The last two weeks have marked a turning point in the erosion of democratic rights in the United States.
On Friday, Sept. 24 the FBI, at the behest of the Obama administration, raided the homes of eight antiwar activists in Chicago and Minneapolis, seizing computers, cell phones, cameras, books, papers, and other personal material. Through a spokesman, the agency claimed the raids were against people “providing, attempting and conspiring to provide material support” to terrorist organizations.
The legal basis for the raids was provided over the summer by the U.S. Supreme Court case of The Humanitarian Law Project v. Holder in which the definition of “material support” for terrorism was held to include such things as advising terrorists on adopting nonviolent electoral methods, as well as how to obtain humanitarian relief aid.
It should be pointed out that under this logic, those in the U.S. campaigning against apartheid in the 1980s would have been subject to arrest and prosecution for providing material support to Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress, which the Reagan administration had designated as terrorists.
In addition to intimidating the burgeoning opposition to the U.S. government’s aggressive colonial-style wars, the raids were meant to serve as a trial run for these newly won police powers and to gage reaction to their implementation.
With respect to the latter, they were highly successful. Outside Chicago and Minneapolis, the actions were hardly reported with a complete blackout in the televised media. “The New York Times” buried the story on its inside pages and raised no cry against the blatant violation of democratic rights involved. The liberal “Nation” magazine has yet to write a single word.
The raids came on the heels of an internal review by Justice Department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine published earlier that week which detailed the extent of spying conducted by the FBI following the September 11 attacks. According to the report, the FBI improperly opened terrorism investigations of social justice groups including Greenpeace, PETA Catholic Worker and the pacifist Thomas Merton Center.
Following the raids, the Obama administration announced last week its support for new legislation, which would require internet messaging services such as Skype, Facebook and Blackberry to open their systems to FBI surveillance. The move is in line with recent steps taken by some of the world’s most dictatorial governments from China to the Middle East and would be a significant step towards making all Internet-based communication subject eavesdropping and collection by the federal government.
While the framework for a police state in the U.S. was erected by the Bush administration, it is being expanded to an unprecedented degree by the Democratic-controlled White House and Congress. Coupled with the silence of the liberal media, it shows that there is no longer any constituency among the U.S. ruling class for the defense of democratic rights in America. If democratic rights are to be defended, it is the task of the working class.
The move towards more dictatorial forms of rule is the inevitable outcome of the crisis American Capitalism finds itself in. On the one hand, the U.S. is forced to offset its long-term decline with a criminal foreign policy – including colonial-style wars, rendition, torture, and assassinations – that is increasingly opposed at home and abroad.
On the other hand, democracy must necessarily erode as social inequality rises. According to the Associated Press, this year’s census data showed that the “[income] gap between rich and poor has grown to its widest ever.” Moreover, the U.S. was shown to have the greatest social inequality among the advanced Capitalist countries.
The American ruling class has understood from the start that it is not foreign terrorists who threaten its position, but the American working class – the most revolutionary force in society. In the final analysis, the move towards dictatorship is aimed not at the threat of terrorism but at suppressing the working class as it moves to the left and is forced into struggle to protect and advance its independent class interests.