"We have been silent witnesses of evil deeds: we have been drenched by many storms; we have learnt the arts of equivocation and pretence; experience has made us suspicious of others and kept us from being truthful and open; intolerable conflicts have worn us down and even made us cynical. Are we still of any use? What we shall need is not geniuses, or cynics, or misanthropes, or clever tacticians, but plain, honest, straightforward men. Will our inward power of resistance be strong enough, and our honesty with ourselves remoreseless enough, for us to find our way back to simplicity and straightforwardness?" -- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 1943
wake of recent revelations about the National Security Agency's (NSA) program
of mass surveillance directed at all American citizens, Edward Snowden, the
alleged leaker of the documents proving the government's misdeeds, is being
hailed as a hero by some, a traitor and criminal by others, while some simply
don't know what to think.
what I think: Snowden and the countless others like him who are daring to stand
up to the government machine are acting as the moral conscience for a nation
that has lost its way.
current governmental climate, where laws that run counter to the dictates of
the Constitution are made in secret, passed without debate, and upheld by secret
courts that operate behind closed doors, obeying one's conscience can well render
you a criminal. Or as George Orwell put it, "In a time of universal deceit, telling
the truth is a revolutionary act."
discuss in my new book, A Government of
Wolves: The Emerging American Police State (available now on Amazon.com), some
of history's most pivotal events came about because someone or some group chose
to speak out against wrongdoing at great personal cost, even if it meant
"breaking" the law. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a young German theologian with a
brilliant future before him and a refuge in the United States, opted instead to
take part in a plot to overthrow Hitler and his despotic regime, believing that
"Silence in the face of evil is itself evil. God will not hold us guiltless.
Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act." For his "crime" against the
Fuhrer, Bonhoeffer was put to death at Flossenburg Concentration Camp.
of "lawbreakers" who follow their conscience in order to stand against tyranny
abound in our own history, starting with the colonists who rose up in
opposition to the British crown criminals. The engineers of the Underground
Railroad and the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement were also considered
criminals of their day. Remember, Martin Luther King Jr. was arrested upwards
of twenty times, most often for violating Jim Crow laws which mandated racial
segregation in public facilities.
violating the laws of their time, these individuals chose to speak and act against
injustice, whether in the form of tyranny, slavery, or segregation. Instead of
keeping their heads down and going with the flow, they raised their voices and sacrificed
their security, comfort, and even their lives.
brings me back to Edward Snowden, who not only has provided a window into the
inner workings of American government but is holding up a mirror to American
society and reflecting back our inaction, our acceptance of corruption in high
places, and our indifference about the steady erosions of our freedoms.
Snowden's revelations about the NSA were dismaying, they were not surprising.
Indeed, what I have found more disconcerting is the Left-Right response to
Snowden's revelations, namely, the willingness by those on both sides to join
forces in maintaining the governmental status quo, at all costs.
about showing one's true colors. When politicians with such disparate views as
Senators Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Lindsey Graham (R-NC) both give a
full-throated defense of the Obama administration's undeniably egregious and
invasive surveillance activities, it's obvious that we are no longer dealing
with questions of freedom, or surveillance, or terrorism, but rather the
defense of government power at all costs.
this collusion reveals is that we currently live under a regime which has fully
embraced the Nixonian mantra of "If the president does it, it's not illegal."
The system of checks and balances which is supposed to protect Americans from
government overreach like the NSA spying program is obviously not working .
President Obama, the former constitutional law professor, understands this,
albeit in a perverse, backwards sort of way. In a recent speech in San Jose,
Obama declared: "If people can't trust not only the executive branch but also
don't trust Congress, and don't trust federal judges, to make sure that we're
abiding by the Constitution with due process and rule of law, then we're going
to have some problems here." However, when all branches of government are
condoning clearly unconstitutional activities by the government against the
citizenry, that's a problem.
there is no room for trust in the
relationship between the government and its citizens. Remember it was James
Madison who warned that "All men having power ought to be distrusted to a
certain degree." Thomas Jefferson's solution was simple: "bind them down from
mischief with the chains of the Constitution."
the claim that the government is protecting us from further acts of terrorism by
systematically violating our civil liberties, Conor Friedersdorf of The Atlantic effectively exorcised that
particular demon when he pointed out that the likelihood of dying in a
terrorist attack is astronomically low, lower than the chances of dying in a car
wreck or being hit by lightning.
the question we should be asking is not whether Edward Snowden is a criminal
but why the rest of us aren't criminals as well? What are you doing to push
back against the excesses of government, to reclaim our freedoms, and to live
up to the ideals embodied in the Declaration of Independence and the US
Constitution? What are you doing to stop the emerging American police state?