One of the lessons I learned in Contemporary Power Relations 101 is that when the rulers resort to brute force to impose their will, it means that they are losing their grip. No longer will their bribes, money, and lies suffice in their ongoing project to pacify the regular folk. So, it is with apprehension that I read news reports about the US government’s law enforcement plans for the summer. Under the guise of preventing terrorism, the police state apparatus organized in Washington, DC is refusing to grant permits to citizens’ groups to protest at various events around the country, including the Republican National Convention in New York City. At other events, the protestors are being cordoned into parts of the city where nobody will see them or the police repression of them.
Given this opposition to the exercise of our rights by the state, one can imagine the increase in my apprehension level upon receiving an email last week claiming to quote a fire chief of Sea Island, Georgia to the effect that 2,000 body bags had been delivered to the site of the G8 Summit. In addition, foreigners were being stopped, searched and deported without cause from the area. Now, I don’t know about you, but if this is true, it certainly sounds to me like the state is continuing to escalatie its repressive tactics. Perhaps the point behind these rumors, whether they are true or not, is to scare potential protestors away from this and other meetings of the elite by threatening them with physical harm and even death. If true, then this country is further removed from democracy than even the most radical anticapitalists claim.
Much like the efforts by federal and Chicago city authorities designed to intimidate and scare antiwar protestors away from the 1968 Democratic Convention in that city, New York officials and their federal counterparts are refusing permits to protestors of all stripes. No camping in the parks, no protesting near Madison Square Garden where the convention is being held and no demonstration in Central Park-all of these denials are designed to make every person who decides to vocalize their opposition to Bush and his policies a criminal before they even open their mouths. This is exactly what occurred in Chicago thirty-six years ago. Those who showed up got their butts kicked on national television.
Of course, the possibility exists that there is a real threat to attack one of these elitist meetings from any number of terror organizations. Perhaps that is why the feds have shipped in 2,000 body bags to Sea Island. Still, I am more inclined to believe that the use of terror threats is just one more psychological weapon from the police state apparatus designed to intimidate its critics into silence or, at the least, irrelevance. After all, if no one listens to our protest because the state has painted us into the same corner as its terrorist enemies, then how will the average television viewer consider our challenges and protests?
Yet, if we assume that these bags are for potential “collateral damage” from a terror strike, what does that say about the hold on power that these self-appointed leaders who call themselves the G8 have? In a word or two, it’s tenuous, even in their minds. What that means for those who oppose them is anyone’s guess, but if history is any indication, one would be wise to have an escape plan in mind. That is, an escape plan from those Manhattan streets this August when the cops and Secret Service chase you down a side street with their guns drawn and their tear gas painfully fogging your vision; and another one just in case the upcoming presidential election is interrupted by an “October surprise” that would provide an excuse to lock up all those potential terrorists on John Ashcroft and Tom Ridge’s lists.
By now, the reader may think I am a raving paranoid. Of course, I’m not, but I do have moments when I wonder whether or not I should be. Such a mental state might just save me. After all, wouldn’t a heightened state of paranoia prevent me from walking into a trap created by my insistence on expressing myself? Or, would it just make me too afraid to speak out? It is the latter effect that seems to have taken hold here in America. Why? Because the raving paranoids who run this country are creating the condition that they describe. In other words, they believe that their way of life-with its extravagant abuse of the earth and its people-is under threat from those who have suffered as a result of their abusive extravagance, and they are afraid. Afraid of justice and, short of that, afraid of plain old revenge. So, like any paranoid psychopath, they are lashing out at those who they think might hurt them. As the psychosis deepens, their list of potential enemies increases, as does the violence of the paranoid’s reaction. Hence, the brutal repression of protest via the policeman’s club, the elevated terror alert, and the concussion bomb.
RON JACOBS is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground, which is being republished by Verso.
He can be reached at: email@example.com