It is 2084, 20 years after the second al-Qaeda attack on the United States, which killed over 100 times as many as the first. The nuclearized areas in the eastern and central U.S. that were struck have shown some signs of recovery – the administration of President Jeremy Lin has hopefully referred to these as "green shoots" – but many scientists outside the government are less optimistic. They say these areas will be uninhabitable for at least three generations, perhaps more.
In the chaos that followed 11/11, then-president Carolyn Anders’ declaration of martial law – prefigured by the USA PATRIOT Act and subsequent legislation overwhelmingly passed by Congress – was largely ignored, as the federal government nearly ceased functioning and local authorities took operational control of police, military, and emergency functions. Her former position as postmaster general did not inspire confidence, to say the least, but President Anders rose to the task, dispatching federal troops to California after that state refused to comply with the requirements of the Second PATRIOT Act, which "temporarily" suspended the Bill of Rights until such time as the "national emergency" passed.
Declaring the "secessionists" to be "terrorists," a designation that included then-governor Alfredo Alvarez and the leadership of his California Party, then-president Anders issued a top-secret presidential "finding" that has just been released under the Revived Freedom of Information Act, and as part of the discovery process in a lawsuit launched by the governor’s wife and continued by his family over the years. As it wound its way through the courts, and finally to the U.S. Supreme Court, the suit revealed – slowly and painstakingly, like pulling teeth – how the government amassed "evidence" identifying Alvarez and his cohorts as terrorists in league with a "foreign power," and how the government, including the CIA and the the Department of Homeland Security, targeted and conducted surveillance of those deemed "enemies of the state."
The historic Supreme Court decision, which absolved Alvarez of the charge of high treason, is considered a setback for the Neo-Federalists and President Lin, who claim the national emergency still exists, and they therefore have the obligation, and not just the right, to ignore it. The suit sought exoneration for Alvarez and demanded compensation to his descendants, but the court’s decision went much further. It retroactively censures former president Anders, the iconic "female Lincoln," as one Neo-Federalist hagiographer characterized her, for having "usurped the Constitution" and set up "a lawless regime" – setting the stage for a series of legal challenges to the domestic surveillance program in operation since 11/11.
Reaction to the Court’s decision was muted. A great many people have simply disappeared, over the years, and no one dares ask where – above a whisper, that is. Because you never know who is listening. No one wants to draw too much attention to themselves, aside, that is, from a few marginal dissidents who haven’t already fled to Canada. For years, rumors of secret detention camps have run rife and a number of photos purporting to prove their existence have surfaced, but none has so far been verified. The passage of "anti-rumor" legislation has done much to stifle research in this area. A recent series on the camps was interrupted, mid-publication, by a visit from Homeland Security, which closed down the Web site of the Ron Paul Memorial Foundation, on which several leaked government documents identified the sites and some formerly prominent individuals housed therein. The reports, dismissed as "urban myths" by government officials, have persisted for years – in spite of the Anti-Rumor Security and Terrorist Abatement Act, which makes it a federal crime (punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a 100,000 amero fine) to perpetrate "rumors and other unverified or harmful information" demonstrably "inimical to public order."
One such account, published in Canada and distributed underground in the U.S., The Diary of Ann Smythe, has become a modern classic, albeit an outlawed one. It tells the story of one Ann Smythe, whose father, once the attorney general of the state of California, suddenly and inexplicably disappeared one day while returning from a fishing expedition in the northern part of the state. Ann decides to find her father, or, at least, to discover what happened to him by befriending and eventually seducing a high Homeland Security official, whom she agrees to marry in return for access to secret government files. She tracks her father down to an isolated stretch of desert tucked in between the Rocky Mountains, where he and a number of other high-level "enemies of the state" are detained. How she gets there and what she finds constitute much of the narrative, but since the story is so well-known, I won’t go into those details here. What’s interesting about the Smythe volume is its insight into the legal basis for her father’s incarceration.
Smythe, you see, was a lawyer, and a very good one, like her father. Indeed, her mother, too, was a lawyer, until she was disbarred after failing to pass a Homeland Security background check. Having grown up in a family of lawyers and carried on the tradition herself, Ann took a keen interest in the court proceedings that preceded her father’s imprisonment, and her waspish humor regarding the arguments made by government lawyers is one of the highlights of her Diary. "The Governor," averred federal prosecutors, "in the act of naming his party after a particular state had already declared his treasonous intent, and the federal government had no obligation to wait until he put his subversive design into practice. As a leading member of that party, and in his capacity as attorney general, Dennison Smythe was a key figure in an organized insurrection against the authority of the federal government." As nuclear fallout continued to rain down on the eastern and central U.S., these words echoed with some resonance in the chambers of the secret Homeland Security Court hastily convened after the siege of Sacramento: the armed guards, toting submachine guns, standing outside the door doubtless added weight to this prosecutorial rhetoric, but Ann was not impressed. "By this ‘legal’ standard," she remarked, "Governor Alvarez’s proclamation declaring April 11th ‘California Avocado Day’ made him guilty of sedition."
Ann’s bitter analysis of how we came to live in such a country is rooted in her understanding of the legal precedents set by the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations, with the former pioneering the subversion of the original Constitution in a series of actions precipitated by the so-called Scary Memos, still classified, which authorized unprecedented domestic surveillance of ordinary citizens who had not committed any crime. If the full scope of these activities – revealed, in part, during the Obama administration – had ever come to light, Ann argues, the resulting political firestorm might have nipped the creeping authoritarianism of the post-9/11 years in the bud.
Yet then-president Obama and his Justice Department defended, and even expanded, the secretive methods of their immediate predecessors, and, more importantly, continued to shield dubious intelligence-gathering programs from public view. So when 11/11 occurred and seven U.S. cities went up in a puff of smoke, the legal and political precedent had already been set, and it took little effort on the part of the White House’s Office of Legal Counsel to come up with a credible-enough-sounding legal rationale for what was, essentially, a presidential dictatorship.
The database of over 6 million files on American citizens deemed "a threat or potential threat" to "public order" was humming less than an hour after the first nuclear "accident" went off at the old Indian Point nuclear power plant in New York. Even as the national and international media were reporting a massive nuclear accident, which was likened to "Chernobyl times ten," Homeland Security officials were already compiling lists of individuals to be "temporarily detained" under direct orders from then-president Anders. This came out at the Alvarez trial, as the earliest known such list surfaced because it had the governor near the top.
As President Lin continues to ignore the Court’s decision and adamantly refuses to apologize to the Alvarez family, the regionalist tensions that seemed to have quieted down in recent years have once again flared up, on occasion violently. The recent riots in Sonoma county, where the so-called "Guerneville secessionists" held a joint convention with the recently outlawed Cascadian League, are just the tip of the iceberg. When several local political figures of some prominence, including the local head of President Lin’s own Democratic-Republican Party, showed up at that "subversive" conclave and found themselves under assault from the local "vigilance committee" set up by the Department of Homeland Security, it radicalized large segments of the local population and gave impetus to the more radical secessionists who have so far managed to stay one step ahead of the Feds.
The reemergence of this movement, ironically, gives the present administration the tools to re-energize its "anti-terrorist" campaign and crack down on pockets of "subversion," not only in California but also in Texas, New Hampshire, Washington state, and throughout the South, where secessionist activity has a history.
Ann Smythe was an acute observer of the political scene, as well as an avid
scholar of constitutional law, and her account of how dictatorship came to
America is worth quoting, because it shows when and why the seeds were planted
that eventually sprouted into a tyranny whose tendrils have invaded the life
of every American:
"So why did we allow it? How did we let them get away with it? We had a Constitution, once, and yet it blew away like so much nuclearized dust in the wake of 11/11. That doesn’t explain anything, however, because, after all, we didn’t have to go along with it. There might have been leaders of foresight and courage who could have stood up to the encroachments of government spies and secret lists – and there were such leaders, fewer than we might have expected, but some. They were struck down, one by one, in well-coordinated smear campaigns sparked by anonymous revelations and ‘leaks’ of information gleaned by the government’s extensive surveillance.
"Anyone could have seen this coming. A report [.pdf] issued by the Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Justice on July 10, 2009, documented the existence of intelligence-gathering and ‘other intelligence activities’ that went far beyond the law, and it soberly averred that ‘the collection activities pursued under the’ Bush administration’s ‘presidential surveillance program’ and ‘under FISA, following the PSP’s transition to that authority, were unprecedented collection activities. We believe the retention and use by [intelligence-gathering] organizations of information collected under the PSP and FISA should be carefully monitored.’
"As indeed it was – by successive presidents and their loyal henchmen, who kept careful track of each and every bit of dirt on their political enemies, which just so happened to have been picked up in ‘random’ sweeps conducted by the National Security Agency and other departments.
"One by one, the would-be and potential leaders of the opposition were destroyed, politically and personally, by the leaking of embarrassing details, improprieties both personal and financial. The government-subsidized-and-sympathetic media, which thrived on scandal in any event, was more than glad to trumpet their humiliation far and wide, relentlessly and gleefully reporting the ‘news’ with a knowing smirk.
"At last, there were none left to stand against them – for who among us is without some secret ‘vice,’ some private pleasure that stands condemned by a significant segment of the American public? An affair, an embarrassing phone conversation, ‘exotic’ online surfing patterns, a photo capturing a moment one would wish to remain private – these were the weapons that struck down anyone who might have had the independence of mind and the gravitas to rally others around them to defy the usurpers when they finally stormed the last bastions of the old constitutional order."
Not that they were giants in those days, by any means. The inspector general’s report cited by Ann also informs us that "during the many PSP briefings to members of Congress, no one ever suggested that the NSA should stop the program."
Now that the Neo-Federalist faction of the Democratic-Republicans has succeeded in foisting the scheme of holding a constitutional convention on the party, and that party seems headed for reelection this November – the tactic of knocking all "third parties" off the ballot on technical grounds having proved quite effective – the coup first launched by the Bush administration in the winter of 2001 has culminated, all these years later, in the final death agony of the American republic. Whether a swift end would be merciful or not, I cannot decide.