Living the dystopian dream

Like many libertarians, I’m a huge fan of science fiction.  In particular, I love reading about dystopian futures.  I don’t know why, I just always have.

I’magine a story where the President of the United States can not be criticized to his face.  You are no longer allowed to voice your opinions within earshot of the president because the Secret Service can designate any area as being off limits for your First Amendment rights.  Let’s say the main character of the story does it anyways, in an act of civil disobedience, along with many of his friends.  They tell the sitting president that if he doesn’t start doing right, they will spend every waking minute to get him booted out of office.

The group is arrested for a felony because they violated the Secret Service’s orders, but because they used “intimidation” in the process, they’re called terrorists and packed off without due process and held indefinitely.

At the turn of the century, this would have sounded so far fetched that no one would have believed the story, and it would have failed. Good stories have to be believable after all, so a story on this kind of premise would be called “unsellable”.

Today, we call it “current events”.

For better or worse, we are now living in that dystopian future.  Now, I’ll be the first to admit that no one I know of has ever been detained as a terrorist because they threatened to work against someone’s reelection bid, but that’s not because there’s no means possible.  The PATRIOT Act defines domestic terrorist in several ways, but one is any person who uses “intimidation” to try to affect change in the nation’s policies.  It’s not a huge leap to imagine folks on either side calling a group trying to affect change’s efforts “intimidation”.  For example, Tea Party members were supposedly trying to intimidate students at a South Carolina college two years ago.  The “intimidation”?  Wanting the law to be followed (though there are reports that these allegations were purely fictional).  It’s not a stretch to see this behavior applied in other manners.

Thanks to the NDAA, American citizens can be packed off without due process, held indefinitely, and pretty much denied anything approaching human rights that we insist even child molesters get otherwise so long as they’re called “terrorists” first.  No formal charges, no trial, nothing.  How is this even remotely acceptable in this nation?

The latest insult is the Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011.  Here’s Judge Andrew Napolitano’s take on it:

Remember the old one-liner from Philosophy 101: If a tree falls in a forest and no one is there, does it make any noise? Here’s the contemporary version of that: If you can criticize the government, but it refuses to hear you, does your exercise of the freedom of speech have any value?

When the Framers of the Constitution wrote the First Amendment, they lived in a society in which anyone could walk up to George Washington or John Adams or Thomas Jefferson on a public street and say directly to them whatever one wished. They never dreamed of a regal-like force of armed agents keeping public officials away from the public, as we have today. And they never imagined that it could be a felony for anyone to congregate in public within earshot or eyesight of certain government officials. And yet, today in America, it is.

Last week, President Obama signed into law the Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011. This law permits Secret Service agents to designate any place they wish as a place where free speech, association and petition of the government are prohibited. And it permits the Secret Service to make these determinations based on the content of speech.

Thus, federal agents whose work is to protect public officials and their friends may prohibit the speech and the gatherings of folks who disagree with those officials or permit the speech and the gatherings of those who would praise them, even though the First Amendment condemns content-based speech discrimination by the government.

The new law also provides that anyone who gathers in a “restricted” area may be prosecuted. And because the statute does not require the government to prove intent, a person accidentally in a restricted area can be charged and prosecuted, as well.

We now live in a nation where we can be arrested for speaking our mind.  Truth to power can now be made illegal, where as it has generally been associated as a moral virtue.  Our nation was founded on basic principles, and the Bill of Rights was passed to enshrine those principles and make them untouchable by those in power.

Those days are over it seems.  There is a dystopian future, and it’s here.

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