Posts Tagged ‘surveillance’

“Monsters in movies are us, always us, one way or the other. They’re us with hats on. The zombies in George Romero’s movies are us. They’re hungry. Monsters are us, the dangerous parts of us. The part that wants to destroy. The part of us with the reptile brain. The part of us that’s vicious and cruel. We express these in our stories as the monsters out there. The zombies are back. They are hungry. And they are lurking around every corner.”—Filmmaker John Carpenter

RIP George Romero (1940-2017).

Romero—a filmmaker hailed as the architect of the zombie genre—is dead at the age of 77, but the zombified police state culture he railed against lives on.

Just take a look around you.

“We the people” have become the walking dead of the American police state.

We’re still plagued by the socio-political evils of cultural apathy, materialism, domestic militarism and racism that Romero depicted in his Night of the Living Dead trilogy.

Romero’s zombies have taken on a life of their own in pop culture, as well.

Indeed, you don’t have to look very far anymore to find them lurking around every corner: wreaking havoc in movie blockbusters, running for their lives in 5K charity races, and putting government agents through their paces in mock military drills arranged by the Dept. of Defense (DOD) and the Center for Disease Control (CDC).

In fact, the CDC put together a zombie apocalypse preparation kit “that details everything you would need to have on hand in the event the living dead showed up at your front door.”

Zombies also embody the government’s paranoia about the citizenry as potential threats that need to be monitored, tracked, surveilled, sequestered, deterred, vanquished and rendered impotent.

Case in point: in AMC’s hit television series The Walking Dead and the spinoff Fear the Walking Dead, it’s not just flesh-eating ghouls and cannibalistic humans that survivors have to worry about but the police state “tasked with protecting the vulnerable” that poses some of the gravest threats to the citizenry.

As David Sims writes for the Atlantic:

More than anything, Fear the Walking Dead is a drama about occupation, the breakdown of society, and the ease with which seemingly decent people can decide that might makes right. Like any dystopian fiction, it’s easy to dismiss as fantasy, but remove the zombies and Fear could be taking place in dozens of real-world locations… This is happening here … but it could happen anywhere.

Why the fascination with zombies?

Perhaps it’s because zombie fiction provides us with a way to “envision how we and our own would thrive if everything went to hell and we lost all our societal supports.” As Time magazine reporter James Poniewozik phrases it, the “apocalyptic drama lets us face the end of the world once a week and live.”

Writing for the New York Times, Terrence Rafferty notes:

In the case of zombie fiction, you have to wonder whether our 21st-century fascination with these hungry hordes has something to do with a general anxiety, particularly in the West, about the planet’s dwindling resources: a sense that there are too many people out there, with too many urgent needs, and that eventually these encroaching masses, dimly understood but somehow ominous in their collective appetites, will simply consume us. At this awful, pinched moment of history we look into the future and see a tsunami of want bearing down on us, darkening the sky. The zombie is clearly the right monster for this glum mood, but it’s a little disturbing to think that these nonhuman creatures, with their slack, gaping maws, might be serving as metaphors for actual people—undocumented immigrants, say, or the entire populations of developing nations—whose only offense, in most cases, is that their mouths and bellies demand to be filled.

In other words, zombies are the personification of our darkest fears.

Fear and paranoia have become hallmarks of the modern American experience, impacting how we as a nation view the world around us, how we as citizens view each other, and most of all how our government views us.

Fear makes people stupid.

Fear is the method most often used by politicians to increase the power of government. And, as most social commentators recognize, an atmosphere of fear permeates modern America: fear of terrorism, fear of the police, fear of our neighbors and so on.

The propaganda of fear has been used quite effectively by those who want to gain control, and it is working on the American populace.

Despite the fact that we are 17,600 times more likely to die from heart disease than from a terrorist attack; 11,000 times more likely to die from an airplane accident than from a terrorist plot involving an airplane; 1,048 times more likely to die from a car accident than a terrorist attack, and 8 times more likely to be killed by a police officer than by a terrorist, we have handed over control of our lives to government officials who treat us as a means to an end—the source of money and power.

We have allowed ourselves to become fearful, controlled, pacified zombies.

Most everyone keeps their heads down these days while staring zombie-like into an electronic screen, even when they’re crossing the street. Families sit in restaurants with their heads down, separated by their screen devices and unaware of what’s going on around them. Young people especially seem dominated by the devices they hold in their hands, oblivious to the fact that they can simply push a button, turn the thing off and walk away.

Indeed, there is no larger group activity than that connected with those who watch screens—that is, television, lap tops, personal computers, cell phones and so on. In fact, a Nielsen study reports that American screen viewing is at an all-time high. For example, the average American watches approximately 151 hours of television per month.

Psychologically, such screen consumption is similar to drug addiction. Research shows that regardless of the programming, viewers’ brain waves slow down, thus transforming them into a more passive, nonresistant state.

Historically, television has been used by those in authority to quiet discontent and pacify disruptive people. “Faced with severe overcrowding and limited budgets for rehabilitation and counseling, more and more prison officials are using TV to keep inmates quiet,” according to Newsweek.

Given that the majority of what Americans watch on television is provided through channels controlled by six mega corporations, what we watch is now controlled by a corporate elite and, if that elite needs to foster a particular viewpoint or pacify its viewers, it can do so on a large scale.

We are being controlled by forces beyond our control.

This is how the police state takes charge.

As the Atlantic notes, “The villains of [Fear the Walking Dead] aren’t the zombies, who rarely appear, but the U.S. military, who sweep into an L.A. suburb to quarantine the survivors. Zombies are, after all, a recognizable threat—but Fear plumbs drama and horror from the betrayal by institutions designed to keep people safe.”

What we are experiencing is a betrayal of the very core values—a love of freedom, an adherence to the rule of law, a spirit of democracy, a commitment to accountability and transparency, and a recognition that civilian rule must always trump military methods—that have guided this nation from its inception.

The challenge is not whether we can hold onto our freedoms in times of peace and prosperity, but whether we can do so when all hell breaks loose.

Fear the Walking Dead drives this point home by setting viewers down in the midst of societal unrest not unlike our own current events (“a bunch of weird incidents, police protests, riots, and … rapid social entropy”). Then, as Forbes reports, “the military showed up and we fast-forwarded into an ad hoc police state with no glimpse at what was happening in the world around our main cast of hapless survivors.”

Anyone who has been paying attention knows that it will not take much for the government—i.e., the military—to lock down the nation in the event of a national disaster.

The government is not out to keep us safe by monitoring our communications, tracking our movements, criminalizing our every action, treating us like suspects, and stripping us of our means of defense while equipping its own personnel with an amazing arsenal of weapons.

No, this is not security. It is an ambush. And it is being carried out in plain sight.

For example, for years now, the government has been carrying out military training drills with zombies as the enemy. In 2011, the DOD created a 31-page instruction manual for how to protect America from a terrorist attack carried out by zombie forces. In 2012, the CDC released a guide for surviving a zombie plague. That was followed by training drills for members of the military, police officers and first responders.

The zombie exercises appeared to be kitschy and fun—government agents running around trying to put down a zombie rebellion—but what if the zombies in the exercises are us, the citizenry, viewed by those in power as mindless, voracious, zombie hordes?

Consider this: the government started playing around with the idea of using zombies as stand-ins for enemy combatants in its training drills right around the time the Army War College issued its 2008 report, warning that an economic crisis in the U.S. could lead to massive civil unrest that would require the military to intervene and restore order.

That same year, it was revealed that the government had amassed more than 8 million names of Americans considered a threat to national security, to be used “by the military in the event of a national catastrophe, a suspension of the Constitution or the imposition of martial law.” The program’s name, Main Core, refers to the fact that it contains “copies of the ‘main core’ or essence of each item of intelligence information on Americans produced by the FBI and the other agencies of the U.S. intelligence community.”

Also in 2008, the Pentagon launched the Minerva Initiative, a $75 million military-driven research project focused on studying social behavior in order to determine how best to cope with mass civil disobedience or uprisings. The Minerva Initiative has funded projects such as “Who Does Not Become a Terrorist, and Why?” which “conflates peaceful activists with ‘supporters of political violence’ who are different from terrorists only in that they do not embark on ‘armed militancy’ themselves.”

In 2009, the Dept. of Homeland Security issued its reports on Rightwing and Leftwing Extremism, in which the terms “extremist” and “terrorist” were used interchangeably to describe citizens who were disgruntled or anti-government.

Meanwhile, a government campaign was underway to spy on Americans’ mail, email and cell phone communications. News reports indicate that the U.S. Postal Service has handled more than 150,000 requests by federal and state law enforcement agencies to monitor Americans’ mail, in addition to photographing every piece of mail sent through the postal system.

Fast forward a few years more and you have local police being transformed into extensions of the military, taught to view members of their community as suspects, trained to shoot first and ask questions later, and equipped with all of the technology and weaponry of a soldier on a battlefield.

In 2015, the Obama administration hired a domestic terrorism czar whose job is to focus on anti-government American “extremists” who have been designated a greater threat to America than ISIS or al Qaeda. As part of the government’s so-called war on right-wing extremism, the Obama administration agreed to partner with the United Nations to take part in its Strong Cities Network program, which is training local police agencies across America in how to identify, fight and prevent extremism.

In other words, those who believe in and exercise their rights under the Constitution (namely, the right to speak freely, worship freely, associate with like-minded individuals who share their political views, criticize the government, own a weapon, demand a warrant before being questioned or searched, or any other activity viewed as potentially anti-government, racist, bigoted, anarchic or sovereign), are now at the top of the government’s terrorism watch list.

Earlier this year, it was revealed that the Pentagon has been using a dystopian training video to prepare armed forces to solve future domestic political and social problems which they anticipate arising by 2030. It’s only five minutes long, but the military training video says a lot about the government’s mindset, the way its views the citizenry, and the so-called “problems” that the military must be prepared to address in the near future, which include criminal networks, illicit economies, decentralized syndicates of crime, substandard infrastructure, religious and ethnic tensions, impoverishment, economic inequality, protesters, slums, open landfills, over-burdened sewers, and a “growing mass of unemployed.”

Even more troubling, however, is what this military video doesn’t say about the Constitution, about the rights of the citizenry, and about the dangers of using the military to address political and social problems.

Noticing a pattern yet?

“We the people” or, more appropriately, “we the zombies” are the enemy in the eyes of the government.

So when presented with the Defense Department’s battle plan for defeating an army of the walking dead, you might find yourself tempted to giggle over the fact that a taxpayer-funded government bureaucrat actually took the time to research and write about vegetarian zombies, evil magic zombies, chicken zombies, space zombies, bio-engineered weaponized zombies, radiation zombies, symbiant-induced zombies, and pathogenic zombies.

However, in an age of extreme government paranoia, this is no laughing matter.

The DOD’s strategy for dealing with a zombie uprising, outlined in “CONOP 8888,” is for all intents and purposes a training manual for the government in how to put down a citizen uprising or at least an uprising of individuals “infected” with dangerous ideas about freedom.

Rest assured that the tactics and difficulties outlined in the “fictional training scenario” are all too real, beginning with martial law.

So how does the military plan to put down a zombie (a.k.a. disgruntled citizen) uprising?

The strategy manual outlines five phases necessary for a counter-offensive: shape, deter, seize initiative, dominate, stabilize and restore civil authority. Here are a few details:

Phase 0 (Shape): Conduct general zombie awareness training. Monitor increased threats (i.e., surveillance). Carry out military drills. Synchronize contingency plans between federal and state agencies. Anticipate and prepare for a breakdown in law and order.

Phase 1 (Deter): Recognize that zombies cannot be deterred or reasoned with. Carry out training drills to discourage other countries from developing or deploying attack zombies and publicly reinforce the government’s ability to combat a zombie threat. Initiate intelligence sharing between federal and state agencies. Assist the Dept. of Homeland Security in identifying or discouraging immigrants from areas where zombie-related diseases originate.

Phase 2 (Seize initiative): Recall all military personal to their duty stations. Fortify all military outposts. Deploy air and ground forces for at least 35 days. Carry out confidence-building measures with nuclear-armed peers such as Russia and China to ensure they do not misinterpret the government’s zombie countermeasures as preparations for war. Establish quarantine zones. Distribute explosion-resistant protective equipment. Place the military on red alert. Begin limited scale military operations to combat zombie threats. Carry out combat operations against zombie populations within the United States that were “previously” U.S. citizens.

Phase 3 (Dominate): Lock down all military bases for 30 days. Shelter all essential government personnel for at least 40 days. Equip all government agents with military protective gear. Issue orders for military to kill all non-human life on sight. Initiate bomber and missile strikes against targeted sources of zombie infection, including the infrastructure. Burn all zombie corpses. Deploy military to lock down the beaches and waterways.

Phase 4 (Stabilize): Send out recon teams to check for remaining threats and survey the status of basic services (water, power, sewage infrastructure, air, and lines of communication). Execute a counter-zombie ISR plan to ID holdout pockets of zombie resistance. Use all military resources to target any remaining regions of zombie holdouts and influence. Continue all actions from the Dominate phase.

Phase 5 (Restore civil authority): Deploy military personnel to assist any surviving civil authorities in disaster zones. Reconstitute combat capabilities at various military bases. Prepare to redeploy military forces to attack surviving zombie holdouts. Restore basic services in disaster areas.

Notice the similarities?

Surveillance. Military drills. Awareness training. Militarized police forces. Martial law.

Mind you, the government is not being covert about any of this. It’s all out in the open.

If there is any lesson to be learned, it is simply this: as I point out in my book, Battlefield America: The War on the American People, whether the threat to national security comes in the form of actual terrorists, imaginary zombies or disgruntled American citizens infected with dangerous ideas about freedom, the government’s response to such threats remains the same: detect, deter and annihilate.

It’s time to wake up, America, before you end up with a bullet to the head (the only proven means of killing a zombie).

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

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

“The triumph of the S.S. demands that the tortured victim allow himself to be led to the noose without protesting, that he renounce and abandon himself to the point of ceasing to affirm his identity. And it is not for nothing. It is not gratuitously, out of sheer sadism, that the S.S. men desire his defeat. They know that the system which succeeds in destroying its victim before he mounts the scaffold . . . is incomparably the best for keeping a whole people in slavery.”—Hannah Arendt reporting on the trial of Adolf Eichmann

You can’t have it both ways.

You can’t live in a constitutional republic if you allow the government to act like a police state.

You can’t claim to value freedom if you allow the government to operate like a dictatorship.

You can’t expect to have your rights respected if you allow the government to treat whomever it pleases with disrespect and an utter disregard for the rule of law.

If you’re inclined to advance this double standard because you believe you have done nothing wrong and have nothing to hide, beware: there’s always a boomerang effect.

Whatever dangerous practices you allow the government to carry out now—whether it’s in the name of national security or protecting America’s borders or making America great again—rest assured, these same practices can and will be used against you when the government decides to set its sights on you.

Nothing is ever as simple as the government claims it is.

The war on drugs turned out to be a war on the American people, waged with SWAT teams and militarized police.

The war on terror turned out to be a war on the American people, waged with warrantless surveillance and indefinite detention.

The war on immigration will be yet another war on the American people, waged with roving government agents demanding “papers, please.”

So you see, when you talk about empowering government agents to demand identification from anyone they suspect might be an illegal immigrant—the current scheme being entertained by the Trump administration to ferret out and cleanse the country of illegal immigrants—what you’re really talking about is creating a society in which you are required to identify yourself to any government worker who demands it.

Just recently, in fact, passengers arriving in New York’s JFK Airport on a domestic flight from San Francisco were ordered to show their “documents” to border patrol agents in order to get off the plane.

This is how you pave the way for a national identification system.

Americans have always resisted adopting a national ID card for good reason: it gives the government and its agents the ultimate power to target, track and terrorize the populace according to the government’s own nefarious purposes.

National ID card systems have been used before, by other oppressive governments, in the name of national security, invariably with horrifying results.

For instance, in Germany, the Nazis required all Jews to carry special stamped ID cards for travel within the country. A prelude to the yellow Star of David badges, these stamped cards were instrumental in identifying Jews for deportation to death camps in Poland.

Author Raul Hilberg summarizes the impact that such a system had on the Jews:

The whole identification system, with its personal documents, specially assigned names, and conspicuous tagging in public, was a powerful weapon in the hands of the police. First, the system was an auxiliary device that facilitated the enforcement of residence and movement restrictions. Second, it was an independent control measure in that it enabled the police to pick up any Jew, anywhere, anytime. Third, and perhaps most important, identification had a paralyzing effect on its victims.

In South Africa during apartheid, pass books were used to regulate the movement of black citizens and segregate the population. The Pass Laws Act of 1952 stipulated where, when and for how long a black African could remain in certain areas. Any government employee could strike out entries, which cancelled the permission to remain in an area. A pass book that did not have a valid entry resulted in the arrest and imprisonment of the bearer.

Identity cards played a crucial role in the genocide of the Tutsis in the central African country of Rwanda. The assault, carried out by extremist Hutu militia groups, lasted around 100 days and resulted in close to a million deaths. While the ID cards were not a precondition to the genocide, they were a facilitating factor. Once the genocide began, the production of an identity card with the designation “Tutsi” spelled a death sentence at any roadblock.

Identity cards have also helped oppressive regimes carry out eliminationist policies such as mass expulsion, forced relocation and group denationalization. Through the use of identity cards, Ethiopian authorities were able to identify people with Eritrean affiliation during the mass expulsion of 1998. The Vietnamese government was able to locate ethnic Chinese more easily during their 1978-79 expulsion. The USSR used identity cards to force the relocation of ethnic Koreans (1937), Volga Germans (1941), Kamyks and Karachai (1943), Crimean Tartars, Meshkhetian Turks, Chechens, Ingush and Balkars (1944) and ethnic Greeks (1949). And ethnic Vietnamese were identified for group denationalization through identity cards in Cambodia in 1993, as were the Kurds in Syria in 1962.

And in the United States, post-9/11, more than 750 Muslim men were rounded up on the basis of their religion and ethnicity and detained for up to eight months. Their experiences echo those of 120,000 Japanese-Americans who were similarly detained 75 years ago following the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Despite a belated apology and monetary issuance by the U.S. government, the U.S. Supreme Court has yet to declare such a practice illegal. Moreover, laws such as the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) empower the government to arrest and detain indefinitely anyone they “suspect” of being an enemy of the state.

Fast forward to the Trump administration’s war on illegal immigration, and you have the perfect storm necessary for the adoption of a national ID card, the ultimate human tracking device, which would make the police state’s task of monitoring, tracking and singling out individual suspects—citizen and noncitizen alike—far simpler.

Granted, in the absence of a national ID card, “we the people” are already tracked in a myriad of ways: through our state driver’s licenses, Social Security numbers, bank accounts, purchases and electronic transactions; by way of our correspondence and communication devices—email, phone calls and mobile phones; through chips implanted in our vehicles, identification documents, even our clothing.

Add to this the fact that businesses, schools and other facilities are relying more and more on fingerprints and facial recognition to identify us. All the while, data companies such as Acxiom are capturing vast caches of personal information to help airports, retailers, police and other government authorities instantly determine whether someone is the person he or she claims to be.

This informational glut—used to great advantage by both the government and corporate sectors—is converging into a mandate for “an internal passport,” a.k.a., a national ID card that would store information as basic as a person’s name, birth date and place of birth, as well as private information, including a Social Security number, fingerprint, retina scan and personal, criminal and financial records.

The Real ID Act, which imposes federal standards on identity documents such as state drivers’ licenses, is the prelude to this national identification system. Individuals from states that fail to comply with the Real ID Act (there are nine states still not in compliance) will be unable to use their drivers’ licenses as forms of identification in airports starting in January 2018).

A federalized, computerized, cross-referenced, databased system of identification policed by government agents would be the final nail in the coffin for privacy (not to mention a logistical security nightmare that would leave Americans even more vulnerable to every hacker in the cybersphere).

So what is privacy?

In its purest sense, privacy means the right to walk down a street without fear of being accosted by a government agent demanding to know who you are, where you’re going and what you’re doing in that particular place at that particular moment in time.

Privacy means you have the right to tell any government agent who pokes his nose too far into your business to butt out.

Privacy means the right to remain anonymous, if you so choose.

Unfortunately, in an age of constant surveillance, in which we are constantly watched and our movements monitored and tracked—by our technology, by the government, by the corporations, and through our own obsession with social media and smart devices—the case for privacy is no longer quite so clear-cut.

Likewise, the penalty for telling the government to stick it (or mind its own business) is growing more severe with every passing day.

Noncompliance with a direct government order—whether that order is to show your papers, step out of a car, exit your house with your hands up, or bend over and submit to being searched, fondled or frisked—can now result in missed flights, broken bones and dead bodies.

Remember, the police state does not discriminate.

At some point, it will not matter whether your skin is black or yellow or brown or white. It will not matter whether you’re an immigrant or a citizen. It will not matter whether you’re rich or poor. It won’t even matter whether you’re driving, flying or walking.

After all, government-issued bullets will kill you just as easily whether you’re a law-abiding citizen or a hardened criminal. Government jails will hold you just as easily whether you’ve obeyed every law or broken a dozen. And whether or not you’ve done anything wrong, government agents will treat you like a suspect simply because they have been trained to view and treat everyone like potential criminals.

Eventually, when the police state has turned that final screw and slammed that final door, all that will matter is whether some government agent—poorly trained, utterly ignorant of the Constitution, way too hyped up on the power of their badges, and authorized to detain, search, interrogate, threaten and generally harass anyone they see fit—chooses to single you out for special treatment.

You see, it’s a short hop, skip and a jump from allowing government agents to stop and demand identification from someone suspected of being an illegal immigrant to empowering government agents to subject anyone—citizen and noncitizen alike—to increasingly intrusive demands that they prove not only that they are legally in the country, but that they are also lawful, in compliance with every statute and regulation on the books, and not suspected of having committed some crime or other.

It’s no longer a matter of if, but when.

You may be innocent of wrongdoing now, but when the standard for innocence is set by the government, no one is safe. Everyone is a suspect. And anyone can be a criminal when it’s the government determining what is a crime.

We’ve been having this same debate about the perils of government overreach for the past 50-plus years, and still we don’t seem to learn, or if we learn, we learn too late.

All of the excessive, abusive tactics employed by the government today—warrantless surveillance, stop and frisk searches, SWAT team raids, roadside strip searches, asset forfeiture schemes, private prisons, torture, indefinite detention, militarized police, etc.—started out as a seemingly well-meaning plan to address some problem in society that needed a little extra help.

Be careful what you wish for: you will get more than you bargained for, especially when the government’s involved.

In the case of a national identification system, it might start off as a means of curtailing illegal immigration, but it will end up as a means of controlling the American people.

Taking a prophetic cue from George Orwell’s 1984, a 2013 video game Papers, Please “puts players in control of an unnamed border agent in the fictional Eastern Bloc totalitarian state of Arstotzka in 1982.”

As journalist Jason Concepcion explains, “The rules are simple: Decide who can enter the country. This is accomplished by checking each traveler’s documents — passports, visas, work permits — for authenticity and cross-referencing with various guidelines handed down by the state. The state’s instructions are initially simple. Those holding Arstotzkan passports — assuming the information contained therein matches the person at the window — are considered citizens and may cross the border. Take out your green ACCEPTED stamp, mark the appropriate box on the entry visa, hand the owner back his or her documents, and call the next person in line.”

Where things start to get dicey is when the stakes get higher, when there’s money to be made, when there are lives on the line.

Concepcion continues:

As the game progresses, the restrictions on immigration become more complex. A trade war with a neighboring country causes the Ministry of Admission to ban travelers from the nation. Rumors of insurgent groups with forged documents mean every seal and stamp in an entry visa must be double-checked against those in your handbook. If a traveler is heavier than the weight indicated in their passport, then they must be questioned and X-rayed for contraband. Faces are checked against the state’s most-wanted list. Perhaps a prospective immigrant doesn’t resemble the photograph in their documents, in which case fingerprints must be taken and processed. With each passing day, there are more details to check. Some travelers don’t have the correct work visa, or have papers that would have been valid yesterday. These must be scrutinized closely.

Around day two or three on the job, one of the soldiers who guards the checkpoint steps to your window. He tells you he gets a bonus for each person processed for detention. He offers to cut you in. Criminals — sometimes even terrorists — attempt to pass through the Grestin checkpoint. But this is rare. Immigrants who haven’t kept abreast of the constant changes in state policy are much more common. Every now and again, a traveler comes to your booth with a heartrending story — a dying loved one, children they’ve never seen — but the wrong documentation. You could, easily and legally, hand a few of these people over to the guards and make a few bucks on the side.

This is what the banality of evil looks like, as described by historian Hannah Arendt.

Arendt explains: “The essence of totalitarian government, and perhaps the nature of every bureaucracy, is to make functionaries and mere cogs in the administrative machinery out of men, and thus to dehumanize them.”

How do you persuade people to just follow orders and carry out the dictates of a police state?

You turn them into mindless robots. You teach them to obey unquestioningly. You brainwash them into believing that compliance and patriotism go hand in hand.

As Concepcion concludes, “Papers, Please gives players a window into how fascism manifests itself in bureaucracy. The brilliance of the game’s paperwork gameplay is that it makes the player complicit in the projection of state power… ‘What I found making this game,’ [designer Lucas Pope explained], ‘is that this communist setting or this dystopian, fascist setting works nicely for game mechanics because you can tell the player, ‘you have to do this.’ There’s not a whole lot of questioning of, ‘why?’ ‘You have to do it because that’s how we … run things here, we tell you how to do it and you do it.’ That works perfectly well with the setting of some kind of communist government or some kind of bureaucracy where the rules just come down from the top and boom, that’s your job.’”

Boom. That’s your job.

That about sums things up, doesn’t it?

Battlefield_Cover_300Yet as I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, it’s not just the border patrol agents or the police or the prison guards who are marching in lockstep with the regime. It’s also the populace that obeys every order, that fails to question or resist or push back against government dictates that are unjust or unconstitutional or immoral.

We have been down this road before.

Reporting on the trial of Nazi bureaucrat Adolf Eichmann for the New Yorker in 1963, Hannah Arendt describes the “submissive meekness with which Jews went to their death”:

arriving on time at the transportation points, walking under their own power to the places of execution, digging their own graves, undressing and making neat piles of their clothing, and lying down side by side to be shot—seemed a telling point, and the prosecutor, asking witness after witness, “Why did you not protest?,” “Why did you board the train?,” “Fifteen thousand people were standing there and hundreds of guards facing you—why didn’t you revolt and charge and attack these guards?,” harped on it for all it was worth. But the sad truth of the matter is that the point was ill taken, for no non-Jewish group or non-Jewish people had behaved differently.

The lessons of history are clear: chained, shackled and imprisoned in a detention camp, there is little chance of resistance. The time to act is now, before it’s too late. Indeed, there is power in numbers, but if those numbers will not unite and rise up against their oppressors, there can be no resistance.

As Arendt concludes, “under conditions of terror most people will comply but some people will not, just as the lesson of the countries to which the Final Solution was proposed is that ‘it could happen’ in most places but it did not happen everywhere.”

It does not have to happen here.

We do not have to condemn ourselves to life under an oppressive, authoritarian regime.

We do not have to become our own jailers.

We do not have to dig our own graves.

We do not have to submit.

WC: 2982

ABOUT JOHN W. WHITEHEAD

Constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute. His new book Battlefield America: The War on the American People (SelectBooks, 2015) is available online at http://www.amazon.com. Whitehead can be contacted at johnw@rutherford.org.

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John W. Whitehead’s weekly commentaries are available for publication to newspapers and web publications at no charge. Please contact staff@rutherford.org to obtain reprint permission.

 

The hold-up / Albert Levering.

“The fact is that the government, like a highwayman, says to a man: Your money, or your life. And many, if not most, taxes are paid under the compulsion of that threat. The government does not, indeed, waylay a man in a lonely place, spring upon him from the road side, and, holding a pistol to his head, proceed to rifle his pockets. But the robbery is none the less a robbery on that account; and it is far more dastardly and shameful.”—Lysander Spooner, American abolitionist and legal theorist

If a cop wrongfully attacks you, you cannot fight back.

If a SWAT team wrongfully raids your home, you cannot defend yourself.

If a highway patrol officer wrongfully takes your money or your valuable possessions, you cannot get them back without a lengthy, costly legal battle.

It used to be that the Constitution served as a bulwark against government abuses, excesses and wrongdoing.

That is no longer the case.

Having been reduced to little more than a historic document, the Constitution now provides scant protection against government abuses, misconduct and corruption.

Not only are “we the people” painfully vulnerable to the whims of any militarized cop on the beat, but we are also sitting targets for every government huckster out to fleece the taxpayer of their hard-earned dollars.

We get taxed on how much we earn, taxed on what we eat, taxed on what we buy, taxed on where we go, taxed on what we drive, and taxed on how much is left of our assets when we die.

Because the government’s voracious appetite for money, power and control has grown out of control, its agents have devised other means of funding its excesses and adding to its largesse through taxes disguised as fines, taxes disguised as fees, and taxes disguised as tolls, tickets and penalties. For example, red light cameras, which were sold to the public as safety measures, have in practice become backdoor taxes aimed at swelling government bank accounts.

The government’s schemes to swindle, cheat, scam, and generally defraud Americans have run the gamut from wasteful pork barrel legislation, cronyism and graft to asset forfeiture schemes, the modern-day equivalent of highway robbery, astronomical health care “reform,” and costly stimulus packages.

Americans have also been made to pay through the nose for the government’s endless wars, subsidization of foreign nations, military empire, welfare state, roads to nowhere, bloated workforce, secret agencies, fusion centers, private prisons, biometric databases, invasive technologies, arsenal of weapons, and every other budgetary line item that is contributing to the fast-growing wealth of the corporate elite at the expense of those who are barely making ends meet—that is, we the taxpayers.

Those football stadiums that charge exorbitant sums for nosebleed seats? Our taxpayer dollars subsidize them. Those blockbuster war films? Yep, we were the silent investors on those, too. Same goes for the military equipment being peddled to local police agencies and the surveillance cameras being “donated” to local governments.

Now the government and its corporate partners in crime have come up with a new scheme to not only scam taxpayers out of what’s left of their paychecks but also make us foot the bill, and it’s coming at us in the form of a war on cash.

What is this war on cash?

It’s a concerted campaign to do away with large bills such as $20s, $50s, $100s and shift consumers towards a digital mode of commerce that can easily be monitored, tracked, tabulated, mined for data, hacked, hijacked and confiscated when convenient.

According to economist Steve Forbes, “The real reason for this war on cash—start with the big bills and then work your way down—is an ugly power grab by Big Government. People will have less privacy: Electronic commerce makes it easier for Big Brother to see what we’re doing, thereby making it simpler to bar activities it doesn’t like, such as purchasing salt, sugar, big bottles of soda and Big Macs.”

Much like the war on drugs and the war on terror, this so-called “war on cash” is being sold to the public as a means of fighting terrorists, drug dealers and tax evaders. Just the mere possession of cash is enough to implicate you in suspicious activity and have you investigated. In other words, cash has become another way for the government to profile Americans and render them criminals.

The rationale is that cash is the currency for illegal transactions given that it’s harder to track, can be used to pay illegal immigrants, and denies the government its share of the “take,” so doing away with paper money will help law enforcement fight crime and help the government realize more revenue.

Despite what we know about the government and its history of corruption, bumbling, fumbling and data breaches, not to mention how easily technology can be used against us, the campaign to do away with cash is really not a hard sell.

It’s not a hard sell, that is, if you know the right buttons to push, and the government has become a grand master in the art of getting the citizenry to do exactly what it wants. Remember, this is the same government that plans to use behavioral science tactics to “nudge” citizens to comply with the government’s public policy and program initiatives.

It’s also not a hard sell if you belong to the Digital Generation, that segment of the population for whom technology is second nature and “the first generation born into a world that has never not known digital life.”

And if you belong to the growing class of Americans—46% of consumers, approximately 114 million adults and rising—who use your cell phone to pay bills, purchase goods, and transfer funds, then the government is just preaching to the choir when it comes to persuading you of the convenience of digital cash.

In much the same way that Americans have opted into government surveillance through the convenience of GPS devices and cell phones, digital cash—the means of paying with one’s debit card, credit card or cell phone—is becoming the de facto commerce of the American police state.

It is estimated that smart phones will replace cash and credit cards altogether by 2020. Already, a growing number of businesses are adopting no-cash policies, including certain airlines, hotels, rental car companies, restaurants and retail stores. In Sweden, even the homeless and churches accept digital cash.

Making the case for “never, ever carrying cash” in lieu of a digital wallet, journalist Lisa Rabasca Roepe argues that cash is inconvenient, ATM access is costly, and it’s now possible to reimburse people using digital apps such as Venmo. Thus, there’s no longer a need for cash. “More and more retailers and grocery stores are embracing Apple Pay, Google Wallet, Samsung Pay, and Android Pay,” notes Roepe. “PayPal’s app is now accepted at many chain stores including Barnes & Noble, Foot Locker, Home Depot, and Office Depot. Walmart and CVS have both developed their own payment apps while their competitors Target and RiteAid are working on their own apps.”

It’s not just cash that is going digital, either.

A growing number of states—including Delaware and California—are looking to adopt digital driver’s licenses that would reside on your mobile phone. These licenses would include all of the information contained on your printed license, along with a few “extras” such as real-time data downloaded directly from your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles.

Of course, reading between the lines, having a digital driver’s license will open you up to much the same jeopardy as digital cash: it will make it possible for the government to better track your movements, monitor your activities and communications and ultimately shut you down.

So what’s the deal here?

Despite all of the advantages that go along with living in a digital age—namely, convenience—it’s hard to imagine how a cashless world navigated by way of a digital wallet doesn’t signal the beginning of the end for what little privacy we have left and leave us vulnerable to the likes of government thieves and data hackers.

First, when I say privacy, I’m not just referring to the things that you don’t want people to know about, those little things you do behind closed doors that are neither illegal nor harmful but embarrassing or intimate. I am also referring to the things that are deeply personal and which no one need know about, certainly not the government and its constabulary of busybodies, nannies, Peeping Toms, jail wardens and petty bureaucrats.

Second, we’re already witnessing how easy it will be for government agents to manipulate digital wallets for their own gain. For example, civil asset forfeiture schemes are becoming even more profitable for police agencies thanks to ERAD (Electronic Recovery and Access to Data) devices supplied by the Department of Homeland Security that allow police to not only determine the balance of any magnetic-stripe card (i.e., debit, credit and gift cards) but also freeze and seize any funds on pre-paid money cards. The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in June 2016 that it does not violate the Fourth Amendment for police to scan or swipe your credit card.

Third, as the ever insightful Paul Craig Roberts observes, while Americans have been distracted by the government’s costly war on terror, “the financial system, working hand-in-hand with policymakers, has done more damage to Americans than terrorists could possibly inflict.” Ultimately, as Roberts—who served as Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Economic Policy under Ronald Reagan—makes clear, the war on cash is about giving the government the ultimate control of the economy and complete access to the citizenry’s pocketbook.

Fourth, if there’s a will, there’s a way. So far, every technological convenience that has made our lives easier has also become our Achilles’ heel, opening us up to greater vulnerabilities from hackers and government agents alike. In recent years, the U.S. government has been repeatedly hacked. In 2015, the Office of Personnel Management had more than20 million personnel files stolen, everything from Social Security numbers to birth dates and fingerprint records. In 2014, it was the White House, the State Department, the Post Office and other government agencies, along with a host of financial institutions, retailers and entertainment giants that had their files breached. And these are the people in charge of protecting our sensitive information?

Fifth, if there’s one entity that will not stop using cash for its own nefarious purposes, it’s the U.S. government. Cash is the currency used by the government to pay off its foreign “associates.” For instance, the Obama administration flew more than $400 million in cash to Iran in January 2016, reportedly as part of a financial settlement with the country. Critics claim the money was ransom paid for the return of American hostages. And then there was the $12 billion in shrink-wrapped $100 bills that the U.S. flew to Iraq only to claim it had no record of what happened to the money. It just disappeared. So when government economists tell you that two-thirds of all $100 bills in circulation are overseas—more than half a trillion dollars’ worth—it’s a pretty good bet that the government played a significant part in their export.

Sixth, this drive to do away with cash is part of a larger global trend driven by international financial institutions and the United Nations that is transforming nations of all sizes, from the smallest nation to the biggest, most advanced economies.

Finally, short of returning to a pre-technological, Luddite age, there’s really no way to pull this horse back now that it’s left the gate. While doing so is near impossible, it would also mean doing without the many conveniences and advantages that are the better angels, if you will, of technology’s totalitarian tendencies: the internet, medical advances, etc.

To our detriment, we really have little control over who accesses our private information, how it is stored, or how it is used. Whether we ever had much control remains up for debate. However, in terms of our bargaining power over digital privacy rights, we have been reduced to a pitiful, unenviable position in which we can only hope and trust that those in power will treat our information with respect.

America’s founders, however, did not believe in trusting government officials or giving them too much power. In fact, they believed those entrusted with power will eventually pervert it into tyranny. As Thomas Jefferson observed, “Let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.”

Unfortunately, that Constitution has since been shredded.

Our republic has been transformed into an oligarchy.

We have come full circle, back to a pre-revolutionary era of taxation without any real representation.

Lysander Spooner, a 19th century American abolitionist and legal theorist, was right when he concluded that the government is far more disingenuous and dangerous to the rights, property and lives of the citizenry than the common criminal or highwayman. As Spooner points out:

[Unlike the government,] the highwayman … does not pretend that he has any rightful claim to your money, or that he intends to use it for your own benefit…  He has not acquired impudence enough to profess to be merely a “protector”… He does not persist in following you on the road, against your will; assuming to be your rightful “sovereign,” on account of the “protection” he affords you. He does not keep “protecting” you, by commanding you to bow down and serve him; by requiring you to do this, and forbidding you to do that; by robbing you of more money as often as he finds it for his interest or pleasure to do so; and by branding you as a rebel, a traitor, and an enemy to your country, and shooting you down without mercy, if you dispute his authority, or resist his demands… In short, he does not, in addition to robbing you, attempt to make you either his dupe or his slave.

How tragically apropos the analogy remains today.

Battlefield_Cover_300We the people, once free citizens of a free nation, are now at the mercy of cutthroats and villains masquerading as government agents and elected officials.

We continue to be robbed at gunpoint, treated like cattle, tracked incessantly and forced to serve and obey.

We continue to be branded rebels and traitors and enemy combatants, shot without hesitation for daring to resist an official order or challenge injustice, and duped into believing all this was done for our “good.”

In the end, as I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, we are no better than when we first started out more than 200 years ago as indentured slaves to a government elite intent on using us for their own profit and gain.

WC: 2478


JWW BW CropConstitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute. His bookBattlefield America: The War on the American People (SelectBooks, 2015) is available online at http://www.amazon.com. Whitehead can be contacted at johnw@rutherford.org.

Publication Guidelines / Reprint Permission: John W. Whitehead’s weekly commentaries are available for publication to newspapers and web publications at no charge. Please contact staff@rutherford.org to obtain reprint permission.

 

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We don’t need no education
We don’t need no thought control
No dark sarcasm in the classroom
Teachers leave them kids alone…
All in all it’s just another brick in the wall
All in all you’re just another brick in the wall.
—Pink Floyd, “Another Brick in the Wall”

The nation’s young people have been given front-row seats for an unfolding police drama that is rated R for profanity, violence and adult content.

In Arizona, a 7-year-old girl watched panic-stricken as a state trooper pointed his gun at her and her father during a traffic stop and reportedly threatened to shoot her father in the back (twice) based on the mistaken belief that they were driving a stolen rental car.

In Oklahoma, a 5-year-old boy watched as a police officer used a high-powered rifle to shoot his dog Opie multiple timesin his family’s backyard while other children were also present. The police officer was mistakenly attempting to deliver a warrant on a 10-year-old case for someone who hadn’t lived at that address in a decade.

In Maryland, a 5-year-old boy was shot when police exchanged gunfire with the child’s mother—eventually killing her—over a dispute that began when Korryn Gaines refused to accept a traffic ticket for driving without a license plate on her car.

It’s difficult enough raising a child in a world ravaged by war, disease, poverty and hate, but when you add the police state into the mix, it becomes near impossible to guard against the growing unease that some of the monsters of our age come dressed in government uniforms.

The lesson being taught to our youngest—and most impressionable—citizens is this: in the American police state, you’re either a prisoner (shackled, controlled, monitored, ordered about, limited in what you can do and say, your life not your own) or a prison bureaucrat (politician, police officer, judge, jailer, spy, profiteer, etc.).

Unfortunately, now that school is back in session, life is that much worse for the children of the American police state.

The nation’s public schools—extensions of the world beyond the schoolhouse gates, a world that is increasingly hostile to freedom—have become microcosms of the American police state, containing almost every aspect of the militarized, intolerant, senseless, overcriminalized, legalistic, surveillance-riddled, totalitarian landscape that plagues those of us on the “outside.”

If your child is fortunate enough to survive his encounter with the public schools with his individuality and freedoms intact, you should count yourself fortunate.

Most students are not so lucky.

From the moment a child enters one of the nation’s 98,000 public schools to the moment he or she graduates, they will be exposed to a steady diet of

  • draconian zero tolerance policies that criminalize childish behavior,
  • overreaching anti-bullying statutes that criminalize speech,
  • school resource officers (police) tasked with disciplining and/or arresting so-called “disorderly” students,
  • standardized testing that emphasizes rote answers over critical thinking,
  • politically correct mindsets that teach young people to censor themselves and those around them,
  • and extensive biometric and surveillance systems that, coupled with the rest, acclimate young people to a world in which they have no freedom of thought, speech or movement.

Clearly, instead of making the schools safer, we have managed to make them more authoritarian.

Young people in America are now first in line to be searched, surveilled, spied on, threatened, tied up, locked down, treated like criminals for non-criminal behavior, tasered and in some cases shot.

Roped into the government’s profit-driven campaign to keep the nation “safe” from drugs, weapons and terrorism, the schools have transformed themselves into quasi-prisons, complete with surveillance cameras, metal detectors, police patrols, zero tolerance policies, lock downs, drug sniffing dogs, strip searches and active shooter drills.

It used to be that if you talked back to a teacher, or played a prank on a classmate, or just failed to do your homework, you might find yourself in detention or doing an extra writing assignment after school.

That is no longer the case.

Nowadays, students are not only punished for minor transgressions such as playing cops and robbers on the playground, bringing LEGOs to school, or having a food fight, but the punishments have become far more severe, shifting from detention and visits to the principal’s office into misdemeanor tickets, juvenile court, handcuffs, tasers and even prison terms.

Students have been suspended under school zero tolerance policies for bringing to school “look alike substances” such as oreganobreath mints, birth control pills and powdered sugar.

For instance, a Virginia sixth grader, the son of two school teachers and a member of the school’s gifted program, was suspended for a year after school officials found a leaf (likely a maple leaf) in his backpack that they suspected was marijuana. Despite the fact that the leaf in question was not marijuana (a fact that officials knew almost immediately), the 11-year-old was still kicked out of school, charged with marijuana possession in juvenile court, enrolled in an alternative school away from his friends, subjected to twice-daily searches for drugs, and forced to be evaluated for substance abuse problems.

Look-alike weapons (toy guns—even Lego-sized ones, hand-drawn pictures of guns, pencils twirled in a “threatening” manner, imaginary bows and arrows, even fingers positioned like guns) can also land a student in hot water.

Acts of kindness, concern or basic manners can also result in suspensions. One 13-year-old was given detention for exposing the school to “liability” by sharing his lunch with a hungry friend. A third grader was suspended for shaving her head in sympathy for a friend who had lost her hair to chemotherapy. And then there was the high school senior who wassuspended for saying “bless you” after a fellow classmate sneezed.

Consider that by the time the average young person in America finishes their public school education, nearly one out of every three of them will have been arrested.

More than 3 million students are suspended or expelled from schools every year, often for minor misbehavior, such as “disruptive behavior” or “insubordination.” Black students are three times more likely than white students to face suspension and expulsion.

In South Carolina, where it’s against the law to disturb a school, more than a thousand students a year—some as young as 7 years old—“face criminal charges for not following directions, loitering, cursing, or the vague allegation of acting ‘obnoxiously.’ If charged as adults, they can be held in jail for up to 90 days.”

Moreover, just as militarized police who look, think and act like soldiers on a battlefield have made our communities less safe, the growing presence of police in the nation’s schools is resulting in environments in which it’s no longer safe for children to act like children.

Thanks to a combination of media hype, political pandering and financial incentives, the use of armed police officers to patrol school hallways has risen dramatically in recent years. Funded by the U.S. Department of Justice, these school resource officers have become de facto wardens in elementary, middle and high schools, doling out their own brand of justice to the so-called “criminals” in their midst with the help of tasers, pepper spray, batons and brute force.

The horror stories are legion.

One school police officer was accused of punching a 13-year-old student in the face for cutting the cafeteria line. Thatsame cop put another student in a chokehold a week later, allegedly knocking the student unconscious and causing a brain injury. In Pennsylvania, a student was tasered after ignoring an order to put his cell phone away.

Defending the use of handcuffs and pepper spray to subdue students, one Alabama police department reasoned that if they can employ such tactics on young people away from school, they should also be permitted to do so on campus.

Now advocates for such harsh police tactics and weaponry will tell you that school safety should be our first priority.

What they might fail to mention in their zeal to lock down the schools are the lucrative, multi-million dollar deals being cut with military contractors to equip school cops with tasers, tanks, rifles and $100,000 shooting detection systems.

Indeed, the militarization of the police has been mirrored in the public schools, where school police have been gifted with high-powered M16 rifles, MRAP armored vehicles, grenade launchers, and other military gear. One Texas school district even boasts its own 12-member SWAT team.

According to one law review article on the school-to-prison pipeline, “Many school districts have formed their own police departments, some so large they rival the forces of major United States cities in size. For example, the safety division in New York City’s public schools is so large that if it were a local police department, it would be the fifth-largest police force in the country.”

The term “school-to-prison pipeline” refers to a phenomenon in which children who are suspended or expelled from school have a greater likelihood of ending up in jail.

What we’re grappling with, you see, is not merely a public school system that resembles a prison and is treating young people like prisoners but also a profit-driven system of incarceration has given rise to a growth in juvenile prisons and financial incentives for jailing young people.

Indeed, young people have become easy targets for the private prison industry, which profits from criminalizing childish behavior and jailing young people. Nearly 40 percent of young people who are arrested will serve time in a private prison, where the emphasis is on making profits for large megacorporations above all else.

It has been said that America’s schools are the training ground for future generations.

Instead of raising up a generation of freedom fighters, however, we seem to be busy churning out newly minted citizens of the American police state who are being taught the hard way what it means to comply, fear and march in lockstep with the government’s dictates.

As I point out in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, it’s getting harder by the day to convince young people that we live in a nation that values freedom and which is governed by the rule of law.

Battlefield_Cover_300With every school police raid and overzealous punishment that is carried out in the name of school safety, the lesson being imparted is that Americans—especially young people—have no rights at all against the state or the police.

The bottom line is this: if you want a nation of criminals, treat the citizenry like criminals.

If you want young people who grow up seeing themselves as prisoners, run the schools like prisons.

But if you want to raise up a generation of freedom fighters, who will actually operate with justice, fairness, accountability and equality towards each other and their government, then run the schools like freedom forums. Remove the metal detectors and surveillance cameras, re-assign the cops elsewhere, and start treating our nation’s young people like citizens of a republic and not inmates in a police state.

_____

Constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute. His book Battlefield America: The War on the American People (SelectBooks, 2015) is available online at http://www.amazon.com. Whitehead can be contacted at johnw@rutherford.org. Information about The Rutherford Institute is available at http://www.rutherford.org.

Publication Guidelines / Reprint Permission: John W. Whitehead’s weekly commentaries are available for publication to newspapers and web publications at no charge. Please contact staff@rutherford.org to obtain reprint permission.

“A standing military force, with an overgrown Executive will not long be safe companions to liberty.”—James Madison

America is a ticking time bomb.

All that remains to be seen is who—or what—will set fire to the fuse.

We are poised at what seems to be the pinnacle of a manufactured breakdown, with police shooting unarmed citizens, snipers shooting police, global and domestic violence rising, and a political showdown between two presidential candidates equally matched in unpopularity.

The preparations for the Republican and Democratic national conventions taking place in Cleveland and Philadelphia—augmented by a $50 million federal security grant for each city—provide a foretaste of how the government plans to deal with any individual or group that steps out of line: they will be censored, silenced, spied on, caged, intimidated, interrogated, investigated, recorded, tracked, labeled, held at gunpoint, detained, restrained, arrested, tried and found guilty.

For instance, anticipating civil unrest and mass demonstrations in connection with the Republican Party convention, Cleveland officials set up makeshift prisons, extra courtrooms to handle protesters, and shut down a local university in order to house 1,700 riot police and their weapons. The city’s courts are preparing to process up to 1,000 people a day. Additionally, the FBI has also been conducting “interviews” with activists in advance of the conventions to discourage them from engaging in protests.

Make no mistake, the government is ready for a civil uprising.

Indeed, the government has been preparing for this moment for years.

A 2008 Army War College report revealed that “widespread civil violence inside the United States would force the defense establishment to reorient priorities in extremis to defend basic domestic order and human security.” The 44-page report goes on to warn that potential causes for such civil unrest could include another terrorist attack, “unforeseen economic collapse, loss of functioning political and legal order, purposeful domestic resistance or insurgency, pervasive public health emergencies, and catastrophic natural and human disasters.”

Subsequent reports by the Department of Homeland Security to identify, monitor and label right-wing and left-wing activists and military veterans as extremists (a.k.a. terrorists) have manifested into full-fledged pre-crime surveillance programs. Almost a decade later, after locking down the nation and spending billions to fight terrorism, the DHS has concluded that the greater threat is not ISIS but domestic right-wing extremism.

Meanwhile, the government has been amassing an arsenal of military weapons for use domestically and equipping and training their “troops” for war. Even government agencies with largely administrative functions such as the Food and Drug Administration, Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Smithsonian have been acquiring body armor, riot helmets and shields, cannon launchers and police firearms and ammunition. In fact, there are now at least 120,000 armed federal agents carrying such weapons who possess the power to arrest.

Rounding out this profit-driven campaign to turn American citizens into enemy combatants (and America into a battlefield) is a technology sector that is colluding with the government to create a Big Brother that is all-knowing, all-seeing and inescapable. It’s not just the drones, fusion centers, license plate readers, stingray devices and the NSA that you have to worry about. You’re also being tracked by the black boxes in your cars, your cell phone, smart devices in your home, grocery loyalty cards, social media accounts, credit cards, streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon, and e-book reader accounts.

All of this has taken place right under our noses, funded with our taxpayer dollars and carried out in broad daylight without so much as a general outcry from the citizenry.

It’s astounding how convenient we’ve made it for the government to lock down the nation.

We’ve even allowed ourselves to be acclimated to the occasional lockdown of government buildings, Jade Helm military drills in small towns so that special operations forces can get “realistic military training” in “hostile” territory, and  Live Active Shooter Drill training exercises, carried out at schools, in shopping malls, and on public transit, which can and do fool law enforcement officials, students, teachers and bystanders into thinking it’s a real crisis.

The events of recent years—the invasive surveillance, the extremism reports, the civil unrest, the protests, the shootings, the bombings, the military exercises and active shooter drills, the color-coded alerts and threat assessments, the fusion centers, the transformation of local police into extensions of the military, the distribution of military equipment and weapons to local police forces, the government databases containing the names of dissidents and potential troublemakers—have all conjoined to create an environment in which “we the people” are more distrustful and fearful of each other and more reliant on the government to keep us safe.

Of course, that’s the point.

The powers-that-be want us to feel vulnerable.

They want us to fear each other and trust the government’s hired gunmen to keep us safe from terrorists, extremists, jihadists, psychopaths, etc.

Most of all, the powers-that-be want us to feel powerless to protect ourselves and reliant on and grateful for the dubious protection provided by the American police state.

Their strategy is working.

The tree of liberty is dying.

There will be no second American Revolution.

There is no place in our nation for the kind of armed revolution our forefathers mounted against a tyrannical Great Britain. Such an act would be futile and tragic. We are no longer dealing with a distant, imperial king but with a tyrant of our own making: a militarized, technologized, heavily-financed bureaucratic machine that operates beyond the reach of the law.

The message being sent to the citizenry is clear: there will be no revolution, armed or otherwise.

Anyone who believes that they can wage—and win—an armed revolt against the American police state has not been paying attention. Those who wage violence against the government and their fellow citizens are playing right into the government’s hands. Violence cannot and will not be the answer to what ails America.

Whether instigated by the government or the citizenry, violence will only lead to more violence. It does not matter how much firepower you have. The government has more firepower.

It does not matter how long you think you can hold out by relying on survivalist skills, guerilla tactics and sheer grit. The government has the resources to outwait, out-starve, outman, outgun and generally overpower you.

This government of wolves will not be overtaken by force.

Unfortunately, we waited too long to wake up to the government’s schemes.

We did not anticipate that “we the people” would become the enemy. For years, the government has been warning against the dangers of domestic terrorism, erecting surveillance systems to monitor its own citizens, creating classification systems to label any viewpoints that challenge the status quo as extremist, and training law enforcement agencies to equate anyone possessing anti-government views as a domestic terrorist.

What the government failed to explain was that the domestic terrorists would be of the government’s own making, whether intentional or not.

By waging endless wars abroad, by bringing the instruments of war home, by transforming police into extensions of the military, by turning a free society into a suspect society, by treating American citizens like enemy combatants, by discouraging and criminalizing a free exchange of ideas, by making violence its calling card through SWAT team raids and militarized police, by fomenting division and strife among the citizenry, by acclimating the citizenry to the sights and sounds of war, and by generally making peaceful revolution all but impossible, the government has engineered an environment in which domestic violence has become inevitable.

What we are now experiencing is a civil war, devised and instigated in part by the U.S. government.

The outcome for this particular conflict is already foregone: the police state wins.

The objective: compliance and control.

The strategy: destabilize the economy through endless wars, escalate racial tensions, polarize the populace, heighten tensions through a show of force, intensify the use of violence, and then, when all hell breaks loose, clamp down on the nation for the good of the people and the security of the nation.

So where does that leave us?

Despite the fact that communities across the country are, for all intents and purposes, being held hostage by a government that is armed to the teeth and more than willing to use force in order to “maintain order,” most Americans seem relatively unconcerned. Worse, we have become so fragmented as a nation, so hostile to those with whom we might disagree, so distrustful of those who are different from us, that we are easily divided and conquered.

We have been desensitized to violence, acclimated to a military presence in our communities and persuaded that there is nothing we can do to alter the seemingly hopeless trajectory of the nation. In this way, the floundering economy, the blowback arising from military occupations abroad, police shootings, the nation’s deteriorating infrastructure and all of the other mounting concerns have become non-issues to a populace that is easily entertained, distracted, manipulated and controlled.

The sight of police clad in body armor and gas masks, wielding semiautomatic rifles and escorting an armored vehicle through a crowded street, a scene likened to “a military patrol through a hostile city,” no longer causes alarm among the general populace.

We are fast becoming an anemic, weak, pathetically diluted offspring of our revolutionary forebears incapable of mounting a national uprising against a tyrannical regime.

Battlefield_Cover_300If there is to be any hope of reclaiming our government and restoring our freedoms, it will require a different kind of coup: nonviolent, strategic and grassroots, starting locally and trickling upwards. Such revolutions are slow and painstaking. They are political, in part, but not through any established parties or politicians.

Most of all, as I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, for any chance of success, such a revolution will require more than a change of politics: it will require a change of heart among the American people, a reawakening of the American spirit, and a citizenry that cares more about their freedoms than their fantasy games.

“The evil was not in bread and circuses, per se, but in the willingness of the people to sell their rights as free men for full bellies and the excitement of the games which would serve to distract them from the other human hungers which bread and circuses can never appease.” — Admiral Ben Moreell (1892 – 1978), chief of the U.S. Navy’s Bureau of Yards and Docks and of the Civil Engineer Corps

As the grandfather of three young ones, ages 5 to 9, I get to see my fair share of kid movies: plenty of hijinks, lots of bathroom humor, and an endless stream of slapstick gags. Yet even among the worst of the lot, there’s something to be learned, some message being conveyed, or some aspect of our reality being reflected in celluloid.

So it was that I found myself sitting through The Angry Birds Movie on a recent Sunday afternoon, doling out popcorn, candy and drinks and trying to make sense of a 90-minute movie based on a cell phone video game that has beendownloaded more than 3 billion times.

The storyline is simple enough: an island nation of well-meaning, feel-good, flightless birds gets seduced by a charismatic green pig and his cohort who comes bearing food, wine and entertainment spectacles (the Roman equivalent of bread circuses). Ignoring the warnings of one solitary, suspicious “angry” bird that the pigs are up to no good, the clueless birds eventually discover that the pigs have stolen their most precious possessions: their eggs, the future of their entire society. It takes the “angry bird” to motivate the normally unflappable Bird Nation to get outraged enough to do something about the violation of their trust by the pigs and the theft of their personal property.

While one would be hard-pressed to call The Angry Birds Movie overly insightful, it is, as The Atlantic concludes, a “feather-light metaphor for our times… The film functions, effectively, as a fairy tale: It uses its status as fantasy to impart lessons about reality.”

It turns out that we’re no different from the wine-guzzling, food-noshing, party-loving Bird Nation. We too are easily fooled by charismatic politicians bearing gifts. And we too are easily distracted as those same politicians and their cohorts rob us blind.

Case in point: while Barack Obama winds down his presidency with a flurry of celebrity-studded events that is causing the media to hail him as the “coolest” president, and the presidential candidates continue to distract us with spectacular feats of chest-thumping, browbeating and demagoguery, the police state continues its steady march onward.

All of the revelations of government wrongdoing, spying and corruption disclosed by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowdenseem to have fallen on deaf ears.

Nothing has improved or changed for the better.

There has been no real reform, no significant attempts at greater transparency, no accountability, no scaling back of the government’s warrantless, illegal domestic surveillance programs, and no recognition by Congress or the courts that the Fourth Amendment provides citizens with any protection against unreasonable searches and seizures by government agents.

In fact, as I point out in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, we’ve been subject to even more obfuscation, even more lies, even more sleight-of-hand maneuvers by government agencies determined to keep doing what they’re doing without any restrictions on their nefarious activities, and even more attempts by government agencies to listen in our phone calls, read our emails and text messages, monitor our movements, and generally imprison us within an electronic concentration camp.

Writing for the New Yorker, investigative reporter Maria Bustillos concludes, “the machinery of our government seems to have taken on an irrational life of its own. We live in a surreal world in which a ‘transparent’ government insists on the need for secret courts; our President prosecutes whistle-blowers and maintains a secret ‘kill list’; and private information is collected in secret and stored indefinitely by intelligence agencies.”

It’s no coincidence that almost exactly three years after Snowden began his steady campaign to leak documents about the government’s illegal surveillance program, Congress is preparing to adopt legislation containing a secret provision that would expand the FBI’s powers to secretly read Americans’ emails without a court order.

Yes, you read that correctly.

The government is planning to push through secret legislation that would magnify its ability to secretly spy on us without a warrant.

After three years of lying to us about the real nature of the government’s spying program, feigning ignorance, dissembling, and playing at enacting real reforms, it turns out that what the government really wants is more power, more control and more surveillance.

A secret provision tacked onto the 2017 Intelligence Authorization Act will actually make it easier for the government to spy on Americans’ emails as well as their phone calls.

If enacted, this law would build upon the Patriot Act’s authorization of National Security Letters (NSL) which allows the FBI to secretly demand—without prior approval from a judge and under a gag order that carries the penalty of a prison sentence—that banks, phone companies, and other businesses provide them with customer information and not disclose the demands to the person being investigated or even indicate that they have been subjected to an NSL.

As Reuters reports, federal agencies do not need a warrant to access emails or other digital communications more than 180 days old due to a provision in a 1986 law that considers them abandoned by the owner. However, legislative efforts to require government authorities to obtain a search warrant before accessing old emails have been turned on their head by the insertion of this secret provision giving the FBI carte blanche access to Americans’ emails.

As if the FBI didn’t have enough corrupt tools in its bag of tricks already.

NSLs—in existence since the 1970s—empower FBI operatives to delve into Americans’ most personal affairs based only on the say-so of an agency that has come to be known as America’s Gestapo, or secret police. Incredibly, all the FBI needs to assert in order to justify such a search is that the information sought is relevant to a national-security investigation.

Nicholas Merrill can tell you all about NSLs. The head of a web-hosting company, he challenged the FBI’s unwarranted request for information on one of his customers and its companion gag order. Only after the FBI withdrew its request and a subsequent court-ordered lifting of the gag order was Merrill able to share his experiences. As Merrill recounts:

It was not a warrant. It was not stamped or signed by a court or a judge. It was this letter demanding this information from me. And it also told me that I could never tell anyone that I had gotten the letter. It said that I could tell ‘no person.’ The amount of information that the government can get with one of these letters can paint an incredibly vivid picture of all aspects of a person’s life — from the professional, to the personal, to the political, to their religious beliefs, to invading the privacy of their marriage, to being able to figure out what their sexual preference is. The amount of information that comes out of a national security letter is just so invasive. The fact that the government has been treating it so casually, and essentially going out on mass fishing expeditions and gathering the data of potentially millions of Americans without any suspicion of wrongdoing is very upsetting to me as someone who was raised on ideas about American exceptionalism and the belief that our system of government — with its built-in checks and balances and safeguards against abuse — were what made our country different from other countries.

Clandestine requests. Broad powers. Minimal insight. Intimidation tactics.

That’s how the FBI’s use of NSLs are described, but it can easily be applied to the government-at-large and its voracious quest for ever-greater powers without any real accountability to the citizenry or any adherence to the rule of law.

It’s estimated that the FBI issues approximately 40,000 to 60,000 such NSLs per year and that number is growing.

In 2008, the Justice Department’s inspector general revealed that the FBI had been abusing its NSL authority by making improper requests, collecting more data than they were allowed to, not having proper authorization to proceed with a case, and attempting to sidestep the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the secret court charged with overseeing the government’s secret surveillance program. In one case, after having its search request denied by the FISA Court on the basis that “the ‘facts’ were too thin” and the “request implicated the target’s First Amendment rights,” the FBI used its NSL power to carry out its surveillance.

Even after being called on the carpet for abusing its information-gathering powers, the FBI continued to flout the very laws put in place to keep government abuses in check.

Incredibly, Barack Obama criticized President Bush for his administration’s mass government surveillance programsonly to fully embrace them once he himself had attained the White House. Indeed, the Obama administration has been lobbying for years to expand the FBI’s use of NSLs to include emails.

Now, here we are, eight years later, and we’re still being treated like the gullible birds in The Angry Birds Movie, easily pacified with bread, easily distracted by circuses, and easily robbed of our most precious possessions—our freedoms, our privacy and our right to have a government that abides by the rule of law and answers to us.

There are many ways of reacting to this latest news about the government’s treachery.

You can subscribe to the simplistic, head-in-the-sand routine and do as one of my so-called Facebook “friends” suggests and just obey the law, hoping that it will keep you out of the government’s clutches, but that’s no guarantee of safe passage. Of course, that will mean knowing the law—federal, state and local—in all of its convoluted, massive, growing permutations, understanding that overcriminalization has resulted in the average person unknowingly committing three crimes a day. As author Harvey Silvergate points out, even the most honest and informed citizen “cannot predict with any reasonable assurance whether a wide range of seemingly ordinary activities might be regarded by federal prosecutors as felonies.” For instance, you could be charged criminally for receiving an odd package, taking a fake sick day, reporting on government wrongdoing based on an anonymous source, or creating a website for a religious charity.

You can insist that such concessions to security are making us safer, even though facts suggest otherwise.Barring a few notable exceptions, the politicians are singing the same tune: security at any cost. The NSL provision sailed past the 15-member Senate Intelligence Committee with only Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) dissenting. In a joint statement that underscores the ease with which the Republicans and Democrats work together in order to sell us out, Chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) and Vice Chairman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) declared the expanded powers necessary to “keep America safe” and “vital” in order to “provide intelligence agencies with all the resources they need to prevent attacks both at home and abroad.”

This whole line of reasoning, as Nicholas Merrill explains, is hogwash. As he points out, the terrorist attacks in Paris were carried out by individuals “communicating without the use of any type of security or encryption. They were speaking in Facebook groups and using regular text messaging on their phones, without taking any steps to cover their tracks or make it harder to listen in on what they were doing. To me this proves that the whole dragnet surveillance system that we’ve built is actually useless, because it didn’t help us at all to prevent that type of attack.”

In other words, government spying isn’t making us safer, but it is making us less free. “In the end we’ve lost part of our freedom that maybe we’ll never get back. We’ve lost some part of what makes our system great, but in the end we’ve not really gained the security we thought we would get in the tradeoff for the freedom that we’ve given up.”

You can cast your ballot for one of the many slogan-spouting politicians who are long on lies and short on loyalty to their constituents. At the end of the day, these people work for the government and their primary purpose is to remain in office, living the kind of rarefied, pampered, privileged life that the average American only gets to dream about. Every one of the members of the Senate Intelligence Committee who voted for this legislation is a traitor to their oath of office and should be booted off that committee. What’s more, any member of Congress who votes for this legislation should be sent packing back to where they came from. As Brewster Kahle, another recipient of an NSL who successfully challenged the government’s gag order, reminds us, “The government is not one monolithic thing. It’s a bunch of people, thinking they’re doing their jobs.” It’s our job to make them toe the line when their thinking goes awry.

Or you can stop drinking the happy juice, stop believing the politicians’ lies, stop being so gallingly gullible and out to lunch, and start getting angry. In our politically correct, feel-good, play nice culture, anger has gotten a bad rap, but there’s something to be said for righteous anger acted upon in a nonviolent, effective fashion. It’s what Martin Luther King Jr. referred to as “military nonviolent resistance.” It means caring enough to get off your caboose, get on your feet and get actively involved in holding government officials accountable to the simple fact that they work for “we the people.”

It’s not an easy undertaking.

The government has been playing fast and loose with the rules for too long now, and its greed for power and riches is boundless.

Still we are not powerless, although the government’s powers grow daily. We have not yet been altogether muzzled, although the acts of censorship increase daily. And we have not yet lost all hope for restoring our republic, although the outlook appears bleaker by the day.

For the moment, we still have some small allotment of freedoms by which we can express our displeasure, push back against injustice and corruption, and resist tyranny. One Texas man, outraged at being fined $212 for driving 39 in a 30 mph zone, chose to pay his fine with 22,000 pennies. It was a small act of disdain in the face of a government machine that tolerates little resistance, but it was acts such as these that sowed the early seeds of resistance that birthed this nation.

As revolutionary patriot Samuel Adams observed, “It does not take a majority to prevail… but rather an irate, tireless minority, keen on setting brushfires of freedom in the minds of men.”

 

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“The most striking fact about the story of Rip Van Winkle is not that he slept 20 years, but that he slept through a revolution. While he was peacefully snoring up on the mountain, a great revolution was taking place in the world – indeed, a revolution which would, at points, change the course of history. And Rip Van Winkle knew nothing about it; he was asleep.”—Martin Luther King Jr., Commencement Address for Oberlin College

The world is disintegrating on every front—politically, environmentally, morally—and for the next generation, the future does not look promising. As author Pema Chodron writes in When Things Fall Apart:

When the rivers and air are polluted, when families and nations are at war, when homeless wanderers fill the highways, these are the traditional signs of a dark age.

Those coming of age today will face some of the greatest obstacles ever encountered by young people. They will find themselves overtaxed and struggling to find worthwhile employment in a debt-ridden economy on the brink of implosion. Their privacy will be eviscerated by the surveillance state.

They will be the subjects of a military empire constantly waging war against shadowy enemies and on guard against domestic acts of terrorism, blowback against military occupations in foreign lands. And they will find government agents armed to the teeth ready and able to lock down the country at a moment’s notice.

As such, they will find themselves forced to march in lockstep with a government that no longer exists to serve the people but which demands they be obedient slaves or suffer the consequences.

It’s a dismal prospect, isn’t it?

Unfortunately, we who should have known better failed to guard against such a future.

Battlefield_Cover_300Worse, as I document in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, we neglected to maintain our freedoms or provide our young people with the tools necessary to survive, let alone succeed, in the impersonal jungle that is modern civilization.

We brought them into homes fractured by divorce, distracted by mindless entertainment, and obsessed with the pursuit of materialism. We institutionalized them in daycares and afterschool programs, substituting time with teachers and childcare workers for parental involvement. We turned them into test-takers instead of thinkers and automatons instead of activists.

We allowed them to languish in schools which not only often look like prisons but function like prisons, as well—where conformity is the rule and freedom is the exception. We made them easy prey for our corporate overlords, while instilling in them the values of a celebrity-obsessed, technology-driven culture devoid of any true spirituality. And we taught them to believe that the pursuit of their own personal happiness trumped all other virtues, including any empathy whatsoever for their fellow human beings.

We botched things up in a big way, but hopefully all is not lost.

Not yet, at least.

Faced with adversity, this generation could possibly rise to meet the grave challenges before them, bringing about positive change for our times and maintaining their freedoms, as well.

The following bits of wisdom, gleaned from a lifetime of standing up to injustice and speaking truth to power, will hopefully help them survive the perils of the journey that awaits:

Wake up and free your mind. Resist all things that numb you, put you to sleep or help you “cope” with so-called reality. From the day you are born, enter school, graduate and get a job, virtually everything surrounding you is not something you entered by free will. And those who establish the rules and laws that govern society’s actions dictate what is proper. They desire compliant subjects. Those who become conscious of the chains that bind them and free their minds and decide to disagree are often ostracized and find themselves behind bars. However, as George Orwell warned, “Until they become conscious, they will never rebel, and until after they rebelled, they cannot become conscious.” It is these conscious individuals who change the world for the better.

Be an individual. For all of its championing of the individual, American culture advocates a stark conformity. As a result, young people are sedated by the flatness and predictability of modern life. “You can travel far and wide and have a difficult time finding a store or restaurant that is even mildly unique,” writes Thomas More in The Care of the Soul. “In shopping malls everywhere, in restaurant districts, in movie theaters, you will find the same clothes, the same names, the same menus, the same new films, the identical architecture. On the East Coast, you can sit in a restaurant seat identical to that you sat in on the West Coast.” In other words, the repetition that is modern life means the death of individuality.

Resist the corporate state. Don’t become mindless consumers. Consumption is a drug. It makes us unaware of the corruption surrounding us. As Chris Hedges writes in Empire of Illusion:

Corporations are ubiquitous parts of our lives, and those that own and run them want them to remain that way. We eat corporate food. We buy corporate clothes. We drive in corporate cars. We buy our fuel from corporations. We borrow from, invest our retirement savings with, and take our college loans with corporations and corporate banks. We are entertained, informed, and bombarded with advertisements by corporations. Many of us work for corporations. There are few aspects of life left that have not been taken over by corporations, from mail delivery to public utilities to our for-profit health-care system. These corporations have no loyalty to the country or workers. Our impoverishment feeds their profits. And profits, for corporations, are all that count.

Realize that one person can make a difference. If we’re going to see any positive change for freedom, then we must change our view of what it means to be human and regain a sense of what it means to love one another. That will mean gaining the courage to stand up for the oppressed. In fact, it’s always been the caring individual—the ordinary person doing extraordinary things—who has made a difference in the world. Even Mahatma Gandhi, who eventually galvanized the whole of India, brought the British Empire to its knees, and secured freedom for his people, began as a solitary individual committed to the idea of nonviolent resistance to the British Empire.

Help others. We all have a calling in life. And I believe it boils down to one thing: You are here on this planet to help other people. In fact, none of us can exist very long without help from others. This is brought home forcefully in a story that Garret Keizer recounts in his insightful book Help: The Original Human Dilemma. Supposedly in hell the damned sit around a great pot, all hungry, because the spoons they hold are too long to bring the food to their mouths. In heaven, people are sitting around the same pot with the same long spoons, but everyone is full. Why? Because in heaven, people use their long spoons to feed one another.

Learn your rights. It’s easy to complain, throw up your hands and just accept the way things are. Unfortunately, for all the moaning and groaning, very few people take the time to change the country for the better. Yet we’re losing our freedoms for one simple reason: most of us don’t know anything about our freedoms. Lest we forget, America is a concept. You have to earn the right to be an American, and that means taking the time to learn about your history and the courageous radicals who fought and died so that you and I could live in a free country. At a minimum, anyone who has graduated from high school, let alone college, should know the Bill of Rights backwards and forwards. However, the average young person, let alone citizen, has very little knowledge of their rights for the simple reason that the schools no longer teach them. So grab a copy of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and study them at home. And when the time comes, stand up for your rights.

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Speak truth to power. Don’t be naive about those in positions of authority. As James Madison, who wrote our Bill of Rights, observed, “All men having power ought to be distrusted.” We have to learn the lessons of history. People in power, more often than not, abuse that power. To maintain our freedoms, this will mean challenging government officials whenever they exceed the bounds of their office.

Don’t let technology be your God. Technology anesthetizes us to the all-too-real tragedies that surround us. Techno-gadgets are merely distractions from what’s really going on in America and around the world. As a result, we’ve begun mimicking the inhuman technology that surrounds us and lost sight of our humanity. If you’re going to make a difference in the world, you’re going to have to pull the earbuds out, turn off the cell phones and spend much less time viewing screens.

Give voice to moral outrage. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.” There is no shortage of issues on which to take a stand. For instance, on any given night, over half a million people in the U.S. are homeless, and half of them are elderly. There are 46 million Americans living at or below the poverty line, and 16 million children living in households without adequate access to food. Congress creates, on average, more than 50 new criminal laws each year. With more than 2 million Americans in prison, and close to 7 million adults in correctional care, the United States has the largest prison population in the world. At least 2.7 million children in the United States have at least one parent in prison. At least 400 to 500 innocent people are killed by police officers every year. Americans are now eight times more likely to die in a police confrontation than they are to be killed by a terrorist. On an average day in America, over 100 Americans have their homes raided by SWAT teams. Since 9/11, we’ve spent more than $1.6 trillion to wage wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It costs the American taxpayer $52.6 billion every year to be spied on by the government intelligence agencies tasked with surveillance, data collection, counterintelligence and covert activities.

Cultivate spirituality. When the things that matter most have been subordinated to materialism, we have lost our moral compass. We must change our values to reflect something more meaningful than technology, materialism and politics.

Standing at the pulpit of the Riverside Church in New York City in April 1967, Martin Luther King Jr. urged his listeners:

[W]e as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-oriented” society. When machines and computers, profit motive and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

We didn’t listen then, and we still have not learned: Material things don’t fill the spiritual void.

Unfortunately, our much-vaunted culture of consumerism and material comforts has resulted in an overall air of cynicism marked by a spiritual vacuum, and this generation of young people is paying the price. For example, at least one in 10 young people now believe life is not worth living. A survey of 16- to 25-year-olds by the Prince’s Trust found that for many young people life has little or no purpose, especially among those not in school, work or training. More than a quarter of those polled feel depressed and are less happy than when they were younger. And almost half said they are regularly stressed and many don’t have anything to look forward to or someone they could talk to about their problems. Equally alarming is a recent report by The Washington Post indicating that the U.S. suicide rate has increased sharply since the turn of the century, particularly among women.

No wonder many young people have such a pessimistic view of the future. But that can change. As King said, we have to start putting people first.

Pitch in and do your part to make the world a better place. Don’t rely on someone else to do the heavy lifting for you. As King noted, “True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.” In other words, don’t wait around for someone else to fix what ails you, your community or nation. As Gandhi urged: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

Finally, you need to impact the government, be part of the dialogue on who we are and where we’re going as a country. It doesn’t matter how old you are or what your political ideology is. These are just labels. If you have something to say, speak up. Get active, and if need be, pick up a picket sign and get in the streets. And when civil liberties are violated, don’t remain silent about it. Take a stand!

The only way we’ll ever achieve change in this country is for this generation of young people to say “enough is enough” and fight for the things that truly matter.

I shall end as Dr. King ended his commencement address to the graduates of Oberlin College in June 1965:

Let us stand up. Let us be a concerned generation. Let us remain awake through a great revolution. And we will speed up that great day when the American Dream will be a reality.