Investigative work is built on selective mistrust. The difference between a state in which there are police and a police state is the scope of that mistrust. A state in which there are police will pursue criminals by using investigative techniques to profile suspects while a police state criminalizes everyone by treating the entire population of the country like suspects.
Some police states are smart, calculated power grabs. Others are dumb defaults. A smart police state suspects everyone because it’s a tyranny. A dumb police state is run by people who can’t or won’t narrow down the suspect list so that they are forced to suspect everyone.
The United States has been on the road to becoming a dumb police state for a while now. It’s not dumb because its law enforcement officers and military commanders are stupid. They are actually some of the best in the world. It’s a dumb police state because fear of bigotry makes selective mistrust impossible.
The problem hit home for most people when the TSA began strip searching small children and amputees who were a long way from the typical profile of a Saudi male in his twenties or thirties likely to hijack a plane and fly it into a skyscraper.
This didn’t happen because the TSA was run by idiots. That might still be the case, but the TSA was only doing exactly what all American law enforcement had been doing ever since the seventies. It was choosing universal mistrust over selective mistrust. It suspected everyone to avoid singling anyone out. Unfortunately the entire job of airline security depends on intelligently singling out likely suspects, rather than randomly terrorizing passengers in the name of protecting them from terrorists.
Pandering to Islam is just the latest phase in the dumbing down of law enforcement that began when civil liberties activists made it nearly impossible for police to do their jobs. After decades of lawsuits and judicial activism, law enforcement and a new generation of urban mayors reclaimed troubled areas with ruthless policing that terrorized people across the board.
The tactics worked and liberals learned to love the police state because it kept them safe and because it did not discriminate. As long as anyone was liable to be randomly shot, without regard for their personal details, then the police state was fine with them. Once they had been mugged enough times, they realized that they didn’t oppose aggressive policing. What they opposed was selectively aggressive policing. Random terror against random terror was fine with them.
This strange compromise between liberals and law enforcement led to a perverse police state in which any form of discrimination based on likelihood of criminality was worse than the actual crime or than treating everyone like a criminal.
Terrorism upgraded these same tactics on a larger scale. The TSA gave the entire country a taste of the tactics that reclaimed inner cities. Behind the scenes, national versions of urban law enforcement tactics were being deployed. Meanwhile the real threat was getting a taste of traditional community policing with FBI agents and Federal prosecutors waiting in line at every mosque entrance to talk about how the government can help Muslims prevent terrorism by treating it like a social problem.
Terrorism investigations were not crippled by a unique set of protests, but by the same civil liberties tactics that hamstrung law enforcement back in the day. The only difference is that unlike fighting crime, there was hardly even a transition from a time when law enforcement had broad discretion for dealing with terrorists. The War on Terror was doomed to be a grimy combination of international peacekeeping and community policing in Benghazi and Kabul from the very beginning.
Whether it’s crime or terrorism, liberal politicians have learned that they can’t simply offer nothing. The Dukakis strategy no longer gets you elected. And so instead they offer tepid support for policies that spread the pain and deprive everyone of their civil rights as long as no one is singled out. Random stops and searches are legitimate, so long as they aren’t limited to certain dangerous neighborhoods. The phone calls of every American are fair game, but surveillance of mosques isn’t.
Police state tactics work in the same way that nuclear bombs work. Rather than taking aim at a target, they blow everyone away at the same time. That’s messy and dumb. Smart police states spread terror universally to terrorize their opposition. Dumb police states only go broad spectrum because they can’t or won’t target. Terrorizing everyone is all that they can do.
A dumb police state is occasionally effective, but it’s as much by random chance as anything else. Smash a sledgehammer around the room often enough and you may occasionally hit a fly. Round up all the suspects to the gruesome murder of Colonel Windham III in the drawing room of his mansion and gun them all down and you may end up taking down the killer too.
America and Europe are stuck with dumb police states in the War on Terror because anything else would undermine the illusion on which multiculturalism depends. It is why FBI training materials had to be purged of references to Islamic terrorism and why after the Woolwich attack, the London police prioritized arresting Brits who said offensive things on Twitter. Any idea that undermines multiculturalism is more dangerous than the actual terror that takes lives.
Bad policies require calculated ignorance. They require that governments and law enforcement deliberately not know certain dangerous things, like the profile of a likely terrorist. For decades, Americans have accepted that bargain, trading personal freedoms for collective security under a sensitive police state that might take away freedoms, but would never offend anyone.
The dumb police state can illogically mistrust everyone, but it can’t logically mistrust anyone, unless he’s a white male who is representative of the majority population. And so it’s stuck in a state of universal paranoia. It mistrusts everyone, rather than mistrust anyone. It randomly harasses people for no reason to avoid harassing those people who deserve it with good reason.
In the age of terror, the compromises of the dumb police state are wearing down everyone and endangering entire countries. And there are signs that people are preparing to opt out of the collective bargain that made the dumb police state possible.
Supporters of the dumb police state insist that there are only two choices; terror or the dumb police state. But there is a third choice. The third choice is the selective mistrust of likely terrorists, rather than the total mistrust of all Americans.
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