The Brown Scare: How the things we fight for are the first that we destroy

Following the attacks that destroyed the twin towers of the World Trade Center and one section of the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, President George W. Bush went on television and announced that these attacks were aimed at the United States because "we're the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world." And while the patriots pulled out their flags - and bought decals for their cars - Congress became busy working on the USA Patriot Act and many of our nation's Brown Peoples got nervous.

It is almost certain that there are still terrorist operatives in this country and that they may in fact be preparing a new round of strikes against what they perceive as the evil of the United States, but it is hard to justify the actions that are being taken in the defense of "our precious freedoms." The removal of the rights of habeas corpus, the loss of due process, the infringement of free speech and the return of "suspicion" as a reason to detain people that has resulted in the disappearance (for, if a person is not arrested - merely taken away and not heard from again- why bother with such a polite word as "detained"?) of hundreds of Arabs in this country is only an echo of a past which America seems unable to deal with openly. In our open and free society it is unimaginable that history has not taught us a lesson, or at least, not taught our leaders that rounding people up in scores can do nothing to stop whatever actions might occur and certainly bring no real solace to the families of victims all ready gone.

And while it was days before the major networks would air any sort of stories on anti-Arab violence (and only then at 3 in the morning here in the east, the first story I saw aired on ABC in the wee hours of September 14 or 15), it would be even longer before stories surrounding the detentions began to surface. The uneasy feeling in Arab communities is one that cannot be easily imagined by most Americans, unless they suffered from the same fears in the past. While most people might have trouble understanding why "innocent people" would need to feel uneasy or how "intelligent people" would lash out against their fellow human beings, the practice has a long and tragic precedent in American history.

A short history of discrimination in America: In war or in peace

Discrimination is defined in the American Heritage Dictionary as "treatment or consideration based on class or category rather than individual merit; partiality or prejudice." In the United States, discrimination is perhaps our most shameful legacy, as there is hardly a single group in our history that has not discriminated or been discriminated against. The history of American Indians and Africans in this country is well-documented and does not need a retelling here, but it is the ethnic, religious, and political discrimination that this country has continually fostered which is of utmost concern in this tense time in world history.

Just seven years after the burgeoning US Government drafted and accepted the Bill of Rights to the US Constitution, President John Adams signed into law the first set of Alien and Sedition Acts. Meant to head off "French revolutionairies" in this country (perhaps our democracy was not egalitarian enough for the French), this law also made it possible for authorities to seize anyone who would dare to criticize the goverment. Such was the fate of Benny Bache, a grandson of Benjamin Franklin, who died awaiting trial for his violation of the Act. His crime: calling Adams "His Royal Rotundity."

It would be just over one hundred years later, as the nation under Woodrow Wilson ended its neutrality in "The War to End All Wars", that a new round of Alien and Sedition Acts would emerge. These new laws were even more draconian than their eighteenth century forebears. They led to the infamous Palmer Raids, in which thousands of immigrants (and several citizens) were rounded up in 33 US cities. The crimes of these people were related to their "membership" in the Communist Party of the USA, or simply the fact that they came from newly Bolshevik Russia. And some were arrested during the raids merely for questioning the agents about their activities.

Despite the laws all ready in place to deport undesirables (read: anarchists), the Federal Goverment took great pains to arouse fear and hatred of "non-American" peoples. J. Edgar Hoover, in his role as leader of the GID (which would become part of the FBI), managed to collate a list of 60,000 "radicals" in just a few months. Germans changed their names (which was enough, as their skin color alone could not give them away) while patriotic Americans changed sauerkraut to liberty cabbage.

Three months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, America again lashed out at her enemies, this time purging the West Coast of its Japanese-American population. Here again, citizenship made no difference and often neither did heritage. Some people rounded up and sent to "camps" were not Japanese, not that it mattered to the government or the population. They were a threat to national security, and threats to national security are taken as a free license to undermine civil liberties. In addition to the 100,000 Japanese interned, some 11,000 Germans and 3,000 Italians were detained. Following World War II, the era of Joseph McCarthy began and a new Red Scare gripped the nation. A Communist agent was in every town, every school, every church and McCarthy might have gotten the carte blanche he desperately wanted, had he not crossed the path of too many of the wrong people by falsely accusing them of "Communistic leanings." His House Un-American Activities Committee meetings are legendary for their longetivity and their banality in the sad history of American Discrimination.

A new century: A new people to fear

While it took a 1941 America three months to decide to get rid of worrisome yellow peoples in the West, 21st Century America took only 35 days to begin rounding up "suspected terrorists." In a nation where, supposedly, there are no arrests for suspicion it became simply a case of "living while Arab" in many areas of the United States. And, despite some outcries of foul from some corners of the country, the round up has been unopposed. After all, who would wish to violate our new Alien and Sedition Act, the USA PATRIOT Act?

House resolution 3162, or the "Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism" Act (thus proving that even in times of great crisis and tragedy someone in a position of power can take the time to be cute) provides for, amongst "other purposes" as listed in its first section, the detention of persons suspected of having ties to terrorism. This detention can occur without charges being filed, can be done under auspices of "questioning," and can be prolonged until it can be ascertained that the detainee is no longer a threat to national security.

Using this new power, Attorney General John Ashcroft has detained some 1,200 Arabs inside the United States. An accurate count is impossible, as Ashcroft has denied, to the press and to the public at large, access to records citing - what else? - national security. The reaction to the law and the DoJ's actions has been quite negative from all corners, and despite vague warnings of supporting terror by supporting civil liberties. Even some staunch conservatives who fully support the War on Terrorism feel that the Patriot Act is a brutal assault on Constitutional liberty. In short, the feeling is that some people in power may be intent on destroying the very freedoms that Bush proclaimed were the cause of so much anti-American sentiment in the Middle East.

Life in America, the cry of the "Patriots"

So, to paraphrase a great strategem of the past, it appears that the way to preserve our freedoms is to destroy those freedoms. To protect us from future attack we must revisit the mistakes of the past. And yet, it seems that the government has so little faith in the reasoning ability of the people that it shamefully proclaims that more attacks are "certain." Why, then, must these people remain secretly detained? Is it possible that, as in the early 1900's, the raids have failed to actually net anyone who is a threat? After all, less than a third of the persons captured in the Palmer Raids were legally deportable, and of those only a few hundred were actually sent to Russia.

And what of the arguments that these violations of civil liberties simply do not apply to citizens, or to people with no ties to terrorism? The new Brown scare is more than just anti-Arab, anti-immigrant, anti-terror. It is anti-freedom, as evidenced by the changes in American law that now make online spying easier for the Federal agencies in charge of such things than in any previous time in history. A new definition of domestic terrorism could lead to the arrest of anyone who attends a protest rally, of any kind, where violence breaks out. Restrictions on who can be a target of spying or a wiretap are gone, as any judge in the country can grant warrants to allow an agent to spy on any Internet user that may or may not be looking at information that might or might not be related to terrorism at home or abroad.

These are all frightening aspects of life in "post 9/11" America. Not that we might again see death on a scale previously reserved for our enemies, but that we might see our country dissolve all of the "precious freedoms" for which we are supposedly being made targets.

Info for this node came from
one or more of the following sources

"Deported...Disappeared?" Amy Bach for The Nation, December 24, 2001 --- House Resolution 3162, The USA PATRIOT Act --- The EFF's analysis of the PATRIOT Act --- "Fighting for Civil Liberties in the Land of the Free" available from --- "Many still jailed in U.S., but with little evidence" The Associated Press, March 11, 2002 ---- "The New Secret War Against Immigrants" Haiti Progress, January 30, 2002 ---- "Hundreds of Arabs Still Detained in U.S. Jails" Reuters News Service, March 13, 2002 ---- "Sparsely, Sage and Timely" by David V. Mitchell ---- "Detainees Offer Glimpse of Life In N.Y. Facility" The Washington Post, April 17, 2002 ---- Justice Crucified: The Story of Sacco And Vanzetti

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