Flying the Fascist Skies

Boy, I miss the days when the future depicted in Terminator appeared ridiculously dystopian. The Washington Times reports:

The legislation would order the FAA, before the end of the year, to expedite the process through which it authorizes the use of drones by federal, state and local police and other agencies. The FAA currently issues certificates, which can cover multiple flights by more than one aircraft in a particular area, on a case-by-case basis.

Drones have been used as surveillance but also as killing devices, particularly in Afghanistan and Pakistan, in the war on terrorism. Hundreds, almost surely, have been snuffed out by these machines, which kill reportedly kill far more civilians than targeted militants. Credible reports indicate that the CIA has a favorite practice of targeting rescuers who show up to help others hurt by these strikes. From the New York Times:

The report, by the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism, found that at least 50 civilians had been killed in follow-up strikes after they rushed to help those hit by a drone-fired missile. The bureau counted more than 20 other civilians killed in strikes on funerals. The findings were published on the bureau’s Web site and in The Sunday Times of London. . . .

The bureau counted 260 strikes by Predator and Reaper drones since President Obama took office, and it said that 282 to 535 civilians had been “credibly reported” killed in those attacks, including more than 60 children.

To be clear, I am not suggesting that American politicians and law enforcers will soon be blowing up Americans on American soil with these drones. But we can nevertheless draw some troubling conclusions:

1) High officials of the US government see nothing wrong with having drones fly over the nation spying on the people—and surely no relevant implications for the Fourth Amendment or American liberty.

2) High officials do not foresee any massive public relations fallout from unleashing such surveillance drones when the very government they work for has killed many civilians in its drone warfare abroad.

3) High officials are likely correct about the latter, as the public appears relatively accustomed to significant assaults on their privacy, particularly since 9/11, and seem to trust the government to wage war at home and abroad. Significant precedents in detention policy, spying without warrants, and targeting individuals at home and abroad for torture, imprisonment, and even executive killing—including even American citizens—have been set in the last decade, precedents that in some cases would have appeared completely paranoid to predict even thirty years ago in the twilight of the Cold War.

4) Neither political party is led by or represents Americans strongly opposed to either civilian-killing drones flying over other countries, or domestic surveillance drones.

5) The tolerance the American people have toward various government measures that would have likely been regarded as obscene and totalitarian only a few years ago appears to have grown.

6) Domestic law enforcement has taken on an increasingly militaristic flavor in recent decades, thanks to the wars on drugs, crime, and terrorism. SWAT teams used to be unusual and now occur dozens of times a day. Nearly every city and town has a police force associated with the federal government and employing increasingly formidable military hardware and tactics in its enforcement of the law.

7) While it might be hard to imagine Americans tolerating drones being used to target and even kill suspects on American soil in the next year or so, it no longer seems crazy to expect such practices would be tolerated, even cheered, within a generation, given the steady decline in American concern for civil liberties and the frightening trajectory of domestic law enforcement and military policy.

8) It would indeed be preferable for most of us to live in a country where the latter point would sound completely absurd.

9) If we ever lived in such a country we do not now.

10) Americans by the tens of millions have to snap out of it, wake up and smell the not-so-slowly creeping fascism, or else we will all likely wake up to find ourselves in a country completely unrecognizable as being remotely free.

  • Catalyst