-Ted Kaczynski, The Unabomber Manifesto, 1995
April 19, 2013, is a date to remember, not so much for the killing and capture of two "terrorists," but as a milestone in the rise of the 21st century American surveillance police state.
A well-oiled fusion of federal, state and local police authorities went through hundreds of hours of surveillance video and employed all sorts of secret technological and human assets to quickly identify the perpetrators of the crime that captivated the nation's imagination. Then, thanks to a carjack victim who apparently escaped, the nation witnessed a daylong, blow-by-blow media account of one of the most oppressive manhunts in history. A major northeastern metropolitan area was completely shut down in what amounted to a state of martial law.
Two scenes from 4/19 in Watertown, Massachusetts
After Tamerlan Tsarnaev had been killed and his brother Dzhokhar captured, instead of a "perp walk," TV watchers were given a triumphalist parade of all the gathered police and FBI vehicles with lights still flashing. The vehicles passed one-by-one through a gauntlet of relieved Watertown residents who began to spontaneously applaud, cheer, grin, pump their fists in the air and even thrust delighted, giggling babies into the air.
Sitting at home bouncing around between MSNBC, CNN and Fox News, by that point I would not have been surprised to see local suburban police units touring my neighborhood in a sympathetic triumphalist procession with the lights on their squad cars and SUVs blazing and my neighbors cheering.
Soon the internet conspiracy theorists went into rabid mode certain the federal government had done the bombing, while their counterparts, nationalist war-lovers, began to work feverishly to link the bombers to some large and menacing Muslim threat.
Just another day in America, circa 2013.
I'm certainly glad the two bombers are dead or in custody. But the fusion of forces that accomplished that feat scares the hell out of me for two reasons: One, 4/19 feels like a point-of-no-return in the steady growth of a contagious variety of 21st century surveillance police state, and two, the fact I'm politically critical of this growing monster puts me on a potentially very slippery slope toward being declared by some officious operative in some secret cell an enemy of this police state. All it might take is becoming a bit more effective as a political organizer.
Watching a You Tube of geared-up SWAT cops hollering rudely at Watertown residents to keep their hands on their heads as they are ordered to leave their home gave me the creeps. I could feel my anger rising as I watched it. I realize I may march to a different drummer and I know it's asking a lot, but I feel SWAT cops jacked up on adrenaline, dressed like rhinoceroses and waving automatic weapons should be especially humble and polite. For the sake of solidarity with the citizens they claim so vociferously to be protecting, it would be nice if they could shoulder the risk necessary for treating citizens a bit more dignity. OK, they're scared; but so is everybody else.
The danger is that this kind of us-versus-them relationship between cops and citizens is beyond repair. So much of 4/19 was akin to the fantasy crap we're spoon-fed day-in-day-out on TV and in movies as entertainment that you had to wonder whether the SWAT cops weren't playing out some inner movie plot. Like, what Hollywood stud is gonna play me on the big screen?
I realize cheerleaders for this surveillance police state may call me paranoid and say it's trite of me to quote Thomas Pynchon that "even paranoids have enemies." I feel like someone at a wild party who refuses to go along and ingest the intoxicant of the moment. "Hey, try some. It's cool." Or maybe I'm like the guy in Ionesco's absurdist play Rhinoceroses who's always looking out the window as all his neighbors turn into rampaging rhinos. In an obit for Anna Merz, a woman who loved rhinoceroses and build a huge reserve for them in Africa, the writer said she felt rhinos were maligned; due to poor eyesight they "charge first and ask questions later."
Meanwhile, as everything stopped to watch our fusion police state shut down Boston on April 19th over the tragic deaths of three at a public event, 50 people were killed in Iraq by bombings; 15 were killed in an explosion at a fertilizer plant in Texas because its executives had ignored regulators; 86 Americans were killed on US highways; in inner city Chicago and Philadelphia absurd, self-destructive violence was still the norm; our various justice systems continued to reek of unfairness and our prisons remained overcrowded with unnecessary POWs in a failed drug war; unemployment and underemployment continued to plague the most powerful economy in the world; our infrastructure was still crumbling; and last but certainly not least, our infant mortality statistics and educational output still compared unfavorably with most of the developed world.
People Who See Killing as a Change Agent
There's one aspect of this murder-tragedy that's tricky to discuss, since it makes me vulnerable to demagogic abuse. This matter first occurred to me back in the days of Theodore Kaczynski, better known as The Unabomber. Like young Dzhokhar, he was also an American citizen. He killed three people and injured 23. He was not a Muslim. As we know, Kaczynski did his killing over time with mail bombs while he lived in a plywood shack deep in the Montana woods.
When I read some of Kaczynski's long-winded manifesto run in The New York Times, what was disturbing was that I agreed with some of what he was saying. In his hermetic madness, the man with an IQ of 170 saw himself (he liked to use the royal "we") as some kind of modern John Brown committed to kicking off "a revolution against the industrial system." Here's how he opened his manifesto: