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The Homeland Security leviathan: immense, expensive, pervasively corrupt, the Department of Homeland Security is rapidly becoming a militarized menace to American liberties.

Bellows Falls, Vermont, population 3,024, has eight full-time police officers--and 16 24-hour surveillance cameras. This is just three fewer than operate in "the District of Columbia, which has 181 times Bellows Falls's population," observes the Washington Post.

That New England community of 3,024 people is just one of many "Mayberry-sized places" now under constant surveillance, thanks to federal homeland security grants, and "similar networks have gone up in places such as Baltimore, Chicago, and New York," continues the Post.

While millions of dollars have been lavished on major communities, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has spent much more, proportionately, on grants to smaller communities. For instance: Nevada City, California, has received nearly $500,000; Owyhee, Nevada, a town so small it doesn't have a stoplight, pulled in $225,000.

The arrival of the Homeland Security gravy train hasn't been an unalloyed blessing, of course. States and municipalities that receive the grants "must select from specific items on an approved list" and buy them through federally approved vendors, noted the Hampton (New Hampshire) Union. Communities that applied for the grants had until last October 1 to "adopt a resolution stating they will comply with the Department of Homeland Security's National Incident Management System ... in order to qualify," added the St. Paul Pioneer-Press.

Once they have had a taste of DHS largesse, cities are willing to do anything it takes to keep the money flowing in. On January 3, the department announced a revised grant policy, with some cities slated to get a little more, others to receive a little less. "Cities are either jubilant that they've been designated high-risk targets for terrorism, because that means more dollars, more jobs, more shiny riot gear ... or else they're resentful that they're lower-risk targets, because there's fewer [dollars] in it for them," wrote Pierre Tristam of the Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Those who take the federal nickel must take the federal noose, as well. In this case, grant recipients have to display what Tristam calls "unquestioned submission to homeland security dogma," the central tenet of which is that regimentation and constant surveillance are necessary because it is the public at large that constitutes the real enemy.

"Code Red"

If the national terrorism threat level were ever to go to "Code Red," the country would "go into lockdown mode," related a March 30, 2003 Scripps-Howard story. "Planes could be grounded, trains could stop running, and bridges and tunnels could be closed. US borders might be sealed off, and roadblocks might be set up on interstates and major highways."

A Code Red alert would also serve "as an advisory to state and local officials, who then must decide whether to put in place protective measures," continues the account. As of last October 1, every community receiving DHS funds has pledged to implement the federal homeland security strategy. Former FBI Special Agent Sid Caspersen, New Jersey's state homeland security czar, explains how that strategy would affect the public. "You must adhere to the restrictions announced by the authorities and prepare to evacuate, if instructed," he told the March 16, 2003 Camden, New Jersey Courier-Post. "You literally are staying home, is what happens, unless you are required to be out."

Under a Code Red, summarizes the Courier-Post, "you will be assumed to be the enemy if you so much as venture outside your home." In prison parlance, this condition is known as a "lockdown."

A foretaste of the U.S. in lockdown mode was offered by New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina. National Guardsmen and troops from the 82nd Airborne were deployed in the city to deal with looting and other disturbances. Their first priority, chillingly, was to disarm private citizens and evict those who resisted evacuation orders.

"No one is allowed to be armed," declared superintended of police P. Edwin Compass III. To carry out that decree, the rump NOPD, supplemented with elements of the National Guard from Louisiana and Oklahoma, as well as agents of the U.S. Marshals Service, began "breaking into homes at gun-point, confiscating their lawfully-owned firearms, and evicting the residents," reported Dave Kopel of the Independence Institute in Reason magazine.

In addition to being a constitutional outrage, this confiscation of firearms at the point of a bayonet is a violation of the Posse Comitatus Act, which prohibits the use of military personnel as law enforcement officers within the United States. That prohibition has become honeycombed with "exceptions" in recent decades, due to the "War on Drugs" and the "War on Terror." In New Orleans, a new and ominous wrinkle was added to the increasingly familiar militarization of law enforcement: The use of mercenaries on contract with the DHS.

"The men from Blackwater USA arrived in New Orleans right after Katrina hit," wrote Jeremy Scahill in an on-site report for The Nation. "Some patrolled the streets in SUVs with tinted windows and the Blackwater logo splashed on the back; others sped around the French Quarter in an unmarked car with no license plates." When asked by what authority they were operating in New Orleans, one armed Blackwater operative replied: "We're on contract with the Department of Homeland Security.... We can even make arrests and use lethal force if we deem it necessary." A separate contingent of 164 Blackwater operatives received a separate contract to provide security for FEMA reconstruction projects.

"This is a trend," one Blackwater mercenary told Scahill. "You're going to see a lot more guys like us in these situations."

Policing the Homeland

While the DHS continues preparations for a national lockdown, some of its agents are finding ways to keep busy:

* Two years ago, Stephanie Cox, who owns Pufferbelly Toys in St. Helens, Oregon, received a visit by two DHS agents, who warned her that one of her products, "The Magic Cube," violated the patent of the Rubik's Cube, a popular toy in the 1980s. "I was shaking in my shoes," Cox told the Oregonian. As it happens, the patent had expired, which means that there was no pretext for a DHS visit, even if one assumes that the department is empowered to police patent violations.

* On February 1, DHS agents in New Orleans espied another dire threat to the homeland in the person of George Barisich, a union official who has been distributing T-shirts inscribed with messages critical of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). After Barisich handed a shirt to a homeless man near a FEMA facility, the gallant defenders of the homeland slapped him with a $75 ticket, supposedly for selling merchandise on federal property (even though no money changed hands). This was done, according to DHS spokesman Dean Boyd, to protect FEMA from being terrorized by T-shirt vendors: "We've got a duty under the law," Boyd insisted to USA Today.

* Six days later, Dwight Scarbrough, a Navy veteran who works for a federal agency in Boise, Idaho, received a visit from two armed DHS officers who ordered him to remove political "signs" he had supposedly displayed on federal property--in this case, bumper stickers critical of President Bush and the Iraq war that were displayed on Scarbrough's pickup truck. Despite the fact that Scarbrough was not in violation of the relevant statutes--a fact he made clear in the audiotaped conversation with the Homeland Security officers--he was compelled to move his truck to a nearby parking lot.

"My rights are very dear to me," Scarbrough told Boise Weekly. "I served my country to defend them." His experience with the DHS's anti-bumper sticker police, however, has led him to conclude that "this is a fascist state. At least, it's the beginning of a fascist state."

With the DHS extending its control over local police agencies, prepping the country to go into lockdown, and harassing ordinary citizens for no defensible reason, it's clear that Scarbrough's assessment, while premature, is correct in principle.
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Article Details
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Author:Grigg, William Norman
Publication:The New American
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 3, 2006
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