During the 1967 Six Day War, a series of strict emergency laws were enacted across the Arab World, most notably in Egypt and Syria. Police powers became absolute while constitutional rights were suspended; any non-governmental political activity such as street demonstrations, rallies, protests, and organization of dissident political groups was quickly crushed by the iron fist of dictators. The laws were called temporary defensive measures, emergency acts that would be lifted once the nation was safe again.
The laws were simply left in place. The rulers of Egypt and Syria, content with their power, decided to concede nothing to their citizens. Tens of thousands of people found themselves imprisoned for extended periods of time, simply for demanding the principles of democracy already encoded in their constitutions or being critical of the government. The emergency laws provided these autocratic regimes with the authority to force their will onto to their people without opposition.
Under a president deemed worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize, the will of the authoritarian tyrant caste is being written permanently into American law.
H.R. 347/S1794, otherwise known as the “Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011,” passed unanimously in the House and receiving only three negative votes in the Senate, makes it a felony—a crime defined by the federal government as punishable by death or imprisonment in excess of one year—to “enter or remain in” an area designated as “restricted.” The law makes no exception for demonstrators who unknowingly gather outside of federally-designated free-speech zones; you may not have willfully or knowingly done anything other than exercise your free speech and free assembly rights, but if you “in fact” “[impede] or [disrupt] the orderly conduct of Government business or official functions,” you’re going to prison. And since Obama’s ink dried on the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 and America was declared a battleground, you could be held indefinitely.
These laws would have made Martin Luther King, Jr., and other Civil Rights luminaries felons subject to indefinite detention.
When, and if, demonstrators get released from incarceration, they will continue to suffer the long-term legal consequences termed by prisoner-rights advocates as “civil death.” Felons are barred from multitude vocations, associating with certain people or even living in particular areas, ineligible to serve on a jury or receive government assistance, and even denied the right to elect their own public servants. As of 2008, over 5.3 million people in the United States are currently left without the right to vote because of felony disenfranchisement. A sure-fire way of controlling political opposition is to deny it the ability to participate in political life.
Restricted areas spoken of in HR347, interpreted under existing law and court precedents, include any “building or grounds where the President or other person protected by the Secret Service is or will be temporarily visiting” and “a building or grounds so restricted in conjunction with an event designated as a special event of national significance.” This definition, kept intentionally broad and vague, allows anti-protest measures to be applied at the whim of the political elite. Already in Chicago, Democratic Mayor Rahm Emanuel presides over crippling restrictions on public activity brought as a result of the upcoming NATO conference—and the simultaneous anti-globalization protests—on May 20-21st, 2012.
While the laws were called a temporary response to the G8 summit taking place in Chicago alongside the NATO conference, the Obama White House made a last minute decision to move G8 to the presidential compound at Camp David, a restricted military installation. The laws in Chicago will remain. Draconian laws enacted in the name of national defense in the Other Civil War are nothing new.
On September 14, 2001, President George W. Bush declared a national emergency due to the terrorist attacks of three days earlier. The National Emergencies Act of 1976 requires the President to renew this state of emergency on an annual basis if he wishes it to remain in effect; Bush renewed it every year he was in office and Obama has continued the trend.
The United States has been in a declared state of national emergency for the last 11 years.
According to Harold Relyea, a specialist working for the American government in the Congressional Research Service, the president “may seize property, organize and control the means of production, seize commodities, assign military forces abroad, institute martial law, seize and control all transportation and communication, regulate the operation of private enterprise, restrict travel, and, in a variety of ways, control the lives of United States citizens.”
Combined with Patriot Act measures enacted by Congress under George W. Bush and extended by Obama, these laws provide a framework of surveillance and control only dreamed of in some Orwellian nightmare.
The nature of neoliberal globalization virtually ensures that fascist cartels will force their monopolies onto unwilling nations or unknowing populations; plurilateral agreements like the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, or ACTA, are created in secret by leaders of a select handful of the wealthiest countries and designed with the intention of forcing them upon developing nations. ACTA includes provisions that profoundly restrict fundamental rights and freedoms, most notably the freedom of expression and communication privacy. It also severely restricts generic drug creation and use in underdeveloped countries. They are nonnegotiable.
Kader Arif, the European parliament’s rapporteur for ACTA, resigned from his position in January 2012 denouncing the treaty “in the strongest possible manner” for having “no inclusion of civil society organizations, a lack of transparency from the start of the negotiations, repeated postponing of the signature of the text without an explanation being ever given, [and] exclusion of the EU Parliament’s demands that were expressed on several occasions in [the] assembly,” concluding with his intent to “send a strong signal and alert the public opinion about this unacceptable situation” and refusal to “take part in this masquerade.”
As with other undemocratic measures being passed around the world, HR 347/S1794 is a ruthless and reactionary law designed to eliminate political and economic dissent.
The First Amendment to the United States Constitution states:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
It is little wonder that HR 347/S1794 has been called by Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI), one of only three members of Congress to vote against the bill, the “First Amendment Rights Eradication Act.” While the NDAA seeks to remove your 4th, 5th and 6th Amendment rights, this newest attack on self-determination is aimed at the heart of 1st Amendment rights including Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Assembly, and Freedom to Petition.
The Supreme Court ruled in Boos v. Barry, 485 U.S. 312, 318 (1988), that protesting outside an embassy was worthy of Constitutional protection, recognizing that freedom of speech, even if it may interfere with normal governmental activity “reflects a ‘profound national commitment’ to the principle” and “‘debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open.’”
While the right to free speech, assembly, and the petition of grievances is enshrined in the US Constitution, the right of government to conduct its business without dissent is not.
In 1783, twenty-four year old William Pitt, then the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, was petitioned to change the law based on the “necessity” to save the East India Company from bankruptcy. His reply was brief.
“Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.”
The arguments of a tyrannical Congress would have you believe that HR 347/S1794 is a necessity, that demonstrations against the actions of government and business cause it undue hardship. While the government’s ability to permissibly restrict expressive conduct is limited by reasonable time, place, and manner regulations, the restrictions must, by law, be narrowly tailored to prevent unconstitutional adversity.
HR 347/S1794 flagrantly violates the First Amendment, since it is a broad and sweeping restriction based particularly on political speech in a public forum and not narrowly tailored to serve a compelling state interest.
Of course, the crypto-fascists in Congress will argue that protecting themselves from the sight of the “unwashed masses” is a compelling state interest. They wouldn’t be incorrect. The nature of power is self-preserving; by surrounding themselves with a no-free-speech zone, the State can continue its self-congratulatory paternalism, content in the false knowledge that they’re “looking out for the little guy.”
The unconstitutional socio-political deprivation embedded in these authoritarian anti-Occupy laws would arguably be unfeasible without an almost complete blackout by mass media.
Media and communication play a central, perhaps even a defining, role in the ability of police-state measures to pass. Where is the outrage over the state of emergency laws that have gripped this country for almost a dozen years? How can unelected bankers wrest power from leaders in Greece, the birthplace of democracy, while the rest of the world fumbles with “austerity measures” to save their own necks? Consolidation of the global commercial media system can be easily linked to deregulation in the name of neoliberal “progress.”That deregulation—and the resulting monopoly that keeps alternate news sources like Democracy Now! and Al Jazeera English off the air—has allowed only capitalist rhetoric to flourish.
The business interests that control the mainstream media are the same that control the United States government. They will allow no dissent as they continue their war on liberty.
American anarchist Noam Chomsky, long known for his critiques of U.S. policy, has often written about the “manufacture of consent,” something propaganda maven (and Freud nephew) Edward Bernays happily called the art of manipulating people. In his criticism of the global commercial media system, Chomsky posits that mass media, as a profit-driven institution, tends to serve and further the agendas and interests of dominant, elite groups over the social well-being of entire societies. His writing firmly rejects the kinds of censorship that HR 347/S1794 proposes.
“If you believe in freedom of speech, you believe in freedom of speech for views you don’t like. Goebbels was in favor of freedom of speech for views he liked. So was Stalin. If you’re in favor of freedom of speech, that means you’re in favor of freedom of speech precisely for views you despise.”
What does this mean for us? Simply put, this is not a battle of the Left versus the moderate Right. This is a direct attack on the United States Constitution, a charter written expressly to limit the government’s power over its citizens.
This is a war of the authoritarian oligarchy upon the principles of democracy.