James Petras and Robin Eastman Abaya in “The Rise of the Police State and the Absence of Mass Opposition” take on the tragic phenomenon of our ever-expanding police state first under Bush and now Obama, along with why so many Americans have remained, especially under Obama, so very passive about the ominous threat to all of us and/or our progeny.
They estimate that 40 million Americans of our population of approximately 315 million are presently being inappropriately and actively monitored. That averages about one in every eight Americans if I did my math right. Is it me or does that ratio seem horrifyingly high? Unbelievably not high enough, apparently, to stir mass opposition among the majority of the citizenry!
Despite the vast expansion of the police powers of the Executive Branch of government, the extraordinary growth of an entire panoply of repressive agencies, with hundreds of thousands of personnel, and enormous public and secret budgets and the vast scope of police state surveillance, including the acknowledged monitoring of over 40 million US citizens and residents, no mass pro-democracy movement has emerged to confront the powers and prerogatives or even protest the investigations of the police state.
Petras and Abaya remind us that in the early ‘50s Senator Joe McCarthy was a major catalyst in provoking oppressive police state “measures” such as restrictions on free speech, “compulsory loyalty oaths and congressional ‘witch hunt’ investigations of public officials, cultural figures , intellectuals, academics and trade unionists.” Eventually such police state measures provoked widespread public debate, protests and even institutional resistance. It finally triggered mass citizen push-back during the 60s.
Petras and Abaya speculate that police tactics since those days have steadily and savvily shifted from the overt to the COVERT. They conclude “selective state violence against individuals replaced mass purges” while at the same time depressingly observing, “.... especially over the past 20 years, the police state has expanded dramatically, penetrating all aspects of civil society while arousing no sustained or even sporadic mass opposition.”
It would be hard for even the most apolitical among us to deny some evidence of a burgeoning police state under a present US president not covertly but defiantly striking down heretofore inviolable constitutional rights. (However with very little excitement on doing this in the corporate media.) They write:
That a massive and growing police state apparatus exists is beyond doubt: one simply has to look up the published records of personnel (both public agents and private contractors), the huge budgets and scores of agencies involved in internal spying on tens of millions of American citizens and residents. The scope and depth of arbitrary police state measures taken include arbitrary detention and interrogations, entrapment and the blacklisting of hundreds of thousands of US citizens. Presidential fiats have established the framework for the assassination of US citizens and residents, military tribunals, detention camps and the seizure of private property.
Petras and Abaya label the above “GROSS violations of the constitutional order” but complain there is NO massive and substantial “anti-Homeland Security” or “pro-Free Speech” movements, not even on college campuses.
There are only the isolated and courageous voices of specialized ‘civil liberties’ and constitutional freedoms activists and organizations, which speak out and raise legal challenges to the abuse, but have virtually no mass base and no objective coverage in the mass media.
“No mass base.” “No objective coverage in the mass media.” The two seem profoundly connected.
Our tv-plugged-in population apparently only becomes seriously conscious or stays seriously unconscious to a great extent based on corporate-media messaging or the lack thereof. Corporate media strives to instigate corporate-profit-making consumer activism, not citizen activism for the “common good.” Our welfare as citizens is not only not a priority to the mainstream media, it is something they day after day successfully manipulate us away from REALISTICALLY and EMPATHETICALLY addressing.
Petras and Abaya address the media as a powerful police state tool for propaganda this way:
State-sponsored fear mongering on behalf of the police state is amplified and popularized by the mass media on a daily basis via propagandistic-‘news’, ‘anti-terrorist’ detective programs, Hollywood’s decades of crass anti-Arab, Islamophobic films. The mass media portrayal of the police state’s naked violations of democratic rights as normal and necessary in a milieu infiltrated by ‘Muslim terrorists’, where feckless ‘liberals’ (defenders of due process and the Bill of Rights) threaten national security, has been effective.
Ideologically, the police state depends on identifying the expansion of police powers with ‘national security’ of the passive ‘silent’ majority, even as it creates profound insecurity for an active, critical minority. The self-serving identification of the ‘nation’ and the ‘flag’ with the police state apparatus is especially prominent during ‘mass spectacles’ where ‘rock’, schlock and ‘sports’ infuse mass entertainment with solemn Pledges of Allegiance to uphold and respect the police state and busty be-wigged young women wail nasally versions of the national anthem to thunderous applause.
Wounded ‘warriors’ are trotted out and soldiers rigid in their dress uniforms salute enormous flags, while the message transmitted is that police state at home works hand in hand with our ‘men and women in uniform’ abroad. The police state is presented as a patriotic extension of the wars abroad and as such both impose ‘necessary’ constraints on citizen opposition, public criticism and any real forthright defense of freedom.
Petras and Abaya explore the present divide-up-and-conquer-the-citizenry modus operandi of our present police state. They write:
While the potential reach of the police state agencies covers the entire US population, in fact, it operates on the basis of ‘concentric circles’. The police state is perceived and experienced by the US population according to the degree of their involvement in critical opposition to state policies. While the police state theoretically affects ‘everyone’, in practice it operates through a series of concentric circles.
The ‘inner core’, of approximately several million citizens, is the sector of the population experiencing the brunt of the police state persecution. They include the most critical, active citizens, especially those identified by the police state as sharing religious and ethnic identities with declared foreign enemies, critics or alleged ‘terrorists’. These include immigrants and citizens of Arab, Persian, Pakistani, Afghan and Somali descent, as well as American converts to Islam.
Ethnic and religious “profiling” is rife in all transport centers (airports, bus and train stations and on the highways). Mosques, Islamic charities and foundations are under constant surveillance and subject to raids, entrapment, arrests, and even Israeli-style ‘targeted’ assassinations.
There’s that first layer of indifference, “it could be worse, it could be me” very human self-interest scenario. But then add the factor of ethnic backgrounds. How much empathy can we as citizens extend to fellow Americans who are ethnically different from us, especially to those who share the broadest similarities to those Middle-Eastern criminals who perpetrated the 9-11 tragedy?
The second “core group” which is targeted by the police state that Petras and Abaya focus on includes African Americans, Hispanics and immigration rights activists (numbering in the millions).
They are subject to massive arbitrary sweeps, round-ups and unlimited detention without trial as well as mass indiscriminate deportations.
I was reading recently about how US border guards have taken up the apparently perversely cathartic habit of destroying water bottles left in the desert by good Samaritans so that Mexican immigrants won’t die of thirst trying to cross the border. What an awesome degree of demonization has been inspired in these tax-dollar paid public servants to gratuitously increase the likelihood of illegals to suffer an excruciating death from thirst? Better that they die mercilessly rather than survive the crossing? This is profoundly sociopathic behavior. Seemingly an institutionalized sociopathy and though I am sure not all border guards exhibit it, it is all the more prevalent from an “us vs. them” anti-humanism group-think.
As for the horrifying numbers of young blacks incarcerated and the incredibly high percentage of persons of color subject to “stop and frisk” profiling, which are finally leaking into public consciousness in spite of, not because of, mainstream media -- unaddressed for so long now by a nearly fully decayed fourth estate -- the disclosures are still not enough to inspire pro-action on the part of any serious numbers of white citizen counterparts, shamefully.
The balance of the 40 million Americans targeted by the US police state Petras and Abaya divide into an “inner circle” and an “outer circle”:
...the ‘inner circle’ ... millions of US citizens and residents, who have written or spoken critically of US and Israeli policy in the Middle East, expressed solidarity with the suffering of the Palestinian people, opposed US invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan or have visited countries or regions opposed to US empire building (Venezuela, Iran, South Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank and Gaza, etc.). Hundreds of thousands of these citizens have their telephone, e-mail and internet communications under surveillance; they have been targeted in airports, denied passports, subject to ‘visits’ and to covert and overt blacklisting at their schools and workplaces.
Activists engaged in civil liberties groups, lawyers, and professionals, leftists engaged in anti-Imperialist, pro-democracy and anti-police state activities and their publications are on ‘file’ in the massive police state labyrinth of data collecting on ‘political terrorists’. Environmental movements and their activists have been treated as potential terrorists – with their own family members subjected to police harassment and ominous ‘visits’.
The ‘outer circle’ ... community, civic, religious and trade union leaders and activists who, in the course of their activity interact with or even express support for core and inner circle critics and victims of police state violations of due process . The ‘outer circle’ numbering a few million citizens are ‘on file’ as ‘persons of interest’, which may involve monitoring their e-mail and periodic ‘checks’ on their petition signing and defense appeals.
So the THREE CIRCLES are the central targets of the police state. They total according to these writers 40 million people.
These ‘three circles’ are the central targets of the police state, numbering upward of 40 million US citizens and immigrants - who have not committed any crime. For having exercised their constitutional rights, they have been subjected to various degrees of police state repression and harassment.
THEY HAVE NOT COMMITTED ANY CRIMES. BUT THEY ARE BEING TARGETED, THEIR PRIVACY INVADED. THESE ARE APPROXIMATELY ONE OUT OF EVERY EIGHT AMERICANS!
Petras and Abaya hasten to add, “the police state, however, has ‘fluid boundaries’ about whom to spy on, whom to arrest and when - depending on whatever arouses the apparatchiks ‘suspicion’ or desire to exercise power or please their superiors at any given moment.”
As Petras and Abaya see it, the present US police state is programmed to “REPRESS pro-democracy citizens” and “PRE-EMPT any mass movement.” They write:
The key to the police state operations of the US in the 21st century is to repress pro-democracy citizens and pre-empt any mass movement without undermining the electoral system, which provides political theater and legitimacy. A police state ‘boundary’ is constructed to ensure that citizens will have little option but to vote for the two pro-police state parties, legislatures and executives without reference to the conduct, conditions and demands of the core, inner and outer circle of victims, critics and activists. Frequent raids, harsh public ‘exemplary’ punishment and mass media stigmatization transmit a message to the passive mass of voters and non-voters that the victims of repression ‘must have been doing something wrong’ or else they would not be under police state repression. (emphasis mine)
PRE-EMPT? Wasn’t that the Bush administration’s favorite word in declaring offensive “faux-defensive” war? Well, a homeland, offensive “faux-defensive” pre-emptive and covert war is now aimed at us. Well, some of us, anyway, at least for the present moment. It will assuredly ripple outward.
Neither corporate political party has taken any strong stance about the expanded police state, aside from hypocritical posturing over any high profile tragedy because of overzealous and violent police behavior. Shallow platitudes and vague promises until the end of the photo-op news cycle and back to enabling police state privacy invading and intimidation business as usual.
Petras and Abaya speculate as to how the police state has been so successful in “fencing off” activists from the “vast majority of US citizens”. They point out that there is inspiring evidence in other countries of mass opposition by serious majorities of citizens who are taking to the streets to rise up against oppressive police or military forces, even risking torture, detainment or death. What is happening with sluggish us?
Frightened or apathetic people love rationalizations and again the old addage they ‘“must have been doing something wrong” (sometimes conveniently used for blaming the victims of rape) easily helps one detach from the haunting specter that our American freedoms are seriously circling the proverbial bowl. They write:
One explanation for passivity is that precisely the power and pervasiveness of the police state has created deep fear, especially among people with family obligations, vulnerable employment and with moderate commitments to democratic freedoms. This group of citizens is aware of cases where police powers have affected other citizens who were involved in critical activities, causing job loss and broad suffering and are not willing to sacrifice their security and the welfare of their families for what they believe is a ‘losing cause’ – a movement lacking a strong popular base and with little institutional support.
Petras and Abaya further explore citizen police state support:
The second motive for ‘acquiescence’ among a substantial public is because they tend to support the police state, based on their acceptance of the anti-terror ideology and its virulent anti-Muslim-anti-Arab racism, driven in large part by influential sectors of pro-Israel opinion makers. The fear and loathing of Muslims, cultivated by the police state and mass media, was central to the post-9/11 build-up of Homeland Security and the serial wars against Israel’s adversaries, including Iraq, Lebanon, Libya and now Syria with plans for Iran.
Active support for the police state peaked during the first 5 years post- 9/11 and subsequently ebbed as the Wall Street-induced economic crisis, loss of employment and the failures of government policy propelled concerns about the economy far ahead of support for the police state. Nevertheless, at least one-third of the electorate still supports the police state, ‘right or wrong’. They firmly believe that the police state protects their ‘security’; that suspects, arrestees, and others under watch ‘must have been doing something illegal’. The most ardent backers of the police state are found among the rabid anti-immigrant groups who support arbitrary round-ups, mass deportations and the expansion of police powers at the expense of constitutional guarantees.
The “‘my country right or wrong’ is always right” group, apparently! Jingoism and authoritarian-following orientation. An “identifying with the aggressor” mentality. They estimate one-third of the electorate in this group. That would be a whopping 100 plus million citizens! This is or would be a formidable dead weight obstruction to citizen opposition if said mass opposition could seriously begin to get off the ground right now.
Finally, Petras and Abaya attribute bottom-line “ignorance to the reality of what is happening to their fellow targeted Americans." Again, mainstream media holds a massive degree of responsibility for encouraging status quo citizen IGNORANCE.
The third possible motive for acquiescence in the police state is ignorance: those millions of US citizens who are not aware of the size, scope and activities of the police state. Their practical behavior speaks to the notion that ‘since I am not directly affected it must not exist’. Embedded in everyday life, making a living, enjoying leisure time, entertainment, sports, family, neighborhoods and concerned only about household budgets … This mass is so embedded in their personal ‘micro-world’ that it considers the macro-economic and political issues raised by the police state as ‘distant’, outside of their experience or interest: ‘I don’t have time’, ‘I don’t know enough’, ‘It’s all ‘politics’ … The widespread apoliticism of the US public plays into its ignoring the monster that has grown in its midst.
And once again, a CORPORATE, anti-citizen identity/pro-consumer identity “profits uber alles” mass media is not eager to rally citizens against their corporate overlords, who insist on and sponsor that strong police state.
Petras and Abaya declare that tragically right now the “police state” stands “‘above and outside’ of the popular consciousness, concerns and activities.”
Petras and Abaya also take the Democratic Party machine to task as well as Obama for the escalation of a police state:
...The mass anti-war movements of the early 1990’s and 2001-2003 were undermined (sold-out) by the defection of its leaders to the Democratic Party machine and its electoral agenda. The massive popular immigration movement was taken over by Mexican-American political opportunists from the Democratic Party and decimated while the same Democratic Party, under President Barack Obama, has escalated police state repression against immigrants, expelling millions of Latino immigrant workers and their families.
Petras and Abaya conclude that from the study of history, successful struggles against emerging police states depend on “the linking of the socio-economic struggles that engage the attention of the masses of citizens with the pro-democracy, pro-civil liberty, ‘free speech’ movements of the middle classes.”
They believe that our deepening economic crisis, with “the savage cuts in living standards and working conditions and the fight to save ‘sacred’ social programs (like Social Security and Medicare)” have to be linked to the expansion of the police state. THIS HAS NOT YET HAPPENED TO TRIGGER A MASS SOCIAL JUSTICE MOVEMENT.
A mass social justice movement, which brings together thousands of anti-Wall Streeters, millions of pro-Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid recipients with hundreds of thousands of immigrant workers will inevitably clash with the bloated police-state apparatus.
Freedom is essential to the struggle for social justice and the mass struggle for social justice is the only basis for rolling back the police state. The hope is that mass economic pain will ignite mass activity, which, in turn, will make people aware of the dangerous growth of the police state. A mass understanding of this link will be essential to any advance in the movement for democracy and people’s welfare at home and peace abroad.
They say stress makes people more not less narcissistic. But hopefully the blowback against ever-escalating economic stress will finally give the bottom 99% in this country an opportunity to relate to so many of our national family as innocent and violated VICTIMS and with whom we must all rally to save ourselves and this heretofore constitutional republic. May it be sooner rather than later, particularly for the 40 million now being gratuitously and dangerously regarded as “enemies of the state” for simply wanting to enjoy their basic right to life and happiness no matter what ethnic backgrounds they and their families have and/or for nobly fighting for social, economic and constitutional rights, for a global political paradigm shift to partnership, cooperation, empathy -- humanism, for simply trying to exercise their supposed constitutional rights.
Now they -- the 40 million, these one out of eight Americans -- are vulnerable targets of the monster police state and its engineers, the sociopathic and avaricious one percent. One out of eight at this point. What ratio, I wonder, will finally produce a tipping point to inspire mass citizen opposition and will it be, if it comes, tragically ineffectively belated?
I think of six million Jewish people exterminated. That mass murder enabled by colossal fear, indifference and/or ignorance of their fellow humans.
I also think of the millions having been killed or having had their lives devastated in the far and recent pasts and the present from ruthless corporate profiteering and police state repression enabled by colossal fear, indifference and/or ignorance of their fellow humans.
Postscript: Writing above about the intrusive and illegitimate microscope 40 million plus innocent Americans are now under, some passages by Patrick Martin of wsws have been haunting me, highlighting the blanket immunity granted so many criminal members of the elite from investigation and prosecution. Let me share them here:
President George W. Bush took the United States into a war in Iraq on the basis of lies about weapons of mass destruction and Al Qaeda ties to Saddam Hussein. More than one million Iraqis and nearly 5,000 Americans lost their lives as a result, and Iraqi society was laid waste. Not a single US official has faced a war crimes prosecution as a result.
The response to Hurricane Katrina demonstrated criminal neglect by local, state and federal officials. No one was held accountable for contributing to the deaths of nearly 1,500 people along the Gulf coast, including more than one thousand in New Orleans, which was virtually destroyed by the flood.
Five years later, the same region was devastated by an entirely manmade catastrophe, the BP oil spill. Not one corporate official has been prosecuted, let alone sent to prison, for the worst environmental crime in American history.
The financial crash of 2008 has cost millions of jobs and caused untold social suffering in the US, Europe and throughout the world. No bankers or speculators have been prosecuted and no government officials held responsible. On the contrary, trillions of dollars were handed over to the banks to prevent their collapse, and Wall Street profits, salaries and bonuses are back to record levels.
[cross-posted on correntewire and sacramento for democracy]