By Chris Hedges
St. Paul is a window into our future. It is a future where, as one protester told me by phone, “people have been pepper-gassed, thrown on the ground by police who had drawn their weapons, had their documents seized and their tattoos photographed before being taken away to jail.” It is a future where illegal house raids are carried out. It is a future where vans containing heavily armed paramilitary units circle and film protesters. It is a future where, as the protester said, “people have been pulled from cars because their license plates were on a database and handcuffed, thrown in the back of a squad car and then watched as their vehicles were ransacked and their personal possessions from computers to literature seized.” It is a future where constitutional rights mean nothing and where lawful dissent is branded a form of terrorism.
The rise of the corporate state means the rise of the surveillance state. The Janus-like face of America swings from packaged and canned spectacles, from nationalist slogans, from seas of flags and Christian crosses, from professions of faith and patriotism, to widespread surveillance, illegal mass detentions, informants, provocateurs and crude acts of repression and violence. We barrel toward a world filled with stupendous lies and blood.
What difference is there between the crowds of flag-waving Republicans and the apparatchiks I covered as a reporter in the old East German Communist Party? These Republican delegates, like the fat and compromised party functionaries in East Berlin, all fawned on cue over an inept and corrupt party hierarchy. They all purported to champion workers’ rights and freedom while they systematically fleeced, disempowered and impoverished the workers they lauded. They all celebrated the virtue of a state that was morally bankrupt. And while they played this con game, one that gave them special privileges, power and wealth, they unleashed their goons and thugs on all who dared to challenge them. We are not East Germany, but we are well on our way. An economic meltdown, another catastrophic terrorist attack on American soil, a war with Iran, and we could easily swing into an authoritarian model that would look very familiar to anyone who lived in the former communist East Bloc.
A few of those arrested in St. Paul, including eight leaders of the RNC Welcoming Committee—one of the groups organizing protests at the GOP convention in St. Paul—now face terrorism-related charges. Monica Bicking, Eryn Trimmer, Luce Guillen Givins, Erik Oseland, Nathanael Secor, Robert Czernik, Garrett Fitzgerald and Max Spector could get up to seven and a half years in prison under the terrorism enhancement charge, which allows for a 50 percent increase in the maximum penalty. This is the first time criminal charges have been filed under the 2002 Minnesota version of the federal Patriot Act.
The Patriot Act, which was put in place as much to silence domestic opposition as to ferret out real terrorists, has largely lain dormant. It has authorized the government to monitor our phone conversations, e-mails, meetings and political opinions. It has authorized the government to shut down anti-war groups and lock up innocents as terrorists. It has abolished habeas corpus. But until now we have not grasped its full implications for our open society. We catch glimpses, as in St. Paul or in our offshore penal colonies where we torture detainees, of its awful destructive power.
The commercial media told us that what was important in St. Paul was happening inside the convention hall. The vapid interviews, the ridiculous soap opera sagas about Sarah Palin’s daughter and the debate about whether John McCain or Barack Obama has proprietary rights to “Change” divert us from the truth of who we have become. You had to search out “Democracy Now!,” TheUptake.org, Twin Cities Indymedia, I-Witness, along with a few other independent outlets, to see, hear or read real journalism from St. Paul.
It does not matter that the RNC Welcoming Committee describes itself as an “anarchist/anti-authoritarian” organization. We don’t have to embrace a political agenda to protect the right to be heard. Shut down free speech and radicals only burrow deeper underground, splitting ossified political systems into fractured extremes. We may well end up with the Christian right on one side, with politicians like Sarah Palin providing an ideological veneer to a Christian fascism, and embittered leftist radicals who turn to violence on the other.
St. Paul was not ultimately about selecting a presidential candidate. It was about the power of the corporate state to carry out pre-emptive searches, seizures and arrests. It was about squads of police in high-tech riot gear, many with drawn semiautomatic weapons, bursting into houses. It was about seized computers, journals and political literature. It was about shutting down independent journalism, even at gunpoint. It was about charging protesters with “conspiracy to commit riot,” a rarely used statute that criminalizes legal dissent. It was about 500 people held in open-air detention centers. It was about the rising Orwellian state that has hollowed out the insides of America, cast away all that was good and vital, and donned its skin to shackle us all.
AP photo / Matt Rourke
Police use pepper spray on a woman as she approaches them with a flower during a rally at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul.