With the inauguration of a new government program that encourages American civilians to spy on their employers, co-workers and neighbors, the Bush administration may be pushing the United States over the edge of what can only be described as a new totalitarianism. The almost total silence about the plans in the press and among the usual political critics of the administration only bolsters that impression.
The program, described in the Washington Times this week, is known as TIPS—the Terrorism Information and Prevention System—and it envisions recruiting some 10 million informants to check out "suspicious" activities by those other Americans with whom they are in contact.
As the Times characterizes the plan,
"the Bush administration by next month wants to recruit a million letter carriers, utility workers and others whose jobs allow them access to private homes into a contingent of organized government informants."
Ostensibly aimed at detecting terrorist or terrorist-supportive activities, the plan could eventually encompass just a bit more than that.
As the Times further describes the program, TIPS
"will allow volunteers, whose routines make them well-positioned to recognize suspect activities, to report the same to the Justice Department, which ... will enter the information into a database, which will then be broadly available within the department, and to state and local agencies and local police forces."
Does your telephone repairman notice the religious pictures and icons in your living room and the pro-life materials on your coffee table? You might be one of those nuts who murders abortionists and blows up abortion clinics. Better report to the government. Do you have guns mounted over your mantel or subscribe to gun magazines? Your mailman should let the government know. Are you a World War II buff who has photographs of Erwin Rommel or other German soldiers in your study? Your housemaid should tell the government there may be a neo-Nazi in the neighborhood. Do you keep a Confederate flag or a picture of Robert E. Lee in your home? Your electrician had better pop such information into the national database so the feds and the local Thought Police can check you out the next time a bomb explodes or a hate crime happens.
Talk about the "Red Scare," Hollywood blacklisting, the excesses of J. Edgar Hoover or Richard Nixon, suspensions of civil liberties during World War I and the Civil War, the Alien and Sedition Acts—but you probably have to go back to the Salem Witch Trials of 1692 to find anything quite comparable to what the Bush administration is preparing to set up.
This is not simply the enlargement of government power over private life; this is the extension of government power into private life. There is a major and significant difference, the difference between merely bloated government on the one hand and systemic totalitarianism on the other.
Both the American Civil Liberties Union and the conservative Rutherford Institute have denounced the Bush plan. The ACLU says the TIPS plan is virtually identical to searching citizens' homes without a warrant:
"The administration apparently wants to implement a program that will turn local cable or gas or electrical technicians into government-sanctioned peeping Toms."
John Whitehead of the Rutherford Institute says, even more bluntly,
"This is George Orwell's '1984'. ... It's making Americans into government snoops."
The immediate rationale for TIPS seems to be the presence of so many terrorist sympathizers within the country. But why is that the case?
It's because the government has refused to control mass immigration for decades and now confronts a massive portion of the national population that is disaffected and potentially violent and hates our guts. The TIPS scheme of course does nothing to address the immigration problem. Mass immigration is now an integral part of our political system; it's the Constitution that has to be compromised.
Both the spokesmen for the ACLU and the Rutherford Institute point out that the new spy program will do nothing to stop terrorism. But it will do everything not only to stifle political dissent and differentiation in American political life but also to smother any intellectual tendencies, even private ones, that deviate from the narrow band of permissible thought and speech scripted by television and Hollywood.
Who would dare harbor or express such thoughts if his own household becomes a pipeline to the police?
The United States does indeed face a serious terrorist threat that has already taken thousands of lives, and it makes sense that, as in any war, some freedom might have to be curbed to fight and prevent future attacks.
But the road down which the Bush administration is now lurching goes far beyond what is necessary and will haunt law-abiding Americans long after the present terrorist threat has vanished.
COPYRIGHT CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.
July 18, 2002