Wednesday, April 15, 2009
Revenge of the "Waco Gene" (Update/correction, April 20)
The Regime has made it official that "right-wing extremism" is a threat to Homeland Security.
That genus is divided into two species -- "white supremacist and anti-government groups" -- with the latter further differentiated into various sub-species, including immigration reform activists, "disgruntled military veterans," gun rights advocates, members of citizen militia groups, anti-globalists, constitutionalists, "hate groups," and others deemed politically unsuitable by the Regime.
About two years ago, Congress was presented with a measure entitled the Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act. Its first offspring was to be an official commission to examine potential content-based Internet restrictions.
Although this bill eventually dead-ended in the Senate, at some point the Regime swiped some of its genetic material and used it to create a specialized section within the Homeland Security Department called the Extremism and Radicalization Branch (which we'll call the ERB). [See update/correction below.]
This means that for the first time in American history, the federal government has a full-time intelligence organ devoted exclusively to scrutinizing the political opinions and affiliations of U.S. citizens. It is difficult to overstate the importance of this development as a milestone in our nation's apostasy from its founding as a constitutional republic.
Earlier this month, the ERB's "Homeland Environment Threat Analysis Division" issued a nine-page "Intelligence and Analysis Assessment" of "right-wing extremism" for the supposed benefit of state and local law enforcement agencies. That document consists of reheated leftovers from several previous "intelligence analyses" of the "radical right," including the FBI's notorious 1999 Project Megiddo broadside.
Echoes of a decade ago: A "terrorist threat" assessment issued in 1999 by the Phoenix FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force identified "constitutionalists" as a potential threat -- but didn't mention the possibility of a backlash from Muslim radicals riled up by Washington's foreign policy.
The ERB report concludes with the observation that the Department of Homeland Security "will be working with its state and local partners over the next several months to ascertain with greater regional specificity the rise in rightwing extremist activity in the United States, with a particular emphasis on the political, economic, and social factors that drive rightwing extremist radicalization."
This is significant chiefly because it acknowledges that every "local" police agency in the United States is now a sensory organ, and enforcement appendage, of the Homeland Security State.
As partners with the Department of Homeland Security, your thoughtful and friendly "local" police and state police will be expected to gather intelligence on "extremists" within their jurisdictions and provide it to the Feds. And in the event that they're required to do so by their "partners" in Washington, those same state and "local" police will be expected to question, arrest, or detain those designated to be severe risks to "homeland security."
In this connection it's useful to remember that the Obama administration has taken care to preserve all of the necessary Bush-era precedents regarding the summary imprisonment of those designated "unlawful enemy combatants" by presidential decree, the suspension of habeas corpus, and even the practice of torture as a means of "enhanced interrogation."
The prospect of the exercise of those powers by the incumbent is causing a loss of bladder control among many of the same GOP-aligned polemicists who insisted that they were perfectly safe when placed at the disposal of his predecessor. This development was as predictable as the "plot" of a porno film. And as Salon's admirable civil libertarian columnist Glen Greenwald emphasizes, the report on the "radical right" was actually begun under the Bush administration.
Putting a meme into play: This magazine cover, which appeared roughly a year ago, anticipated one of the themes of the recent Homeland Security Department assessment of the "right-wing threat" -- namely, that there may be a violent, racially motivated "backlash" against the Obama administration.
In the institutional memory of the American Right, the early Clinton years were characterized by two entirely unnecessary atrocities involving culturally isolated "extremists": The attack on the Randy Weaver family at Ruby Ridge, Idaho -- which led to the murder of Sammy and Vicki Weaver -- and the 51-day standoff at Mt. Carmel, Texas, which culminated in the holocaust of April 19, 1993.
The unbearable memory of those episodes, exacerbated by the "assault weapons" ban, did much to catalyze resistance to the Clinton administration. Prior to the Oklahoma City bombing, there was a widespread, and growing, appreciation for the lethal potential of what we could call the federal government's "Waco gene" -- its latent tendency to isolate, dehumanize, criminalize, and even annihilate those considered to be incorrigible internal enemies.
But although this early Clinton-era anti-government backlash was rooted in worthy and entirely justified sentiments, it was poorly focused in one fairly significant respect: Clinton and his properly maligned Attorney General Janet Reno had relatively little to do with the planning and execution of the ATF's assault on the Branch Davidians, and nothing at all to do with the criminal assault on the Weaver family. Those were anti-"extremist" initiatives planned and/or carried out by the administration of George Bush the Elder.
(It's not my intention to demolish a straw man by mentioning Ruby Ridge in this connection; on many occasions I've heard that incident paired with Waco when people have recited the litany of the Clinton administration's crimes.)
During the reign of Bush the Dumber, the GOP-aligned punditocracy insisted that only "peace creeps" and people who perversely sympathize with suicide bombers were outraged over the executive branch's assault on the Bill of Rights.
When Bush put the chainsaw to due process guarantees running back to Runnymede and mowed them down like so much overgrowth on his postage-stamp "ranch," some principled voices -- with Ron Paul, as always, leading that tiny chorus -- took up a refrain similar to that put in the mouth of Sir Thomas More when his son-in-law William Roper urged a similar clear-cutting approach to the law.
After the contemptible opportunist Richard Rich* comes fishing for a bribe, baiting More with the implied threat of blackmail, More's family urges him to have Rich arrested. When More points out that Rich hadn't broken the law, and that even "the Devil himself" is entitled to the protection of the law, Roper angrily exclaims that he would "cut down every law in England" to get to the Devil.
"And when the last law was down and the devil turned round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat?" More inquired. "This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast -- man's laws, and not God's -- and if you cut them down--and you are just the man to do it--do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes -- I'd give the Devil benefit of the law for my own safety's sake."
Transfixed by the demonic evil of Islamic terrorism, intoxicated by a sense of vindictive righteousness, the Republican Right eagerly collaborated in the effort to mow down legal protections for those designated enemies of the state. With the frustrated puzzlement of dimwitted children they now find themselves naked and shivering in the ill winds so memorably described by More.
For a long time, conservatives have extracted much undeserved pleasure from the aphorism that "A law-and-order conservative is a liberal who's been mugged." Now they're given an opportunity to learn the truth of its counterpart: "A civil libertarian is a law-and-order conservative who suffered an ass-beating at the hands of the police." Perhaps this lesson could be learned -- but, given the propensity of conservatives to miss the obvious and resist admissions of error, I'm not optimistic.
One aspect of the ERB's "Intelligence Assessment" that offers cause for unintended mirth is the concern it expresses over the possibility that the ongoing economic collapse is being "exploited" by "rightwing extremists." The unspoken corollary here, of course, is that our rulers us would never exploit economic or political upheavals in order to aggrandize their own power -- the well-documented eagerness of both the Bushi'ites and the Obamatrons not to "let a serious crisis go to waste" notwithstanding.
The all-gathering "ear": This grotto on Syracuse, known as "Dionysus's Ear," has unique acoustic properties that amplify even the softest whisper. According to legend, the tyrant Dionysus imprisoned political enemies in or near this cave and his secret police exploited its eavesdropping potential in their efforts to root out dissent.
You see, according to the Collectivist Lexicon, when those exercising the powers of government suspect the worst of the people they rule, it's called vigilance; when those on the receiving end of government power suspect the worst of their rulers, it's called paranoia.
In the interest of clarity, I should point out that, as the term is typically used today, a "paranoid" is someone who notices things without government permission. Similarly, a "conspiracy theorist" is anyone who draws unacceptable anti-government conclusions from politically inconvenient facts.
A "hate group" consists of any group of people who are hated by collectivists.
And a "terrorist" is anyone, anywhere, who is imprisoned, tortured, or killed by the state with extreme prejudice. In the near future we may see some interesting applications of that infinitely flexible definition.
When citizens are hyper-vigilant toward government, liberty is one possible result. Where government is hyper-vigilant toward is subjects, tyranny is the inevitable outcome.
Update/correction, April 20:
In the original version of this essay, I mistakenly reported that the "Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Act of 2007" (VRHTA) was enacted by Congress and signed into law. A sharp-eyed and well-informed contributor to the comment thread caught this mistake. It does seem clear that the section of the Homeland Security Department responsible for the "assessment" of the supposed right-wing threat is a product of the same ferment within the police state apparatus that inspired the VRHTA. I sincerely regret my earlier error.
*A painful personal admission: Richard Rich, the despicable invertebrate who betrayed the heroic St. Thomas More, is a distant ancestor (by adoption, I hasten to point out).
On sale now.
Dum spiro, pugno!