The New Akarmism

Gordon Mohr gojomo@usa.net
Thu, 20 Dec 2001 16:59:04 -0800


I don't see anyone's natural or constitutional rights being 
violated in any of these anecdotes -- except, perhaps, in
the booksellers case, but even that is more subtle than 
this polemic lets on. 

Notably, none of these practices are new. Unpopular viewpoints
always attract attention, scorn, and sometimes even employment
repercussions in the private sphere. Unless the power of
government is enlisted to punish expression, people should
just toughen up. 

Specifically:

Matthew Rothschild wrote in The Progressive
> All in all, they were there for about an hour. "As they were leaving,
> they asked me where I went to school, and if my parents knew if I worked
> at a place like this, and who funded us, and how many people came in to
> see the exhibit," she says. "I was definitely pale. It was scary because
> I was alone, and they were really big guys."

She's afraid of burly FBI guys. So what? It's their job to look 
into things, and they sounded perfectly cordial and professional
in their visit. 

It's clear the FBI and Secret Service investigate anything 
remotely connecting the president with fantasies of violence,
retibution, or destruction. They have to, and almost always,
nothing comes of it. 

Or maybe, perhaps, it has a real protective effect, because
anyone seriously considering such acts quickly realizes, as
soon as they leak any trial balloons, that they won't get
away with them.

What would the reaction of the world be if someone who had
previously associated a president with violent images in
public then went on to a real attack, without so much as
a threat evaluation from the president's protectors?

And further: 

In 1997, a Stanford campus paper op-ed columnist was let
go after refusing to remove a Chelsea Clinton reference from
a piece. Same year, a Berkeley DailyCal columnist got a
Secret Service search of his apartment after mentioning
Chelsea in an over-the-top Cal-Stanford rivlary column.

Was that part of the "New McCarthyism"? Or the "Old McCarthyism"?
Or the "Not New But Not Old Either McCarthyism"?

Alarmism on these sorts of routine visits is silly.

> The director of the Art Car Museum is James Harithas, who served as the
> director of the Corcoran Art Museum in Washington, D.C., in the late
> 1960s. "It's unbelievable," he says of the visit from the G-men. "People
> should be worried that their freedoms are being taken away right and
> left."

Which freedom of Ms. Huanca's was taken away?

And who'd like to bet that local media coverage of the visit
drove interest in the exhibition through the roof, 
guaranteeing the material was seen by more people?

> Ultimately, Brown agreed to open her door so that the agents could see
> the poster on the wall of her apartment, though she did not let them
> enter. "They just kept looking at the wall," which contained political
> posters from the Bush counter-inaugural, a "Free Mumia" poster, a
> picture of Jesse Jackson, and a Pink Floyd poster with the quotation:
> "Mother, should I trust the government?"

OK, the agents followed the law while following up on a tip 
that would have been irresponsible to ignore. 

> Brown says she's "really annoyed" about the Secret Service
> visit. "Obviously, I'm on some list somewhere."

So the right she's had abridged is "the right not to be 
'really annoyed' by a cordial and professional visit"?

> Attorney General John Ashcroft is rounding up or interrogating thousands
> of immigrants in what will go down in history as the Ashcroft Raids. The
> FBI and Secret Service are harassing artists and activists. Publishers
> are firing anti-war columnists and cartoonists. University presidents
> are scolding dissident faculty members. And rightwing citizen's groups
> are demanding conformity.

A visit is not "harassment".

Publishers have always had the right to adjust their publications'
editorial stances. It's part of *their* first-amendment rights.

Scolding faculty members and mobilizing as part of "rightwing 
citizen's groups" are, similarly, vigorous exercise of free 
speech rights.

People complaining about this sort of "chill" aren't angry
about any real suppression, just the fact that the preponderance
of speech doesn't agree with them. 

> In this article, I focus on the threats to free speech, which go well
> beyond the much-publicized attack on Bill Maher of Politically
> Incorrect. 

Ari Fleischer's statement about Maher was not an "attack". I saw it 
live and it was offered, from one person (who has to watch what he 
says very carefully to avoid offending people) to another. Anyone who 
chose to interpret it as a sinister threat rather than professional
advicee was reading too much into it. 

I'm sure that afterwards, given the distraction the statement
caused, Fleisher wishes that he himself had "watched what he said" 
a little more closely. But that doesn't mean his rights were
under fire. Urging prudence is not the same as threatening
retribution.

> "There was generally a hostile work environment for my peaceful activism
> at the Institute," she says. After her colleagues jumped all over her on
> September 11, Wien objected. "I went to the management and said a
> pacifist position here is being punished, and they said, 'It's time for
> you to go, Barbara. You don't fit into the culture,' " she
> recalls. "Then they basically hounded me for about two weeks for my
> letter of resignation, so I finally caved under duress."

>From Barbara Wien's own account, she seems oblivious to the idea 
that there are certain times when people don't want to engage in 
blame games -- like in the hours after national tragedies. Would 
she scold a wife at her husband's funeral for feeding him a high
cholesterol diet? She seems rather confrontational for a "conflict
resolution trainer". 

Shouldn't she know how to avoid pushing people's buttons?

There is also a persistent strain of thinking that ignores all
particulars and blames America first. Think that all you want, 
but an overwhelming majority of Americans don't want their 
government subsidizing that view in official capacities. So 
even if Ms. Wien's account of the reason for her resignation
is true -- which I doubt -- it could be seen as a triumph of 
democratic accountability.

> "Dear Bookseller," it begins. "Last week, President Bush signed into law
> an antiterrorism bill that gives the federal government expanded
> authority to search your business records, including the titles of the
> books purchased by your customers. . . . There is no opportunity for you
> or your lawyer to object in court. You cannot object publicly,
> either. The new law includes a gag order that prevents you from
> disclosing 'to any person' the fact that you have received an order to
> produce documents."

This is a bit disconcerting, but what the article leaves out is that
such investigations are not at the whim of police, but still require
a court subpoena, like any other search without consent. The chief 
change is that there may not be an effective opportunity to contest 
the subpoena before complying. 

I'd like to see the courts review this; it could be struck down. 

In the meantime, a simple defense is to not keep (or allow to be 
kept on you) records of individual purchases. What's that? The 
booksellers want that info for marketing, but not for legitimate 
court-sanctioned criminal investigations? Well, boo-hoo then. 

> Katie Sierra is a fifteen-year-old sophomore at Sissonville High School
> in West Virginia. On October 22, she notified her principal, Forrest
> Mann, that she wanted to form an anarchist club. He denied her
> request. It was the only club he has ever disallowed, according to the
> lawsuit Sierra and her mother filed against the school.
> 
> Sierra had already made up fliers for the club, which she wasn't able to
> distribute. The fliers said: "Anarchist club. Anarchism preaches to love
> all humans, not just of one country. Start a newspaper, a food-not-bombs
> group, a book discussion group. Speak your point of view, and hear
> others. Please join."
> 
> The next day, Sierra came to school with a T-shirt on that said,
> "Racism, Sexism, Homophobia, I'm So Proud of People in the Land of the
> So-Called Free." The principal suspended her for three days.

As someone with a soft spot in my heart for anarchists -- though
from more of a propertarian perspective -- I sympathize with Katie.
But this is standard practice in command-and-control schools,
and has been forever. There's nothing post-Sept-11 about the
treatment she's received. 

It's great that her mother supports her. Too bad Mom's only way
to get some value from the thousands she's paid in school taxes
is to send her child to a state school, with its bureaucracy
and institutional worship of conformity.

> We've been here before. From the Alien and Sedition Acts to Lincoln's
> suspension of habeas corpus and his imprisonment of anti-war editors,
> from the suppression of speech during World War I and the Palmer Raids
> to the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II and the
> repression of the McCarthy days, the government has seized upon times of
> peril to scapegoat immigrants and to suppress liberties.
> 
> "We're talking about exactly the same phenomenon," says the ACLU's
> Strossen.

Maybe with the "Patriot Act" and other pending practices. But not
with the anecdotes in this article. 

To equate these inconveniences with the real historical repression listed 
above is to forget what real repression is.

- Gordon