Now that the dust has finally settled after the horrific Boston bombings last week and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is finally in custody, the debate has shifted over to due process and Miranda rights for terrorism suspects. While this is an undoubtedly important topic, the fact that the Bill of Rights is even being debated is only part of larger issues on how the government responded after the bombing, the increasing militarization of law enforcement, and American complacency in the face of a growing police state.
For those of us ceasesly advocating for a free society and limits to government power, the sight of an entire city placed under martial law was incredibly disturbing and a scene — like Waco and Ruby Ridge before — that will be hard to forget. Businesses and schools were closed while public transit was padlocked. Paramilitary police patrolled residential neighborhoods in tanks, each of them armed with those "assault weapons" people keep complaining about. Military-style helicopters equipped with thermal imaging devices flew the skies. In full battle gear, they ordered people out of their homes, snipers perched and aimed from rooftops and their homes were searched.
No warrants. No constitutional authority. With little warning, the city was turned into a Constitution-free ghost town.
This unprecedented show of force from the state sent chills up my spine upon seeing the photos and scenes from the occupation. But besides the usual, consistent defenders of civil liberties, Americans seemed to either not care or openly cheered it on. Many have suggested throwing a parade for the paramilitary army that invaded Boston, while parents high-fived the robocops as they searched their homes. It seems as though whatever threat there is to "security," Americans have few reservations accepting security theater, even if it imposes martial law and essentially suspends constitutional liberties.
This is nothing new in America, of course; wars and "crises" always bring out the fear-mongering, restrictions on liberty and the growth of state power. Nearly every single abuse, violation, and usurpation of power in American history can be traced back to an administration using a "national emergency" to justify the suspension of civil liberties.
But these abuses could not go on for long if the people protested. Instead, the horizontal pressure is truly where the state is allowed to get away with this, as those of us who dare to defend such "archaic" principles as due process, warrants and the Bill of Rights are smeared, shouted down and even have their loyalties and patriotism questioned. During the Nuremberg trials, Nazi Field Marshal Hermann Goering famously stated that "...All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in every country."
But it is the exact opposite of this concept is what makes America, a supposed constitutional republic, unique. It is precisely during wars, disasters, crises, attacks and emergencies that civil liberties and constitutional law are supposed to matter the most. Security states are for kings and Caesars, not free societies.
One of the most telling signs of the Boston lockdown was how much it showed how vulnerable we really are. The federal government has claimed the power to torture, launch preemptive war, indefinitely detain suspects, essentially spy on everyone, spent trillions on erecting a national-security state, and two guys with a pressure-cooker and a few guns (not even automatics, either) brought an entire city to its knees and unleashed a military-style occupation that would look familiar to those living in Fallujah or Okinawa. What if these guys actually knew what they were doing? What if there were ten of them instead of just two? Or plots in multiple plots simultaneously? I tremble at what would be unleashed.
Thankfully, the true heroism of private individuals shined under the darkness of martial law. Finally, after the siege was lifted and the marching troops began to disperse, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was found by an average Joe doing the exact opposite of what he was previously under coercive order not to do. Just like with Flight 93, the shoe bomber and the underwear bomber, it was private individuals who played the key role in neutralizing a suspected terrorist.
This strikes at the heart of why civil liberties are so important, especially during those times when there is fear and panic. Civil liberties are so valuable because they exist to restrain the state and its core nature — a monopoly on crime control — always has the potential to turn into a police state. Fundamentally, the average and concerned citizen is a more effective agent for public safety, justice, and order than beefed-up government employees armed with the most advance military weaponry on the planet and very little regard for the Constitution they are supposed to uphold.
One of the biggest concerns over government abuse is the precedents they set, and with what happened in New England last week, federal, state, and local governments learned that there is very little they can't get away with.
Although the term is misused to the point of almost no definition, terrorism is essentially the use of violence to achieve political ends. Osama bin Laden, the kingpin of terror, wanted us to overreact, panic, bankrupt ourselves in bloody wars, and for Americans to feel the same iron-fist of a police state that had been imposed on Middle Eastern countries by the U.S. The Boston bombers had similar political goals.
Are we really willing to let terrorists win by saying and doing nothing when a city is put under martial law and politicians openly call for suspending the Constitution? Terrorists will never dismantle our society. Only our acquiescence and subservience to gross violations of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights will.