Essay On Violence
Turned Backs, the Mayor and the Police
The funeral of Officer Ramos on Saturday, Dec. 27, turned into a Fascist spectacle as many in the ranks of the police turned their backs on NYC Mayor de Blasio—a Fascist spectacle because, already heavily militarized, already implicated in wanton killings of blacks nationwide, the police, many coming from far and wide, used the funeral to demonstrate their demand for acting with impunity and their contempt for authority to reign them in. The funeral symbolized the police as enemies of the rule of law, unable and unwilling to bear scrutiny for lawless acts of an ongoing nature but brought to national attention through a sudden condensation of events over the last several weeks. We stand in fear of our own public servants, just as we do toward the CIA on the international plane, a militarization of American life which internalizes, collectively, the repression America as a nation presents to and imposes on the world and internally demands of itself lest its global/domestic Power be questioned.
Turning backs is a gesture of contempt, the surface of a culture, here, a police culture, impossible to achieve and realize had it not rested on wider authoritarian foundations. That gesture, in Queens, was meant to say, de Blasio, and beyond you, all liberal do-gooders, Get Out of Our Way, it is we the vanguard of a New America, proudly defiant of civil authority seeking to safeguard basic human rights, just as our brothers in the CIA are waging the same battle—we’re mutually reinforcing one another–to bring into our respective spheres of activity and society the obedience to a vision of Order sanitized to be absolute in its scope, hierarchical in the deference expected of those not entitled to respect of their betters judged so by their loyalty to principles of true Americanism, whether knowing one’s place in the Great Pecking Scale of capitalist democracy at home, market fundamentalism abroad, or simply America the impregnable in all matters, bar none.
De Blasio showed weakness where confrontation was demanded, humility, feeding the sadistic juices of those who will continue to trample on human rights, a sincerity and eloquence of mourning, viewed by his detractors as a pushover in their arrogant jealously-guarded claims to the real center of authority in protecting America from its baser self. This fascistic mindset does not register unless it is replicated and reinforced on many levels, again, an interconnectivity of CIA and local police even though not formalized because the integrative bonds of an authoritarian culture, itself fed continuously through the operations and requirements of advanced capitalism, are now too strong seemingly to break. Yet, instead of the police turning their back on de Blasio, it is the American government which has turned its back on the American people, the CIA emblematic—and performing a vanguard role—of the National Security State sinking its roots down into the cities, towns, villages of the nation, the smaller the unit as if to say to the citizenry, there’s no place left to hide.
The failure to prosecute the CIA for torture indicts the Obama administration in its complicity, Obama personally implicated in every water-boarding, sensory deprivation, electric shock treatment, starvation tactic, rectal feeding, Russian roulette scenario, because their very occurrence requires his authorization literal or tacit. But by the American rule of percolation of tyranny downward, this failure to prosecute gives the green light to local police to practice mayhem and murder, knowing the political-ideological climate encloses and justifies their actions. One cannot fault de Blasio, he did what was right and moral in expressing his feelings. Yet, like Weimar, a stand must be taken before it’s too late—severe disciplinary action, squeezing the fascist pus out of those disrespectful of the honor and responsibilities of their badge: force the issue; abide by the restraints of lawful authority, or GET OUT. (Liberals may squirm at that recommendation—mild though it is, but it was Weimar liberals who let the Nazis run all over them and crush a democratic-inclined society.)
When I criticize Obama for his silence on CIA war crimes, and those similarly authorized by the Bush administration, I get from liberals the same response: Go after Bush-Cheney. Period. And we thought Reagan was the Teflon-president. Obama cannot be touched, nor, it appears, the Democratic party, when in fact war criminality has reached its zenith in present-day America by him and on his watch. It is precisely liberalism which fuels international aggression, favors Wall Street, promotes IMF/World Bank solutions for all countries resistant to US financial-commercial penetration and takeover, a liberalism which wraps traditional imperialism and domestic conformity in a purported humanitarianism which equates capitalism with freedom and democracy. Cuba is next on the assault list. Republicans are the easily dispensed with shock troops when it comes to sophisticated capitalist planning; they can shake the trees for internal critics, give vent to their permanent ideological rant about the “Castro Brothers,” etc., but in corporate board rooms the mellifluous sound of money, investment, markets, goes on, essentially undisturbed and finding the shrill patriotism generated a useful cover.
But why blur the emphasis on the police? Actually, I do the reverse, because the wider picture brings our topic into better focus. Police brutality is the distillate of American international practice combined with a long history of anticommunism, the former, counterrevolutionary in purpose in the fullest sense, the latter, its domestic analogue, anti-labor, anti-radical, racist, each having unsavory derivatives which spin off of an ethnocentric core. Capitalism in America, that core, rules the waves: possessiveness, the property right, alienation, commodity fetishism, war, intervention, aspirations to global hegemony—all integral, systemic, historically/structurally cultivated to the process of advanced capitalist development. This process does not occur in a societal vacuum. Not when the vast proportion of the population are losers who may or may not recognize this fact, a fact of widening class differences and opportunities, a fact of extreme deprivation for bottom social groups, the results disguised—again, the mailed fist of liberalism, itself disguised as humanitarianism—so as to engender compliance with the groundrules that are prescribed from above. Police brutality? Why not, when the privileged status, if not the survival, of ruling groups is at stake?
The American elite, as an objective stratum, even though they may not work in concert, or not even know each other well, are good at multitasking, i.e., in the service of the conservation of their power. Their needs are met by a generalized stance of authoritative repression; hence, the local police and the CIA (perhaps the FBI as midwife) in fashioning a common bond of resistance to social change inimical to the interests of their sponsors. Government is the bulwark of hierarchy (often measured in control over wealth and property ownership), national and international. Here though a corrective: this is not meant as a screed directed against all police—my overreaction to officers who turned their backs on de Blasio because he seeks to end brutality and the slaughter of innocents—because we have before us examples of the very opposite, as in the splendid work of Chief Magnus in Richmond, CA, written up by Steve Early in a recent CounterPunch article. The alternative of compassionate, intelligent, humane policing, we are reminded, is still possible and highly effective in providing community safety, dependent, I say, as one who is not a determinist, on the will and moral bearing of those who work to that end. Not so, the CIA, which has proven itself unredeemable, and by all democratic rights, should be abolished.
Here my interest shifts to the CIA as the umbrella sheltering repression under which such incidents as that at the Ramos funeral take place. Mark Mazzetti’s NYT article, “After Scrutiny, C.I.A. Mandate Is Untouched,” (Dec. 27), is a crackerjack description of the complicity in repression saturating America’s political culture. Mazzetti begins with DCIA Angleton’s complaint in 1976 about the Church Committee’s investigation of the CIA, as though the Agency were “a medieval city occupied by an invading army,” the army being of course Congress—and (mine), the import here being the rejection of all oversight on its activities, which continues down to the present. Already in the 1970s and before, the CIA was engaged in domestic spying and other abuses, and Mazzetti views it “in the midst of convulsions that would fundamentally remake its mission.” The Church Committee, coming at the close of US intervention in Vietnam, disclosed “C.I.A. assassination schemes and spying on Vietnam War protesters” which “fueled a post-Watergate fury among many Americans who had grown cynical about secret plots hatched in Washington.”
The mood had now changed. Mazzetti writes: “Nearly four decades later, another Senate committee’s allegations that the C.I.A. had engaged in torture, lying and cover-up have stirred echoes of the Church era—raising the question of whether the agency is in for another period of change.” His heading, “Mandate Is Untouched,” alerts us to its unlikelihood, although he may have overestimated what had earlier been achieved. Under the best of motives from outside, the C.I.A. remains largely impervious to change. And Diane Feinstein is no Frank Church, having protected the CIA all these years. Here the reporter strongly implies the Agency’s steadfast and obvious resistance to oversight (much as in my example of the police and not only de Blasio but whomever seeks to make the police accountable for their actions, especially not promising when, from the top, POTUS and DOD, the drive is to militarize local police forces): “But the scathing report the Senate Intelligence Committee delivered this month is unlikely to significantly change the role the C.I.A. now plays in running America’s secret wars. A number of factors—from steadfast backing by Congress and the White House to strong public support for clandestine operations—ensure that an agency that has been ascendant since President Obama came into office is not likely to see its mission diminished, either during his waning years in the White House or for some time after that.” I sense the tentacles of fascism wrapping around democratic governance.
As for earlier, he continues (driving home the contrast in historical periods): “The grim details, shocking at the time, led to a gutting of the agency’s ranks and a ban on assassinations, imposed by President Gerald R. Ford. They also led to the creation of the congressional intelligence committees and a requirement that the C.I.A. regularly report its covert activities to the oversight panels.” Obama is no Ford; one who could not walk and chew gum at the same time proved the greater guardian of freedom than the fluent, sophisticated Harvard Law-trained master of doublethink and doubletalk who skillfully fronted for the military and intelligence communities, the CIA particularly close to his bosom. Evidence of torture is obvious and abundant in the Senate Intelligence report, but as Mazetti almost predictably notes: “But the Obama administration has made clear that it has no plans to make anyone legally accountable for the practices described by the C.I.A. as enhanced interrogation techniques and the Intelligence Committee’s as torture.” The ACLU and Human Rights Watch called on AG Holder “to appoint a special prosecutor to examine the report’s allegations, but the request will almost certainly be rejected.” Stonewalling done in the name of a higher good, variously termed American Exceptionalism or now Counterterrorism, but I prefer Imperialism abroad, Social Regimentation at home.
The “folks” (Obama’s favorite term) who brought you massive surveillance of the American people, also brought you the exoneration of the CIA. Even critics fall into line. Mazzetti uses Sen. King, Independent from Maine and member of the Committee, for illustration. King first expressed skepticism about the need to release the report, then “spent five straight evenings reading it in a secure room on Capitol Hill,” and decided “the C.I.A. abuses needed a public airing.” King: “’It went from interest, to a sick feeling, to disgust, and finally to anger.’” Yet, the collapse of political integrity, not just of one man, but the party, the president—one might say, USG per se. For as Mazzetti observes, “And while Senator King called the Intelligence Committee’s report ‘Church Committee, II,’ he, like many other [Committee] Democrats, … remains a broad supporter of the C.I.A.’s paramilitary mission that Mr. Obama has embraced during his time in the White House.” He grimly closes: “And as America’s spying apparatus has grown larger, richer and more powerful than during any other time in its history, it has become ever harder for those keeping watch over it.” I believe this contempt for oversight translates downward through the entire social structure, hence the police turning their backs on Mayor de Blasio, in contemptuous disregard for placing checks on “paramilitary operations” (what police functions are increasingly coming to represent) in the military-style maintenance of order, location no longer specified, each fighting force to its own bailiwick.
My New York Times Comment on the Mazzetti article, same date, follows:
When an anti-democratic cancer arises in the Republic, using the US Constitution for toilet paper, you don’t change it, you ABOLISH it–exterminate it as a threat to the very definition of democracy.
America has faced a choice since the days of the Church Committee, a test of honor, and it has failed the test miserably. From Angleton through Casey to, now, Brennan, it has been one long slog in fascistic hidden government.
The chief democratic political principle is ACCOUNTABILITY. By that token, whatever happens in USG, here, torture, waterboarding, drone assassination–all acknowledged war crimes–goes directly up to the president. The conclusion: Pres. Obama is a war criminal, no DOJ eloquence, no silver-tongued public intellectuals, can distort that unvarnished truth.
Therefore, as a war criminal, he has committed treason against a democratic America and should be discharged from office for treasonous conduct. Again, unvarnished truth. And then, unceremoniously handed over to the International Criminal Court.
America must live by the rule of law, or it is nothing. We’ve had decades of subterfuge, promoting a standard from which we exempt ourselves as a nation. When you compare Gerald Ford and Barack Obama, you see at once this is not a partisan issue–save that there are few around of either party with Ford’s integrity, Democrats today, in particular, basking in torture and assassination as get-out-of-jail cards to show their patriotism.
America rudderless in a sea of infamy.
Norman Pollack has written on Populism. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at email@example.com.