People for the American Way, which once described the goal of the PMRC censors as “to bring children and parents together on music selection,” gave Neil Young its Spirit of Liberty award at a December 11 Beverly Hills banquet. Young used the occasion to proclaim his support of the USA/Patriot Act, which became law on October 26. “To protect our freedoms,” Young said, “it seems we’re going to have to relinquish some of our freedoms for a short period of time.”
Young is certainly correct that we are relinquishing some of our freedoms. For instance, for any of the millions of non-citizens residing legally in the U.S., the Patriot Act allows the government to merely allege “terrorism” in order to try suspects without an attorney by a military tribunal anywhere in the world, including on ships at sea. The Act also allows defendants to be convicted–hell, executed–without the presentation of any evidence, “even if a third of the officers disagree.” The bill defines terrorism by anyone–citizen or not–as “activities that.appear to be intended to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion.” By this definition, the sit-ins, boycotts, and marches that characterized the civil rights and anti-war movements are terrorism. That tag could be applied to the upcoming May 1 nationwide hospital sit-ins that will demand health care for all. The FBI can now search your home or business without a warrant and jail you if you tell anyone they did it.
Under the Patriot Act, the Justice Department can prosecute any computer hacker anywhere in the world for breaking any law. “It’s a massive expansion of U.S. sovereignty,” said Mark Rasch, a former Justice Department computer crime prosecutor. A recent memo from Justice says the new law “creates the option, where appropriate, of prosecuting such criminals in the United States.” This means a kid in Belgium or Bangkok could be extradited to stand trial for downloading MP3 files that some corporation claims that it owns. Several Americans and one Russian have been arrested in this country for this “crime” over the past two years.
The manufactured post-September 11 hysteria has had effects that go well beyond the passage of the Patriot Act (including the bombing deaths of Afghan civilians which, according to a study by University of New Hampshire professor Marc Herold, totaled 3,767 between October 7 and December 10). While the bombs were falling, FBI agents paid a visit to the Art Car Museum in Houston after a museum patron complained about an exhibit that examined war and warmakers. The gumshoes took particular interest in “Empty Trellis,” a charcoal drawing by Tim Glover that contains a bust of George Bush encased in a steel trellis in the shape of a half globe. Glover says it highlights the destruction of the environment. While the feds ultimately decided that the drawing was not a threat to President Bush’s life, the FBI is now explicitly in the business of determining what art can be shown in America. This extends the process that began with the Bureau’s attempts to silence N.W.A., but at least back then what it was doing was illegal.
The bi-partisan American Council of Trustees and Alumni, founded by Lynne Cheney (wife of the Republican vice-president) and Democratic vice-presidential candidate Joe Lieberman, has issued a list of 117 “unpatriotic” acts by university faculty, including the president of Wesleyan University. Typical of those coming under fire was a professor emeritus at the University of Oregon, whose crime was to recommend that “we need to understand the reasons behind the terrifying hatred directed against the U.S. and find ways not to foment more hatred for generations to come.” Administrators will definitely be checking that list to see who’s been naughty and who’s been nice because Cheney/Leiberman’s Council gives out over $3 billion a year to colleges and universities.
Neil Young says not to worry, that this is just temporary and “that these are our rights and we can get them back.” But the so-called “war on terrorism” is only two months old and there’s no reason to believe the government will not further gut the Constitution. And besides, who will make sure we get our rights back when the powers in the bill expire in 2005? The Republicans, who rammed through the Patriot bill without even giving the House of Representatives a chance to read it first? The Democrats, whose most recent standard bearer, Al Gore, describes George W. Bush as “my commander in chief”?
A more realistic assessment than Neil Young’s can be found on Rage Against the Machine’s first album: “Settle for nothing now/And we’ll settle for nothing later.”
Lee Ballinger and Dave Marsh are editors of Rock and Rap Confidential.