When I first heard news of this month’s worldwide travel alert proclaiming potential terrorist attacks emanating from al-Qaeda or its affiliates in the Arabian Peninsula to be particularly imminent throughout all of August, an excerpt from John W. Whitehead’s newly released A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State (SelectBooks, June 2013) immediately came to mind:
Fear, and its perpetuation by the government, is the greatest weapon against freedom, and propaganda is the most effective tool for keeping the populace in check. Propaganda, an expertise of politicians, is in reality a fiction. But it is an effective fiction. And in an age of amusements and entertainment, the so-called masses of Americans, who often take what television’s talking heads say as the gospel truth, have difficulty distinguishing between fiction and reality.
In tackling this truth over fiction media-government perpetuity, as far as I can tell, there are only two opposing viewpoints to choose from for the American populace: we can either remain compliant and accept a Big Brother Knows Best mantra for the rest of our lives, or we can attempt the seeing through of a glass darkly, so to speak, and seek to capture a glimpse of what the ramifying factors of our country’s national security policy actually entail.
Whitehead doubtlessly adheres himself to the latter option.
In speaking to fear, A Government of Wolves paints a disastrous vision of an America that appears ever more analogous to that of a police state, rather than a free and open society.
The gradual militarization of law enforcement agencies––who in “appearance, weapons, and attitude” are being increasingly transformed into civilian branches of the military––is one of the more observable concerns that Whitehead addresses. It’s a process that can be dated back to the early 1980s under the guise of the “war on drugs,” using SWAT teams and paramilitary units to serve drug warrants and force entry into the homes of private citizens, sometimes unannounced. Back then, such raids were reported to occur fewer than 3,000 times per year. Today, the yearly figure is thought to be over 50,000.
Likewise, the nation’s incarceration rate has tripled since then with 13 million people being introduced to the American prison industrial complex in any given year, mostly on account of drug offenses. With one out of every one hundred Americans currently serving time behind bars and with for-profit prisons run by corporations such as Corrections Corp of America and its cohort GEO Group popping up all across the country––a $70 billion industry in which cash-strapped states must agree to maintain a 90 percent occupancy rate for at least 20 years––the comparisons that Whitehead draws from the horrific corporate-collaborated labor camps of the Third Reich are eerily justified, in my opinion.
One must also acknowledge the advancements in weaponry that have taken place since the 1980s, along with the government’s history of commandeering military technology for use against Americans.
“Today,” notes Paul Craig Roberts, former Assistant Secretary of the Treasury and associate editor of The Wall Street Journal, “17,000 local police forces are equipped with such military equipment as Blackhawk helicopters, machine guns, grenade launchers, battering rams, explosives, chemical sprays, body armor, night vision, rappelling gear, and armored vehicles. Some have tanks.”
Covert military training “exercises” have now become common practice in major cities, slowly desensitizing Americans to the sight of Blackhawk helicopters scaling office buildings and buzzing in between skyscrapers. Whitehead provokes heedful words in noting how degradations such as TSA screenings at the airport (and surprise stings throughout the country), the NYPD’s shameful “stop-and-frisk” program, and the use of metal detectors and drug-sniffing dogs inside our schools all stand to “indoctrinate children to accept pat downs, full-body scans, and other invasive procedures as a regular component of the relationship between government and its citizens,” adding that: “A child who has been molested by government officials since before he could read is unlikely to question such activities as an unjustified exercise of authority when an adult.”
This form of “conditioning” is a gradual process by design, but one that certainly appears to be rapidly advancing, especially given the continuous trade-off between freedom and (the illusion of) security that Americans find themselves repeatedly succumbing to. Just as the perpetuation of fear has led us several steps closer to totalitarian-style authoritarianism ruling the streets, the gradual indoctrination of the incoming surveillance state has officially annihilated every safe-zone that once existed in the United States between its citizens and the prying eyes of Big Brother.
“At one time,” writes Whitehead, “the idea of a total surveillance state tracking one’s every move would have been abhorrent to most Americans. That all changed with the 9/11 attacks.”
An important by-product of this Orwellian reality that we now find ourselves living in––one that seems to be sometimes lost amongst feelings of privacy invasion and the general perversity of the NSA––is the terrible threat against freedom of speech, which has truly become something of an albatross for us all.
Privacy is also instrumental in nature. This aspect of the right highlights the pernicious effects, rather than the inherent illegitimacy, of intrusive, suspicionless surveillance. For example, encroachments on individual privacy undermine democratic institutions by chilling free speech. When citizens––especially those espousing unpopular viewpoints––are aware that the intimate details of their personal lives are pervasively monitored by government, or even that they could be singled out for discriminatory treatment by government officials as a result of their First Amendment expressive activities, they are less likely to freely express their dissident views.
To me, this crippling invasion of privacy and its ability to further silence those who dare question the policies of the government is truly the most legitimate insinuation of a prevailing American police state: the very fact that anything you say or do will be used against you.
Today, society as we know it is effectively under arrest.
John W. Whitehead is a well-published author and very influential attorney-advocate in the area of constitutional law and human rights. Former Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) has called him “one of the most eloquent and knowledgeable defenders of liberty, and opponents of the growing American police state, writing today.” In 1982, Whitehead founded The Rutherford Institute, a nonprofit civil liberties organization that provides free legal services to people whose constitutional and human rights have been threatened or violated, located in Charlottesville, Virginia. His commentary is posted weekly on the Institute’s website and distributed to hundreds of newspapers.
Unique to his general thesis on both the present and forthcoming police state in modern day America is the reservoir of several key films (and moreover, the books that they were based on) that Whitehead uses to reinforce the terrifying reality that what was at one time conceived of as pure fiction is now quickly becoming rather standardized in our everyday lives. Iris scanners, facial recognition software, Rumsfeld’s Ray Gun, the LED Incapacitator, “cybugs” and, of course, the drones.
“The mass introduction of drones into domestic airspace has one main goal,” writes Whitehead, “to empower the corporate state by controlling the populace and enriching the military industrial complex.”
His propensity to lean on cinematic references such as V for Vendetta or Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report can come across as somewhat distracting at times, or, worse yet, a frivolous means of adding page count to an already thin text. However, my general consensus on A Government of Wolves is that of a book which was very much written for the sake of the present-tense. Whitehead layers his facts and opinions swift and to the point, packing big punches into a small amount of space with a sense of urgency that screams through every page. To that effect, such fictional metaphors only add to the accessible nature of the text itself and its capacity to inform its readers just how deep into the rabbit hole we already are.
To the unenlightened, A Government of Wolves reads like a beacon. And for those impatiently waiting for the rest of the country to awake from their slumber: a sign of hope.
Mark Mondalek – BFP contributing author, is a writer and editor based in Detroit.