John Whitehead's Commentary
This Thanksgiving, Let’s Say ‘No Thanks’ to the Tyranny of the American Police State
“Hold on, my friends, to the Constitution and to the Republic for which it stands. Miracles do not cluster, and what has happened once in 6000 years, may not happen again. Hold on to the Constitution, for if the American Constitution should fail, there will be anarchy throughout the world.”—Daniel Webster
Thanksgiving is not what it once was.
Then again, America is not what she once was.
Americans have become so enthralled by the “bread and circuses” of our age—tables groaning under the weight of an abundance of rich foods, televisions tuned to sports and entertainments spectacles, stores competing for Black Friday shoppers, and a general devotion to excess and revelry—that we have lost sight of the true purpose of Thanksgiving.
Indeed, the following is a lesson in how far we have traveled—and how low we have fallen—in the more than 200 years since George Washington issued the first Thanksgiving proclamation, calling upon the nation to give thanks for a government whose purpose was ensuring the safety and happiness of its people and for a Constitution designed to safeguard civil and religious liberty.
This Thanksgiving finds us saddled with a government that is a far cry from Washington’s vision of a government that would be a blessing to all the people:
- governed by wise, just and constitutional laws
- faithfully executed and obeyed by its agents
- assisting foreign nations with good government, peace, and concord
- promoting true religion, virtue and science
- and enabling temporal prosperity.
Instead, as the following shows, the U.S. government has become a warring empire, governed by laws that are rash, unjust and unconstitutional, policed by government agents who are corrupt, hypocritical and abusive, a menace to its own people, and the antithesis of everything for which Washington hoped.
George Washington didn’t intend Thanksgiving to be a day for offering up glib platitudes that require no thought, no effort and no sacrifice. He wanted it to be a day of contemplation, in which we frankly assessed our shortcomings, acknowledged our wrongdoings, and resolved to be a better, more peaceable nation in the year to come.
It is in that true spirit of Thanksgiving that I offer the following list of things for which I’m not thankful about the American police state.
The U.S. has become a corporate oligarchy. As a Princeton University survey indicates, our elected officials, especially those in the nation’s capital, represent the interests of the rich and powerful rather than the average citizen. We are no longer a representative republic. As such, the citizenry has little if any impact on the policies of government. There are 131 lobbyists to every Senator, reinforcing concerns that the government represents the corporate elite rather than the citizenry.
Americans are being jailed for profit. Imprisoning Americans in private prisons and jails run by mega-corporations has turned into a cash cow for big business, with states agreeing to maintain a 90% occupancy rate in privately run prisons for at least 20 years. And how do you keep the prisons full? By passing laws aimed at increasing the prison population, including the imposition of life sentences on people who commit minor or nonviolent crimes such as siphoning gasoline. Little surprise, then, that the United States has 5% of the world’s population, but 25% of the world’s prisoners. The government’s tendency towards militarization and overcriminalization, in which routine, everyday behaviors become targets of regulation and prohibition, have resulted in Americans getting arrested for making and selling unpasteurized goat cheese, cultivating certain types of orchids, feeding a whale, holding Bible studies in their homes, and picking their kids up from school.
Endless wars have resulted in a battlefield mindset that is infecting the nation. The Departments of Justice, Homeland Security (DHS) and Defense have passed off billions of dollars worth of military equipment to local police forces. Even EMS crews and fire fighters are being “gifted” with military tanks, Kevlar helmets and ballistic vests. Police agencies have been trained in the fine art of war. It has become second nature for local police to look and act like soldiers. Communities have become acclimated to the presence of militarized police patrolling their streets. Americans have been taught compliance at the end of a police gun or taser. Lower income neighborhoods have been transformed into war zones. Hundreds if not thousands of unarmed Americans have lost their lives at the hands of police who shoot first and ask questions later. And a whole generation of young Americans has learned to march in lockstep with the government’s dictates.
Militarized police, shootings of unarmed citizens, SWAT team raids, misconduct and qualified immunity have transformed the U.S. into a police state. What we must contend with today is the danger of having a standing army (which is what police forces, increasingly made up of individuals with military backgrounds and/or training, have evolved into) that has been trained to view the citizenry as little more than potential suspects, combatants and insurgents. Despite propaganda to the contrary, it is estimated that U.S. police kill more people in days than other countries do in years. On an average day in America, at least 100 Americans have their homes raided by SWAT teams (although I’ve seen estimates as high as 300 a day), which are increasingly used to deal with routine police matters: angry dogs, domestic disputes, search warrants, etc. Every five days a police officer somewhere in America engages in sexual abuse or misconduct.
The barrier between public and private property has been done away with. Call it what you will—taxes, penalties, fees, fines, regulations, tariffs, tickets, permits, surcharges, tolls, asset forfeitures, foreclosures, etc.—but the only word that truly describes the constant bilking of the American taxpayer by the government and its corporate partners is theft. What Americans don’t seem to comprehend is that if the government can arbitrarily take away your property, without your having much say about it, you have no true rights and no real property. In this way, the police state with all of its trappings—from surveillance cameras, militarized police, SWAT team raids, truancy and zero tolerance policies, asset forfeiture laws, privatized prisons and red light cameras to Sting Ray devices, fusion centers, drones, black boxes, hollow-point bullets, detention centers, speed traps and abundance of laws criminalizing otherwise legitimate conduct—has become little more than a front for a high-dollar covert operation aimed at laundering as much money as possible through government agencies and into the bank accounts of the corporate oligarchy that rule over us.
The technologically-driven surveillance state has become the fourth branch of government. This fourth branch—the NSA, CIA, FBI, DHS, etc.—came into being without any electoral mandate or constitutional referendum, and yet it possesses superpowers, above and beyond those of any other government agency save the military. It is all-knowing, all-seeing and all-powerful. It operates beyond the reach of the president, Congress and the courts, and it marches in lockstep with the corporate elite who really call the shots in Washington, DC. This age of technological tyranny has been made possible by government secrets, government lies, government spies and their corporate ties. Beware of what you say, what you read, what you write, where you go, and with whom you communicate, because it will all be recorded, stored and used against you eventually, at a time and place of the government’s choosing. Privacy, as we have known it, is dead. The police state is about to pass off the baton to the surveillance state.
The schools, modeled after quasi-prisons, are churning out future compliant citizens. Within America’s public schools can be found almost every aspect of the American police state that plagues those of us on the “outside”: metal detectors, surveillance cameras, militarized police, drug-sniffing dogs, tasers, cyber-surveillance, random searches, senseless arrests, jail time, the list goes on. Whether it takes the form of draconian zero tolerance policies, overreaching anti-bullying statutes, police officers charged with tasering and arresting so-called unruly children, standardized testing with its emphasis on rote answers, political correctness, or the extensive surveillance systems cropping up in schools all over the country, young people in America are first in line to be indoctrinated into compliant citizens of the new American police state.
The courts have become courts of order in an age of government-sanctioned tyranny. With every ruling handed down by the courts, it becomes more apparent that we live in an age of hollow justice, with government courts, largely lacking in vision and scope, rendering narrow rulings that have nothing to do with true justice. This is true at all levels of the judiciary, but especially so in the highest court of the land, the U.S. Supreme Court, which is seemingly more concerned with establishing order and protecting government agents than with upholding the rights enshrined in the Constitution. Given the turbulence of our age, with its police overreach, military training drills on American soil, domestic surveillance, SWAT team raids, asset forfeiture, wrongful convictions, and corporate corruption, the need for a guardian of the people’s rights has never been greater. Yet when presented with an opportunity to weigh in on these issues, what does our current Supreme Court usually do? It ducks. Prevaricates. Remains silent. Speaks to the narrowest possible concern. More often than not, it gives the government and its corporate sponsors the benefit of the doubt. Rarely do the concerns of the populace prevail.
As I point out in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, these are abuses that no American should tolerate from its government, and yet not only do we tolerate them, but we help to advance them by supporting meaningless elections, allowing ourselves to be divided by partisan politics, and failing to hold the government accountable to abiding by the rule of law, the U.S. Constitution.
Mark my words: if we do not push back against the menace of the police state now, if we fail to hold onto the Constitution and our constitutional republic, and if we allow the government to remain the greatest threat to our freedoms, then future Thanksgivings will find us paying the price with tyranny at home and anarchy throughout the world.