The founding fathers were the original terrorists.
Before you read anything I have to say, I think you should go read this. In the article, Glenn Greenwald illustrates how the judicial bullying and eventual suicide of Aaron Swartz, Internet genius and activist, is symptomatic of a much larger problem in our society about might (or in this case money) making right. The article seems longer than it is because of all the comments, many of which are not the insipid drivel that comments on the Internet so often are. It’s worth reading the whole way down.
The money paragraph is something my friend Russ originally posted on Facebook and I copied and is making the rounds:
“The US has become a society in which political and financial elites systematically evade accountability for their bad acts, no matter how destructive. Those who torture, illegally eavesdrop, commit systemic financial fraud, even launder money for designated terrorists and drug dealers are all protected from criminal liability, while those who are powerless – or especially, as in Swartz’s case, those who challenge power – are mercilessly punished for trivial transgressions. All one has to do to see that this is true is to contrast the incredible leniency given by Ortiz’s office to large companies and executives accused of serious crimes with the indescribably excessive pursuit of Swartz.”
Swartz was an activist unafraid of committing civil disobedience against bad laws. His activism against SOPA was powerful, moving, and influential. But he was not always able, in life, to convince a public with scattered attentions that the causes he fought for were just and worthy of lawbreaking. And as they have on Bradley Manning and other voices in the wilderness calling for transparency and accountability, the US government landed on him. As hard as they could. And it ended his ability to resist.
This country was founded by people who resisted their government. Ardently, violently (unfortunately – which is why they were terrorists), and without fear of failure or a Plan B to account for it. They had, by comparison to residents of the modern United States, absolutely nothing to complain about. They felt squeezed by tiny little taxes currently dwarfed by the burdens levied in any state in the nation which they founded. They were concerned that the government didn’t listen to them because it was far away, not particularly financially, but physically. They demanded a certain amount of accountability and ownership of their lives in a situation that looks something like anarchy compared to the surveillance, regulation, scrutiny, and stricture of the modern American landscape.
And they put in a provision to make sure that the outgrowth of their successful terrorist campaign would never get to the point that it has in 2013. It was called the Second Amendment and it was the most important thing the colonists could think of to protect when they got past the reasons most of them lived in the colonies instead of jolly old England in the first place (the ability to practice religion, speech, the press, and assembly). It was the right to say no. It was the right to resist. It manifested in the most powerful weapon the terrorists could think of, the same weapon that had just felled the mightiest Empire on the face of the Earth across all of history: the militia.
The reasoning was clear. If the people can rise up and create a terrorist militia that says no to whatever law is passed, then laws will truly rely on the consent of the governed. This system of voting and choosing representatives and convening from time to time is all well and good, but the only real defense of consent is the ability to have an alternative to consenting. To be able to pick up weaponry that can contend with that assembled by the government and have it out with them, to break away, to be free. And they even recognized that what that actual weaponry would look like that would be necessary and sufficient would change over time. Surely the militia would take the same form, for what fighting force could be more effective at felling great powers than terrorists? But in general, the most general word possible would have to suffice. “Arms.” This would cover all possible weaponry, muskets to cannons to whatever insanely powerful firepower would doubtless be invented in the future, and grant individuals the right to keep them as a defense against the state.
That this statute, second alteration to the country’s sacred text, is being used to justify the possession of semi-automatic assault rifles by hunters is laughable in two regards. For one, there is no world in which such weaponry could be used to defend against the full force and power of the United States government. For another, the purported purpose entirely misses the point of why arms are a protected class of possessions. You don’t have a right to guns as an American because you like shooting for sport or it happens to be your hobby. You have a right to a nuclear weapon, an aircraft carrier loaded with bombers, and anything else utilized by the American military, as a defense against pretty much exactly what the US government looks like today.
The first significant test of this amendment and its ability to protect the consent of the governed was the Civil War. And while I am in no way defending what the South was fighting for, any more than I would defend anyone fighting ever with violence for anything, it should be noted that this critical moment in American history was a resounding defeat for the Constitution. By everything that the US had stood for for nearly a century, the right to secede should have been ironclad. The South formed a militia to defend their perspective against that of their would-be oppressor. They dissented to a series of laws. They had a right to do this under the textual understanding of the Constitution and its amendments, as well as the ideals laid out by those who wrote them. They were governed and no longer consented. They, like any of us at any time, were free to do so.
It didn’t help that Lincoln suspended habeas corpus and took all manner of extra-Constitutional measures to hold an unwilling union together. And implemented conscription for the first time at the national level, a violation of how the terrorists felt those living in their legacy should fight. Indeed, most of the modern methodology of wars and suppression have been inspired and brought about by Lincoln and his methods during the War Between the States.
Like President Obama, I want to be clear. I am not advocating that people take up armed resistance against their government. I’m not saying people were right to fight for the right to own other human beings as their property, or to be racist, or to not pay taxes, or any of it. What I am trying to do is put in perspective what the Second Amendment is actually meant to do and how it got perverted over time. The Second Amendment, like most of the Bill of Rights, is entirely about the consent of the governed and the right to say no. It’s not about a hobby or pastimes any more than you have a right to a battleship to use for whaling excursions. It’s not about the ability to intimidate or execute your neighbors for no political end any more than you have a right to make death threats under free speech. It’s about being able to say no.
Which, incidentally, no one seems to much want to do. And those that do get squashed.
Which is why it shouldn’t be that surprising that the Patriot Act and all of the other post-9/11 activity of the US government has gone in two parallel tracks of increasing the power of the state over its people while trying to suppress any possible ability to resist that people could make in the traditional method of violent terrorism. People have been explicitly barred from harboring or accumulating or putting into their possession any sort of anything that could remotely threaten the supreme force of the government while also being subjected to endless abridgements of their basic liberties. Their ability to say no, act on no, or even think no has been stamped out, ridiculed, wiped away in the name of protecting lives that have never been endangered since the original incident.
Do I think violence is the right way to say no? Of course not. But I also don’t think the government has the right to the monopoly of force and power that it’s accumulated, especially when it is endlessly incentivized to grease the wheels of corruption that ensure it will only be a protection racket for the rich and powerful while masquerading as some sort of egalitarian wonderland. Go back and read the Greenwald article. Count those incarceration figures again. The Civil War was fought, allegedly, to prevent slavery, but there are more people in chains than ever. And if you think a cache of semi-automatic assault rifles is going to be the tipping point between your resistance movement succeeding or failing, go visit Waco and Ruby Ridge. You can’t fight the law when it’s backed by that kind of firepower.
The only resistance we have left to us is words. Swartz knew it. Manning knows it. Even if you wanted to violently resist and believed in that, it would be impossible. Even Kim and Ahmadinejad know that, deep down. The only way to restore the consent of the governed is to say no, to talk about no with others, to post about no on the web. Consent requires an ability to have an alternative to consent, one that is meaningful and powerful and exercises a dominion over one’s own conscience. The Internet, in part because of the ruckus-raising efforts of people like Swartz, is still free and mostly unfettered, today. It’s a truly egalitarian and level society where the tools of the big boys with the big bucks can still be used by anyone freely and openly, where voices are heard based on merit and resonance. The windows on these sorts of things are closing, perhaps rapidly, and it’s kind of a minor miracle that a state this obsessed with magnifying its own power has allowed this to continue.
Part of that is about this illusion of freedom and the bizarre self-image that America must maintain. But most of it is about the fact that most Americans truly want the society they claim to have. They just have to be reminded, constantly and loudly, how far their society actually is from that ideal.
And if people make enough noise at the same time, no matter what kind of people they are or what they want, they can create a type of power. Not one that can avoid being swept away by nuclear bombs or organized trained militaries. But one that can at least be a needling voice of conscience in the back of the heads of those with their fingers on the buttons. One that can create a sort of mental terrorism, nipping and biting at the heels of those firm in their convictions to do wrong, to serve the self, to exercise power for its own sake.
Say no. It’s the only way to make saying yes mean anything at all, which was the whole idea in the first place.