Yesterday afternoon I read a story on the 2600 site about a photographer in Denver. He made the mistake of taking pictures in his hometown, Denver, where the usually hidden Dick Cheney was staying at the Adams Mark Hotel. The photographer, Mike Maginnis, was arrested for the crime of taking pictures of Cheney’s hotel and surrounding area, which was crawling with storm troopers, otherwise known as the Denver police, Army Rangers, rooftop snipers, and SS agents.
It’s precarious these days if you’re a "street" photographer. I’ve had police and custom agents grill me over my camera. One customs agent on the US-Mexico border threatened to steal my camera if I took a picture of him. He was so stupid he couldn’t understand I was rewinding film at the time he issued the warning. By the time he came over I had the back of my 35mm camera open and was removing the film canister. "Put that camera away," he barked, and I did, quickly, because I can’t afford to have my camera confiscated. These guys are supposed to protect us from terrorists? Who will protect us from them?
Local police here in Las Cruces, New Mexico, have "pulled" me over for walking around with a camera. One time two police cars surrounded me. What was I doing? What was I taking pictures of? I told them I take pictures of old buildings. They looked at me like I was from Mars. Most people take pictures of their aunt Gertrude or their dog Sparky. It’s highly unusual, and apparently suspicious, to take pictures of old buildings. I’ve had storeowners come out and confront me.
Everybody is paranoid these days. Dick Cheney wants to make sure we’re paranoid for the rest of our lives. Some people believe that’s how long the so-called war on terrorism will last. How long was Oceania at war with Eurasia and Eastasia? If Cheney and Bush didn’t have their Emmanuel Goldstein in Osama bin Laden, they would have to create him. Or maybe they did.
But I digress.
After the photographer Mike Maginnis took his pictures in downtown Denver near Cheney’s hotel, a cop confronted him. He demanded Maginnis hand over not only his film, but also his camera. When he refused, Maginnis was thrown down on the pavement and arrested. He was taken to the police station and locked in an interrogation room for two hours. Finally an SS agent arrived and told Maginnis that his "suspicious activities" made him a threat to national security, and that he would be charged as a terrorist under the USA-Patriot Act. The agent tried to get Maginnis to admit he was taking photos of Cheney’s hotel as part of some nefarious terrorist plot intended to "cause terror and mayhem." The photographer refused to admit this. The SS agent responded by calling Maginnis a "raghead collaborator" and a "dirty pinko faggot." No doubt it would’ve been great for the SS agent’s career if Maginnis had admitted he did something wrong.
Maginnis was eventually allowed to make his phone call. Instead of calling a lawyer, he called the Denver Post and asked for the news desk. When the desk sergeant overheard this, he hung up the phone and put the photographer in a holding cell. He was released after three hours — minus explanation, arrest report, or a receipt for his confiscated photo equipment. He was told he probably wouldn’t get his camera back. It was evidence. When Maginnis had a lawyer call the Denver police, they denied ever having him in custody. It simply didn’t happen. It was like a scene out of a Kafka novel.
This is the America we live in now. You can be arrested for taking pictures, or for simply being the wrong place at the wrong time. The police can lie, the Secret Service can call you a faggot or make racist comments about Arabs, accuse you of being a terrorist or a "pinko" without any evidence, and there is nothing you can do about it. If Mike Maginnis had been less cooperative, or had resisted arrest, he might be in the hospital right now — or sharing a brig with Jose Padilla who, after all, did nothing more than engage in a thought crime and type the wrong words in the search query line at Google or Yahoo.
So-called "no fly" lists are now being used at airports to trample the civil liberties of antiwar and human rights activists, even innocuous Green Party members. They are on a "watch list" compiled by the CIA, FBI, INS and State Department under the Aviation and Transportation Security Act, passed after 9/11. Federal agents have set-up "surprise" checkpoints to supposedly ferret out all the "strands of al-Qaida and Hezbollah and Hamas" in Michigan, according to the FBI. In other words, anybody who looks vaguely Arab, or has an accent, will be racially profiled, pulled over and searched, maybe end up in the aforementioned cell with Jose Padilla or approximately 1,500 other "disappeared" Arabs in America.
The people appointed by the rigged and corrupt "democratic" political system to "represent" us have passed laws allowing the same police who threw the photographer Mike Maginnis down on the pavement for the crime of operating a camera within a hundred yards of Cheney and the national security state to enter your house without informing you, to look through your underwear drawer, copy the contents of your computer — or simply take the whole computer with them — like a common criminal who sneaks through a window while you’re away (Section 213 of the Patriot Act). They can tap your phone or computer without probable cause (Section 216). They have essentially shredded the probable cause provision of the 4th Amendment. Who’s to say, if they consider you a "raghead collaborator," they will not plant some drugs or blueprints for a dirty bomb in your house? Can you trust cops who steal cameras and then lie about it? Can you trust SS agents who envision al-Qaeda fifth columnists when they look at amateur photographers? All of this nonsense is encouraged now thanks to Bush’s undebated and expeditiously passed USA-Patriot Act.
Section 802 of the anti-constitutional and fascist Patriot Act creates the crime of "domestic terrorism." In essence, this section criminalizes almost all political activity organized against the government — with the possible exception of writing letters to your bought and paid for "representative" or to the editor of the corporate newspaper syndicate in your town. Section 802 makes activities that "appear to be intended" to "influence the policy of the government by intimidation or coercion" or to "intimidate or coerce a civilian population" illegal and punishable. So much for the tradition of civil disobedience. If you participate in a sit-down strike or block traffic — or take pictures of public buildings — you’re a "domestic terrorist," or maybe a "raghead collaborator" or a "dirty pinko faggot." Seventy-three year old Methodist pastors protesting the School of the Americas get more time in federal prison than cops guilty of taking kickbacks from drug dealers. Ken Lay will get less time. If he gets any.
Put Section 411 together with Section 802 of this tyrannical bill and you get a government able to designate any activist group as a "foreign terrorist organization." Any group or person who endorses so-called "terrorist activity," which under 802 may be otherwise lawful protest activity, can be designated a terrorist organization or person. That means Earth First! co-founder Mike Roselle, who was arrested for failing to leave a building in Portland where Senator Mark Hatfield maintains an office (Roselle has been arrested more than fifty times for such things) could be designated a "domestic terrorist" and share a cell with Yasser Esam Hamdi or the Lackawanna Six.
America is swiftly morphing into a fascist nation and too may people are simply too complacent or frightened — that is if they even pay attention — to do anything about it. If a photographer can be abducted, have his camera stolen, be accused of political crimes by an SS agent who acts like a KGB interrogator, well then any of us can suffer the same. Now’s the time for more people — hundreds of thousands, millions — to fill the streets and tell the Bush junta they want their Constitution back. Nothing less than millions of concerned citizens marching on Washington demanding the Bushites return the government to the people will suffice. I might add that the Bushites should be run out of town lashed to poles, tarred and feathered — as our forefathers were inclined to do when gang-robbers attempted to run scams on the people or betrayed their trust in the name of profit and war.
But then, saying that, there’s a good chance I will be designated a "domestic terrorist."
Photographer Arrested for Taking Pictures of Vice President’s Hotel: http://www.2600.com/news/display/display.shtml?id=1441
KURT NIMMO is a photographer and multimedia developer in Las Cruces, New Mexico. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org