Recently in Terrorism Rhetoric Category
Unpredictable, snarling traffic could be fodder for many an ethical discussion. If an ambulance can't reach me because of Lakers traffic, are the Lakers responsible? The Staples Center? The city planners?
The death and destruction related to automobiles is normal to us. There were 41,059 traffic-related fatalities in the US in 2007 alone. We've clearly collectively decided that this astounding loss of life is acceptable in our auto-centric culture.
Sometime while working with RAND I was at dinner discussing this with an acquaintance who worked in the office next to me. I'm not sure he was actually a friend. I believe he worked for Bruce Hoffman on some terrorism-related research but it could have been Brian Michael Jenkins -- I don't remember. He might have just been eliciting comments, as I now realize so many did in those years. We discussed Critical Mass, the bicycle protests where bicyclists flood the streets apparently to create an experience for drivers similar to the one they face every day. I had never taken part in one and am very unlikely to because I can barely ride a bike. He said that people shouldn't take part because if they did, they might be responsible for emergency services not being able to get through to someone in need.
I agree that would be terrible, and if I were a part of any large event that was the obvious culprit in preventing someone from getting essential medical care I'd feel awful. But traffic is so random. We don't consider a Lakers game a terrorist event when the traffic jams caused by it result in delays in all our lives -- in emergency situations or not. So, people involved in Critical Mass, who are on their bicycles, on the street to point out how violent and destructive our car culture is (not only in terms of direct destruction of human life, but astronomical CO2 levels that affect not just local communities but the whole planet) should be held to some higher standard of responsibility because their purpose for being on the street en mass biking is political in nature? What about jams caused by political conventions? It's complicated territory.
At that restaurant in that moment in time I thought that taking the risk to take part in such a demonstration despite the fact that a concurrent fateful act might make it difficult to get an ambulance through would be worth it because overall it might draw attention to the manner in which our reliance on cars kills so many. But it was all hypothetical, because, as I alluded, I didn't learn to ride a bike until I was 21 and barely can. I had not intention of ever taking part in Critical Mass.
You would have thought I had approved of the most heinous atrocities known to man. By the end of that conversation my companion could barely look at me, and didn't speak to me much again. At first I thought it might have been simply that he was not used to being disagreed with, but came to believe that my comments about Critical Mass seemed to completely change his view of me -- like, change my category from nice friendly person to "bad person".
Under a bad (but not worst) case scenario, Obama and his cabinet could become paranoid about, oh, say, potential homegrown terrorism based on recent Homeland Security reporting about right wing extremist threats. Or there could be a right wing extremist attack much more spectacular than the church shootings, clinic bombings and community massacres that we’ve become accustomed to. Just as the last administration ignored the 4th amendment rights of every single US resident by monitoring all of our electronic communications, 2nd amendment rights could conceivably go out the window with as much ease if we are terrified into a state of hysteria because of the actions of a few NRA members. (Montanans are actually stocking up on guns as if they were swine flu vaccine.)
The specter of unchecked executive power should unite all of us in a nonpartisan desire to investigate (and if necessary prosecute) the abuses of the last administration. Though I don’t believe the above Obama scenario is anything to fear, that belief is based on faith. It shouldn’t be. All of us should go to sleep at night secure in the knowledge that constitutional guarantees will be enforced -- no matter which party helms the White House. That’s why we must demand truth, transparency, and justice.
I don’t know yet what type of commission or investigation would be best. I’m still trying to work out how to deal with my own lack of 4th amendment rights and ongoing conspiracy against my rights and illegal detention. I do know that it’s hard for anyone (intelligence analyst, senator, flooring contractor, insurance agent) to admit to being wrong. People who were convinced to take action based on manufactured intelligence, or reluctantly submitted to cronyism, now have the chance to decide whether cowardly self-preservation is more important than truth and justice. It’s never too late to get on the right side of history.
Quite directly, Yoo’s family owed its freedom and prosperity to Harry Truman’s controversial decision to wage the Korean War without obtaining congressional authorization. Had Truman not used military force, without Congress’s permission, Yoo reflected on occasion, he would not have attended Harvard Law School and Yale Law School, nor, like so many other immigrants to America, had the fortune to have escaped Communism (Mayer, 65).This experience would give Yoo a truly unique viewpoint. One can understand why he would want to ensure that Americans’ freedoms couldn’t be curtailed by a threat like Al Quaeda. But the possibility of his applying his own experience to legal opinions that affected every American by razing all that makes the U.S. the U.S. is terrifying. Quirks of history and fate are just those.
I know what it’s like to advocate for issues based on my own experience with extreme sexism and homophobia, the mistreatment of animals/amoral science, and environmental disregard, for example. But working for the public good involves maturing into an understanding that your experience does not represent everyone’s, and the purpose of government is to serve all of us, with our unique backgrounds and perspectives. Of course our experience defines how we operate in the world, but we should always strive to see just beyond it, to understand how our own points of view are limited.
One of the reasons for the balance of powers is to ensure that individual or small group experiences don’t get to define reality for all of us. That the Bush/Cheney cabal attempted to remake the world in its own image to such a degree is the crux of its dangerous radicalism.
Within about 15 hours I had landed in Munich, ridden a train, napped on the conference organizer's futon, and found myself touring the Museum of National Socialism in Nuremberg. The excursion wasn't my idea -- I actually really didn't know where I was going, but took a fellow presenter up on the idea of sight seeing. Soon we were immersed in the ascent and horrors of the Nazi era.
Jet lagged and deflated by the specter of a second Bush term, I wandered through exhibits that provided a visceral understanding of how the National Socialists gradually seized power, arrogated rights, and eventually created a continent-wide horror show. The beginnings of the exhibit felt unnervingly familiar. For the first time ever, in that bizarre post-election continent-jumping jumble, I believed that "It Could Happen" in the U.S.
Before then, the Bush/Hitler rhetoric seemed like much of the reactionary Left propaganda. What I had been exposed to was, actually, because it hadn't been tied to any thorough or legitimate critique. It took walking through the history stage by stage to understand how the U.S. population could become vulnerable. I wouldn't use the word fascism to describe what was happening in the U.S. for another three years, but somewhere I knew that there were seeds of it in the post-9/11 Bush presidency's bulging PR budget, "with us or against us" domestic and international rhetoric, and Patriot Act excesses.
Little did I know at the time that most of the people in my life were government or private intelligence operatives and that someone had been assigned to befriend me at the conference and completely scrutinize the trip. Do many grad students take time off from work to fly to Germany to present at a conference? If you feel like you need to compensate for years of career indecision by presenting as much as possible to get into the PhD program of your choice, you do. Maybe you do even if you just love to travel.
The fascism I was already living with would eventually be administered by unsupervised private contractors who clearly needed to come up with some sinister alternate narrative to make up for the fact that they had spent millions of dollars creating a Truman Show-like existence for an innocent person. Trips like mine remain suspect years after the fact, fodder for elicitation (Why was the tile guy assigned to elicit about it as recently as August? What was I supposed to have been cooking up in Nuremberg?).
This cowboy "intelligence" community allows sociopath contractors free reign to project all of their fears and hatreds in the name of patriotism. It allows those working at the behest of corporations to have access to your government file, to all of your medical and other records so that they can wreak havoc in your life to protect their profits. It allows them to manipulate the prejudices of Good Americans who will gladly elicit information, plant substances, or sabotage work if they are convinced that the object of their derision is a terrorist or an enemy of God. In America, this is what fascism looks like. Neither the contractors nor the hapless everyday joes they manipulate see themselves as fascist collaborators, but part of the gang, foot soldiers for God, good citizens. Or they just don't care because the money's good.
Here we are four years later. Tonight it's hard to imagine flitting off to Germany. I continue leading a largely sequestered existence, most recently to avoid the locals who have been trained to see me as an enemy of Christ or communist/terrorist and have so far failed in their attempts at vigilante justice. In this context, I wept for joy at Obama's victory. As we look toward this transition, there is no vague feeling of dread -- dread has constituted most days for the last 1.5 years. Rather, I look forward with the stark consciousness of having faced banal evil day after day. I know what it looks like, what it does to a community and to a life.
I hope and pray that we can reverse much of the radical change of the last eight years, that the rule of law can be restored, that we all say "It Can't Keep Happening Here." The price of liberty, after all, is eternal vigilance. I didn't learn as much in the Nuremberg museum; it took a homegrown campaign of terror to teach me what liberty is all about.
Until a few days ago I had never heard of Chuck McGee or the New Hampshire phone jamming scandal for which he served prison time.
Last week a high school friend inadvertently indicated that a woman we went to school with is very likely involved in some aspect of my surveillance/harassment situation. Because my case is so epic and absurd, there were many times when I wondered if there was a personal vendetta at play. This woman, Carrie, was my then best friend's twin sister and hated me with passionate intensity. She was a right-wing and militantly pro-life Catholic, and though most of my friends were evangelical or Mormon, Carrie always seemed to have the least tolerance for my pro-choice, gay-friendly, and nearly all other views. (There were personal aspects, having to do with her sister's and my friendship, and our shared school activities, that seemed to propel her anger in ways I didn't understand.) The last few times I saw her she didn't speak to or acknowledge me. When I heard the things she said about me, I was always baffled.
I knew that her husband was a Republican big wig in New Hampshire, but that was all. During my reunion weekend in 2003 I stayed at her sister's house, where a picture of Carrie and her husband with President Bush hung on the fridge. This didn't surprise me. Such a trajectory totally made sense for her. I thought about Carrie rarely -- in the course of reflecting on my relationship with her sister, occasionally through my academic work, and the personal process of trying to break out of conventional left/right thinking and build my own tolerance for people with very different views.
For the last month plus I've dealt with a new wave of elicitation centered around Christians, Mormons, my mother's finances, and a local ski area developer. (It's kind of a Keystone Cops situation -- I don't understand why they don't think we'll notice when multiple people attempt to get our thoughts on these topics in quick succession. Especially people who are supposed to be installing tile or kitchen cabinets rather than playing 20 Questions.) This thread is not new -- my surveillance seems to have been funded by anti-environmentalists and the religious right, as well as tax payers -- I've noticed multiple attempts to get me to malign evangelical Christians. (I think perhaps private contractors use these recored conversations for fund-raising purposes.)
It was reflecting on this most recent wave that led to my friend's inadvertent revelation about Carrie's possible involvement, which led me to find out exactly who her husband is. Who knew he would turn out to be notorious? In the course of my research, I found this summary from Chuck McGee's interview with the FBI, detailing the genesis of his plan to prevent Democrats from voting:
The most "radical" act I have ever taken part in is one I organized. It was a miserable failure, and I was embarrassed by it. I write about it now not out of pride, but as a way of letting readers know what it takes to get "on the list."
You may remember the lead-up to the Iraq war as a frustrating, heartbreaking time. Many of us believed that preemptive aggression was a way to further agitate people who hated the U.S. and would only make future terrorist attacks more likely. We could see right through all of the pretextual explanations for war. At the same time, as I wrote last fall, the anti-war movement seemed frustratingly ineffectual.
So -- what was my brilliant response to the impending bloodshed and the lackluster antiwar movement? To dress up like Jackie Kennedy and carry around shopping bags with Jesus on them. Though this may seem a bit off, I think history will prove this brand of "radicalism" much more sane than Dick Cheney's. Why the Jackie Kennedy imagery?
People in states that have yet to hold primaries should insist that Clinton and Obama take a stand on the frightening Homegrown Terrorism Bill before they give either candidate a vote.
All the Michigan/Florida controversy and Superdelegate issues aside, it seems like forcing the Democratic contenders to fight for their right to represent is better for all of us than the early anointing that generally happens. If they address actual issues, rather than engaging in irritating "red phone" banter, that is. They don't have so many differences (on Iraq, health care, the economy) that will affect our everyday lives, but their willingness to address our civil liberties emergency - or not - will reverberate for generations.
Right now, the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee is mulling over the Homegrown Terrorism Act. Obama is on the Committee and as of late last year had not taken a position on this bill that will create vast new arenas for the monitoring of U.S. citizens.
After nearly eight years of unchecked lawlessness and abuse of executive privilege, it's time make sure the next president knows that we will watch him or her like hawks, not grant extended powers in our already endemic surveillance society for monitoring everyday people who oppose a given administration's policies. Essentially, these candidates, who have pledged their lives to public service, are agreeing to be monitored by us and it's our job to do so.
Right now, the most important questions to many are, "Will you take the lead in repairing our looted and vandalized systems of government?" "Will you restore the rule of law?" "Will you resurrect our image in the eyes of the world?"
I am looking at both Obama and Clinton right now, and though Obama seems more promising, and had the mettle to take a stand on telecom immunity, I'm still not convinced that he is prepared to lead us out of our civil liberties emergency.
Rather than simply giving candidates our support or not, we could hold to the notion that it is our job not just to get excited by a speech, go to a voting booth, and cling to a fantasy that vacant campaign promises will become policy. Rather, with our vote we are giving them permission to be accountable to us.
We can promise the candidates that we will remain active stewards of democracy. We will insist that basic Constitutional safeguards remain in place. We are not afraid to press for impeachment, to protest, to create new parties whose representatives - unlike Congressional Democrats - will do what they were voted in to do.
If your state hasn't voted, contact Clinton and Obama's campaign offices and ask whether or not they will at the very least ensure that the vague language that could threaten first amendment rights is removed from the Homegrown Terrorism Bill and that independent civil liberties oversight of the commission is provided.
Now we see language from the Homegrown Terrorism Act popping up in last Friday's seemingly strategically timed plea agreements from two men who were caught in a Los Angeles-area terror plot. This is not incredibly surprising, given that this case supposedly inspired the Act. But we have to wonder if it's a coincidence that the pleas are being entered now, while we await Senate debate on the Act. From a Justice Department press release:
In plea agreements filed this morning and court proceedings conducted this morning in United States District Court in Santa Ana, James and Washington admitted that they conspired “to levy war against the government of the United States through terrorism, and to oppose by force the authority of the United States government.”Isn't enough that these men were caught in a heinous terrorist plot? That should put them safely away. Why the need to get them to use language about opposing the government's authority? What was their incentive to do so?
Further, what is "force?" Aren't we obligated as patriotic citizens to constantly question our government's authority? Like the suffragists on hunger strikes who were force-fed in prison? Like Civil Rights marchers? From the bill:
If you're trying to convince Europeans to create an international fingerprint and personal-data screening database, it's international. If you want to persuade a domestic audience to nationally standardize drivers licenses, it's domestic.
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said this two weeks ago when addressing a European audience about the ways they would need to give up their anonymity when traveling to the United States:
Now Reuters reports in a story entitled U.S. Says Homegrown Attack Poses Biggest Risk:
The United States faces a lower risk of homegrown terrorism than Europe and should concentrate efforts on developing a global system of anti-terrorist screening at airports and borders, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said Thursday.
When asked whether the United States considered a homegrown attack likely — the prevailing pattern in Britain, where legally-residing extremists have plotted or committed a string of attacks since 2005 — Chertoff said America needed to make screening of international travelers its most logical priority.
"We have less of a problem with homegrown terrorism than in Europe. That's not to say we don't have a problem," he said, noting arrests in May of six foreign-born U.S. residents on suspicion of plotting to attack the Fort Dix army base.
"So I don't mean to suggest that the exclusive remedy is preventing bad people from getting into the United States ... but that is the point of their greatest vulnerability," he said.
The United States faces a heightened threat of terrorist attack "for the foreseeable future" but any attack will likely be homegrown, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said on Wednesday...
"There's probably a greater risk in terms of likelihood from a homegrown attack than from a massive international attack," he added.
Chertoff described that sort of "homegrown" attack as a single person or small group of people living in the United States who were "recruited" on the Internet and had pledged allegiance to al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden.
So, what's going on? Why the different assessments? Could Chertoff's domestic rhetoric have anything to do with the likely soon-to-be-debated Homegrown Terrorism Bill?
To say I don't see the necessity of this bill at all is an understatement. But he clearly isn't dismissing it entirely. His reply primarily focused on my surveillance concerns. Since it sounds like he will fight for a less frightening version I will write again with an emphasis on the vague definition of "force," and the dangers of defining ideologically based violence, integrating comments from Bill and the anonymous commenter here.
What do you think? What are your Senators saying? What next?
Thank you for taking the time to contact me about S. 1959, the Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007. I have serious privacy concerns about this bill and appreciate your input, as it is a critical part of making sure the laws we pass in the Senate reflect the priorities we share as Montanans.
The stated goal of the Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act is to prevent terrorism by individuals born, raised, or based and operating primarily in the United States. Ideally, this bill would protect our civil rights and liberties while helping the Department of Homeland Security work to protect us against ideologically-based violence by these homegrown terrorists.