Even before President Bush signed into law the Homeland Security Act this week, creating a governmental behemoth that swallows 22 existing agencies and turns them into one giant fist poised to crush civil liberties, the national media knew very well what the law that stitched together the new department meant.
Here is what the Christian Science Monitor reported about the DHS on Nov. 21, two days after the Senate followed the House in passing the law:
“Make a call from a pay phone at the ballpark, and it may be tapped. Pay for a sandwich with a credit card, and the transaction may wind up in an electronic file with your tax returns, travel history, and speeding tickets.
“These are some of the ways that the biggest reorganization of the federal government in half a century could trickle down into the minutiae of the daily life of Americans.”
The question Americans might want to ask, while it is still legal to ask questions at all, is: why didn’t the press report these trickle-down effects before Congress passed the law?
In fact, some people did discuss the threats to freedom and privacy the Homeland Security bill represented, me among them. Most Americans were too frightened of terrorism, too trusting of the federal leviathan, and generally too ignorant about the dangers their freedom was facing to pay much attention.
But the vast new agency just created is not the only threat they need to worry about.
The same day the Monitor was belatedly telling us about the erosion of liberty the new agency will cause, the Washington Times was belatedly reporting that the Pentagon had confirmed that “a high-tech data collection system [that] will monitor credit-card transactions and airline ticket purchases … is being created to thwart terrorist attacks.” This is entirely separate from the behemoth down the street at the DHS. This behemoth will reside across the river in the Pentagon itself and is demurely named the “Total Information Awareness” (TIA) program.
But then again, the leviathan may not really need new laws, vast bureaucracies, and secret programs driven by technologies out of science fiction to throttle what remains of American freedom. Already, inebriated with the air of the Zeitgeist, prosecutors are starting to crack down — not on “terrorism,” necessarily, but on the dissent and eccentric ideas that are really what worries the architects of the New World Order.
In Great Britain, a newspaper columnist for the Daily Telegraph, Robin Page, was arrested this month on a charge of inciting “racial hatred.” Mr. Page, the Telegraph reported on Nov. 22, had spoken at a county fair, arguing that if Londoners had the right to celebrate “black and gay pride,” then rural minorities also had the right to celebrate their own culture. “All I said was that the rural minority should have the same rights as blacks, Muslims and gays,” Mr. Page insists.
Shortly after his speech, Mr. Page was asked by county police to come down for an interview because of “complaints” they’d received about his remarks. He did, but he refused to answer questions without his lawyer present, was arrested and thrown in a jail cell. He agreed to answer questions without a lawyer to avoid spending the night in jail. He was then asked if he was a racist and told to report back to the police in January.
Great Britain is obviously a different country, but it shares the same Zeitgeist as this one, and such tales are not far from reality here either.
Last week in Orange County, California, the county prosecutor rounded up a local leader of the neo-Nazi Aryan Nation and two others “suspected of being neo-Nazis,” the Orange County Register reports. [Pay archive.] They were nabbed allegedly because they possessed “bomb-making materials,” and one had supposedly violated parole by possessing a firearm, but “no specific attack plans are alleged.” The real reason for the arrests was blatantly political. Deputy District Attorney Nick Thompson told the paper, “… I hope it would have a chilling effect on those people who are sitting on the fence regarding whether to throw their allegiance to racist causes.”
I have little use for “neo-Nazis,” but if prosecutors can openly boast of how they intend to use the law to chill free expression and ideas they dislike, then neo-Nazis aren’t the only ones facing problems. Neither of the arrests in England or in California was the result of the Homeland Security Department or the Total Information Awareness Program; they merely illustrate the Zeitgeist that has descended upon the Western world since Sept. 11, 2001. And they merely foreshadow how these government agencies and programs, among others, will be used in the future. When the Zeitgeist knocks at your door some night, don’t say no one warned you.