July 15, 2002

Post-9/11 protest politics: dissent in the age of the neos

The proposal to create a new super-agency, the ominously Germanic-sounding Department of Homeland Security (HomeSec) that would absorb everything but the FBI and the CIA into a giant bureaucratic sinkhole – the BorgBureau – has certainly debunked the idea that central planning has been discredited. The American government's response to the 9/11 terror attack, if it succeeds at nothing else, has successfully raised the spirit of socialist "efficiency" from the dead. For this compulsive monolithism is the central organizing principle of Marxism – an ideology thought to have crumbled with the fall of the Berlin Wall, yet now being rebuilt, brick by brick, in Washington. But not without determined opposition from a newly active Congress….

The good news is that George Bush isn't going to get his BorgBureau, at least not in the form he originally envisioned. The Coast Guard has wriggled free of HomeSec's embrace! Of all the government agencies in existence, the Coast Guard is one of the very few that, come the Revolution, ought to be kept. Indeed, if the physical defense of the nation is the main (if not the only) function of the feds under a limited government regime, then we ought to stand this proposal on its head and insist that all "defense" and 'intelligence" agencies be absorbed into the Coast Guard.


"When the course of civilization takes an unexpected turn – when, instead of the continuous progress which we have come to expect – we find ourselves threatened by evils associated by us with past ages of barbarism – we naturally blame anything but ourselves."

Noam Chomsky? Arundhati Roy? Robert Fisk?

Try F. A. Hayek: it's the opening sentence of his seminal book, The Road to Serfdom, published in 1944. Wisdom for the ages….


I don't usually comment on matters not pertaining to foreign policy, but in this case I think the videotaped beating of a handcuffed teenager by out-of-control officers – and the subsequent arrest of the videotaper! – is yet more anecdotal evidence that we are well along down the road to serfdom. As one cop picks up the youth – helpless, at that point, and not resisting – and jams his face onto the back end of a patrol car, another pig punches the kid square in the jaw. Naturally, they were white, and do we even need to ask if their victim was black? The Reuters report adds:

"Two other officers, who appeared to be black and Latino, were observed at the scene."

Yeah, no doubt thinking to themselves: there, but for the grace of God, go I….

The videotaper, Mitchell Crooks, was later scooped up by cops outside the Hollywood offices of CNN. The Associated Press reports:

"As he was driven off, he repeatedly screamed, 'Help me, help me.'"

He had good reason to scream. Crooks had repeatedly stated in that he wouldn't show up in court because he was afraid of a police beating. His fears were justified, it seems. CNN reports:

"Crooks was taken to the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department Men's Central Jail after his release from the Los Angeles County-University of Southern California Healthcare Network hospital Friday. He was taken to the hospital Thursday after complaining of injuries."

Why was he arrested? The cops did a little research on Crooks and found an outstanding warrant. He was previously arrested in February 1999 for stealing a couple of VCRs from his mother's home, driving while intoxicated, and leaving the scene of a wreck. Sentenced to jail time, he never showed up. Obviously a major criminal. But the Los Angeles District Attorney's office didn't seem too concerned with his criminal past: "Let's put it this way," Chief Deputy D.A. Curt Livesay told the Los Angeles Times. "Had we been able to secure his presence on the first day, the second day or the third day, we wouldn't have even known about the warrants. He could have been here and gone and been free today."

The last time anybody saw Crooks, he was being hauled out of a police station tethered to a hospital gurney, handcuffed and dazed, on his way to the hospital. He has since been flown to Placer County, where he will face criminal charges. The moral of this story? Videotape a crime – go to jail….


This sort of thing happens in non-white communities all the time. So what else is new? Well, how about this: Aside from the brazenness of going after the Ingleside videotaper, rampaging cops are also going after …. whitebread reporters from National Review! Yes, it's true. It seems National Review Online writer Joel Mowbray was "detained," as the magazine's own account puts it, at the State Department after reading from a classified State Department document at a press briefing:

"When Mowbray was leaving the briefing, a State Department official, accompanied by four guards, asked him to stay to answer a few questions. Mowbray said he could come back later. The official said, no, they wanted him to answer a few questions immediately.

"When Mowbray began to get the feeling that he couldn't leave even if he wanted to, he asked, "Am I being detained?"

Well, uh, yes – what did he expect after revealing the contents of a classified document? Doesn't Mowbray know there's a war on? As Deroy Murdock, complaining about journalists blabbing US secrets, put it in National Review Online [October 10, 2001]:

"Now that Operation Enduring Freedom has exploded into a full-blown shooting war, journalists and their official sources urgently must clam up about sensitive military and intelligence matters. Media coverage of the September 11 massacre investigation and subsequent allied response has been a rich feast for news junkies. Unfortunately, terrorists and their state sponsors may be enjoying this banquet, too."

Hear that, Mowbray? Clam up!

After all, it's the spirit of the times: shut up, pledge allegiance to the flag, and obey our glorious leaders. Either that, or you'll unleash the Floodgates of Anarchy. And anarchy is something the authorities simply will not tolerate – except in the case of certain government agencies – as 15-year-old Katie Sierra found out when she tried to organized her Anarchy Club at Sissonville High School, in Charleston, West Virginia. The Thought Police (Pedagogical Division) not only rejected her proposed club – they suspended her for three days, as the Associated Press reports,

"Because she had fliers at her desk promoting her proposed club after administrators rejected it."

Aha! Forbidden literature! Seize her!

Possession of subversive samizdata, it seems, is the least of Katie's crimes:

"Principal Forrest Mann also ordered Sierra not to wear T-shirts with handwritten messages that included, "When I saw the dead and dying Afghani children on TV, I felt a newly recovered sense of national security. God Bless America."

What dopes these public school administrators are! As one of the few public school students who can write a simple declarative sentence, Katie should be commended, not persecuted. Good for her for taking her fight to a trial by jury. I hope she appeals their Bizarro World verdict, which merely underscores the bullying stupidity of her persecutors. The AP reports that "the jury agreed with the school board's argument that such messages disrupted other students' education" – but that's only if one equates education with indoctrination.

What about a school debate over the ideas expressed on that t-shirt? Maybe this would help students learn the rudiments of how to make an argument, improve their language skills, and encourage them to think for themselves. Isn't that what education is supposed to be about?

My message to high school students everywhere is this: challenge your teachers to do their job. Isn't that what we're paying them for? Your parents are taxpayers, and you need to enlist their support. Not only that, but you need to remember that every public school administrator is your enemy: he or she is the implacable opponent of free speech and free thought. It's the nature of the job, and the State-controlled "public" school system, which was founded as an instrument of mass indoctrination. Your goal: overthrow the administration. Take your fight to the community, the school board, the streets….

Gee, I'm sounding pretty left-wing, these days, don'tcha think? Franklin Foer – you remember him – thinks so, too, and, well, he's ready to report me to the House Committee on Un-American Activities, or whatever they're calling it these days, as – get ready – a leader of "the anti-globalization left"! In an article on Buchanan's new magazine, The American Conservative, in The New Republic, Foer writes:

"There is, however, one group that shares the Buchananite docket of suspicions--of Wall Street, capitalism, Zionism, American power: the anti-globalization left. Indeed, Buchanan has fitfully wooed them…. During his 2000 presidential bid, he said he hoped to turn the Reform Party into the 'Peace Party.' Some of his aides-de-camp have gone further, taking Buchananism to its logical left-wing conclusions. Justin Raimondo, an adviser to Buchanan's 1996 campaign and a historian of the old right, runs Antiwar.com. The site posts screeds against American interventionism that complain about 'empire' and 'increased military spending.' And by lifting the language of the left, he has acquired an audience on the left: The Nation's Alexander Cockburn has published a column on the site, and Salon and alternative newsweeklies plug his work. For his part, Raimondo is unabashed about his ideological transformation. Last month he wrote on his site, 'The only voices of dissent are heard, today, on the Left. ... This is where all the vitality, the rebelliousness, the willingness to challenge the rules and strictures of an increasingly narrow and controlled national discourse has resided.'"

My status as a leftist cult figure will no doubt astonish the dozens of Commies who write in every week descrying my slams of Noam Chomsky, and my digs at the left-led antiwar movement – not to mention my defense of George W. Bush's election victory against the Clintonian coup plotters. Just as my status as a "campaign advisor" to Buchanan will no doubt astonish PJB, whose friendship I value – and who never appointed me to any such position. Whatever influence my ideas have is another question. Nor do I have any connection with The American Conservative, other than as a possible market for my work.

No one who reads what is posted on Antiwar.com could possibly mistake us for "anti-globalization" protectionists: we regularly feature articles and links pointing out the benefits of free trade, and that is a point I dissented from in my otherwise enthusiastic support for Buchanan's views on foreign policy. As for Antiwar.com or this column appropriating "the language of the left," precisely the opposite is the case – and that is what the War Party (historically embodied, in the world of political magazines, by The New Republic) finds so … disorienting. We frame our arguments against this perpetual war for perpetual peace in terms of the damage it does to the Constitution and the legacy of the founding fathers, a libertarian heritage anchored in the idea of strictly limited government. "A republic, not an empire"! – this is the language of the left?

Jeezy-peezy, I'm a writer, fer chrissake, not some party leader, and I don't have a "following" – I have readers, lots of them. And they read critically: I know, because I hear from them all the time. I don't have followers, I have fans. The former – robotic drones who parrot back whatever the party leaders tell them, only louder – are perfect fodder for politicians, left and right, but of absolutely no interest to writers, who tend to be a solitary lot. Fans, however, are quite a different story. What writer doesn't want them? My fans disagree with much of what I write – and habitually log on to my "screed" (as The New Republic characterizes Antiwar.com's material) first thing in the morning.

Foer's article goes on at length about how Buchanan's new magazine, The American Conservative, is doomed to fail for all sorts of reasons, first of all because Taki Theodoracopulos is funding it: he's an "aristocrat," but Pat "venerates the working class." How strange that liberalism has come so far from its popular roots that concern for the fate of ordinary people is now considered some sort of Marxist plot. Foer dutifully echoes David Brooks' boast that "we're all neocons now" – it's funny how these neos, left and right, all stick together -- and claims the conservative movement has already been turned into a subsidiary of the Committee to Free Jonathan Pollard. The anti-globalist Right has been "extinguished," he avers:

"At first glance, September 11 seemed to add fuel to Buchanan's critique. What better evidence for Fortress America than the spectacle of visa-finagling foreigners blowing up lower Manhattan? Buchanan wrote a quickie book, The Death of the West, about the swarthy menace; and across Europe his brand of nativism began harvesting votes in record number. But over time it has become clear that on this side of the Atlantic, 9/11 hasn't boosted the isolationist right; it has extinguished it. Instead of America Firstism, September 11 has produced a war on terrorism that has virtually ended conservative qualms about expending blood and treasure abroad. And as a corollary, it has produced an unprecedented eruption of conservative and evangelical support for Israel. The conservative establishment has co-opted post-9/11 fears of Muslim immigration, and Bush has covered his protectionist flank on trade. In short, Buchanan and his rich friends couldn't have chosen a worse time to start a journal of the isolationist right."

To begin with, Foer hasn't got his "swarthy menaces" straight. Hispanic rather than Muslim immigration seems to me to be the main danger to the national character singled out in The Death of the West. While George W. Bush was campaigning in Spanish, the anti-immigration Right seethed: these, after all, are the folks who believe our de facto policy of an open border on the Rio Grande represents a direct threat to US sovereignty over the American Southwest.

As for the alleged "end" of "conservative qualms about expending blood and treasure abroad," I wouldn't be so sure about that. At a time when the economy is tanking and some say we are this close to a stock market meltdown, how many conservative Republican members of Congress want to go to their constituents with the message that Saddam Hussein is the worst of their problems? If I were Foer, before I got too puffed up and complacent about the "final" victory of neocon-ism on the Right, I would take a look at the historical record. Foer's "end of isolationism" meme, along with "the end of ideology," the "end of history," and all the other false finales proclaimed by neocons past, present, and future, exemplifies what George Orwell – discussing the invariable wrongness of proto-neocon James Burnham's predictions – diagnosed as one of the principal intellectual afflictions of the modern age:

"Power worship blurs political judgement because it leads, almost unavoidably, to the belief that present trends will continue. Whoever is winning at the moment will always seem to be invincible. If the Japanese have conquered south Asia, then they will keep south Asia forever, if the Germans have captured Tobruk, they will infallibly capture Cairo; if the Russians are in Berlin, it will not be long before they are in London; and so on."

The power that is being worshipped today is, of course, American power, not German or Japanese, but what Orwell called "this habit of mind" is fully operative all the same. Indeed, with the US in the position of a world hegemon, or "hyperpower," as the French put it, this mental framework dominates the punditocracy, both left and right, so thoroughly that they think nothing of calling for the invasion and longterm occupation of Iraq – and, perhaps, much more of the Middle East, to be accompanied by a massive "democratization" campaign. Never mind the cost. Oh, the invasion of Iraq will be a cakewalk, we are assured, which brings us to another aspect of Power Worship Syndrome (PWS):

"That leads also to the belief that things will happen more quickly, completely, and catastrophically than they ever do in practice. The rise and fall of empires, the disappearance of cultures and religions, are expected to happen with earthquake suddenness, and processes which have barely started are talked about as though they were already at an end."

The headline of Foer's piece proclaims: "Buchanan's Surefire Flop" – alerting us to yet another outbreak of PWS, a mental disability that is surely reaching epidemic proportions.

At a time of perpetual war, when conservatives and liberals seem to be glomming together in an obscene mosh-pit embrace, the triumph of the neos, left and right, means that all parties are the War Party, united on a program of Big Government at home and interventionism abroad. All together now: everybody shout "Amen!" Short of abolishing the Constitution, and instituting an authoritarian regime, it's the penultimate method of suppressing dissent. But not so fast….

"Complaining about 'empire,'" as Foer characterizes Antiwar.com's editorial position, is not limited to the left, just as a concern for individual liberty is not the exclusive prerogative of the Right. The question is whether the American people are prepared to pay the costs of Empire – not only in troops and treasure, but in terms of our character as a people. Will we survive its corrupting influence on our politics and our culture? As Walter Russell Mead points out in Special Providence: American Foreign Policy and How it Changed the World – quite possibly the best book ever on the subject – this essentially Jeffersonian suspicion of foreign entanglements suffuses American political culture. To limit that sentiment to the "left" or the "right" – terms almost meaningless in the present context – is arbitrary and, with the passage of time, will be shown to be false – especially if the Republicans fail to hold on to the White House. Speaking of which….


You know how I hate to toot my own horn (yeah, right!), but Raimondamus has been proved correct again! Bob Novak reports that the Bullsh*t Express may be on the road again, with John McCain rumored to be giving up his Senate seat and possibly launching a third-party campaign for the White House. I predicted it as long ago as June 4, 2001, and as recently as May 1.


Welcome Michael Ewens, our new intern! Mike is currently a senior at Washington University in St. Louis. Apart from his full-time student status, he is actively involved in the campus libertarian newspaper, College Libertarians and inner city tutoring programs. Economics and mathematics occupy his academic time, while his intellectual curiosity is further satisfied with political theory and foreign affairs. Among his various other duties, Mike will be helping me with the editorial side of Antiwar.com's operations, as well as heading up our new Campus Activism Project. We're lining up colleges for a speaking tour for yours truly in the fall, and so if you're interested in having me come to your campus you can email Mike at: mjewens@artsci.wustl.edu.

And, who knows, maybe Bill Bennett and David Horowitz will accept our standing challenges to debate them anytime, anyplace.

Oh, and check this out: Mike will be writing a column, posted five days a week – whew! – summarizing the day’s news. We call it "From the Front," and it’s good stuff….

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Justin Raimondo is the editorial director of Antiwar.com. He is also the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement (with an Introduction by Patrick J. Buchanan), (1993), and Into the Bosnian Quagmire: The Case Against US Intervention in the Balkans (1996). He is an Adjunct Scholar with the Ludwig von Mises Institute, in Auburn, Alabama, a Senior Fellow at the Center for Libertarian Studies, and writes frequently for Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is the author of An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard.