Like all nations around the world, history has shown us that we must pay close attention to the actions of our government to ensure that the freedoms we hold so dear and have fought so hard to maintain, are not taken away from us while we’re busy looking elsewhere or simply coming up with excuses why it could never happen here. America a fascist state? Well, maybe not yet. But it is imperative that we not ignore the telltale signs of the possibility that we could end up far down that road before we even realize it.
I’m sure many folks remember the last RNC in New York back in 2004. People were rounded up, put in large cage-like holding pens and kept there until the RNC was over. Most were not charged, not allowed to make phone calls, or even told exactly why they were there. And we’re talking about thousands of people.
So what’s happening now as a lead-up to this next RNC? Let’s take a look:
Glenn Greenwald, previously a constitutional lawyer and civil rights litigator, has been writing an ongoing series of articles for Salon.com on a slate of recent federal government raids on potential protesters in Minnesota, the home of the upcoming RNC. In his August 30th article, Greenwald writes:
Protesters here in Minneapolis have been targeted by a series of highly intimidating, sweeping police raids across the city… In the house that had just been raided, those inside described how a team of roughly 25 officers had barged into their homes with masks and black swat gear, holding large semi-automatic rifles, and ordered them to lie on the floor, where they were handcuffed and ordered not to move. The officers refused to state why they were there and, until the very end, refused to show whether they had a search warrant. They were forced to remain on the floor for 45 minutes while the officers took away the laptops, computers, individual journals, and political materials kept in the house. One of the individuals renting the house, an 18-year-old woman, was extremely shaken [watch video here] as she and others described how the officers were deliberately making intimidating statements such as “Do you have Terminator ready?” as they lay on the floor in handcuffs.
Several of those who were arrested are being represented by Bruce Nestor, the President of the Minnesota chapter of the National Lawyers’ Guild. Nestor said that last night’s raid involved a meeting of a group calling itself the “RNC Welcoming Committee”, and that this morning’s raids appeared to target members of “Food Not Bombs,” which he described as an anti-war, anti-authoritarian protest group. There was not a single act of violence or illegality that has taken place, Nestor said. Instead, the raids were purely anticipatory in nature, and clearly designed to frighten people contemplating taking part in any unauthorized protests.
Nestor indicated that only 2 or 3 of the 50 individuals who were handcuffed this morning at the 2 houses were actually arrested and charged with a crime, and the crime they were charged with is “conspiracy to commit riot.” Nestor, who has practiced law in Minnesota for many years, said that he had never before heard of that statute being used for anything, and that its parameters are so self-evidently vague, designed to allow preemptive arrests of those who are peacefully protesting, that it is almost certainly unconstitutional, though because it had never been invoked (until now), its constitutionality had not been tested.
Targeting people with automatic-weapons-carrying SWAT teams and mass raids in their homes, who are suspected of nothing more than planning dissident political protests at a political convention and who have engaged in no illegal activity whatsoever, is about as redolent of the worst tactics of a police state as can be imagined.
In his August 31st article, Greenwald continues:
Today’s Star Tribune added that the raids were specifically “aided by informants planted in protest groups.” Back in May, Marcy Wheeler presciently noted that the Minneapolis Joint Terrorist Task Force — an inter-agency group of federal, state and local law enforcement led by the FBI — was actively recruiting Minneapolis residents to serve as plants, to infiltrate “vegan groups” and other left-wing activist groups and report back to the Task Force about what they were doing. There seems to be little doubt that it was this domestic spying by the Federal Government that led to the excessive and truly despicable home assaults by the police yesterday.
So here we have a massive assault led by Federal Government law enforcement agencies on left-wing dissidents and protesters who have committed no acts of violence or illegality whatsoever, preceded by months-long espionage efforts to track what they do. And as extraordinary as that conduct is, more extraordinary is the fact that they have received virtually no attention from the national media and little outcry from anyone. And it’s not difficult to see why. As the recent “overhaul” of the 30-year-old FISA law illustrated — preceded by the endless expansion of surveillance state powers, justified first by the War on Drugs and then the War on Terror — we’ve essentially decided that we want our Government to spy on us without limits. There is literally no police power that the state can exercise that will cause much protest from the political and media class and, therefore, from the citizenry.
All of this is hauntingly familiar to many of the tactics used by the Chinese government to keep anyone from protesting at the recent Olympic Games in Beijing. Those tactics were largely criticized by the media here in the States, however I’m guessing you’ll have to do some truly ambitious digging to find much mainstream media coverage on similar activities by our own government happening mere weeks after the Olympic Games.
Check out this recent blog by Eileen Clancy, one of the founders of I-Witness Video, a NYC-based video collective that’s in St. Paul to document the policing of the protests around this week’s Republican National Convention. Clancy started blogging as the house she was staying in was surrounded by police and FBI.
The house where I-Witness Video is staying in St. Paul has been surrounded by police. We have locked all the doors. We have been told that if we leave we will be detained. One of our people who was caught outside is being detained in handcuffs in front of the house. The police say that they are waiting to get a search warrant. More than a dozen police are wielding firearms, including one St. Paul officer with a long gun, which someone told me is an M-16.
We are suffering a preemptive video arrest. For those that don’t know, I-Witness Video was remarkably successful in exposing police misconduct and outright perjury by police during the 2004 RNC. Out of 1800 arrests, at least 400 were overturned based solely on video evidence which contradicted sworn statements which were fabricated by police officers. It seems that the house arrest we are now under and the possible threat of the seizure of our computers and video cameras is a result of the 2004 success.
Do your homework, pay attention. There is a fine line between freedom and fascism and that shift could happen before anyone notices just how far it’s gone or just how much freedom has been lost. If we truly are in Iraq and elsewhere fighting for freedom and Democracy, then we damned well better be sure that the examples we’re setting and the rules we’re living by are what we want to put out there. Otherwise, we’re just uncontrolled bullies looking to control more people and more land. America has always held great promise, but it is not immune to the very same problems that have destroyed other potentially great nations. If you genuinely believe in America, then don’t be afraid to ask the difficult questions that true freedom demands.