In a recent post called The State answers Winston Smith there was one person (wophugus) who insisted, in the comments section, that calling the US a police state was way out of bounds. For example he claimed:
I also think you either know next to nothing about what life is like in a police state or are enormously callous to those who suffered through police states, appropriating their pain for rhetorical value.
There was a long back and forth, but no meeting of the minds since I think calling the present USA a police state is quite appropriate and so I decided to take a look at the issue. But first, there was a response to “wophugus” from another fellow that is worth looking at.
From praetorSF in comments:
wophugus’ statements are reflect very common sentiments amongst people I talk to, and they are sentiments that I find rather fascinating and mysterious (when they aren’t the result of pure ignorance of current events that is). My theory is that it is the result of denial and cognitive dissonance. We were all raised being taught about the founding fathers and how great our country was because we were a free country without Kings or Dictators or repressive police organizations. We have a visceral reaction to the word police state, we don’t like to imagine that WE are the people that we always used to feel a bit sorry for, living in an unfree country. I think many people just find it hard to admit that to themselves.
My challenge to those people, and to wophugus, is this: give me YOUR definition of a police state. At what point does a country cross that magic line? What specific things does a country have to do to make it meet that definition? If you sit down, think about it, and come up with a coherent definition, America pretty much has to fit the bill. Secret law? Check. Incarceration of a vast number of our citizens (more than any other country in the world)? Check. Execution of our citizens without trial? Check. Torture? Check. An oligarchichal ruling class that is above the law the rest of the citizens are subject to? Check.
One of my favorite quotes is “Those who do not move do not feel their chains” (and I really need to look up who said it one of these days 🙂 ). Really that’s what your argument comes down to wophugus: “most people don’t make a big enough nuisance of themselves to draw the state’s ire, thus we are not a police state.”
I have read that a police state is generally defined as a government that exerts extreme and pervasive political, economic, and social control over its subjects. It is the situation where the State can do as it pleases while the citizen needs permission to act. Some people cannot see what’s happening in the US. To them it seems ridiculous to say that the US is a police state. “Where are the jack-boot Nazi Gestapo thugs breaking down doors and hauling people off to death camps?” they cry out. They seem to think that only the very worst police states from the past can be called by the name “police state”.
Normally a police state maintains control through a vast number of laws and pervasive surveillance like in the old East Germany with its Stasi secret police force. The population’s right to travel about is converted into state issued privilege and the minions of the government operate with little transparency. The police state typically concentrates on non-violent crime and uses the astronomical number of laws to enforce their will upon the people.
As we have been reading lately, whistle-blowers like Edward Snowden have documented the vast surveillance operations of the NSA, while others have alerted us to the operations of the CIA and FBI. The local police have become militarized and the no-knock home invasion by SWAT teams has become standard operation procedure. Even shooting the family pets has become a normal police procedure.
There is no aspect of life that is not controlled by government in a police state. In most places in America you must get a “permit” to even work on your own house. It costs $140 in Orlando, Florida for the “permit” to install a new outside door on your house. I know because I need one after the latest break in attempt; the sort of crime that the police refuse to protect the population from because they are too busy issuing tickets and fines to raise money for their own benefit. Does this fact make the USA a police state? Of course not. But it is a data point in the case that the US seeks the power to control every single aspect of your life. In many places it is a felony to sell fresh whole milk to the public. I bet the boys in 1776 never thought that would happen. And enforcement has become draconian, with police departments pursuing militarization. Even police in the grammar schools will taser and handcuff young children. A special federal police force called the Department of Homeland Security has spearheaded this militarazation while the DHS functions without transparency or accountability. The NSA is spying on everyone with far greater abilities than the east German Stassi did.
To travel freely about the country without any “papers”, formerly a right, is now a privilege granted by government agents at their whim. Without proper “ID” you may well end up in jail. The people who lived in the USSR would be very familiar with that concept, and god forbid you carry any real amount of cash as you travel about as that marks you as a criminal unless you can prove that you have a good reason to carry the money — and good luck with that as you will need it.
How many peaceful activities are now felonies in the USA? Harvey Silverglaten wrote a book called Three Felonies A Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent in which the civil rights attorney argues that, “The average professional in this country wakes up in the morning, goes to work, comes home, eats dinner, and then goes to sleep, unaware that he or she has likely committed several federal crimes that day. Why? The answer lies in the very nature of modern federal criminal laws, which have exploded in number but also become impossibly broad and vague.” And if the state decides to make an example of you, then the prosecution in this country is so powerful and out of control that 99 percent of the accused don’t even try to fight the charges in court. They take whatever plea bargain the state offers.
How many nonviolent activities can get a man caged in one of the US rape prisons? Can you go to prison for writing on a sidewalk? On the “people’s sidewalk”? In this article Writing with Sidewalk Chalk Can Earn You Hard Time? we find that 20 years hard time can be handed down for writing a slogan on the sidewalk in chalk that will wash away with the rains in short order. 20 years? In a free country? A women in Florida got 20 years in prison for firing a warning shot in the air to keep her abusive husband from attacking her yet again. She could have shot him, but instead gave him a warning shot to prevent violence. She even had a restraining order against him which the police obviously did not help her with. Apparently Florida thinks women should just take their beatings and not disturb the peace.
How freely can you relocate your assets and person outside the jurisdiction of the US government? You had best check into that because currency control laws have become draconian; all in the name of fighting the war on drugs and the “war on terror”.
The site Dissident Voice posted an article called What the NSA Revelations Tell Us about America’s Police State a few days ago. The USA has become a police state. Like East Germany in the days of the Stassi, most people do not get into any trouble. Most people will obey their masters just as the Germans in East Germany did or just as the African in the U.S. did in the deep south once upon a time even though they outnumbered their white masters by a considerable margin.
In the U.S. a person can be accused of numerous crimes without knowing exactly what he has supposedly done. He might be arrested in the middle of the night by a SWAT team no-knock military style raid. A citizen might find himself on a no-fly list and be unable to travel for reasons that remain secret to him. Everyone’s electronic communications or actions are spied upon and recorded. Secret orders are handed down by a secret court to target individuals who then have no recourse to discover why they were targeted.
The U.S. has a government that wields the legal authority to round up people, including U.S. citizens and take them to concentration camps, detention centers, or military jails where the government can torture them, incarcerate indefinitely, or execute them. Just claim they are “suspected terrorists” and there is no limit to the power the government has over them. Due process? “We don’t need no stinking due process”.
We hear from lawyers and other government loving types that claim that these things don’t happen to everyone in the U.S. but only to “a few”. Excluding the TSA groping and the NSA electronic snooping they may have a small point. Their point is that the majority of the people obey their masters and stay out of trouble for the most part. They claim that with tons of money anyone can get due process. They claim, in effect, that we have as system as caring and free as in Nazi Germany (as long as you were a “good German”)
My friends, we have a full blown police state. It is not an exact duplicate of any that came before it, after all, the technology has changed tremendously, and the U.S. police state is uniquely American, but we have a police state.
Any state, be it a dominate Empire or not, can exist only when the vast majority of the people are satisfied with their lot in life or are resigned to it. The U.S. central state needs the cooperation of the more than 300 million people — be it enthusiastic or sullen cooperation. The people of the USSR brought down the communist police state without bloodshed by simply withdrawing their consent to be ruled by the system. It was an unbelievable sight at the time. We can do likewise. Withdraw your consent to be owned by the state.