This video was recently posted on the excellent site States Without Nations. It was hard for me to watch until the end because it shows an America that I no longer know or understand. When I left the country in 1989 such a thing would have been inconceivable. How things have changed in a post 9-11 era.
It concerns internal checkpoints where people circulating within U.S. territory are stopped, asked their immigration or citizenship status and, in some cases, detained. To be clear this is not about border security because these checkpoints are inside the United States. It is also not about people doing things which might lead the American authorities to believe that they have a reasonable suspicion that someone might be up to no good. It is simply stopping people who are otherwise going about their business and refusing to let them leave until they have answered a series of questions to the satisfaction of the agents of Homeland Security.
Where are these checkpoints located? According to the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) the Department of Homeland Security has created this "Constitution Free" 100 mile zone and placed checkpoints along all these zones, including my hometown of Seattle, Washington:
Is this legal? Is it constitutional? I am less interested in the answers to those questions than I am in trying to figure out what changed in the American mentality in the last 10 years to make this sort of thing acceptable to the American people. There have been demonstrations, editorials and, of course, the ACLU which is fighting this in court. However, from what I can tell the most common reaction to these checkpoints is a kind of passive acceptance - a sense that this a necessary evil in a world where the United States is threatened by evil people.
Do these checkpoints actually make Americans safer? Does Homeland Security actually have any metrics by which they measure the success or failure of these checkpoints? How many terrorists have they caught? How many plots have they foiled? It would be interesting to know these things. Or is this just "security theater"? I suspect that it is. Just look at the map for a moment and those huge borders, the thousands of miles of roads, and the sheer number of people (millions of them) circulating in these areas and it becomes quite clear that, even with an army of men and women stopping people every morning and every evening, this is mission impossible. Or do Americans really think that a terrorist is going to be tootling down one of these roads and will meekly pull over and submit to questioning when he sees the uniform? Think about it - there are plenty of ways around these checkpoints if one really is interested in evading the authorities. It's a big country, folks, and there simply aren't enough people to make this work. That is my take on it - feel free to disagree.
What it does do is cause a great deal of annoyance for the average person and here we come to the second flaw in the logic behind the checkpoints - to make the checkpoints work smoothly, they rely on the cooperation of the people being pulled over and questioned. And what if people do not cooperate? That is what you will see in this video. A few very brave people simply refusing to play their part in this play and asking their own questions about why this is necessary and by what right this is being done to them. And what I see as I watch each scene play out is the sheer impotence of the authorities when the script does not go as expected.
Americans have always resisted the implementation of a national identity card and the idea that the authorities can simply stop people willy-nilly and ask for their papers. In my youth I was taught that the fact that these things didn't exist in the U.S. was a point in my nation's favor. We are free, I was told, and we are not like those evil totalitarian "papers, please" societies. And now some Americans seem to think that perhaps those totalitarian societies were on to something. Good to know.