Wednesday, September 14, 2011
A new book relevant to SO matters is entitled “Manufacturing Hysteria: A History of Scapegoating Surveillance, and Secrecy in Modern America”. You may look at reviews of it here and here .
It’s relevant to SO matters, but – as so often with mainline books – does not actually make reference to the Mania or to SOs.
He is seeking to give an overview of “how American political culture has generated domestic enemies to justify massive infringement of rights”.
First, I want to note here this ongoing dynamic: consolidating government power by wearing down the functional territory of Citizens’ rights as enshrined in the Constitution. If you read my recent Post on military justice occasioned by the Foster case, you saw that this dynamic quickly manifested itself in the earliest decades of the 19th century as military authority sought to win back for itself the operating room taken from it by the Constitutional protections – especially as set forth in the 5th Amendment – with which the Framers sought to protect Americans from the sleepless and eternal encroachments of government authority.
The struggle and eternal vigilance against such encroachment would not have surprised the Framers at all: it was precisely against such encroachment that they had set up the interlocking mechanisms of the Constitution, enshrined vital principles of justice and jurisprudence, and then counted upon the civic competence and maturity of the Citizenry itself – exercised through a public governance of its government – to maintain American liberties.
As the 19th century went on, especially in its post-Civil War decades as the country began to seek markets and political influence beyond its recently consolidated and pacified territory, it was almost inevitable that a government that sought to expand American influence and power and authority in the world would almost automatically seek to expand its own influence and power and authority as well.
Equally, from the other side of the American political spectrum, Progressives sought to expand government powers domestically in order to improve living and working conditions. Alas, they also figured that American society was becoming too complex for the ‘average’ worker, especially the sweating, grimy, mostly foreign-born masses of immigrants who now populated the great (and greatly troubled) industrial cities; only ‘elites’ with the necessary knowledge could work the levers of the government that was coming to be seen, in that Industrial Era, as a huge and complex machine.
The author here – Jay Feldman – takes the era of the World War 1 to demonstrate the grounding of the surveillance state that began to blend the beginnings of the expansionists’ National Security State and the Progressives’ National Nanny State.
Because in carrying-out the not-fully popular American participation in the war, especially in an America where large numbers of recently-arrived and first-generation German and Scandinavian or ‘Germanic’ immigrants were voicing their concerns,* the US government found it necessary to a) generate positive support through the robust manipulation of public opinion while b) creating and sustaining close surveillance of the Citizenry in order to suppress dissent and opposition to America’s role in the Great War.
What Feldman traces here is the development of the government capability (and willingness) to manipulate public opinion (especially through ‘generating hysteria’ against foreign enemies and domestic American dissidents) and the erection of government ‘bureaucracies of surveillance’, centered especially in J. Edgar Hoover’s newly erected Federal Bureau of Investigation.**
He further notes that in many instances, such government-generated hysteria resulted in mob violence, as people were deliberately whipped up into a frenzy against ‘spies’ or ‘Germans’ or such.
Of interest to the SO community here is the development of both i) the manipulation of public opinion and ii) those ‘bureaucracies of surveillance’. And, of course, that remarkable synergy between government provocation and mob violence.
Especially since – as Feldman recounts – that manipulation included not only a positive valence (generating support for the war) but also a negative valence (manufacturing hysterical fear and rage and suspicion against specifically-identified groups). In this latter group, Feldman notes the German and Axis spies (but also American sympathizers) in World War 1 and then ‘communists’ (and their sympathizers) after World War 2 as the Cold War heated up.
And, Feldman notes, it was ominous yet not sufficiently recognized how the very government efforts to achieve all this often violated the very Constitution they were supposed to be protecting.
Which – I can’t help it – suggests to Us today the frightening dynamic set in train during the Vietnam War: We had to destroy the village in order to save it. Imagine, if you will, the very real possibility that there are powerful elements within the Beltway today – agents of either the Nanny State or the Security State – who are perfectly willing to destroy the Constitution in order to save it. (Including but not limited to those who believe that they are ‘merely reforming’ the Constitution, those who believe that the Constitution – being the product of oppressive dead white males – is now “quaint”, and those who believe that if you have the good intention to avenge victims or protect potential victims, then you can’t be accused of being anti-Constitutional.)
In 1947, after the US had earned its position as the Primary Victor of World War 2, and the country started to relax from its massive physical and psychological exertions, Harry Truman was perplexed because he had become convinced that the US must now take the helm against world-wide Communism. But how to get Americans to retain their war-mentality even though there was no war?
Feldman recounts the fateful 1947 conversation in which Senator Arthur Vandenberg (an isolationist who then changed his mind so thoroughly that the newly independent Air Force would name a major base after him) told Truman “Mr. President, if that’s what you want, there’s only one way to get it. That is to make a personal appearance before Congress and scare hell out of the country”.
Truman took that advice. And thus, from an SO point of view, further cemented the government willingness to ‘scare the hell out of the country’ deliberately in order to garner support for its new plans and policies.
And in short order far less scrupulous people with an agenda – such as Senator Joseph McCarthy – took that ball and ran even further with it, initiating the era of Communist witch-hunts.
It was this ugly thread which was then taken up by advocacy-agenda types in the 1970s and beyond, and one of the most poisonous fruits of that most poisonous tree was the SO Mania Regime as it was brought to bloom in the 1990s.
It all goes to show, says Feldman, “how fragile our freedoms are and how close to a police state” this country has come.
I’m going to suggest that – especially since the timeframe of his book’s attention doesn’t reach to the 1990s – he has underestimated the problem. The SO Mania Regime is the proof of it.
In that regard, your attention is also invited to this article that discusses the queasy and ominous expansion of municipal-police ‘anti-terrorist’ searches.
This article discusses developments in Massachusetts, whose Logan Airport in Boston was the initiation point for some of the 9-11 flights.
In 2004, in preparation for Boston’s hosting the Democratic National Convention, with no public notice or legislative oversight, the local and State Police joined assets with federal agencies to create the Commonwealth Fusion Center (CFC), the better to track ‘terrorists’ (and – shades of J. Edgar Hoover) ‘dissidents’. Dissidents are apparently almost-terrorists because they don’t agree with the government.
But the CFC was not disbanded after the Convention, and indeed the next year saw a further regional intelligence center set up.
And here’s the vital warning sign: the CFC “soon moved from a terrorism focus to an all hazards, all threats, all crimes mission". In the service of which expanded mission the CFC is staffed by members of the FBI, the ATFE (the old ATF expanded to include ‘Explosives’), the state’s National Guard, the US Army Civil Support service, the DEA, the Department of Corrections, the Homeland Security Office of Intelligence Analysis, as well as the State’s Geographic Information Systems Department and one major railroad. Oh, and local police officers with ‘security clearance’.
One result – held over from the days of the 2004 Convention – is that Transit Police teams now randomly set up shop at a subway or transit station and randomly inspect packages, briefcases, shopping bags, and such. However, given the ‘all threats-all crimes’ mission and the expanded role of the police in this new approach – they share (somehow) in the expanded federal authority to ‘investigate’ without demonstrable cause – it is not inconceivable at all that persons may be discovered who have had involvement with the SO Regime.
Recall that – as best I can make out by reading the strange thing and its associated Federal regulations set forth by the Attorney General – anybody convicted of a ‘sex offense’, no matter how long ago, is in the language of the Adam Walsh Act technically required to register as a sex-offender (even, it seems, if his State hasn’t accepted the Act). According to the technical requirements of the AWA, there are already hundreds of thousands of ‘non-compliant’ sex-offenders who are now guilty of the Federal crime (if I read the thing correctly) of not-registering under AWA – and this includes individuals who were one way or the other released or excused from Registering by the State itself.
Desperate to drum up States to accept AWA, the Attorney General has apparently accepted that in the matter of long-past sex-offenses, a State does not have to actively go out and round those folks up. But nonetheless, those individuals are – as best I can make out from reading the Act and the AG Guidelines – already guilty of a (Federal) crime by not going somewhere to Register themselves.
It would take next to nothing to tweak the ‘mission’ of these random-searches to include looking into this or that police database. For that matter, it would take even less to include the AWA-cohort of ‘at-large sex-offenders’ in the now-standard police drunk-driver random roadblocks.
Yes, I think it’s true that most police agencies and most States would rather not go any further down the whacklulent and frakkulent road of SO Mania law. But being whackulent and frakkulent doesn’t seem to disqualify ‘ideas’ and ‘objectives’ from becoming part of government policies and ‘missions’ these days.
And as Feldman notes in regard to ‘manufactured hysterias’, they don’t work well in times of abundance and fiscal security.
BUT THEN We are heading rather surely into precisely an era of scarcity and fiscal insecurity.
So as I suggested in my prior Post, no matter that the money is running out and States are realizing that they have real problems to deal with and that the citizenry is becoming wary of the Mania; the SO Mania Regime still exists on the books and in the statutes and can be dusted off and re-fueled and turned loose again verrrry easily.
And this time around, in the absence of lotsa government cash such as existed in the 1990s, the dynamic may simply eliminate the middleman (the government police authority) and proceed directly from ‘manufactured hysteria’ to mob-violence.
So much remains to be done.
*Just to recall the line-ups in World War 1: The Allies included Britain, France, Imperial Russia, Italy, Imperial Japan, and the USA while the Axis included Imperial Germany, Imperial Austria-Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire centered in Turkey.
**Hoover, now recognized as having had huge sexual ‘issues’ of his own – including cross-dressing and homosexuality, remained at the head of the FBI from its inception during this era until his death in 1972. Thus he was allowed thus to remain in authority well beyond the statutory retirement age; perhaps because he had amassed so much ‘dirt’ on every major serving politician in his ‘special official confidential files’ that nobody in the Beltway dared to tell him to leave. The files disappeared – it is said – from his office immediately after his death.
While he liked to burnish the FBI’s reputation as crime-fighters in the 1920s and 1930s, he actually developed rather cosy arrangements with the major crime bosses of the day (accepting vacations and gifts from them) – perhaps, it is said, because Meyer Lansky had evidence of Hoover’s sexual misadventures that were obtained in the 1930s. Instead, Hoover’s genuine interest seemed to be in suppressing dissent and deviance (Dr. Freud to Examining One stat!) and suppressing communism or anything similar to it among the Citizenry.
For those who haven’t heard, the SNAP organization (generating much emotion over Catholic Church sex abuse) has teamed up with a civil-rights organization to file charges of crimes-against-humanity against the Pope, the Vatican, and several Cardinals, with the International Criminal Court at The Hague. I am currently reviewing their charging-documents and will have a Post up shortly. You might want to review my very recent Posts on the Archdiocese of Boston and the Post from this Spring about events in Philadelphia here.