Attention, Walmart Shoppers: Big Sis Wants You to Spy on One Another

Email Print
FacebookTwitterShare

 

 
 

"Hi,
I'm Janet Napolitano, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.
Homeland security begins with hometown security and that is why
I'm pleased that Walmart is helping to make our communities more
safe and secure. If you SEE something suspicious in the parking
lot or in the store, SAY something immediately. Report suspicious
activity to your local police or sheriff. If you need help, ask
a Walmart manager for assistance. Thank you for doing your part
to help keep our hometowns safe." ~ Department of Homeland Security PSA

The government
seems to delight in peddling paranoia, especially since 9/11. However,
with this latest campaign to turn Walmart shoppers into domestic
spies, their tactics have taken a sinister turn.

It all started
in early 2009 with the release of two reports by the Department
of Homeland Security on extremism, rightwing and leftwing, that
defined as an extremist anyone who subscribes to a particular political
viewpoint — in other words, anyone who has an opinion and disagrees
with the Obama administration. For example, the report "Rightwing
Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence
in Radicalization and Recruitment" broadly defines rightwing
extremists as individuals and groups "that are mainly antigovernment,
rejecting federal authority in favor of state or local authority,
or rejecting government authority entirely." The message to
the American people was clear: be careful what you think and say
because if the government disapproves, you'll become a political
enemy.

Indeed, in
recent years, average Americans have increasingly been targeted
for surveillance by the government. Treated as suspects, we have
had our phone calls tapped and our letters and emails monitored
by government agents, not to mention being subjected to fingerprint
scans at amusement parks, bag searches at train stations, patdowns
at stadiums and concert arenas, camera surveillance on street corners
and other public places, and, most recently, whole body imaging
scanners in airports.

As if being
spied on by the government wasn't bad enough, now the government
is asking us to spy on one another. As part of its "If You
See Something, Say Something" campaign, the DHS is partnering
with Walmart, the nation's largest retailer, and other corporate
entities to urge Americans to report "suspicious" activity
to their local police. The multi-million dollar, multimedia blitz,
paid for by taxpayer dollars, includes videos in Walmart stores,
as well as posters, billboards and advertisements in airports, public
transit, movie theaters, gas stations and on local radio stations.

The first stages
of the campaign in airports and transit stations have already been
rolled out. Within the coming weeks, more than 600 Walmart stores
in 27 states will begin playing video messages at the checkout stations
from Secretary Janet Napolitano — or Big Sis, as she is referred
to in some circles — aimed at encouraging Americans to "play
an active role in ensuring the safety and security of our nation."
Conveniently, nowhere in the short PSA is "suspicious activity"
actually defined, leaving it up to average Americans like you and
me and your next-door neighbor to determine what kind of behavior
should be reported to the government (or Walmart manager). What's
more, if you do get reported by a clerk or neighbor or ex-boyfriend,
you'll be entered into a permanent suspect file, whether or not
you're actually guilty of any wrongdoing.

Whether it's
intentional or not, this kind of program will sow seeds of fear,
paranoia and distrust, and in the process, keep us divided and powerless.
The one thing those in power fear is unity of the people — "we
the people" as the Constitution puts it — because united against
the government bureaucracy, holding it in check, we are powerful
beyond measure.

Unfortunately,
this experiment in domestic spying has been tried before and with
devastating consequences. As Dr. Robert Gellately, author of Backing
Hitler: Consent and Coercion in Nazi Germany, 1933-1944
(Oxford
University Press, 2001), discovered about the German people in Nazi
Germany, "There were relatively few secret police, and most
were just processing the information coming in. I had found a shocking
fact. It wasn't the secret police who were doing this wide-scale
surveillance and hiding on every street corner. It was the ordinary
German people who were informing on their neighbors."

Indeed, Gellately
found that those acting as the Gestapo's unsolicited agents and
informing on their neighbors were motivated more by greed, jealousy
and petty differences than by any sense of patriotic duty. He found
"cases of partners in business turning in associates to gain
full ownership; jealous boyfriends informing on rival suitors; neighbors
betraying entire families who chronically left shared bathrooms
unclean or who occupied desirable apartments. And then there were
those who informed because for the first time in their lives someone
in authority would listen to them and value what they said."

Rest assured,
when and if Americans start turning each other in, the motives will
often be no different and the result will be the same: we will be
the ones guilty of having erected a police state, one that marches
in lockstep with corporate America. Moreover, as a result of the
ultimate collusion between the corporate elite and DHS, not only
will Americans be persuaded to spy on each other but corporate employees
will be pressed to act as the eyes and ears of the government. In
fact, the government has even provided stores with training videos
for their clerks as to what they should monitor and report about
you when you are shopping in their stores.

In addition
to Walmart, DHS is partnering with federal, state, local and private
sector entities, as well as the Mall of America, the American Hotel
& Lodging Association, Amtrak, the Washington Metropolitan Area
Transit Authority, sports and general aviation industries and state
and local fusion centers across the country.

DHS is also
working with the Department of Justice, which has been laying the
groundwork for its own domestic spying program for years now. Among
the state and national agencies working with the DOJ on the government's
Suspicious Activity Reporting (SAR) Initiative are: Global Justice
Information Sharing Initiative; Criminal Intelligence Coordinating
Council; International Association of Chiefs of Police; Major Cities
Chiefs Association; Major County Sheriffs' Association; National
Sheriffs' Association; Bureau of Justice Assistance, Office of Justice
Programs, DOJ; The Federal Bureau of Investigation; U.S. Department
of Defense; and the Office of the Program Manager, Information Sharing
Environment (PM-ISE).

The combined
power and reach of this bureaucratic list of agencies — from international
policing units all the way to the local police — is particularly
troublesome, especially in light of the government's increasing
reliance on fusion centers. There are more than 70 fusion centers
sprinkled across the country so far, with one common purpose: to
spy on American citizens. As the ACLU reports, "Fusion centers
are also the focal point for growing suspicious activity reporting
programs that encourage public reporting of innocuous everyday activities.
The Colorado Information and Analysis Center even produced a fear-mongering
public service announcement asking the public to report innocuous
behaviors such as photography, note-taking, drawing and collecting
money for charity as u2018warning signs' of terrorism."

Thus, while
these fusion centers were initially established to improve the sharing
of anti-terrorism intelligence among state, local and federal law
enforcement agencies, the scope of their mission has dramatically
expanded. With individuals from the military and corporate sectors
on their payroll, these fusion centers now largely focus on collecting
information from government and corporate sources on average Americans
like you and me, mining the data and passing the information along
to local law enforcement officials, who have become de facto extensions
of the Department of Homeland Security.

For those who
can read the writing on the wall, the message is clear: we're living
in a corporate police state. The government has taken on the identity
of the corporation, which exists to make money and amass power —
not protect freedoms. Moreover, once we become an informer society,
spying on our fellow citizens and turning them over to government
agents at the least suspicion of wrong-doing, no matter how unfounded,
we will have relinquished our last claim to being a free people.

So what, if
anything, is to be done?

First and foremost,
stay alert and informed. Know your rights. You have a First Amendment
right to free speech — meaning that you can speak your mind without
the government labeling you an extremist. You also have a Fourth
Amendment right to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures
by government agents — meaning that you should not be treated like
a suspect and subjected to body scans and patdowns by government
agents without there being a reasonable suspicion that you have
done something wrong.

Second, stay
on the backs of your elected representatives. Pester your national,
state and local representatives. Attend city hall meetings and make
your voice heard repeatedly. Don't give up and don't let anyone
else — namely politicians — speak for you.

Finally, while
the government may have little regard for our rights as citizens,
the corporate state speaks in a language of money and power, and
in this regard, "we the consumer" still have some leverage.
If the corporate collusion behind this domestic spying program troubles
you, and it should, contact your local Walmart store as well their
headquarters — and any other business signing onto this dastardly
campaign — and make your discontent known. Then, and this is the
most important thing, stand your ground.

You have power,
so use it. Be what those who founded America wanted us to be — engaged,
active, informed. After all, we are the government.

December
10, 2010

Constitutional
attorney and author John W. Whitehead [send
him mail
] is founder and president of The
Rutherford Institute
. He is the author of The
Change Manifesto
(Sourcebooks).

The
Best of John W. Whitehead

Email Print
FacebookTwitterShare
  • LRC Blog

  • LRC Podcasts