Homeland Security or Tyranny at home?
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No sooner had the FBI been relieved of 26-year-old restrictions on its powers of domestic surveillance and President Bush had announced his plans for the mammoth "Department of Homeland Security," our very own domestic version of a potential Gestapo, than New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof unbosomed himself of what the real targets of the emerging federal police state should be.

There's just been too much obsession, Mr. Kristof tells us, with "swarthy, glowering Muslims mumbling fanatically about Allah"; the real terrorist danger in the United States is far more banal— the "home-grown nuts" of the right-wing militias. Mr. Kristof details one particular case of just such a "nut," a gentleman named David Burgert, who with a vast terrorist network consisting of all of nine guys, was planning "a violent revolution and civil war to overthrow the entire United States government," a "terror plan that made Osama bin Laden's look rinky-dink," as Mr. Kristof assures us.

Leaving aside the question of how real the alleged plot of Mr. Burgert was, the point is, as Mr. Kristof himself notes, that he and his merry band of "true American patriots" and "white Christians," as Mr. Kristof describes them, were rounded up by the local sheriff. The awesome plot that would make Sept. 11 look like a July 4th firecracker party never made it out of Flathead County, Montana, where it was born. The larger point is that, even granting there is a real terrorist danger from crackpots of the far right, there is no reason to believe it can't be adequately investigated, detected and prevented by either existing law enforcement, state, local or federal, under their current powers.

Yet it is Mr. Kristof's insistence that the federal government cease being "distracted by our own stereotypes, searching for Muslim terrorists in the Philippine jungle and the Detroit suburbs" and recall that "there are blond, blue-eyed mad bombers as well." Really? I haven't seen many in the news of late, but I'll take his word for it. What I won't take his word for is that "militia members and Al Qaeda members are remarkably similar." That sentiment ought to tip us off to the real dangers of the FBI's new surveillance powers and the new Cabinet-level department the president proposes.

Ever since Sept. 11 the subtext of a good deal of the commentary has been that while Muslim extremists are dangerous and unhealthy, we shouldn't forget that the real enemy is right here in River City—"racism," "hate crimes," "intolerance," "xenophobia," "stereotyping," "gun violence" and all the other isms, manias, and phobias that go to make up the endless catalogue of "Hate." Muslim extremists, in so far as they are a real problem at all, are mainly just an extension of "Hate" as practiced by white people, usually out in the boonies like Montana, and all of them "Christians" of one kind or another and "blond and blue-eyed" to boot.

Mass immigration and the multiracialism, multiculturalism and egalitarianism that go with it are off the table for discussion; all of a sudden they've become part of the untouchable essence of the American identity. Hence, any and all efforts to fight terrorism must avoid any serious reduction in the number of immigrants or any questioning of the value of immigration and the ideologies that justify it. Racial profiling, obviously necessary to any effective strategy against Muslim and Arabic terrorism, remains verboten. And, instead of radically revising our immigration policies (not to mention our foreign policy in the Middle East), the burden of the war on terror falls on Americans themselves. Immigration and multiracialism are essential and untouchable; it's the Constitution that's expendable.

In itself the Department of Homeland Security is probably harmless. Essentially it merely reshuffles existing agencies and bureaucracies and (at least not yet) creates no new ones. Nor does it have any intelligence collection powers (again, not yet), or appear to extend the reach of government power to any new depth.  But the danger of the department is not what the president and his aides are proposing now but rather in what it could—and, given current preconceptions of where the real internal security dangers lie as outlined above, what it will—eventually become.

That is why calling the department a potential "American Gestapo" is not as off-the-wall as it may sound. Not only natural bureaucratic growth but the politically and ideologically driven crusade against dissidence on the political right, masked as a war on "Hate," will bloat the new department far beyond what its original architects may have intended. Instead of applauding the birth of this new federal leviathan, those Americans who remain committed to constitutional liberty should greet it with a cold eye.


June 13, 2002

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