To quote from a news article on the subject (credited below):

"If the nation escalates to 'red alert,' which is the highest in the color-coded readiness against terror, you will be assumed by authorities to be the enemy if you so much as venture outside your home, the state's (New Jersey) anti-terror czar says.

... A red alert would also tear away virtually all personal freedoms to move about and associate.

'Red means all non-critical functions cease,' Caspersen said. 'Non-critical would be almost all businesses, except health-related.'

... 'The state will restrict transportation and access to critical locations,' says the state's new brochure on dealing with terrorism.

'You must adhere to the restrictions announced by authorities and prepare to evacuate, if instructed. Stay alert for emergency messages.'

Caspersen went further than the brochure. 'The government agencies would run at a very low threshold,' he said.

'The state police and the emergency management people would take control over the highways.

'You literally are staying home, is what happens, unless you are required to be out. No different than if you had a state of emergency with a snowstorm.'"


Now, first let me note that this isn't the ranting of some Matt Drudge clone who believes the Illuminati run the world or something. This is an interview with a state official, published in a newspaper owned by Gannet Publishing, one of the largest mass media companies in the nation. If you believe the mass media is covering things up, this would certainly be one of those things.

That said, I have to disagree rather strongly with Mr. Caspersen; there is considerable difference between this and a snowstorm. The government can't fake a snowstorm, or say one exists when it doesn't. (Well, they can, but not many people are going to take them seriously.) Neither can a snowstorm be a perpetual threat. Nor is there any reason I can think of why the response to a snowstorm would be to "tear away most personal freedoms". For that matter, a snowstorm is a regional occurrence; if a state of emergency is declared for one in New York, it makes no sense for it to affect Arizona.

What we are talking about is a suspension of the Constitution, of our elected legislatures, of all of our democratic institutions, for an unspecified amount of time due to an unspecified threat. What we are talking about is martial law, plain and simple.

I am not a paranoid person by nature. I am not given to indulging in conspiracy theories. Yet I cannot help but think that this entire situation for the past year and a half, the whole war on terrorism, is nothing but a front for what's going on here at home; or at least that they both originate in the same plans. I've seen people reference documents from the Project for a New American Century (, a conservative 'educational' organization that Dick Cheney and (I believe) some other members of Bush's staff are members of, in order to somehow 'prove' that Bush and/or his administration was responsible for the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. I don't really believe that myself, but frankly, it doesn't matter either way in the long run. What matters is that it was the impetus for everything that has occurred since then: The creation of the Department of Homeland Security, the Patriot Acts, the military tribunals, the arrests of various people without warrant or reasonable suspicion, all the way down to the quashing of dissent as "Unamerican". This is merely the latest extension of these things.

Surely I am not the only one who sees the potential for abuse of this "red alert" procedure. Surely my countrymen are not so blind as to think it can never be used except in the case of a true emergency, or that (in the event of such an emergency) the government will necessarily let go of its new-found priveleges after the threat has passed. This has nothing to do with whether or not you support the war against Iraq, or the war on terrorism in general. This is about the abrogation of the very rights and freedoms and democratic institutions that those troops are supposed to be out protecting. My fellow Americans, are you truly prepared to defend that?

Reply to DejaMorgana:
  1. A terrorist attack is not the same thing as an invasion. Terrorist organizations rarely act similarly to state militaries.
  2. You are correct, that is what red alert means. Which is quite beside the point.
  3. There is no Constitutional "freedom of movement", although one might argue that the 1st and 9th Amendments implicitly guarantee such a right. In any case, though I wasn't directly attacking the policy as used in proper circumstances, consider this: If red alert status is declared, anyone not in their homes is considered a terrorist. How much time do they give you to get home before they start shooting? What about homeless people? Shelters can't hold everybody, and in many places there are no shelters. What about people who simply did not hear about the alert status for one reason or another?
  4. That said, your fire engine analogy is flawed. Even if I don't know about the fire, or even whether or not there is one, many other people *will* know about it. By contrast, the government is the only entity that can tell us if there is or is not a terrorist threat. Moreover, even if there is no fire, at most I am being inconvenienced for a few seconds; as opposed to having all my rights stripped away for an unspecified amount of time. For that matter, it's the same with your water analogy; at worst, I'm being inconvenienced.
  5. Yes, most systems are open to abuse. Some, however, are easier to abuse than others. Hell, just the existence of a military means the possibility of martial law being declared, but something like the DHS' Red Alert gives it a justification. One, I might add, that is impossible to verify.
  6. Actually, the 'nice men in the government', as you call them, cannot do any such thing. Not legally, in any case. There are two reasons, one obvious and one technical: The obvious reason, of course, is that they have no legal right to subvert the Constitution (the only exception is that Congress or a sufficient number of state legislatures can annul the Constitution, but only if they intend to draft a new one). The technical reason deals with political legitimacy. There are three kinds of legitimacy to rule that a government can have: patrimonial, charismatic, or constitutional (a.k.a. legal-rational. The U.S. government's legitimacy is constitutional. That means that by subverting the Constitution, the government subverts its own legitimacy. In other words, in doing so, that government no longer has legitimacy to rule.

This really annoys me. What exactly do you think a red alert means, anyway? If the government declares a red alert, a terrorist attack is underway, or will be in about five minutes. That's what "severe risk" means. The government will be deploying emergency personnel, including armed forces, throughout the area at risk. That could mean anything from ambulances and Sheriff's cars to tanks and F-16s. Maybe you think it would be a good idea to be out on the street, shopping for imported coffee or working on your tan, while these guys are looking for terrorists. I don't.

When a fire engine rips down your street, sirens blaring and lights flashing, do you get out of its way and hope it gets to the fire in time to put it out, or do you insist on your legal right to move about and associate? You don't really know that the fire engine is on its way to a real fire, do you? Maybe the guys got bored and decided to shake up the locals for a change. Maybe the Fire Department felt they needed to justify their budget. You don't actually see any fire, do you? I've never seen a fire on my street, and I've got four fire stations in a five-block radius of my house. But they can't deny my right to cross the street just because they say there's a fire somewhere. No, sir. I know my rights.

And when the state declares a hose ban, telling you there just isn't enough water in the aquifers, do you try to conserve water and hope your garden will survive, or do you crank it up and swear about the lousy crooked politicians trying to cheat you out of your right to a well-kept lawn? You have only their word about the aquifer, and who can say how honest they are? You've never seen the aquifer. I've never seen the aquifer. I bet that aquifer is full of water, nice wet water that the politicians are saving for their own gardens. What the hell is an aquifer, anyway? I bet they made that shit up.

Let's get back on track. Is the system open to abuse? Sure it is. Every system can be abused. The American people can be misled. We know that, we've seen cover-ups, covert ops, scandals and conspiracies throughout American history. This is no different. Sure, the Department of Homeland Security has more power than it should. But what are you suggesting, that the Red Alert should be compliance-optional? That in the event of a "severe threat of a terrorist attack" or during an actual attack, we should be out on the street with our Walkmen and our celphones, checking out babes down at the dog run, while buildings down the street crumble, and buses explode, and every soldier and Guardsman from here to Kentucky starts looking for suspicious characters? You might think that's one of your "rights and freedoms and democratic institutions". I think I'm staying inside.

I feel for you. It's rough, suddenly discovering that you live in a world where not everybody likes your country. It's distressing to discover that your Constitutional rights are not the absolute most important thing in the world, that even the nice men in your own government say you can kiss your rights goodbye because all they want is the bottom line, and the bottom line is saving lives, not rights. It's harsh. But you know what? The world is like that.

Please note, it's not that I think the government is a bunch of saints. I think the best of them are crooks and the worst of them are absolutely evil men. I think we're about to embark on one of the most unjustified wars ever, and I think that individual freedoms in America are going down the toilet, and have been for quite a while now. I think we're all in very deep trouble. But, as you said yourself, that has nothing to do with the Homeland Security advisory system. This is a matter of survival procedure.

Red Alert is really martial law? Well, yes, as a matter of fact it is. Red Alert means you're under attack. It almost sounds like you don't believe that. Maybe the whole "terrorism" thing is a scam, some kind of trick to give Bush the extra power he wants. Maybe there aren't any terrorists. And maybe there is no fire.

I'll say it again. Yes yes YES the system is open to abuse, and YES the decline of civil rights, privacy and liberties in America is a terrible, terrible thing. althorrat has completely valid points on those issues, and I am not trying to deny them.

And yes, if the government decides to put the nation on red alert for an extended period, democracy will suffer. I admit that such a situation might arise. But that's not what the red alert is supposed to be, and I believe that if they did try such a thing they would find very quickly that people will not stand for it. Even if all "non-essential personnel" were willing to stay indoors for three or four days, a week or a month or a year, the entire country would fall apart if they tried it. The red alert status is simply impossible to maintain for more than a few hours, and if Bush was stupid enough to give it a go, he would soon be left without a country to run. I seriously doubt that he is that stupid.

What I'm trying to address here is the fact that, when used properly, a red alert is simply the official notification of a crisis situation, a state that perhaps most Americans are not used to. I understand that this is a hard thing to bear for the first time, and comes as a shock. But it is something that people are going to have to adjust to. Terrorism is real, regardless of your political opinions. Whether you support Bush's crusade against it or not, you need to be ready to deal with the reality of things exploding and people dying. This is a reality that America managed to ignore for most of the Twentieth Century, while other nations have had a lot more time to get used to it. Unfortunately, it is no longer possible to pretend that "it can't happen here." It has happened here, and it will happen again. And when it does, it's best if we all know and follow the proper procedures.

Regarding your idea that "the government is the only entity that can tell us if there is or is not a terrorist threat" - BULLSHIT. I can tell you myself, having personally witnessed quite a few terrorist attacks. There is a threat. You may think the term "threat level" is some smoke-and-mirrors military jargon, but the only real variable here is the severity and immediacy of the threat, not whether or not there is one. This is what the Homeland Security Advisory System measures.

And please don't try to patronize me with your opinions on how terrorist attacks are or are not like invasions. I know exactly what terrorist attacks are like. As I said, I've seen more than my share of them.

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