Just Watch Me
“Yeah, well there's a lot of bleeding hearts around who just don't like to see people with helmets and guns. All I can say is, go on and bleed, but it's more important to keep law and order in this society than to be worried about weak-kneed people who don't like the looks of a soldier's helmet.” – Pierre Elliot Trudeau
On December 22, 2001, Richard Reid boarded a flight from Paris to Miami and tried to light his shoes on fire. His hiking boots were packed with explosives and he intended to blow up the plane. Thankfully for the passengers and crew on board, he was tackled and restrained before he could bomb himself in the foot, and the plane was redirected to Boston, where it landed safely and without further incident.
Reid was born to native English parents and pursued his father’s line of work as a career criminal – a vocation that landed him in prison on several occasions. During one of those stints, Reid converted to Islam and eventually became radicalized. His path from prison to that fateful flight included visits to terrorist training camps in Pakistan and Afghanistan, which one assumes should have grabbed the attention of the intelligence agencies. It also included an attempt to fly the same route on the previous day when his disheveled appearance, lack of check-on luggage, and evasive answers to questions from airport officials caused him to be denied permission to board.
That Reid was allowed to board an international flight the very next day – and so shortly after the 9/11 attacks – was an intelligence failure, but the reaction to Reid’s attempt at terrorism had little to do with problem-solving. Five years later, after a new, unverified threat of a different shoe bomber, the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) mandated all passengers remove their footwear for screening, despite knowing that the machines used to screen carry-on luggage are incapable of detecting these types of explosives. If you doubt the futility of these choreographed acts of security theater, consider that nearly a decade after the “shoes off” rule took effect, TSA officers weren’t even able to detect fake weapons with any semblance of consistency (emphasis added throughout this piece):
“In 2015, agents with Department of Homeland Security posing as passengers snuck fake explosives through the security lines of several of the nation’s busiest airports. During the test, TSA officers missed 67 of the 70 fake weapons that went through the checks — a failure rate of 95%.”
While the inconvenience of complying with this rule is admittedly modest, it serves as an underappreciated signpost of the direction we in the West are traveling. By our estimation, people in the US have removed their shoes at least 10 billion times since 2006, yet the number of verifiable instances of Richard Reid copycats still stands at zero. The proliferation of laws and organizations, like the TSA, was born of the fallout from the 9/11 attacks. There is a direct line from that series of events to what we see today.
To wit, four observations:
First, as a society, we are incapable of making reasonable tradeoffs when it comes to risk, especially when such risks are front-page news. The only new threat to our way of life that was exploited by the 9/11 attackers was the use of planes as weapons – hijackings and bombings were rare but well-known risks prior to that terrible day – and fortifying cockpit doors and increasing background checks on pilots were always the most direct and sensible responses. We didn’t stop there, of course. Instead, all risk to planes worldwide had to be driven to zero regardless of the impact on people’s time or freedom. Zero is an emotional number and an impossible task, but a remarkably effective target when garnering public support for compliance.
Second, fear is a powerful tool of propaganda. A surprisingly high number of people are willing to forgo even basic rights in exchange for perceived protection from the state, no matter how small the increment of protection is on offer. The US Patriot Act is an Orwellian nightmare of government-approved intrusion, bureaucracy, and infringement on basic rights. Just consider the full name of the legislation: Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001. Nothing good comes out of legislation with a name like that, and the definition of “terrorism” has continued to evolve to the point where it basically means “opposed to the policies of those currently in power.” Here’s how the American Civil Liberties Union describes the law:
“The result is unchecked government power to rifle through individuals' financial records, medical histories, Internet usage, bookstore purchases, library usage, travel patterns, or any other activity that leaves a record.”
Not only are government agencies collecting and evaluating information on each one of us, they are also not required to justify the purpose of such reviews with any specificity. As the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board clarified in a report made public last week of the CIA’s covert data collection practices against Americans, “…analysts are not required to memorialize the justification for their queries.”
Third, like the arrow of time itself, encroachments on our freedom are unidirectional – they only ever get worse. Want to avoid taking off your shoes at the airport? Apply for TSA PreCheck and become a Trusted Traveler™, as though being an American citizen without a criminal record isn’t trustworthy enough. TSA PreCheck line too crowded? Give your retinal scan to CLEAR, a private company authorized by the Support Anti-Terrorism by Fostering Effective Technologies (SAFETY) Act. And on it goes. While each increment of nuisance or invasion of privacy doesn’t feel like the end of the world in the moment, integrated over time, society becomes unrecognizable to what it was just years earlier.
Fourth, the effort to demonize those raising a skeptical eyebrow to such measures is a startlingly easy lift. The all-in-it-together mantra flows coast-to-coast and the questioning voice is comfortably labeled that of a sympathizer. As US readers may recall, to criticize the Patriot Act was to defile the memory of every lost FDNY hero.
In Episode 209 of Demetri Kofinas’ excellent podcast Hidden Forces, he interviews Simon Mikhailovich, who escaped Soviet rule and immigrated to America in the 1970s. On the show, Mikhailovich delivers a powerful message about the disturbing trend he sees in the financial and political arenas of the Western world. Here’s an excerpt from the most impactful segment of the recording:
“But after the 2000 crisis and then 2001 Patriot Act where I felt that America has taken a sharp turn into a different direction. Where everything that I thought or took for granted in this new country for me, which is basically anything that's not expressly forbidden is allowed…
I can't impart it to anybody who hasn't been there. Standing in the security line in the airport. If you want to know what it's like to be in the Soviet Union, you are in the Soviet Union. In that moment, you are in the Soviet Union, you're in a line waiting for something. And at the end of that line, a lot of bad things can happen to you. People don't think that way. But in reality though...
I remember when people like Naomi Wolf announced that she had been put on a blacklist, on a no-fly list. Remember these lists? These were new to the American experience. Thousands of people ending up on these lists, having no idea how they got on, but more importantly, having no idea how to get off. You think it's hard to contact Google, like imagine trying to contact the government and not being able to find anybody to explain to you how you got there. And you're on it, you're on it for life.
So, when I stand in that line, I'm not on that list, thank God and I hope I won't be. But I feel it very much at a visceral level because I understand how these types of population control measures evolve in the hands of governments and bureaucrats. And so, to me, it's not benign in any way, shape, or form, but to most people it's just like Pastor Niemöller in Nazi Germany. He said, when they first came for the socialists, ‘I didn't say anything because I wasn't a socialist.’ And then they came for the communists, … and ‘I wasn't a communist’" They came for the Jews and ‘I wasn't a Jew.’ So that's what happens. People on this list is not you. And therefore, you feel like it's not about you until it is about you.”
For many people, dealing with the restrictions imposed on them, their children, and their businesses because of our political response to Covid-19 has made it about them. It is at the heart of the Freedom Convoy in Canada and is why we have spent so much time on Twitter commenting on the stunning events unfolding under (current) Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s watch.
At a time when the severity of the virus is waning and many countries are finally pulling back from what history will undoubtedly judge to be ineffective, unscientific, and likely scandalous countermeasures, Trudeau doubled down, knowingly picking a fight with Canadian truckers over vaccine mandates. We won’t rehash the arguments and facts here as the details are widely known. Instead, we focus on the complete collapse of Trudeau’s leadership tactics, beginning with his now infamous framing of the onslaught that was headed his way:
“The small fringe minority of people who are on their way to Ottawa, who are holding unacceptable views that they are expressing, do not represent the views of Canadians…who know that following the science and stepping up to protect each other is the best way to ensure our rights, our freedoms, our values as a country.”
By positioning the protestors as “those who fly racist flags” – as a fringe minority with unacceptable views – Trudeau committed a fatal error: he left himself no face-saving exit from the imminent and predictable crisis that would befall him. No respectable politician can strike a deal with such undesirables after libeling them in the way that he did. The only path left was to crush them.
Amateur hour, indeed.
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Further, by positioning the rights, freedoms, and values of his fellow citizens as something that needed his blessing to “ensure” – as opposed to being inalienable rights possessed by Canadians and protected by the Canadian Bill of Rights – Trudeau reinforced what many have come to suspect about him. This privileged son of a former Prime Minister was born on third base and thought he hit a triple. Here’s a prediction we made on Twitter nearly three weeks ago, as the convoy made its way to Ottawa, which has stood the test of time:
On Monday, February 14, 2022, Trudeau irreversibly crossed an incredibly dangerous Rubicon with a decision that will have long-lasting consequences to his legacy and the arc of Canadian history. Even though significant border protests were either already cleared (in Windsor, Ontario) or the cusp of ending (in Coutts, Alberta), Trudeau invoked the Canadian equivalent of martial law, granting himself virtually unlimited power to trample on the rights of any citizen that dares protest his policies. Here’s how Bloomberg describes it:
“Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked sweeping emergency powers Monday to quell protests against vaccine mandates and other Covid-19 restrictions, including measures to choke off the flow of money to demonstrators.
Banks and financial institutions will be required to review their relationships with anyone involved in an illegal blockade and report them. They’ll have the authority to stop providing services to those suspected of using their accounts to help the protesters and to freeze accounts without getting a court order.
The government is also broadening its anti-money laundering rules to cover crowdsourcing sites such as GoFundMe that have been used to funnel donations to them, as well as cryptocurrency platforms.”
Here’s Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland explaining how she is “directing Canadian financial institutions to review their relationships with anyone involved in the illegal blockades…”:
Left unsaid is the definition of “involved,” which history teaches will be significantly more expansive than Canadians assume and continue to get broader over time. Even if you think the Freedom Convey protestors are racist Nazis with unacceptable views, if you can’t see how dangerous this overreach is and how short the path is from “them” to “you,” we submit that you are catastrophically naive. By granting himself the discretion to freeze the banking privileges of citizens without a court order or judicial review based on nothing more than a politician’s nebulous definition of “involved,” Trudeau has indeed gone full dictator.
And so, another advance of the conveyor into the abyss is clicked into place. By broadening the scope of Canada's anti-money laundering and terrorist financing rules to include crowdfunding platforms and cryptocurrencies that support peaceful protestors, Trudeau and his cabinet of wannabe totalitarians have validated the concerns of every conscientious objector to the post 9/11 laws that were so hurriedly passed with precious little debate. The definition of terrorist has evolved from “one who wishes to blow up planes” to “one who disagrees with the political choices of their current government.”
We leave you with the infamous interview from which we selected both the title and the opening quote for this piece. More than 50 years ago, Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau invoked national emergency laws in response to domestic upheaval – the last time such measures were taken. Watch and two important things are revealed: who the “important” people are that deserve his protection, and which Trudeau had the competent swagger commensurate with his posturing.
Imagine what Pierre would try to get away with today.
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