The Politics of Fear in America: A Nation at War With Itself
by John W. Whitehead
by John W. Whitehead: Guantanamo
Bay: The Model for an American Police State?
on the TV or flip open the newspaper on any given day, and you will
find yourself accosted by reports of government corruption, corporate
malfeasance, militarized police and marauding SWAT teams. America
is entering a new phase, one in which children are arrested in schools,
military veterans are forcibly detained by government agents because
of the content of their Facebook posts, and law-abiding Americans
are being subjected to the latest in government spy technology.
to our freedoms are not to be underestimated. Yet even more dangerous
than these violations of our basic rights is the language they are
couched in the language of fear. It is a language spoken effectively
by politicians on both sides of the aisle, shouted by media pundits
from their cable TV pulpits, marketed by corporations, and codified
into bureaucratic laws that do little to make our lives safer or
of fear has given rise to a politics of fear whose only aim is to
distract and divide us. A perfect example of this masterful use
of the politics of fear to cow the populace is the governments
War on Drugs. Reputedly a response to crime and poverty in inner
cities and suburbia, it has been the driving force behind the militarization
of the police, at all levels, over the past 40 years. While it has
failed to decrease drug use, it has exacerbated social problems
by expanding Americas rapidly growing prison system and allowing
police carte blanche access to our homes and personal property.
by its failure to check drug use, the governmental machine keeps
chugging along. Consider that in 2011, half a billion dollars
worth of military equipment flowed from the military to local police,
with another $400 million worth of equipment reaching local police
by May 2012. In addition to direct transfers of equipment, the federal
government has given local police departments grants totaling $34
billion since 9/11. The 50-person police department in Oxford, Alabama,
for example, has acquired $3 million worth of equipment, including
M-16s, infrared goggles, and an armored vehicle. All of these new
toys lead to specious SWAT team raids that eviscerate the Fourth
Amendment, acclimating us to the vision of police in jackboots with
assault rifles patrolling our streets.
Enter the War
on Terror, the logical endpoint of constructing government policy
based upon fear and paranoia. Marked by constant surveillance, torture,
kidnapping, extrajudicial killing by our government, and the resulting
loss of our basic rights, the War on Terror is the culmination of
a mentality of fear cultivated by the political elite and willingly
accepted by the American people.
A case in point
is the creation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in
the aftermath of 9/11. Supposedly tasked with protecting the American
homeland from terrorist threats, DHS has become more of a domestic
army than a security agency. For example, in March 2012, defense
contractor ATK agreed to produce 450 million hollow point rounds
to be used by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and its
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office. DHS placed another
order for 750 million rounds of various ammunition in August 2012.
DHS is just
one of many aspects of a total militarization of government which
has been taking place since the 1980s and rapidly advancing since
9/11. Consider that in August 2012, the Social Security Administration
(SSA) placed an order for 174,000 rounds of hollow point ammunition.
The SSA plans to send the ammunition to 41 locations throughout
the United States, including major cities such as Los Angeles, Detroit,
and Philadelphia, among others.
why the SSA would need hollow point bullets, which are designed
to explode upon entry into the body, causing massive organ damage.
However, its worth noting that DHS and SSA have already collaborated
in police exercises. In January 2012, Federal Protective Service
officers with DHS conducted a training exercise at the SSA office
in Leesburg, Florida. One officer carrying a semi-automatic assault
rifle randomly checked IDs as people filed into the building, while
other officers combed the building with K-9 units. The exercise
was part of the larger Operation Shield, which, according to DHS
officials, involves federal officers randomly showing up to government
buildings throughout the country in order to test the effectiveness
of their security procedures.
exercises are the result of government policies engineered to maximize
fear and paranoia. Yet they are only possible because of the acquiescence
of the American people to all government programs relating to security
since 9/11. Despite the fact that violent crime rates are low, and
terrorist attacks are radically unlikely (in fact, one is more likely
to die in a car wreck or be struck by lightning than be killed by
a terrorist), we are seeing government agencies protecting
us by harassing, arresting, and sometimes killing our friends and
neighbors, all in the name of security. This is the inertia of government
bureaucracy. Created during moments of fear, such agencies and the
corporate entities that benefit from them always resist change once
a citizenry gathers their senses and demands are made for the restoration
of free government.
is the root of the problem. The only thing which will improve our
present condition is the taming of our fear. We must act on courage.
Courage to think differently, speak loudly, and challenge directly
the systems which we know to be unjust. Voting will do precious
little to circumvent the politics of fear which Democrats and Republicans
use to justify their attacks on our personal liberties. As author
Mark Vernon has noted,
the politics of fear plays on
an assumption that people cannot bear the uncertainties associated
with [risk]. Politics then becomes a question of who can better
deliver an illusion of control.
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).
© 2012 The Rutherford Institute
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