about America’s shift into authoritarianism: “we the people.” We are the government. Thus, if the government has become a tyrannical agency, it is because we have allowed it to happen, either through our inaction or our blind trust.

Essentially, there are four camps of thought among the citizenry when it comes to holding the government accountable. Which camp you fall into says a lot about your view of government—or, at least, your view of whichever administration happens to be in power at the time.

In the first camp are those who trust the government to do the right thing, despite the government’s repeated failures in this department. In the second camp are those who not only don’t trust the government but think the government is out to get them. In the third camp are those who see government neither as an angel nor a devil, but merely as an entity that needs to be controlled, or as Thomas Jefferson phrased it, bound “down from mischief with the chains of the Constitution.”

Then there’s the fourth camp, comprised of individuals who pay little to no attention to the workings of government, so much so that they barely vote, let alone know who’s in office. Easily entertained, easily distracted, easily led, these are the ones who make the government’s job far easier than it should be.

It is easy to be diverted, distracted and amused by the antics of the presidential candidates, the pomp and circumstance of awards shows, athletic events, and entertainment news, and the feel-good evangelism that passes for religion today. What is far more difficult to face up to is the reality of life in America, where unemployment, poverty, inequality, injustice and violence by government agents are increasingly norms.

The powers-that-be want us to remain divided, alienated from each other based on our politics, our bank accounts, our religion, our race and our value systems. Yet as George Orwell observed, “The real division is not between conservatives and revolutionaries but between authoritarians and libertarians.”

The only distinction that matters anymore is where you stand in the American police state. In other words, you’re either part of the problem or part of the solution.

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“How far does a man have to go to be thought so dangerous that he needs to be locked away, physically separated from the rest of the world, behind stone walls and iron bars? Clearly, it is a last resort.”—Joe, Land of the Blind

In the Wachowskis’ iconic 1999 film, The Matrix, the protagonist Neo is wakened from a lifelong slumber by Morpheus, a freedom fighter seeking to liberate humans from virtual slavery—a lifelong hibernation state—imposed by hyper-advanced artificial intelligence machines. With their minds plugged into a perfectly crafted virtual reality, few humans ever realize they are living in a dream world to such an extent that most are willing to give their lives in order to preserve the system that enslaves them.

Sound familiar? It should, because as I make clear in my new book, A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State (available on Amazon.com and in stores), we too are living in a fantasy world carefully crafted to resemble a representative democracy, while in reality we are little more than slaves in thrall to an authoritarian regime, with its constant surveillance, manufactured media spectacles, secret courts, inverted justice, and violent repression of dissent. And for the few who dare to challenge the status quo such as Edward Snowden, they are assured of being branded either as conspiratorialists, alarmists, lunatics or outright traitors.

A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State by John W. Whitehead

Consider how quickly the government’s attack dogs went from defending the NSA’s warrantless mass surveillance of Americans’ phone calls to targeting and punishing any and all parties involved in the “leak” of sensitive information, including labeling Snowden a traitor, charging him with espionage and warning foreign governments against giving him refuge. Adding to the surreal drama, President Obama has begun preaching about the need for Americans to “trust” their government, insisting that the NSA’s surveillance is perfectly legal with no acknowledgment of the fact that the information leaked by Snowden shed much-needed light on government corruption, illicit programs and treachery on the part of our so-called representatives.

So well-oiled and interconnected are the cogs, wheels and gear shifts in our government machinery that it can be near to impossible to decipher where the fault lies when something goes awry. What some are slowly coming to realize, however, is that the mechanism itself has changed. Its purpose is no longer to keep our republic running smoothly. To the contrary, this particular contraption’s purpose is to keep the corporate police state in power. Thus, when hiccups, belches, whinges and jams arise, they are not being caused by the mechanism itself becoming faulty—its various parts are already a corrupt part of the whole. Rather, that’s the sound of someone jamming the mechanism and interrupting the smooth flow of the corporate state.

Just consider how insidious and incestuous the various “parts” of the mechanism have become.

Congress. Perhaps the most notorious offenders and most obvious culprits in the creation of the corporate-state, Congress has proven itself to be both inept and avaricious, oblivious champions of an authoritarian system that is systematically dismantling their constituents’ fundamental rights. Congress’ most grievous behavior, however, is its failure to bring the president to task, who for all intents and purposes now operates above the law. The precedent set during the Bush administration of Congressmen going along with senseless and illegal White House policies has turned the office of the president into an untouchable, unstoppable force.

The President. Despite having ridden into office on a wave of optimism and the promise of a new America free of civil liberties abuses, President Obama has proven to be a more effective manipulator of the American people than his predecessors. His presidency has been defined by “kill lists,” the murder of civilians in secret drone strikes, the assassination of American citizens, the continued operation of Guantanamo Bay, the championing of warrantless surveillance of American citizens, and most recently, the funneling of arms to al-Qaeda backed rebels in Syria.

The Supreme Court. The U.S. Supreme Court—once the last refuge of justice, the one governmental body really capable of rolling back the slowly emerging tyranny enveloping America—has instead become the champion of the American police state, absolving government and corporate officials of their crimes while relentlessly punishing the average American for exercising his or her rights. Consider that in the past month alone, the justices have determined that criminal suspects, who are supposed to be treated as innocent until proven guilty, may have their DNA forcibly extracted from them by police. They have decided that staying silent while the police question you may be considered evidence of guilt, despite the Fifth Amendment’s protection against self-incrimination and the well-established “right to remain silent.” Finally, the Court has decided that it operates in a zone in which First Amendment protections cease to exist, as they have unilaterally barred protests outside the Supreme Court building, countering a federal court decision that determined that activities on the Supreme Court grounds are protected by the First Amendment. These are just three examples of a Court that, like the rest of the government, places profit, security, and convenience above our basic rights.

The Media. Of course, this triumvirate of total control would be completely ineffective without a propaganda machine provided by the world’s largest corporations. Besides shoving drivel down our throats at every possible moment, the so-called news agencies which are supposed to act as bulwarks against government propaganda have instead become the mouthpieces of the state. One need only look at the media’s behavior post-9/11 to understand what I mean. From championing the invasion of Iraq based upon absolute fabrications, to the fanatic support of all surveillance state policies and the demonization of whistle blowers like Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning, the pundits which pollute our airwaves are at best court jesters and at worst propagandists for the false reality created by the American government.

The American People. Of course, the most superior engine in the world still requires some form of energy to bring it to life and maintain it, and in this particular mechanism, “we the people” serve that vital function. We are the petrol that powers the motor, for good or bad. We now belong to a permanent underclass in America. It doesn’t matter what you call us—chattel, slaves, worker bees, drones, it’s all the same—what matters is that we are expected to march in lockstep with and submit to the will of the state in all matters, public and private.

Through our complicity in matters large and small, we have allowed an out-of-control corporate-state apparatus to take over every element of American society. Our failure to remain informed about what is taking place in our government, to know and exercise our rights, to vocally protest, to demand accountability on the part of our government representatives, and at a minimum to care about the plight of our fellow Americans has been our downfall. Having allowed ourselves to descend into darkness, refusing to see what is really happening, happily trading the truth for false promises of security and freedom, we have allowed the police state to emerge and to flourish.

Having started with The Matrix, allow me to conclude with a woefully overlooked film, Land of the Blind (2006), a dark political satire in which tyrannical rulers are overthrown by new leaders who prove to be just as bad, if not worse. In the film, citizens perceived as questioning the state are sent to “re-education camps” where the state’s concept of reality is drummed into their heads. Joe, a prison guard, is so impressed with a political prisoner Thorne that he eventually joins a coup to unseat the present dictator and replace him with Thorne. Before long, however, Joe becomes the target of the new government and comes to realize that the old boss is the same as the new boss.

In an age of governmental doublespeak, media obfuscation, and insidious subterfuge on all sides, it can at times be hard to know who is working for whom, and which side the “good guys,” if there are any, are really on. When in doubt, just remember what Orwell had to say about the matter in Animal Farm: “Four legs good, two legs bad.”