The ‘Liberal’ Police State: It’s Here, It’s Now

Wesley Clark, the retired general who almost started World War III with Russia, has a bright idea: why not set up internment camps for “radicalized” Americans in order to stanch the threat of domestic terrorism?

Yes, he actually said this, and, what’s more, MSNBC anchor Thomas Roberts didn’t even raise a well-manicured eyebrow. The interview took place in the context of MSNBC’s reporting on the Chattanooga shooting, and Roberts asked him what could be done to prevent such incidents. Here is Clark’s answer:

“We have got to identify the people who are most likely to be radicalized. We’ve got to cut this off at the beginning. There are always a certain number of young people who are alienated. They don’t get a job, they lost a girlfriend, their family doesn’t feel happy here and we can watch the signs of that. And there are members of the community who can reach out to those people and bring them back in and encourage them to look at their blessings here.

“But I do think on a national policy level we need to look at what self-radicalization means because we are at war with this group of terrorists. They do have an ideology. In World War II if someone supported Nazi Germany at the expense of the United States, we didn’t say that was freedom of speech, we put him in a camp, they were prisoners of war.

“So, if these people are radicalized and they don’t support the United States and they are disloyal to the United States, as a matter of principle fine. It’s their right and it’s our right and obligation to segregate them from the normal community for the duration of the conflict. And I think we’re going to have to increasingly get tough on this, not only in the United States but our allied nations like Britain, Germany and France are going to have to look at their domestic law procedures.”

Gen. Clark isn’t a fascist, or a Fox News fire-breather: he’s a conventional liberal. He was a critic of the Iraq war, a favorite of the Daily Kos/Netroots Nation-types, and he once ran for President. Thankfully his campaign never did get off the ground.

The award-winning liberal blogger Heather “Digby” Parton is shocked by the General’s remarks: “I’ve always liked Clark,” she writes, scratching her head at how in blazes he could’ve said what he said. And apparently others of that crowd found it hard to believe as well: “People are arguing with me on Twitter that he couldn’t have said this,” Digby writes, “but he did.  If you still don’t believe me go watch the tape yourself.”

Which just goes to show how clueless today’s liberals are about the authoritarian roots of modern liberalism. They don’t know the slightest thing about the history of the New Deal and the war years: they don’t know that the “left” constituted the core of the War Party of that era, and they would rather not remember that it was Franklin Delano Roosevelt – the chief icon of paleo-liberalism – who set up the first and only internment camps in America into which he herded the entire Japanese-American population.

Of particular interest is Clark’s view of “self-radicalization” as a conceptual crime:

They do have an ideology. In World War II if someone supported Nazi Germany at the expense of the United States, we didn’t say that was freedom of speech, we put him in a camp, they were prisoners of war.”

Clark is here mis-stating what the camps were about and who was interned: the Japanese-American population as a whole was deemed a potential fifth column. It wasn’t necessary to express support for the Japanese empire as against the United States: their disloyalty was assumed simply because of their race. (For a visual illustration of how the liberal-left pushed this racist canard, take a gander at the wartime cartoons of Dr. Seuss, a.k.a. Theodor Seuss Geisel, that icon of liberal “tolerance.”)

However, the Roosevelt administration did indeed prosecute American citizens because of their opposition to the war, and in doing so they created a unique legal theory in order to make the charge of “sedition” stick to anti-interventionists. The great “sedition” trial of 1944 saw 32 dissidents of various ideological colorations, including Lawrence Dennis, a former writer for The New Republic, charged with trying to cause insurrection in the armed forces.

This charge was facilitated with the help of Dillard Stokes, a Washington Post reporter, who, at the behest of the authorities, wrote to the defendants posing as an enlistee, asking for antiwar literature. Prosecutors made the case that the 32 defendants were engaged in a conspiracy to disrupt the armed forces by virtue of their ideas, even though many had never even met or communicated. Yet their lack of physical proximity was deemed irrelevant because their literature and speeches supposedly limned propaganda broadcast and published by the Axis powers, and therefore constituted a seditious conspiracy.

In short, the 32 defendants had committed a thought-crime.

This case was vigorously pursued by the Roosevelt administration at FDR’s insistence: indeed, the President started out many a cabinet meeting by looking askance at his Attorney General, Francis Biddle, and demanding to know “When are you going to prosecute the seditionists?” The left-wing press kept the pressure on a reluctant Biddle, and Biddle finally appointed as chief prosecutor O. John Rogge, a Communist Party fellow traveler who had visited the USSR as Stalin’s personal guest and laid a wreath at CP leader John Reed‘s Kremlin grave.

The trial opened with much fanfare just as the war was drawing to a close, but soon bogged down as defense attorneys made a mockery of the government’s “evidence” – which consisted of endless readings of the defendants’ propaganda, punctuated by presentations of Nazi, Fascist, and Japanese official statements, the idea being to illustrate a “seditious “conspiracy of ideas.”

Ominously, the first and second indictments named several antiwar members of Congress, as well as the 800,000-member America First Committee and several other generally conservative organizations as part of the “conspiracy,” but these were abandoned after the first prosecutor – William Power Maloney, an aggressive publicity hound – was dismissed from the case. The third indictment settled on the 32 defendants, consisting mostly of marginal figures, some outright cranks, Dennis, and Washington lobbyist Prescott Dennett, of the Make Europe Pay War Debts Committee

The trial dragged on for three years: it only ended when the judge died of a heart attack – perhaps brought on by the antics of the defense lawyers – and Rogge decided that the government’s “evidence” didn’t amount to a hill of beans. A mistrial was declared and the defendants were finally freed. Smeared and impoverished by the trial, they never received any restitution.

The same “legal” theory was used by the Roosevelt administration to prosecute the leadership of the Socialist Workers Party, the leading Trotskyist party in the US at the time: the SWP leaders were convicted – to the cheers of the “liberals” and the Communists, who at this time were joined together in a “Popular Front” – and sent to jail.

What Gen. Clark is proposing is simply the old “liberal” program in wartime. And it is based on the concept of “thoughtcrime” straight out of George Orwell’s classic novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four. One doesn’t’ have to actually break the law in order to come up against the authorities: one only has to think “hate-thoughts.” That’s the whole rationale behind “hate crime” laws, and it’s easy to translate that precedent into the “terrorism-prevention” measures favored by Clark.

It is a settled dogma of modern liberalism that the government has an interest in promoting – and preventing – the predominance of certain ideas. “Tolerance” is to be commended, commanded, and encouraged, while “hate” is to be condemned, outlawed, and, if possible, prevented from raising its head. One can see how this principle was applied by FDR, Rogge, and the Department of Justice in the wartime America of the 1940s. And it’s fairly easy to see how it is applied today, when yet another disdained minority – with whom, as Clark puts it, “we are at war” – becomes the object of a witch hunt.

Clark’s concept of “rights” is instructive to behold:

“So, if these people are radicalized and they don’t support the United States and they are disloyal to the United States, as a matter of principle fine. It’s their right and it’s our right and obligation to segregate them from the normal community for the duration of the conflict.”

This is typical of the “liberal” concept of “rights”: yes, you can say whatever you want – and we can do whatever we want to you. The Constitution? The Bill of Rights? These are “archaic” documents, the meaning of which “evolves” over time. And, after all, the Founders were privileged white men, several of whom owned slaves – who cares what they thought or wrote?!

According to Gen. Clark, “we’re going to have to increasingly get tough on this” – meaning get tough on thought-crime. And we surely have to the means to do it, what with the universal government surveillance which is being carried out at the moment by what is arguably the most liberal administration since the days of the sainted FDR. With one push of a button a government investigator can gain access to practically everything about you – your politics, your personal and financial history, your innermost thoughts as expressed online – and it’s all “legal.” Add to this the Clarkian program of preventive detention and what you have is a police state – albeit a “liberal” one.

And Clark is a “liberal” – just wait’ll the neocons get their hands on you! Not that there is much difference anymore….

NOTES IN THE MARGIN

You can check out my Twitter feed by going here. But please note that my tweets are sometimes deliberately provocative, often made in jest, and largely consist of me thinking out loud.

I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Foreword by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).

You can buy An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), my biography of the great libertarian thinker, here.

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Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo is editor-at-large at Antiwar.com, and a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He is a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and writes a monthly column for Chronicles. He is the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].