Civil Liberties Gone, Not Threatened


So you’ve heard about the Republican candidate for Senate whose “security detail” detained a reporter trying to ask the candidate some questions, yes? Well, actually, it hasn’t gotten as much coverage as it should, so maybe you haven’t.

Christine O’Donnell won national attention yet again last week when she ridiculed the notion that the Constitution protects the separation of church and state. But she was only raising doubts about the First Amendment; Miller actually defied it.

That happened just over a week ago, when Alaska Dispatch Editor Tony Hopfinger tried to follow Miller to get him to answer questions about his work in Fairbanks. That’s when Miller’s security detail handcuffed the journalist and put him under a “private person’s arrest,” detaining him until police came and freed him.

It’s not clear why Miller thought he needed a paramilitary detail to protect him in the first place. He said the school that held the event required it, but the school said otherwise.

Then came word that two of the security guards were active-duty soldiers, apparently moonlighting at the political event without the knowledge of their commanders.

For context on why that last bit is so disturbing, see Glenn Greenwald’s take on the incident (via Ed Brayton). I’d like to focus on another disturbing thing about the incident: the fact that people are treating this as a novel incident.

This absolutely sent chills down my spine. Private goons with blank looks on their faces, refusing to identify themselves, detaining a reporter who broke no laws – and getting away with it. How quickly our civil liberties could disappear!

To repeat here what I said there: This has nothing to do with how our civil liberties “could” disappear. They have disappeared. We did nothing about the Patriot Act except cheer it on. We did nothing about warrantless everything except reelect Bush. We did nothing about TSA security theater except look suspiciously at our seatmates. We did nothing about “Free Speech Zones” except frown at the people at conventions clambering for their voices to be heard. We did nothing about police abuses of power except suggest that anyone who was abused had something to hide or asked for it.

This is the world we’ve bought ourselves. The fact that most of us have yet to pay for it personally is beside the point.

Can we get the old world back? Yes, we can. The cost will be high, but only because we have to pay for the last decade of that world as well. We’ll need to be those people we’ve refused to empathize with. We’ll need to call down authority’s displeasure on ourselves, and we’ll need to tell it to get stuffed. We’ll need to do it in large numbers and support each other as we go. Only then can we get back what we’ve lost.

Unfortunately, I see signs like this that tell me how much easier it is to get used to our loss than to take the risks and do the work we need to do.

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