Lyndon B. Johnson

Let’s talk about fake news stories.

There’s the garden-variety fake news that is not really “news” so much as it is titillating, tabloid-worthy material peddled by anyone with a Twitter account, a Facebook page, and an active imagination. These stories run the gamut from the ridiculous and the obviously click-baity to the satirical and politically manipulative.

Then there’s the more-devious kind of news stories circulated by one of the biggest propagators of fake news: the U.S. government.

This is not the time to drop our guards, even for a moment.

The U.S. government remains the greatest threat to our freedoms.

The systemic violence being perpetrated by agents of the government has done more collective harm to the American people and our liberties than any single act of terror.

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor

“Our carceral state banishes American citizens to a gray wasteland far beyond the promises and protections the government grants its other citizens. ... When the doors finally close and one finds oneself facing banishment to the carceral state – the years, the walls, the rules, the guards, the inmates – reactions vary. Some experience an intense sickening feeling. Others, a strong desire to sleep. Visions of suicide. A deep shame. A rage directed toward guards and other inmates. Utter disbelief. The incarcerated attempt to hold on to family and old social ties through phone calls and visitations. At first, friends and family do their best to keep up. But phone calls to prison are expensive, and many prisons are located far from one’s hometown. ... As the visits and phone calls diminish, the incarcerated begins to adjust to the fact that he or she is, indeed, a prisoner. New social ties are cultivated. New rules must be understood.” – Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Atlantic

In a carceral state – a.k.a. a prison state or a police state – there is no Fourth Amendment to protect you from the overreaches, abuses, searches, and probing eyes of government overlords.

Muhammad Ali in 1966. Photo from the Dutch National Archives, The Hague, Fotocollectie Algemeen Nederlands Persbureau.

As a nation, we have a tendency to sentimentalize cultural icons in death in a way that renders them nonthreatening, antiseptic, and easily digested by a society with an acute intolerance for anything controversial, politically incorrect, or marred by imperfection.


“Big Brother does not watch us, by his choice. We watch him, by ours. There is no need for wardens or gates or Ministries of Truth. When a population becomes distracted by trivia, when cultural life is redefined as a perpetual round of entertainments, when serious public conversation becomes a form of baby-talk, when, in short, a people become an audience and their public business a vaudeville act, then a nation finds itself at risk; a culture-death is a clear possibility.” – Professor Neil Postman

If there are two spectacles that are almost guaranteed to render Americans passive viewers, incapable of doing little more than cheering on their respective teams, it’s football and politics – specifically, the Super Bowl and the quadrennial presidential election.

Both football and politics encourage zealous devotion among their followers, both create manufactured divisions that alienate one group of devotees from another, and both result in a strange sort of tunnel vision that leaves the viewer oblivious to anything else going on around them apart from the “big game.”

Both football and politics are televised, big-money, advertising-driven exercises in how to cultivate a nation of armchair enthusiasts who are content to sit, watch, and be entertained, all the while convincing themselves that they are active contributors to the outcome. Even the season schedules are similar in football and politics: the weekly playoffs, the blow-by-blow recaps, the betting pools and speculation, the conferences, and then the final big championship game.

In the same way, both championship events are costly entertainment extravaganzas that feed the nation’s appetite for competition, consumerism, and carnival-esque stunts. In both scenarios, cities bid for the privilege of hosting key athletic and political events. For example, San Francisco had to raise close to $50 million just to host the 50th Super Bowl, with its deluxe stadium, Super Bowl City, free fan village, interactive theme park, and free Alicia Keys concert, not including the additional $5-million cost to taxpayers for extra security. Likewise, it costs cities more than $60 million to host the national presidential-nominating conventions for the Republicans and Democrats.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that there is anything wrong with enjoying the entertainment that is football or politics.

However, where we go wrong as a society is when we become armchair quarterbacks, so completely immersed in the Big Game or the Big Campaign that we are easily controlled by the powers-that-be – the mega-corporations that run both shows – and oblivious to what is really going on around us.

"A person under surveillance is no longer free; a society under surveillance is no longer a democracy." - Writers Against Mass Surveillance

The good news: Americans have a right to freely express themselves on the Internet, including making threatening - even violent - statements on Facebook, provided that they don't intend to actually inflict harm.

The Supreme Court's June 1 ruling in Elonis V. United States threw out the conviction of a Pennsylvania man who was charged with making unlawful threats (it was never proven that he intended to threaten anyone) and sentenced to 44 months in jail after he posted allusions to popular rap lyrics and comedy routines on his Facebook page. It's a ruling that has First Amendment implications for where the government can draw the line when it comes to provocative and controversial speech that is protected and permissible versus speech that could be interpreted as connoting a criminal intent.

That same day, Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act, the legal justification allowing the National Security Agency (NSA) to carry out warrant-less surveillance on Americans, officially expired. Over the course of nearly a decade, if not more, the NSA had covertly spied on millions of Americans, many of whom were guilty of nothing more than using a telephone, and stored their records in government databases. For those who have been fighting the uphill battle against the NSA's domestic-spying program, it was a small but symbolic victory.

The bad news: Congress' legislative "fix," intended to mollify critics of the NSA, will ensure that the agency is not in any way hindered in its ability to keep spying on Americans' communications.

The USA FREEDOM Act could do more damage than good by creating a false impression that Congress has taken steps to prevent the government from spying on the telephone calls of citizens, while in fact ensuring the NSA's ability to continue invading the privacy and security of Americans.

For instance, the USA FREEDOM Act not only reauthorizes Section 215 of the Patriot Act for a period of time, but it also delegates to telecommunications companies the responsibility of carrying out phone surveillance on American citizens.

And now for the downright ugly news: Nothing is going to change.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

It's a shell game intended to keep us focused on and distracted by all of the politically expedient things that are being said - about militarized police, surveillance, and government corruption - while the government continues to frogmarch us down the road toward outright tyranny.

Unarmed citizens are still getting shot by militarized police trained to view them as the enemy and treated as if we have no rights. Despite President Obama's warning that the nation needs to do some "soul searching" about issues such as race, poverty, and the strained relationship between law enforcement and the minority communities they serve, police killings and racial tensions are at an all-time high. Just recently, in Texas, a white police officer was suspended after video footage showed him "manhandling, arresting, and drawing his gun on a group of black children outside a pool party."

Americans' private communications and data are still being sucked up by government spy agencies. The USA Freedom Act was just a placebo intended to make us feel better without bringing about any real change. As Bill Blunden, a cybersecurity researcher and surveillance critic, points out, "The theater we've just witnessed allows decision-makers to boast to their constituents about reforming mass surveillance while spies understand that what's actually transpired is hardly major change."

"What the government is good at is collecting taxes, taking away your freedoms and killing people. It's not good at much else." - Author Tom Clancy

The American people remain eager to be persuaded that a new president in the White House can solve the problems that plague us. Yet no matter who wins this next presidential election, you can rest assured that the new boss will be the same as the old boss, and we - the permanent underclass in America - will continue to be forced to march in lockstep with the police state in all matters, public and private.

Indeed, it really doesn't matter what you call them - the 1 percent, the elite, the controllers, the masterminds, the shadow government, the police state, the surveillance state, the military industrial complex - so long as you understand that no matter which party occupies the White House in 2017, the unelected bureaucracy that actually calls the shots will continue to do so.

Consider the following a much-needed reality check, an antidote, if you will, against an overdose of over-hyped campaign announcements, lofty electoral promises, and meaningless patriotic sentiments that land us right back in the same prison cell.

Fact: For the first time in history, a majority of members of Congress are millionaires, and U.S. representatives and senator are, on average, 14 times wealthier than the average American. According to a scientific study by Princeton researchers, the United States of America is not the democracy that it purports to be, but rather an oligarchy, in which "economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy."

Fact: "Today, 17,000 local police forces are equipped with such military equipment as Blackhawk helicopters, machine guns, grenade launchers, battering rams, explosives, chemical sprays, body armor, night vision, rappelling gear, and armored vehicles," reports Paul Craig Roberts, former assistant secretary of the treasury. "Some have tanks."

Fact: Thanks to an overabundance of 4,500-plus federal crimes and 400,000-plus rules and regulations, it is estimated that the average American actually commits three felonies a day without knowing it. According to law professor John Baker, "There is no one in the United States over the age of 18 who cannot be indicted for some federal crime. That is not an exaggeration."

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Pointing out that individuals awaiting trial (pretrial detainees) are particularly vulnerable to government abuse and should not be forced to prove that their alleged abusers intended to harm them in order to claim their rights were violated, attorneys for The Rutherford Institute have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to remove restrictions some courts have imposed on civil rights lawsuits for excessive force by inmates against jail personnel, thereby discouraging the use of excessive force by prison officials. The case of Kingsley v. Hendrickson involves a Wisconsin man who alleges that he was subjected to unreasonable and excessive force in reckless disregard for his safety when prison guards forcibly removed him from his jail cell and subdued with a stun gun.

The Rutherford Institute's amicus brief in Kingsley v. Hendrickson is available at www.rutherford.org.

"In a police state, there is no need for judges, juries or courts of law, because the police act as judge, jury and law, and their version of justice is one-sided, delivered at the end of a gun, taser or riot stick," said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of the award-winning A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State. "Unless the courts and legislatures act soon to change this climate of government-sanctioned police brutality, we may find that there is no real difference between those who are innocent, those accused of committing crimes and those found guilty, because we will all suffer the same at the hands of government agents."

In 2010, Michael Kingsley was arrested and booked into the jail in Sparta, Wisconsin, and detained there pending his court appearances on the charges against him. About one month into his detention, guards noticed that a sheet of yellow paper was covering the light above Kingsley's bed, which was a common practice among detainees in order to dim the brightness of the facilities lights. The guards ordered Kingsley to remove the paper, but he refused, pointing out that he had not put the paper over the light. The next morning, Kingsley was again ordered to remove the paper and again he refused. The jail administrator was then called, who told Kingsley he would be transferred to another cell. Five officers then came to the cell and ordered Kingsley to stand up. Kingsley protested that he had done nothing wrong, but was told to follow the order or he would be tasered. Kingsley continued to lie face down on his bunk but put his hands behind his back and was handcuffed. The officers then pulled Kingsley off the bunk, which allegedly caused injuries to his knees and feet and inflicted pain so severe Kingsley could not stand or walk. The officers then carried him to a receiving cell, placed him face down on a bunk and attempted to remove the handcuffs. Although Kingsley denied that he resisted, the officers allegedly smashed his head into the concrete bunk and placed a knee into his back. When Kingsley told the officer to get off him, one of the officers tasered Kingsley for five seconds. As a result of this incident, Kingsley sued several officers involved, alleging that they used excessive force against him and that this violated his constitutional right to due process. The jury ruled against Kingsley, who subsequently lost his appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.

Affiliate attorney Stephen J. Neuberger of The Neuberger Firm assisted The Rutherford Institute in advancing the arguments in the amicus brief before the U.S. Supreme Court.

This press release is also available at www.rutherford.org.

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