The New McCarthyism


There Is a Difference between Dissent and Treason

...when you have nothing to say, flags help a lot.
It is almost impossible for any crowd to boo when flags are present in a country
whose Congress has passed an anti-flag-burning amendment to the Constitution 437 times.
Only the ponderously slow, complex, and costly provisions of an 18th century constitution
have prevented this glorious measure from taking its rightful place with freedom of speech.

from "Observations on the President Addressing the Nation"
by John Chuckman 28 December 2001

by Richard Reeves

Washington - So, the attorney general of the United States tells me: "To those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty, my message is this: Your tactics only aid terrorists."

Well, screw you, buddy!  What are you trying to say?  Are you saying that anyone who talks about civil rights, civil liberties and the freedom that makes us Americans is a traitor in this undeclared but loudly proclaimed war?  I have messages for you, Mr Attorney General John Ashcroft, former governor, former senator and all-round political perpetual:

  1. I am no traitor, and neither is anyone else who questions sweeping expansion of government power to search people's homes and minds;
  2. if someone or something has to be blamed and castigated for the breakdown in American security analysis that occurred so horrifically on 11 September, we should start with the foul-ups of the government itself in allowing terrorist networks to develop almost openly over the past 10 years.

Start by searching you own record, sir.  Take a hard look at what the FBI and the CIA have been doing instead of setting them on ordinary citizens with new powers to tap, bug, search, seize, detain and arrest.  The people supposed to be watching over us have responded to their own failures in watching our enemies by saying that now they need more power to watch us.

That said, Ashcroft impresses me as a small man, who does indeed seem to see the very real terrorism crisis as an opportunity to push a law enforcement agenda not unlike the one heralded as the salvation of the country in the bad old days of "The Russians are coming!  The Russians are coming!"  His obvious determination to regulate almost everything in the country, with the notable exception of any checks on unlimited gun ownership by either citizens or aliens, seems somehow detached from the real threat of foreign-sponsored terrorism.  His blaming the naïveté of the citizenry about terrorism is outrageous.  Americans know what is happening, and they certainly seem willing and eager to do something about it, including the use of our military wherever in the world bad guys assemble and plan.

The libertarian monthly Reason is one of the few publications that have the guts right now to criticise the repression impulse that has coursed through the country since 11 September.  The publication has gathered men and women of both the right and left who understand, or are willing to say, that the terrorism was not caused in some bizarre fashion by constitutional guarantees of individual liberty and free speech.

"Federal agents still need to make the case that the expanded powers for which they are asking are necessary," the journal quoted Jerry Berman of the Center for Democracy and Technology as saying in its current issue.  "It wasn't a restriction breakdown.  It was an analysis breakdown."

The magazine also quoted two officials from research institutions:

"Once people have been subjected to such thoroughgoing government surveillance, all relations between the government and the public are transformed.  Whether the rulers be revolutionary despots or democratically elected officials, every citizen knows that 'they' know all about him and his affairs, and hence no one dares to step out of line.  In such a situation, the sociopolitical system will gravitate ineluctably toward totalitarianism," said Robert Higgs, editor of The Independent Review.

"Friends of traditional American values - namely, freedom, privacy and justice - should keep their eyes on two transcendent issues during wartime," said David Kopel, the Independence Institute's research director.  "First, the effort to change our system of checks and balances and our system of federalism with unreviewable central executive power.  Second, the tendency of people to suppress their own willingness to think freely, and to lash out at those who do not similarly self-suppress."

Watching members of Congress defer to Attorney General Ashcroft, there is obviously a lot of self-supression going on in Washington these days.  But not at the Justice Department or the White House; the executive branch seems more intent on expanding its own police power at home than in mobilising the free will of the American people against terrorism from abroad.

Source: Saturday 8 December 2001

Sacramento Bee Publisher Booed During Her College Graduation Speech

Sacramento - A newspaper publisher's commencement speech was drowned out by hecklers when she mentioned threats to civil liberties posed by the federal government's investigation of the terrorist attacks.  Janis Besler Heaphy, president and publisher of The Sacramento Bee, was delivering the midyear graduation address Saturday to about 17,000 people at California State University in Sacramento.  When Heaphy raised questions about racial profiling, limits on civil rights and the establishment of military tribunals, the audience interrupted by clapping and stomping their feet for five minutes.  University President Don Gerth tried to quiet the audience, but Heaphy stopped speaking after more loud heckling erupted.

Heaphy told The Sacramento Bee afterward that the hecklers were merely blaming the messenger.  "This was a message about civil liberties and our acceptance of differing points of view in American society," she said.  "It's a message that needs to continue to be heard."

Gerth blamed the interruption on students' family members and friends and said some students apologised to Heaphy after the ceremony.  "Our students have a right to hear our speaker," Gerth said.  "It is a day I will never forget.  I am not proud of it."  Heaphy's speech was posted in its entirety on the university's Web site, Gerth said.  Heaphy said she plans to continue to voice her concerns about potential civil liberties violations.

Source: The Associated Press 16 December 2001

Witness to a Lynch Mob

by Matthew Rothschild

On Monday, 15 October, the school board of Madison, Wisconsin, held an open forum to discuss its controversial vote the week before.  In that vote, it had instructed the public schools to forgo having students recite the pledge of allegiance and to offer only an instrumental rendition of the Star Spangled Banner in the classrooms.  This decision became a bloody shirt for talk radio hosts and rightwing church groups to wave around.

As I walked in the school, I saw a VFW troupe in full regalia and people with signs saying "God Bless America."  There were other people holding signs affirming the separation of church and state, but they were outnumbered.

And so was I.

I couldn't get into the crowded auditorium, so I moved out into the cafeteria with the overflow.  Through the sound system, we heard the meeting begin.  All at once, people in full throat were saying the pledge of allegiance.  Someone inside the auditorium got it going, and almost everyone in the cafeteria rose to recite it, some with hands over their hearts.  When the pledge ended, I could hear chants of "USA, USA," and I felt like I was at the Scopes Trial.  More than 200 people had signed up to talk for three minutes each, and the school board decided to let students go first.  A homeschooler from Illinois denounced the decision as unpatriotic.  A girl from Mt Horeb, a town 20 miles away, said she was tired of having her teachers tell her what to do, like telling her she should have sex before marriage.

A few students did support the board, and they were greeted by general tut-tutting in the cafeteria.  Three high school boys with short hair walked by wearing stencilled shirts with the words "Pro-Patriotism" and "Anti-Liberal" in big type on the front, and the pledge in small type.  On the back was a picture of Osama bin Laden in a circle with a line drawn through him and the words: "Kill Osama bin Laden."

When it was the adults' turn at the mike, most of the speakers opposed the board, some with a great deal of vitriol.  One called the board members "liberal totalitarians."  Several said the board members should resign or be recalled.  Another said, "You should not be recalled.  You should be tried for treason!"  Still another described the city as "The People's Republic of Madison," and called the board members a bunch of "arrogant, elitist, heavy-handed, radical leftovers of the Vietnam era, who in your great zeal to protect the minority have stifled the expression of the majority."

That one brought the cafeteria crowd to its feet.

One man countered the criticism that the anthem was militaristic by saying he's sung the anthem thousands of times "but I never felt the urge to conquer my neighbor's lawn or grab their chairs."  Another said that the problem wasn't just the lack of patriotism; it was the lack of discipline.  We need to get that discipline back, he said, recalling with approval how one of his teachers "grabbed me by the neck and put me up to the locker."  One Vietnam War veteran said he was proud to wear the uniform, and concluded: "God and America are inseparable."

Many speakers did support the board's decision, and raised the crucial points about separating church and state, about the tyranny of the majority, and about the dangers of blind patriotism.  But the die had been cast.  The board was under enormous pressure all week to back down.  It had received death threats: one person wrote that the hijackers should have flown their planes not into the World Trade Center but into the Madison School Board administration building.  It was being blackmailed economically: business groups were cancelling their conventions in Madison.  Universities in other states were banning the school board from recruiting teachers on their campuses.  The governor of Wisconsin called the board members to urge them to change their minds.  And as the meeting was going on, a group was organising to recall the school board members in the room right next to the cafeteria.

In the wee hours of the morning, the board finally capitulated, voting 6-to-1 to have Madison public school students recite the pledge or sing the national anthem on a daily basis.  The power of the mob had prevailed.

A few days later, I bumped into a neighbor of mine whom I had seen at the meeting shaking his head in horror.  I asked him what he made of it all.  "I thought I was in Nazi Germany," he said.

Matthew Rothschild is an editor at The Progressive

Source: 19 October 2001

If You Don't Want American Flag Stamps, Watch Out!

by Matthew Rothschild

Even an innocuous trip to the post office can you get you into trouble these days.  Daniel Muller, is the co-coordinator of Voices in the Wilderness, a group dedicated to nonviolence and a leading opponent of US sanctions against Iraq.  On 9 November, Muller and his colleague Andrew Mandell went to pick up stamps at the Chicago post office they regularly visit.  They were paying with cash.  "We needed 4,000 stamps for a mailing we were doing, and I asked for ones not with the American flag on them."  The woman asked if Statute of liberty stamps were OK.

"Yes, we love liberty," said Andrew Mandell.  "She asked us to step aside from the counter, and she went to the back, out of view," recalls Muller.  "I knew something was up because this was a bit out of the ordinary.  And Andrew said, 'She's calling the cops,' but I didn't believe him.  No one said anything to us for about twenty minutes, and then two cops came in and asked for our IDs.  They asked if we had any outstanding warrants.  They ran a check on us.  They asked us why we had asked for stamps without American flags on them.  I said we're very rooted in nonviolent activities, and we would rather have the Statue of Liberty than the American flag."

The Post Office told Muller and Mandell that they would have to come back the next morning for stamps.  Mandell got his stamps the next day, but he also was asked to meet with a federal postal inspector for more than a half-hour.  The postal inspector, says Mandell, asked: "Why are you paying with cash?  Where do you get your money?"

Afterwards, the group was permitted to send out its mailing.

"The fact that they did ask for anything but flag stamps did raise a question for the clerk," says Silvia Carrier, a public relations officer for the US Postal Inspector in Chicago.  Plus, "They were buying postage with a large amount of cash, and usually a company will use a meter or a business check.  Right now, since 11 September, clerks have been told to be cautious, to be looking out for anything suspicious."

Source: The Progressive 8 December 2001

The New McCarthyism

by Matthew Rothschild

You are no longer free to patronise a bookstore without fear of government scrutiny.  On 1 November, the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE) sent a disturbing letter to its members.  "Dear Bookseller," it begins.  "Last week, President Bush signed into law an antiterrorism bill that gives the federal government expanded authority to search your business records, including the titles of the books purchased by your customers...  There is no opportunity for you or your lawyer to object in court.  You cannot object publicly, either.  The new law includes a gag order that prevents you from disclosing 'to any person' the fact that you have received an order to produce documents."  The letter recommends that booksellers who get hit with such an order should call their attorney or the foundation, but "because of the gag order... you should not tell ABFFE that you have received a court order...  You can simply tell us that you need to contact ABFFE's legal counsel."

Marsha Rummel of Rainbow Bookstore Cooperative in Madison, Wisconsin, denounces this new government policy as a "terrifying encroachment on the privacy rights of citizens."  Noting that "the danger to booksellers is just one small part of this new landscape," she says, "We must collectively take a stand to defend our democratic rights, including the right to protest our government and oppose the war, and the right to read whatever we like."

Katie Sierra is a 15-year-old sophomore at Sissonville High School in West Virginia.  On 22 October, she notified her principal, Forrest Mann, that she wanted to form an anarchist club.  He denied her request.  It was the only club he has ever disallowed, according to the lawsuit Sierra and her mother filed against the school.  Sierra had already made up fliers for the club, which she wasn't able to distribute.  The fliers said: "Anarchist club.  Anarchism preaches to love all humans, not just of one country.  Start a newspaper, a food-not-bombs group, a book discussion group.  Speak your point of view, and hear others.  Please join."

The next day, Sierra came to school with a T-shirt on that said, "Racism, Sexism, Homophobia, I'm So Proud of People in the Land of the So-Called Free."  The principal suspended her for three days.  "I've never een in trouble before," Sierra says.  "I was kind of upset at first: how could he?  Then I was crying.  How could he suspend me for something so ridiculous as that?"

On 29 October, she was told that before she could come back to school, she would have to provide the principal with authorisation to obtain her medical records, she would have to meet with a school psychologist, and she couldn't wear T-shirts like the one she wore or organise her anarchist club.  At a school board meeting that day, the school board president, Bill Raglin, said, "What in the hell is wrong with a kid like that?"  Another school board member, John Luoni, accused her of treason, according to her court papers.

To make matters worse, says Sierra, Principal Mann mischaracterised her T-shirt in the Charleston Gazette, falsely stating it included statements such as "I hope Afghanistan wins" and "America should burn."  As a result, students at school ganged up on her.  "I got shoved against lockers," she says.  "People made pictures of me with bullet holes through my head and posted them on, like, the doors in the school.  They said some really harsh things.  It was scary."  Sierra and her mother sued the school district but lost in the lower courts and in the state supreme court by a 3-to-2 vote.  "We sought an injunction to force the principal to allow her to form the anarchy club and wear her peace T-shirts and void her suspension," her attorney, Roger Forman, says.  Forman, a former president of the West Virginia ACLU, says her free speech rights have been violated.

Sierra plans to appeal.  "I'm really disgusted with the courts right now, and with the school," she says.  "I'm being punished for being myself."  Because she felt unsafe at Sissonville High, Sierra is now being homeschooled.

The St George, Utah, newspaper, The Spectrum, apologised on 13 November for a cartoon it ran the previous day from Pulitzer prize-winner Steve Benson.  The cartoon depicted President Bush dropping bombs that carried scrawled messages, such as "starving millions of Afghans" and "killing innocent civilians."  Many local veterans descended on the paper, threatening to cancel their subscriptions if it didn't issue an apology, according to The Salt Lake Tribune.

Robert Jensen, associate professor of journalism at the University of Texas at Austin, wrote a column for the Houston Chronicle on 14 September entitled "US Just As Guilty of Committing Own Violent Acts."  In it, he said that the terrorist attacks of 11 September "were reprehensible and indefensible... but this act was no more despicable [than] the massive acts of terrorism - the deliberate killing of civilians for political purposes - that the US government has committed during my lifetime."

For this, Jensen was publicly ridiculed by the school president, Larry R Faulkner, who wrote a letter to the Houston Chronicle  which was published on 19 September.  "Jensen is not only misguided, but has become a fountain of undiluted foolishness on issues of public policy," he said.  "I've been marginalised on this campus," Jensen says.  But he takes pains not to exaggerate the threat against him.  "I'm a tenured white male professor at a major university.  I'm so protected I have no fears.  But an untenured brown professor is not so protected."

Jensen worries that untenured faculty may censor themselves, and he and many others are concerned about Lynne Cheney's group, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, which she co-founded in 1995 with Senator Joseph Lieberman, Democrat of Connecticut.  That group issued a report after 11 September called "Defending Civilisation: How Our Universities Are Failing America, and What Can Be Done About It."  It said, "When a nation's intellectuals are unwilling to defend its civilisation, they give comfort to its adversaries."  And it cited more than 100 examples of what it considers unpatriotic acts by specific academics.

"What's analogous to McCarthyism is the self-appointed guardians who are engaging in private blacklisting," says Eric Foner, professor of history at Columbia University.  "That's why the Lynne Cheney thing is so disturbing: her group is trying to intimidate individuals who hold different points of view.  There aren't loyalty oaths being demanded of teachers yet, but we seem to be at the beginning of a process that could get a lot worse and is already cause for considerable alarm."

Source: 8 December 2001

See also:

bulletIt's Just That Simple - Terrorism takes us back to ages we thought were long gone if we allow it a free hand to corrupt democratic societies and destroy the basic rules of international life...

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