Driving from California to East Texas, my daughter and grandson were 90 miles into the Lone Star state when traffic was stopped at a road block just outside the little town of Sierra Blanca.
Drug-sniffing dogs worked down the line of cars. Under treatment for a medical condition for which her California doctor prescribed medical marijuana, my daughter had a small amount in her luggage in the trunk. The dogs immediately sniffed it. She showed the police her medical authorization, but California law didn’t apply in Texas. She and my grandson were arrested, taken to jail and put into a holding tank with a dozen or more men and women who had been arrested for the same crime.
A few days later, singer Willie Nelson was arrested at that same checkpoint. My daughter was fined $550. Perhaps Willie got off just signing a few autographs.
A short time later my grandson and I drove back to California. A dozen or so miles after crossing into California, we were suddenly funneled into another roadblock… only this time it was manned by half a dozen armed Border Patrol agents.
We were asked to state our citizenship, and then carefully scrutinized by an unsmiling officer who finally waved us through.
An even more sobering surprise awaited us…
We were stopped at a second roadblock 20 miles later… and yet again 15 miles after that. Three roadblocks between the California border and San Diego!
Never in six decades of driving in the United States had I ever experienced being stopped at even one checkpoint. My only prior experience was in Nicaragua in 1956 when that country was under the strong-arm dictatorial rule of Anastasio Somoza. Every few kilometers my companions and I were stopped by armed soldiers, questioned and required to show passports. We were all grateful to be from the “land of the free,” where such things couldn’t happen…
The rise of checkpoints in America, as well as the indignities we suffer at the hands of airport Transportation Security Administration agents, is merely outward evidence of a much deeper net being cast around individual liberty.
According to a recent Washington Post investigative report, “Top Secret America,” a web of 3,984 Federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, complete with technologies used on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, has been developed by the FBI. The process is constructing a database with the names and personal information of thousands of U.S. citizens and residents whom any local police officer or a fellow citizen might believe to be acting suspiciously.
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who as Governor of Arizona built one of the strongest state intelligence organizations to stop illegal immigration and drug importation (the raison d’être for those roadblocks), has launched a "See Something, Say Something" campaign to encourage citizens to become informants. It started with traffic signs asking drivers entering the nation’s capital for "Terror Tips" and to "Report Suspicious Activity." Recently, she called on Walmart, Amtrak, major sports leagues, hotel chains and metro riders to join the surveillance network, admitting that, "This represents a shift for our country."
One can’t help but reflect on George Orwell’s dystopian novel, 1984. Published in 1949, it is a nightmarish depiction of what life could be like if the repressive nature of government was extrapolated from those post-World War days into the future. Orwell’s prescience is unnerving.
Cognitive scientist Steven Pinker tallied the similarities between Orwell’s novel and today’s world in his 2003 book, The Blank Slate. The elements of that Orwellian nightmare are either proposed or already here. Government euphemisms… national identity cards… surveillance cameras on streets and in shopping malls, and drones… satellites in the sky… personal data on the Internet… endless wars with shifting enemies… dossiers in government databanks… and ever-increasing controls on the actions and statements of individual citizens.
From checkpoints and electronic strip searches at airports… to your banker being forced to report suspicious deposits to being locked up for not disclosing all of your assets to the IRS… the signs are clear: 1984 is here. Whether it’s a War on Drugs, Illegal Immigration, or Terrorist… it is all a war on individual sovereignty.
Winston Smith, the protagonist in Orwell’s novel, rebels against Big Brother. His fate is arrest and torture. O’Brien, a member of the Inner Party and the person in charge of torturing and converting Smith back into a docile slave, tells Smith about the future: “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever.”
Winston, tortured and barely able to speak, replies: “You could not create such a world… it is impossible to found a civilization based fear and hatred and cruelty… there is something in the universe, some principle, some spirit that you will never overcome.”
As the novel ends, Winston Smith has given up hope in such a principle. “Everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.”
There are many today who have found their own peace through a love of Big Brother. For those of us who believe in sovereignty, the spirit Smith believed in is still real. Individual sovereignty is the antithesis of a totalitarian world of surveillance, roadblocks and Newspeak. There is a principle, a spirit that can’t be overcome, and that is the determination to live free… I hope it survives.
Chairman, The Sovereign Society