A TV station in Boston airs a story about a library that sent a police sergeant to collect overdue library books from a 5-year-old girl.
The Associated Press reports on a 70 year old woman in Utah who was wrestled to the ground and arrested for failing to maintain her lawn in accordance with city standards.
The Auto-Tech blog of MSNBC runs a public interest story about the latest must-have gadget for local police stations around the country: 10-person, 16,000 pound armor plated tanks that are paid for by the federal government.
One of the greatest problems in talking about the police state is that all such discussion of the subject is hampered by the lack of a clear-cut definition.
Given the public’s own ignorance of the true nature and function of a police state, story after story after story of intolerable levels of official oppression, secret illegal surveillance, and increasingly sophisticated technology for tracking, apprehending, incapacitating and even killing dissenters can be dismissed because these stories are reported one at a time, in a contextless and therefore meaningless way that invites the interpretation that these stories are only warnings of what is to come instead of sign posts of a reality that is already here.
Those who seek to sew discord amongst the potential opposition to the growing control of the state over every aspect of the public’s lives can confuse and distract those opponents by engaging them in endless dialogues fretting about what a police state is, whether our society is becoming one, and what the hallmarks of such a state might be. Distracted in this way, the public can be tricked into believing that the police state is some imaginary future possibility, one that will only be realized when menacing troops in brown shirts, red arm bands and jack boots goose step people into internment camps against their will.
The technique is devastatingly effective because people can become caught up in pointing at this or that story of police brutality or government surveillance as signs of a police state that onlookers are always expecting.
In reality, the police state is already here, and to understand this we need look only at the decades-long history documenting the step by step construction of this system.
For many, the classical image of a police state come from works of dystopic science-fiction. These imagined police states tended to contain certain key elements that immediately let the reader or viewer know that the characters exist in a totalitarian society.
They are ruled over by powerful, authoritarian governments.
Surveillance, spying and snitching are used as ways to keep people from rebelling against the government.
Laws are arbitrary and punishments immediate.
And the laws are enforced by a menacing, militarized police force.
In the United States, the militarization of the police force began in earnest in 1969, when the LAPD deployed the first SWAT team in a shoot out with the Black Panthers. Since that point, SWAT teams have evolved into paramilitary forces equipped with tanks, stun grenades, and submachine guns. Although they were originally touted for their ability to respond to extremely dangerous and unusual situations such as hostage takings and counter-terror operations, they are now routinely deployed for everything from domestic disturbances to gambling raids.
The willingness of police departments to use their SWAT teams has even led to a new form of prank called “swatting” where people call in fake emergencies to get SWAT forces deployed on their victims.
Also in the 1960s the US government began working on a series of Continuity of Government plans to ensure order during times of so-called civil disturbances. One of the best known such plans from that era, Operation Garden Plot, envisaged military and National Guard members being deployed to police the American public in the event of a riot or uprising. This plan became the template for future contingency planning, carried on in the 1980s by Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney at the behest of the Reagan Administration. This led to Readiness Exercise 1984, a plan to round up and arrest vast numbers of US citizens during a national emergency. REX84 was famously exposed during the Iran-Contra hearings.
In February 1995, Joe Biden introduced a bill called the Omnibus Counterterrorism Act of 1995. Proposing sweeping changes to American law enforcement, it allowed for secret evidence to be used in prosecutions, expanded wiretapping by the government, and the creation of “terrorism” as a federal crime that could be invoked to allow the use of US military in domestic law enforcement in direct violation to long-standing laws against such measures. The Clinton Administration was unable to get the bill passed in the wake of the Oklahoma City Bombing tragedy, but it returned in 2001 as the PATRIOT Act. Senator Biden even bragged that his 1995 bill was in large part the PATRIOT Act’s forerunner. In the wake of the PATRIOT Act, all crimes and even misdemeanors could be treated as acts of terrorism, and civil liberties were greatly eroded.
Meanwhile, the Bush Administration was setting up the Department of Homeland Security and expanding a covert surveillance program that illegally captured the personal phone calls, faxes, and emails of ordinary Americans.
In 2007, the Bush White House issued National Security Presidential Directive 51, a national continuity policy giving the President sweeping new powers in the event of a national emergency, itself declared by the President. When asking to see the classified version of the plan to understand precisely what powers the President was claiming for himself, Representative Peter DeFazio of the US House Committee on Homeland Securitywas toldhe did not have clearance to read the document.
In 2008 it was revealed that InfraGard, an FBI program started in 1996, had deputized over 23,000 members of private industry to work with the Department of Homeland Security in “protecting national infrastructure” against terrorist threats. Two program whistleblowers testified that they had been given shoot to kill powers in the event of martial law.
In 2009 it was revealed that Boy Scouts were being trained by US Customs and Border Patrol in simulated terrorism drills, and border confrontations.
In 2010, the Department of Homeland Security announced an expansion of its campaign, “If You See Something, Say Something,” which includestelevised messages being played in department stores and hotels across the country encouraging members of the public to snitch on each other.
Seen in this context,we can properly understand that the police state is not some distant far off possibility. On the contrary, the legal, technical and bureaucratic infrastructure for a system of outright state control under a unitary executive has been carefully laid over the course of decades, not just in America but in country after country around the globe.
And it is only in this context, with the police state as a present reality rather than a future possibility, that we can start to assemble the pieces of thepolice state puzzle that have been scattered out in front of us over the past 10 years.
The picture that is painted when one really looks at this information is bleak, but it is far better to understand the police state reality that exists than to fret about whether or not it is coming.
For in reality the police state is not an entity, not some monolithic thing or a state of existence that only has an “on” and an “off” position, but a process, a spectrum, something that always exists to one extent or another.
Once this process is understood for what it is, the question is no longer whether or not this or that atrocity against liberty is a sign of a police state, but why we would ever tolerate such atrocities in the first place.
And this is the real key to dismantling the police state, since all such authoritarian structures rest on the fundamental illusion that a few people at the top of the pyramid hold all the power and the masses at the bottom are all under their thrall.
The truth, as always and in every society, is that the people hold all the power, and no amount of illegal surveillance or police state gadgets could ever hold back an engaged, informed public that recognized their own power over the public officials they support with their tax dollars and the elected representatives that they vote into power and the corporate giants that they buy from every single day.
Once that illusion is shattered, and the people realize that the pyramid is inverted, with the mass of the people threatening to crush the few at the apex at any given moment, the police state loses its power.