BEWARE THE MIDNIGHT KNOCK
William Norman Grigg
Feb. 3, 2002
Submitted by Larry McDonald thru BATR'S Yahoo Group
Hello and welcome to Review of the News Online. I'm William Norman Grigg, Senior Editor for The New American magazine--an affiliated publication of The John Birch Society.
In last week's State of the Union Address, President Bush correctly stated: "No people on Earth yearn to be oppressed, or aspire to servitude, or eagerly await the midnight knock of the secret police." This observation, ironically, came after the President described an initiative that increases the likelihood that Americans may someday face the dreaded "midnight knock."
"My call tonight is for every American to commit at least two years--4,000 hours over the rest of your lifetime--to the service of your neighbors and your nation," declared the President. Toward that end, Mr. Bush introduced the new "USA Freedom Corps" community service initiative, which includes a "homeland security" element called the "Citizen Corps."
The central mission of the Citizen Corps, the President explained, is to enhance homeland security: "[A]s government works to better secure our homeland, America will continue to depend on the eyes and ears of alert citizens." Vigilance is indeed a duty of American citizenship. However, it must be directed not only at foreign enemies, but also at our own government, which remains a far more immediate and powerful potential danger to our lives, liberties, and prosperity.
Before examining the specific role of the Citizen Corps, it is worth recalling, yet again, a pointed warning from Alexander Hamilton.
In Federalist paper number eight, Hamilton observed: "Safety from external danger is the most powerful director of national conduct. Even the ardent love of liberty will, after a time, give way to its dictates. The violent destruction of life and property incident to war, the continual effort and alarm attendant on a state of continual danger, will compel nations the most attached to liberty to resort for repose and security to institutions which have a tendency to destroy their civil and political rights. To be more safe, they at length are willing to run the risk of being less free."
The "state of continual danger" referred to by Hamilton allows rulers the great luxury of directing the attention of their subjects outward; whenever public discontent escalates over the cost and intrusiveness of government, a foreign threat gives rulers a means of changing the subject.
The nightmare world of George Orwell's 1984 memorably illustrates how a state of perpetual crisis serves the interest of amoral rulers. Subjects of Big Brother's despotism were incessantly warned of the threat posed by their foreign enemies, and their absolute dependence upon the regime to protect them. Criticism of the regime was denounced and punished as "thoughtcrime," and the regime's semantic engineers labored to reconstruct the language so that it would be impossible to speak or think in ways that undermined the State's hold upon its subjects.
What has this to do with President Bush's proposed "Freedom Corps"-- A great deal. The very title of the initiative is an Orwellian coinage suggesting that freedom can only be achieved as part of a government-regimented program. Similar subterfuge is at work in the President's call for Americans to give 4,000 hours in federally supervised "service" to the "nation."
The average American taxpayer worked until May 3 last year to earn an amount sufficient to pay his taxes--but this doesn't count toward the "national service" quota required by the President. Most Americans are also involved in volunteer efforts of some variety, through churches, civic and humanitarian organizations, or informal neighborhood settings. Many patriotic Americans work as volunteers in The John Birch Society, which is devoted to "less government, more responsibility, and--with God's help--a better world." And of course, in a free economy--or even a partially socialized one like our own--everybody engaged in productive work, or offering worthwhile goods and services, is serving others.
But this type of service to our neighbors and our nation is not what our President has in mind. Like other collectivists before him, President Bush appears to believe that unless "service" is mandated by the state, supervised by the state, and subsidized by the state, it just doesn't count. The President's "service" scheme, like Bill Clinton's "AmeriCorps" program, is based upon the socialist premise that only uncompensated, government-administered work counts as "service."
But the Orwellian dimensions of the President's "Freedom Corps" initiative go beyond the deceptive language in which it is presented. The "Citizen Corps" component of the Bush proposal has the potential to become an institutionalized surveillance network of the sort seen in Cuba, China, and other totalitarian societies.
According to the White House summary of the proposal, the organization would be built upon a network of local "Citizen Corps Councils" organized in cooperation with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA. With FEMA's help the councils would coordinate medical, law enforcement, and emergency response efforts to deal with terrorism and other crises. Coordination of this sort is worthwhile, and it should be undertaken without federal intervention.
The White House also intends to use the Citizen Corps program to nationalize the Neighborhood Watch Program "to incorporate terrorism prevention into its mission." Another feature of the program would be Operation TIPS: Terrorist Information and Prevention System, which according to the White House "will be a nationwide mechanism for reporting suspicious activity?" Operation TIPS would begin with a pilot program in ten cities to enlist postal workers, employees of public utilities and transportation services as the "eyes and ears" of the Homeland Security system.
This certainly seems innocuous enough. Americans should report suspicious behavior to local police authorities. But the use of citizens as the "eyes and ears" of a central government has been a feature of Orwellian police states in the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, Communist Cuba, and Communist China. Each of those regimes used networks of civilian informants to keep so-called enemies of the state under surveillance.
Already there have been incidents in which Americans who criticized President Bush or various government policies have been questioned by federal agents. Three such cases were described in the January 8th Christian Science Monitor:
- Agents from the FBI and Secret Service were sent to Houston's "Car Art Museum" after a tipster complained that the tiny gallery was involved in "anti-American activity." The complaint was provoked by an exhibit entitled "Secret Wars" that dealt with covert operations and government secrets.
- A.J. Brown, a college student in North Carolina, was questioned in her doorway by Secret Service agents and a local police officer for more than a half hour. They were responding to a report that she had displayed "un-American material" in her dorm room--in this case a poster critical of President Bush's stance on the death penalty.
- San Francisco resident Barry Reingold was also quizzed by two FBI agents on his front doorstep last October 23rd. The retired 60-year-old was amazed to discover that they were responding to a report that he had expressed views critical of President Bush during a workout at a local gym. "Some fellow weightlifters called Reingold a disloyal American," reported the Monitor. "One, apparently, called the government."
According to the paper, "The rise in doorstep inquiries reflects, in part, a new law-enforcement reality." It also reflects an increasing tendency on the part of Americans to equate principled criticism of government policies with disloyalty.
That tendency will almost certainly be encouraged by the President's "Citizens Corps" proposal--which might be its entire purpose. If that tendency infects a sufficiently large portion of our population, the "midnight knock" from the secret police may become a grim new "law enforcement reality" as well.
Thank you for listening. Please join us again next week.