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The Security State

by on June 9, 2020

It should be noted that I’m writing this in the midst of protests that were sparked by the killing of George Floyd, which help lead me to sources and facts, but this article has been brewing in my mind for some time.

For simplicity’s sake we can say that the United States has been a security state for many years starting with the Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism (PATRIOT) Act of 2001.

As the ACLU says:

Hastily passed 45 days after 9/11 in the name of national security, the Patriot Act was the first of many changes to surveillance laws that made it easier for the government to spy on ordinary Americans by expanding the authority to monitor phone and email communications, collect bank and credit reporting records, and track the activity of innocent Americans on the Internet. While most Americans think it was created to catch terrorists, the Patriot Act actually turns regular citizens into suspects.

There’s decades of history before the Patriot Act that led to us being a police state. The Center for Media and Democracy’s SourceWatch page said the U.S. began as a national security state in 1947, and over the years it led to the demise of the New Deal state that emphasized social spending, leading instead to a militaristic national security state.

Fast forward to a decade after the Patriot Act. We’d been in unwinnable war in the Middle East for several years and the economy had already tanked at the end of George W. Bush’s presidency. With the rent too damn high nonviolent people started the Occupy Wall Street movement, to demand that money was flowing to the people rather than corporations.

A militarized police was sent against U.S. citizens in U.S. cities for the first noticeable time (excluding numerous onslaughts against Native Americans over the centuries). The president was a Democrat – Obama.

The rent stayed too damn high but the Occupy movement went on with life. A few year later, in August 2014 protests began due to the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Brown, an 18 year-old African American was shot by a white officer. Again, the protesters, demanding justice for another unnecessary death by an officer of the peace, were attacked by a militarized police force using rubber bullets and tear gas.

A few years later, from the spring of 2016 to early 2017 a significant movement began protesting oil pipelines being built from Canada that would terminate in Texas – and cross numerous rivers. People (including some Hollywood stars and activists) including the non-indigenous population gathered at Standing Rock on Sioux land to protest the Dakota Access pipeline passing through native American land. The activists were confronted at times by a mercenary force (called a “private security force) that used police dogs, by the National Guard, by pepper spray, by a police force using militarized tanks, water tanks (in subfreezing weather) rubber bullets, and unusual punishment after arrest.

Before we fast forward to now it’s important to summarize SourceWatch’s breakdown of what comprises a security state. This is based on the book “Brave New World Order” by Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer. There are seven elements that are listed: 1) “The military is the highest authority” that “guarantees the security of the state against all internal and external enemies” and has enough power to determine the overall direction of the society.” 2) The state maintains a semblance of democracy while “political democracy and democratic elections are viewed with suspicion, contempt, or in terms of political expediency.” 3) “The military and related sectors wield substantial political and economic power” under an ideology which stresses that ‘freedom” and ‘development’ and “capital is concentrated in the hands of elites.” 4) “Defending against external and/or internal enemies becomes a leading preoccupation of the state, a distorting factor in the economy, and a major source of national identity and purpose.” 5) The enemies of the state are ruthless and cunning, therefore “any means used to destroy or control these enemies is justified.” 6) A National Security State restricts public debate and limits popular participation through secrecy or intimidation with appeals to phrases such a ‘higher purpose’ and vague appeals to ‘national security.’ 7) “The church is expected to mobilize its financial, ideological, and theological resources in service to the National Security State”

Nelson-Pallmeyer’s work focused on states such as El Salvador. In the summary of the conclusion, though, responses ranged from recognizing that the U.S. contributed to El Salvador being a security state to realization that “there are people who see many of the characteristics of a National Security State operating within the United States.” “Brave New World Order,” from which these observations came, was written in 1992. The observations are just as telling almost thirty years later.

Now we are in 2020 a couple weeks after George Floyd was choked to death by a police officer. The protests resulting from his death are ongoing. Protesters are against facing tear gas and rubber bullets at peaceful protests while journalists and citizens are arrested for filming the police assaulting people. The First Amendment right to peaceable assemble and the right to a free press are under assault by police and encouraged by the President.

More than 10,000 people have been arrested in the last two weeks of protesting; I would hazard a guess that 90% were acting peacefully and/or were arrested a few minutes after arbitrary curfews cities have enacted the day of a gathering.

Already this year the Democratic-majority House in Congress has reauthorized warrentless searches under the FREEDOM Act (the PATRIOT Act on steroids). We expect the Republican Party to advocate for Law and Order and are not surprised that Republicans like the police and the security state. The Republicans are not alone in advocating for a security state.

Some people have began to remark that we live not in a security state but a police state. According to Merriam-Webster, a police state is “a political unit characterized by repressive governmental control of political, economic, and social life usually by an arbitrary exercise of power by police and especially secret police in place of regular operation of administrative and judicial organs of the government according to publicly known legal procedures.”

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