Caught up in the uproar over this year’s latest hullabaloo—militarized police in Ferguson, tanks on Main Street and Islamic State—Americans have not only largely forgotten last year’s hullabaloo over the National Security Agency and government surveillance but are generally foggy about everything that has happened in between.
Then again, so much has happened in the year since Edward Snowden first appeared on the national scene that it’s understandable if the average American has a hard time keeping up with all of the “events,” manufactured or otherwise, which keep us distracted, deluded, amused, and insulated from the reality of the American police state.
This is not to say that many of these events are not critical or important. However, when we're being bombarded with wall-to-wall news coverage and news cycles that change every few days, it’s difficult to stay focused on one thing—namely, holding the government accountable to abiding by the rule of law—and the powers-that-be understand this.
This June 9, 2013 file photo provided by The Guardian Newspaper in London shows National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, in Hong Kong. Snowden says his "mission's already accomplished" after leaking NSA secrets that have caused a reassessment of U.S. surveillance policies. Snowden told The Washington Post in a story published online Monday night, Dec. 23, 2013, he has "already won" because journalists have been able to tell the story of the government's collection of bulk Internet and phone records. (AP Photo/The Guardian, Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras, File)
In fact, Professor Jacques Ellul studied this phenomenon of overwhelming news, short memories and the use of propaganda to advance hidden agendas.
“One thought drives away another; old facts are chased by new ones,” wrote Ellul. "Under these conditions there can be no thought. And, in fact, modern man does not think about current problems; he feels them. He reacts, but he does not understand them any more than he takes responsibility for them. He is even less capable of spotting any inconsistency between successive facts; man’s capacity to forget is unlimited. This is one of the most important and useful points for the propagandists, who can always be sure that a particular propaganda theme, statement, or event will be forgotten within a few weeks.”
Consider if you will the regularly scheduled trivial and/or distractions that have kept us tuned into the various breaking news headlines and entertainment spectacles and tuned out to the government’s steady encroachments on our freedoms:
In late August/early September, we were treated to James Foley’s carefully staged beheading, Robin Williams’ unfortunate suicide, the riots in Ferguson over the police shooting of an unarmed black man, growing threats from Islamic State, and the ALS ice bucket challenge sensation.
Protestors stand in the middle of West Florissant Avenue in Ferguson, refusing to leave despite police orders early Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014. (AP Photo/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Robert Cohen)
That was preceded by reports of immigrant children flooding over the border, Israel and Hamas’ on-again, off-again fighting, Germany’s victory in the World Cup, Ebola breakouts in West Africa, the Malaysian Airlines passenger jet crash in Ukraine, and the exchange by the U.S. of five Taliban prisoners for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.
Before that, there was the shooting at the Fort Hood Army base, the uproar over Donald Sterling’s racist remarks, the Veterans Administration’s failure to provide timely care to vets, the tug of war over control of Crimea, the disappearance of a Malaysia Airlines flight, the 2014 Winter Olympics, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s role in the George Washington Bridge lane closings scandal.
No less traumatic and distracting were the preceding months’ newsworthy events, which included a devastating typhoon in the Philippines, France and Germany’s displeasure over NSA spying, the U.S. government’s 16-day shutdown over Obamacare, public opposition to President Barack Obama’s plans to take military action against Syria, another shooting—this time at the Washington Navy Yard, Russia’s granting of asylum to Edward Snowden, Bradley Manning’s announcement that he is in fact Chelsea Manning, which came a day after he was sentenced to 35 years in prison for leaking classified documents, George Zimmerman’s acquittal of murdering Trayvon Martin, and Edward Snowden’s leaking the first of what would turn into a more-than-yearlong series of revelations about the government’s illegal surveillance programs.
As I point out in my book "A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State," this sleight-of-hand distraction and diversion is how you control a population, either inadvertently or intentionally, advancing your agenda without much opposition from the citizenry.
The 24-hour news cycle creates an unending distraction that moves the public's attention from one event to the next. Image: TheBlaze.com
But what exactly has the government been doing while we’ve been so cooperatively fixated on whatever current sensation happens to be monopolizing the mainstream “news” shows?
If properly disclosed and consistently reported on, the sheer volume of the government’s activities, which undermine the Constitution and dance close to the edge of outright illegality, would inevitably give rise to a sea change in how business is conducted in our seats of power.
Surely Americans would be outraged over the government’s plan to turn our most casual statements into hate crimes using Truthy, a $1 million online database being created to track “misinformation” and hate speech on Twitter, as well as “detect political smears, astroturfing, misinformation, and other social pollution.” Or that the Pentagon is spending millions to find ways to put down social unrest, starting with lawful First Amendment free speech protests.
Parents would be livid if they had any inkling about the school-to-prison pipeline, namely, how the public schools are being transformed from institutions of learning to prison-like factories, complete with armed police and surveillance cameras, aimed at churning out compliant test-takers rather than independent-minded citizens.
Taxpayers would be up in arms over the government’s end-run tactics to avoid abiding by the rule of law, whether by outsourcing illegal surveillance activities to defense contractors or outsourcing inhumane torture to foreign countries.
And one would hope American citizens would be incensed about being treated like prisoners in an electronic concentration camp, their every movement monitored, tracked and recorded by a growing government surveillance network that runs the gamut from traffic cameras and police body cameras to facial recognition software and the armed surveillance drones that will soon blanket American skies.
Unfortunately, while much of this information can be discovered through a focused study of alternative media reports, it does require quite a bit of digging and even more determination on the part of the citizenry to take an active role in their governance—which, of course, is the key to maintaining freedom.
So where does that leave us?
As legendary television journalist Edward R. Murrow warned:
“Unless we get up off our fat surpluses and recognize that television in the main is being used to distract, delude, amuse, and insulate us, then television and those who finance it, those who look at it, and those who work at it, may see a totally different picture too late.”
Constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute and author of "A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State." Whitehead can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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