Crossing the border of a totalitarian state — in either direction — is an experience fraught with visceral anxiety.
Finding himself in the unwanted company of humorless, heavily armed goons of dubious competence and abysmal intelligence, the traveler is vividly aware that he can be arrested, imprisoned, beaten, or even shot at whim.
The best thing to do in such circumstances, travelers are told, is to assume a posture of utter servility, meekly and quietly enduring whatever indignity inflicted on them until they are safely through the border checkpoint.
Judging by the recent behavior of the valiant cadres of the heroic Border Guards Directorate, it becomes clear that the U.S. is rapidly descending into undisguised totalitarianism.
Last Tuesday (December 8), Dr. Peter Watts, a Hugo-nominated science fiction author from Toronto, was severely beaten, pepper-sprayed, arrested, interrogated, and otherwise abused by Border Patrol agents.
“If you buy into the Many Worlds Interpretation of quantum physics, there must be a parallel universe in which I crossed the US/Canadian border without incident last Tuesday,” writes Dr. Watts. “In some other dimension, I was not waved over by a cluster of border guards who swarmed my car like army ants for no apparent reason; or perhaps they did, and I simply kept my eyes downcast and refrained from asking questions.”
“Along some other timeline, I did not get out of the car to ask what was going on,” Dr. Watts continues:
“I did not repeat that question when refused an answer and told to get back into the vehicle. In that other timeline I was not punched in the face, pepper-sprayed, sh*t-kicked, handcuffed, thrown wet and half-naked into a holding cell for three f*****g hours, thrown into an even colder jail cell overnight, arraigned, and charged with assaulting a federal officer, all without access to legal representation (although they did try to get me to waive my Miranda rights. Twice.). Nor was I finally dumped across the border in shirtsleeves: computer seized, flash drive confiscated, even my f****g paper notepad withheld until they could find someone among their number literate enough to distinguish between handwritten notes on story ideas and, I suppose, nefarious terrorist plots. I was not left without my jacket in the face of Ontario’s first winter storm, after all buses and intercity shuttles had shut down for the night.”
“In some other universe I am warm and content and not looking at spending two years in jail for the crime of having been punched in the face,” he concludes. “But that is not this universe.”
In the universe we’re sentenced to live in, Dr. Watts, like many, many other innocent people, has been charged with “assaulting” the sacred personage of a federal officer for the offense of being on the receiving end of a criminal assault by that officer and his cohorts (remember, the bold and brave “men” in law enforcement always operate in packs).
This kind of arbitrary, lawless violence can occur anytime anyone — including a U.S. citizen — encounters the Border Patrol. And the danger is not limited to the border: Witness the experience of Pastor Steven Anderson of Tempe, Arizona, who was tased, beaten, and arrested by Border Patrol agents at a checkpoint set up dozens of miles inside the southern border with Mexico.
Iris Cooper of Patagonia, Arizona recently had an unpleasant — if less violent — run-in with the Border Patrol. While driving to school at the Pima Medical Institute in Tucson, she realized that she had forgotten her books. Spying a Border Patrol checkpoint in the near distance, Cooper decided to take the risk of turning around to retrieve her books, knowing that this action might provoke suspicion.
Stop and think about what it says about our circumstances that avoiding a warrantless checkpoint is considered “probable cause” for the purpose of conducting a search.
Sure enough, Border Patrol agents and police pursued and stopped Cooper. She was pulled from her car, handcuffed, and detained for a half an hour while a K-9 unit conducted a warrantless search of her vehicle.
Despite being handcuffed and forbidden to leave, Cooper was told that she wasn’t under arrest. The handcuffs, she was told, were “part of the procedure.” This was a lie, of course: An arrest occurs any time a citizen is detained by any law enforcement officer. This includes traffic stops.
According to the Border Patrol, the increasingly theoretical protections offered by the Fourth Amendment are subject to “exceptions” for the purpose of border enforcement. This creates what some have called a “Constitution-free zone” within a 100-mile-wide strip surrounding the continental U.S. As the ACLU has pointed out, two-thirds of the U.S. population resides within that formal “Constitution-free zone.”
As I’ve noted before, the border enforcement regime supposedly intended to keep foreigners out can also be used to pen us in. Many conservatives — including some who apparently despise foreigners more than they cherish freedom — forgot that principle during the reign of Bush the Dumber. Perhaps their perspective will change now that Barack the Blessed is on the throne, and the walls are closing in.5:36 pm on December 11, 2009 Email William Norman Grigg