Just because you’re paranoid does not mean someone isn’t following you.
Somewhere in the recesses of Federal memory are a couple of single-spaced, typed in duplicate on purple carbon paper, pages recording an “interview” with a young eighteen year old. The longhaired, fresh-faced youth yet unable to grow a beard was submitted to a day and half of interrogation by an agent of the Military Intelligence Agency and then required to sign the document.
Law enforcement could not be too careful in those days, what with all kinds of subversive activity going on. It was 1972 and the streets were filled with students protesting the war in Viet Nam, (and behind the scenes, as we would come to find out, Richard Nixon and the Republican National Committee were breaking into and bugging Democrat National Headquarters at the Watergate apartments). So the Military Intelligence Agency thought nothing of sending an agent from Louisville, Kentucky one hundred and fifty miles for an overnight interrogation to a small college town in Ohio.
That college kid was me. Apparently I had written something subversive in the exam during my pre-induction physical. I had also applied for, and been denied, Conscientious Objector status.
I have fractured memories of that interview but have run across the transcript a couple of times over the years in the mass of things I should have thrown away by now. What stands out was being asked repeatedly if I believed “in the violent overthrow of the United States Government.”
Honestly, I was fairly naïve in those days and exhibited a level of earnestness I can only shake my head at today. Still, I knew how to answer that question no matter how it was asked and no matter what I really thought at the time.
I mention this small insignificant incident as an example of the needles sought out in any and every haystack by various branches of law enforcement in this country. I was nothing but a bourgeois college student lending my voice to the swell of other voices against the war – poverty, racism, and environmental degradation as well. Whatever it cost to drive a hundred and fifty miles, pay for a hotel and meals, and a man’s time to interview me was an incredible waste not to mention an icon of the dimensions of paranoia at work.
We were paranoid about the government back then but it turns out the government’s paranoia about us was even greater. It is worse today of course, because the 9/11 attack created fear and gave license to a massive “security” apparatus that spies on anyone and everyone.
Here is what we need to fear and actively resist.
Prosecutors and the criminal injustice system have enormous power to go after private citizens. They are able to prosecute people with the thinnest of evidence, which they can if they want, manufacture and plant. Poor people know this, because government authorities have victimized them forever. People of color know this, because they have been subjected to it over and over and over again. I dare say there are Muslim’s here and abroad that know this too, because they have witnessed family members disappear, be imprisoned, and assassinated.
It already happens, that is not paranoia speaking. It happens to White people of privilege much less often of course.
The point is this: the line between freedom and repression is a very thin blue, green, and camouflage one. The character and politics of the people that operate the levers of law enforcement matter more than most of us who lead lives of privilege are aware. People of privilege live with an innocence and denial about how fragile freedom is, and about the ferocious speed and force with which freedom can be stolen.
Southern Poverty Law Center, ACLU, Human Rights Watch, Center for Justice and Democracy, and Amnesty USA need our support now more than ever. Also, please plan to join the Million Woman March on January 21, in Washington DC, to “show our strength, power, and courage.”