The threat of terrorism is being used to destroy the threat of democracy. I say threat of democracy because we live in a corporate oligarchy, as academics at Princeton feel compelled to point out once a year or so. The threat of terrorism is especially useful in achieving the oligarchy’s ultimate purpose—turning America into a full-blown corporate totalitarian state, with the hollow institutions of democracy simply serving as a colorful façade behind which operate the levers of private profit. George Orwell agreed: “A society becomes totalitarian when its structure becomes flagrantly artificial: that is, when its ruling class has lost its function but succeeds in clinging to power by Force or Fraud.” A decade and a half into the 21st century, the corporate project is almost complete. The corporations are nearly unassailable. They are legal persons. Their capital is free speech. Their bribes are written into law. They have crushed labor. They own Washington. All that remains is to wipe out the remaining threats. The ideological aims of the corporate state are simple: it must remove all barriers to corporate profit. Adam Smith summed it up centuries ago by describing “the vile maxim of the masters of mankind, all for ourselves and nothing for other people.”
Much like the absurd fear of communism before it, the threat of terrorism is used primarily to reduce the sphere of intellectual freedom, which in turn prevents ideological challenges to the reigning doctrinal system. Legislation, whether freshly proposed or already cemented in law, is the tool by which the fear of terror is used to restrict our freedoms and—importantly—intimidate the masses into perversions of self-censorship by which they constrict the ambit of their own reason, not for fear of terror, but for fear of the state that professes to defend them from terror. All dissenters must be either indoctrinated, imprisoned or exiled. Silenced in one fashion or another. Our quisling media may sound a tepid alarm or two, but they will finally fall in lockstep with the corporate will.
Quarantine the Traitors
A fine example of the snowball of corporate totalitarianism picking up heft and speed is an interview in July with retired General Wesley Clark. A Clintonite who may one day serve in Hillary Clinton’s White House, Clark gave an interview to MSNBC in the aftermath of the July Chattanooga shooting and promptly told America that, “if someone supported Nazi Germany at the expense of the United States, we didn’t say that was freedom of speech, we put him in a camp, they were prisoners of war.”
The domestic internment camps of World War Two are one of the worst American legacies of that war, along with crushing socialist uprisings in Europe to ward off Soviet influence there. Evidently Clark doesn’t think camps are such a bad thing. He’d like to bring them back to help us deal with the apparently rampaging threat of Muslim extremism.
“If these people are radicalized and they don’t support the United States and they are disloyal to the United States as a matter of principle, fine. It’s their right and it’s our right and obligation to segregate them from the normal community for the duration of the conflict.”
Clark makes no mention of the undeniable fact that decades of unnecessary and cynical American wars in the Middle East have produced the extremism that now has Clark recommending extreme measures. The extremism that now spills beyond the borders of its desert wasteland and discomfits complacent European consumers by killing handfuls of them every few months. Western consumers, oblivious to history and the causes of Islamic extremism, march in pious protest, declaiming their rights and maintaining silent rectitude about their own complicity in slaughter.
Nobody talks about this. It’s taboo. Causes and their consequences must never be discussed. To do so would be to concede the metastasizing cancer at the heart of American exceptionalism. It would be to admit that U.S. foreign policy has largely produced the extremist scourge that plagues the Middle East and is now bleeding into Europe. But nobody in power has the stomach for that conversation. Leaders like Barack Obama and Bill Clinton and George Bush see themselves as part of an elite club, to which they owe more loyalty than they do to their own country. They have no incentive to turn on one of their colleagues. Rather betray one’s electorate than one’s fellow millionaire war criminal. Moreover, service to empire demands an allegiance beyond the tawdry asides of any constitution.
Instead of acknowledging our role in Islamist uprisings and quitting that role, we instead get Wesley Clark parroting shameful solutions from the past. Despite the offensive, anti-democratic nature of Clark’s sound-byte drivel, MSNBC’s interviewer said nothing when the general added that we ought to round up the “radicalized” and “segregate” them from the general population. Look back at his statements. He seems to conflate radicalization with not supporting the United States. He then added, “We have got to identify the people who are most likely to be radicalized. We’ve got to cut this off at the beginning.”
If radicalized means not supporting the United States in its wars of aggression, then everyone reading this is probably a radical fit for Camp Clark. Did you march against the Iraq War? Did you support Occupy? Have you read Marx? Have you perused the Koran? Doesn’t that make you a candidate for self-radicalization? Isn’t that a form of disloyalty? Doesn’t that mean you don’t support the troops? And let’s not kid ourselves. Supporting the troops no longer means wishing for their safe return from the (global) battlefield. It now means cheering them on to imperial triumph in the killing fields of Iraq and Afghanistan. It means encouraging them to choose the right coordinates for their advance guard of jihadists in Syria to call in on the sat phone.
Later on Twitter, Clark berated the “Blogosteria” and admonished readers that he hadn’t used the word “internment.” Thanks, Wesley. So reassuring. How easy it must be to recommend such chilling punitive measures from the safety of your Clintonite cocoon. In fact, that may be the actual reason for this hard right turn from a man once feted by progressive circles for criticizing the neocon “seven in five” blueprint for the Middle East and for condemning torture (So much for that cross-the-aisle cabinet post in the Jeb Bush administration). We may be witnessing Clark’s coming out party as a decidedly more hawkish member of the retired military community. Could this be Clark kicking off a campaign to be Hillary Clinton’s Secretary of Defense. Why not? He prosecuted destructive wars for Bill Clinton. Surely, he could do the same for Hillary. And honestly, how long will it be, once she assumes the throne, before we discover—via some grainy forged aerial photo from an anonymous source with connections in Tel Aviv—that Iran has violated the terms of its nuclear agreement? Or before we’re told of a new flashpoint with Russia or China? In which case, shouldn’t we get a head start on constructing those camps? Plenty of prison labor out there with idle hands. (If slave labor isn’t Hillary’s thing, there’s always Marx’s massive reserve army of labor parachuting out of Obama’s jobless recovery.)
But is the thought of internment camps all that surprising? After all, the drone king has been prosecuting an illegal assassination campaign abroad with little protest from our mobile-obsessed consumer population. As with other programs tested abroad, like austerity in 1970s Chile, anti-democracy measures will sooner or later be implemented in the Homeland.
Legalize the Law-Breaking
But let’s not be cavalier about the ease with which our freedoms are being summarily stolen. These kinds of measures need a legal basis. It was the social psychologist Alex Carey who described how the 20th century corporate strategy to repress the popular will transitioned over time from pure violence to propaganda to propaganda plus legislation. For example, the corporate-friendly Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 was a response to the labor-friendly Wagner Act of 1935. Rest assured, plenty of the corporate state’s totalitarian henchmen are diligently working on the legislative angle. Clark isn’t going it alone in his maniacal calls to shred free speech on the threadbare rationale of security.
Today, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is the legal bedrock of our slow-motion corporate coup d’état. It was smuggled into law at midnight on New Year’s Eve 2012 by our faux-progressive President Barack Obama. (A year later he extended Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) on the final holiday weekend of the year.) The NDAA strikes a match and drops it on the constitution, all with a smile and feigned formality. As Chris Hedges darkly limned at a Seattle Town Hall in June, “We are now the most watched, photographed, eavesdropped population in human history…Section 1021 of the NDAA, which overturns over 150 years of domestic law, and permits the U.S. military to seize American citizens who substantially support the Taliban, al-Qaeda, or associated forces…strip them of due process and hold them in military facilities until the cessation of hostilities, which in an age of permanent war is a lifetime.”
Then there’s the privacy-shredding Cyber-security Information Sharing Act (CISA). The Senate Intelligence Committee, which increasingly feels like the legislative arm of the NSA, overwhelming approved the bill and will likely campaign for Senate passage this fall. The CISA paves the way for the government to request private employee communications from corporations and then share the coms across government military and intelligence institutions for unspecified national security purposes. No warrant required.
Not content with having its work done for it by Congress, the Department of Defense this summer produced a byzantine tome claiming to be a guidebook to the “law of war.” The Law of War Manual effectively equates journalism with spying—unless the journalist in question is penning his prose under the watchful eye of the “relevant authorities,” i.e., American military censors. The Manual threatens journalists with “security measures” should they be thought to be providing helpful information to the enemy by reporting it in the news. Had only the DOD used the term “material support,” it might have simply declared all journalists to be terrorists and shuttered the profession entirely.
With Friends Like These…
Our allies offer neither contrast nor instruction. Take our ally Egypt, a murderous military dictatorship to which we donate over one billion dollars a year in military assistance. This regime, since toppling elected leader Mohamed Morsi, has slain thousands in crackdowns, targeted and attacked the Muslim Brotherhood, arrested tens of thousands, an estimated half of which are political prisoners. But that’s not all. After the country’s leading public prosecutor was killed by a car bomb and terrorists struck in the Sinai Peninsula, President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi has rammed through a new anti-terrorism law that imprisons anyone who is said to have advocated terror. El-Sisi, demonstrating the typical disregard for civil liberties displayed by nearly every leader with outsized powers, can exile citizens and levy heavy fines on journalist with the gall to defy the official interpretation of militant activity. Gamal Eid, executive director of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), said the legislation “turns journalists into mere conveyors of the state’s official data.” Exactly. After the law was passed Eid said it provided the state with “90 million possible terrorism suspects.”
Not to be outdone, the UK last month arrested Muslim extremist Anjem Choudary on charges of “advocacy of violence.” As Glen Greenwald’s excellent piece points out, the ruling authorities apparently consider “incitement to violence” different from speech. Greenwald then asks whether advocating the removal of Saddam Hussein was speech or some other undefined form of communication, as the British authorities seem to imply it was. The point here is the painfully obvious double standard being applied to speech rights in the UK and elsewhere. As our esteemed military philosopher Clark would doubtless stress, if you support the government and the troops, you can say anything you like, including advocating extreme violence. Jeb Bush advocates torture at campaign rallies. Donald Trump advocates wars of aggression. However, should you support Palestinian resistance or argue Syria should have the right to defend its borders with violence, then you are evidently a candidate for self-radicalization, probably a flight risk, and perhaps already plotting your escape to some takfiri foxhole to join the jihadi revolution.
Another rogue ally, Israel, criminalizes Palestinian resistance despite the fact that the Geneva Conventions stipulate that a population under occupation has a natural right to resist. But then, the Zionist regime in Tel Aviv had no use for international law once international institutions established a state to house it. One supposes they can’t be faulted for a lack of pragmatism. Perhaps Israel doesn’t bother criminalizing speech in Palestine because then every Gazan would need to be arrested, convicted, sentenced and—sent back to the prison they already inhabit. Better to simply criminalize the rock-throwing adolescents that scuff the paint on freshly-minted IDF tanks. Like General Clark reminds us, “We’ve got to cut this off at the beginning.”
In Taking the Risk Out of Democracy, Alex Carey wrote that every time the people challenge the interests of American business, the corporate community and its indistinguishable twin, the government, mount a fierce reply, chiefly through the media and Congress. This is followed by a swift crackdown, a rabid McCarthyite era that seeks to punish dissent and construct social taboos around alternative ideologies. Are we living in the early days of the new crackdown? The alarm bells must be ringing in Washington. First there was Occupy. Then came Black Lives Matter. And the perpetual irritant of Environmentalism is now infused with more urgency than ever. Cracks are appearing in the formidable groupthink of power—in the false narrative by which the corporate oligarchy flogs its pulp fictions.
We’re beginning to ask questions of authority that it doesn’t like. Questions that take us off-script. And if there’s one thing corporate public relations has taught us, it’s to stay on-message. Why is Barack Obama in the White House, Edward Snowden in exile, Julian Assange locked in a foreign embassy, and Chelsea Manning in Leavenworth? Because Obama faithfully recites the prescribed platitudes from a tele-prompter, while the other three all lost the plot and dared expose the sickly underbelly of empire. Free speech may be many things, but Western governments are increasingly of the opinion that it does not include facts that deviate from the state-sanctioned narrative. Shame on the soothsayers.