Apart from analyzing the tendency of the war-film genre to glorify violence, justify racism, and fetishize murder, there are a number of factual errors and historical inconsistencies with Clint Eastwood’s newest film American Sniper, as well as the book it’s based upon. The film’s portrayal of Christian dominionism confuses the otherwise peaceful messages of Jesus. The juxtaposition of 9/11 with Iraq invites viewers to make foreign policy connections that do not exist. Implicit jingoism encourages movie-goers to express xenophobic hatred vicariously through the film’s barbaric protagonist.
And the book that Eastwood’s film was based on seems even worse, weaving a web of lies, from making claims about “punching-out” former Navy SEAL Jesse Ventura, to accounts of murdering looters in New Orleans during hurricane Katrina, all the while referring to the people in his cross-hairs as “savages” and “animals”.
As a veteran myself, I have several grievances with the national debate currently underway regarding this piece of “art”. On one side it is hailed by “red blooded American patriots” as the incredible story of the deadliest sniper the American military ever produced, condemned by anti-war activists as offensive propaganda on the other. The tweet storms seem to indicate that spectators were coming away from American Sniper with a yearning for killing. Clint Eastwood denies this, ironically proclaiming the film as a champion of anti-war ideals. Just as the official narrative of the Iraq war involved “fighting for Iraqi liberation,” propagandists spin a facade of moral high ground language as a smoke screen for obvious misbehavior.
Case in point: if we’re there to liberate them, why revel in their indiscriminate murder?
Despite the predictable “patriots vs. hippies” narrative characterizing this debate, I would like to offer a third point of view, somewhere in the middle of the two extreme polarities. Such a national argument could serve as an opportunity to overcome personal biases, regardless of what side we believe is right, and acknowledge that life is complicated. This is our chance to understand that as long as we’re arguing with each other, we’ll never be able to tackle the root of problems concerning us all. And learning the truth is not about agreement. War is about profit and power for those who wage it. The trick is convincing people to fight and die in their wars. And that’s why propagandists pull in the big bucks.
In 2017, a Freedom of Information Act request by Tom Secker and Matthew Alford revealed the extent to which the Hollywood promotes war explicitly on behalf of the Pentagon, CIA and NSA. Documents obtained by Secker and Alford detailed the military’s control of and influence over more than 1,800 movies and television shows, “including the ability to manipulate scripts or even prevent films too critical of the Pentagon from being made. … If there are characters, action or dialogue that the DOD don’t approve of then the film-maker has to make changes to accommodate the military’s demands. If they refuse then the Pentagon packs up its toys and goes home. To obtain full cooperation the producers have to sign contracts–Production Assistance Agreements–which lock them into using a military-approved version of the script.”
Even before I joined the military, I was intuitively skeptical of the impact that war films can have on our individual psyches, and thus the influence they have on the collective overmind if watched enough times. Many of my friends growing up were seduced by the violence of Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now despite the fact that the film’s intention seemed to be the illustration of war’s many unspeakable horrors (as well as a timely adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s classic Heart of Darkness). But even if a war film attempts to convey the message of “look how horrible wars can be,” immature viewers tend to get seduced by the adrenaline-inducing weapon systems of the 21st century. Phrases like, “happiness is a belt-fed weapon” further play into this culture of carnage; a phrase that I heard repeated many times in my career, and repeated myself after becoming a SAW gunner.
The only films I ever saw that made me think twice about joining up were The Deer Hunter starring Robert DeNero, and Born On The Forth Of July starring Tom Cruise. These two films depicted the true cost of sending our best and brightest into the hungry jaws of faraway battles. Before seeing these films, the possibility of losing a leg or permanent paralysis had never occurred to me. Because from John Wayne’s The Longest Day to Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down, America’s motion pictures had sold me on the world view that the battlefield yields glory, validated either in a “hero’s death” or award ceremonies and ticker tape parades that are always more fulfilling in your head than in real life.
Having said that, I’m always hesitant to lend my eyes to films depicting physical violence and bloodshed because of the messages they can send, whether they intend to or not. As with most forms of screen entertainment, many Hollywood films are meant to shape perception within the public to garner support for geopolitical decisions made on our behalf, which is why movie theaters are federally subsidized. For the same reason that recruiters are positioned in high schools to grab up our best and brightest before they’ve reached the age of reason, war films play as instrumental a role in military recruitment as first-person-shooter video games do. These forms of screen media masquerade as nothing more than entertainment, all the while subtly programming a state-sponsored narrative of justified imperialism into the malleable minds of those subject to the electronic hallucinations of the glowing rectangle.
Seth Rogen took a lot of flack recently for drawing an apt comparison between Eastwood’s new film to the film-within-a-film, Nation’s Pride – the Nazi propaganda movie that appeared in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds. The purpose of effective propaganda is to numb the mind away from reasonable thinking, and anesthetize the emotions away from empathy. As Chris Hedges recently pointed out in TruthDig, “American Sniper caters to a deep sickness rippling through our society. It holds up the dangerous belief that we can recover our equilibrium and our lost glory by embracing an American fascism.” He goes on to say:
“The culture of war banishes the capacity for pity. It glorifies self-sacrifice and death. It sees pain, ritual humiliation and violence as part of an initiation into manhood… The culture of war idealizes only the warrior. It belittles those who do not exhibit the warrior’s “manly” virtues. It places a premium on obedience and loyalty. It punishes those who engage in independent thought and demands total conformity. It elevates cruelty and killing to a virtue. This culture, once it infects wider society, destroys all that makes the heights of human civilization and democracy possible. The capacity for empathy, the cultivation of wisdom and understanding, the tolerance and respect for difference and even love are ruthlessly crushed. The innate barbarity that war and violence breed is justified by a saccharine sentimentality about the nation, the flag and a perverted Christianity that blesses its armed crusaders… It fosters an unchecked narcissism. Facts and historical truths, when they do not fit into the mythic vision of the nation and the tribe, are discarded. Dissent becomes treason. All opponents are godless and subhuman.”
Veterans For Peace recently responded to the film in a similar way, contending:
“Following spaghetti western acclaim, Clint Eastwood, now 84, moved on to Dirty Harry movies… Over the years, he has honed this very masculine style and become a popular film director exploring the American psyche mostly from the reactionary right — though his films are always a dialogue with issues on the left. American Sniper is no different with its limited contrapuntal theme of PTSD and homefront family adjustment.
“Harry Callahan was famous for whacking creeps who deserved to die with his long, phallic .44 magnum. It was great cinema. The formula was simple: Feature a good guy who hates bureaucrats, loves to cut corners and is a man comfortable with violence and put him at odds with bad guys who are absolute perverted creeps whose death at the hands of the good guy would be cheered by an audience shoving popcorn down its gullet. The films were realistic in the sense of being harsh, brutal and loud. But they were far from realistic in the sense of being complex, morally gray, contradictory and confusing — like life itself.”
So when it comes to Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper, I’m first and foremost appalled by the message we get early on that the message of Christ has anything to do with racist bigotry or a fixation of murder. How can any true Christian bemoan the crucifixion of Christ and then revel in the slaughter of other human beings?
Beyond achieving the feigned moral high ground of killing for Jesus, the film presupposes that sniper Chris Kyle was sent to Iraq because of what happened on 9/11. You don’t have to be that well informed to understand that the only connection that exists between 9/11 and Iraq is the Bush administration’s lie about Weapons of Mass Destruction which were never found in the deserts of Iraq. A deluge of patriotism that flooded our soldiers into Afghanistan created a tidal wave of militarism, the momentum of which has since bled over into operations conducted in over 75 countries. This fact remained hidden from the American people until Jeremy Scahill finally spilled the beans on JSOC with the book/documentary Dirty Wars.
When the twin towers fell, I was an ROTC cadet reporting in to my commanding officer for my morning duties. It wasn’t long after that I joined the US Army’s ranks in the 11B combat specialty despite having the ASVAB scores to go anywhere else. None of the other jobs had what I was looking for. In the summer of 2005 I graduated infantry OSUT and airborne school, both at Fort Benning, Georgia.
For people like me, it didn’t matter where the military sent us. We were absolutely convinced that our help was necessary to protect the nation, and that the military was working on behalf of the nation’s best interests. But no matter how enthusiastic I may have been at the beginning (and there was no solider more gung-ho for HOOAH than me), it slowly but inevitably became impossible to ignore the power grabs and profiteering happening above my pay grade. Once I finally became witness to the crimes of our government, that the media insisted were not happening, I couldn’t deny the truth any longer. Looking back I wonder how I was ever able made to believe any of the mainstream lies. Then again, common sense is only sense made common, and hindsight is always 20/20.
I don’t enjoy talking about my service, and no fellow veteran I know who has taken lives was ever proud of it. Which brings me to my next point about the book of the same name upon which the movie American Sniper is based. Chris Kyle, who is credited with 160 confirmed kills (God knows how many more unconfirmed) reads like a demented serial killer, reveling in the destruction and death that transpired at his fingertips during four tours of duty. This initially led me to question what role the book and subsequent film were meant to play in the society to shape public perception, and how much of it was altered to appeal to the pro-war narrative. Because no veteran I know personally has ever talked the way Kyle does about murder in his memoirs. The only people I’ve ever met who revel in the death and suffering of other humans in combat situations are people who have either never been in combat, or sadistic psychopaths.
As far as the first group are concerned you’ve probably bumped into one of these clowns at the bar, telling fantastic stories of the wars he so bravely fought in. Mine were usually socially inept boys with poor posture who liked to brag about how they were “a sniper in Iraq” or worked with the “special forces in Afghanistan” in between swigs of cheap beer. For whatever reason, stolen valor seems to have become quite popular in the age of Homeland Security.
The first prerequisite in determining the legitimacy of an individual’s service in the military is his unwillingness to talk about combat. Nobody I know who saw ‘trigger time’ overseas enjoys talking about combat, and most will flatly refuse your requests to reminisce by changing the subject, or leaving the conversation altogether. Posers, on the other hand, who have been programmed by video games and war films to glorify human slaughter, will tell war stories that usually feel like borrowed composites from pop culture. They do this because the greater culture has brainwashed them into thinking that they can obtain respect, sex, and notoriety if they can convince people they too are an American war hero. The reality experienced by our authentic heroes, however, seldom includes any semblance of fame or fortune, but a whole lot of guilt and flashbacks.
If you bump into armchair commandos claiming military service, and you want to skillfully suggest polite skepticism of their yarns, a great test of character is to ask them what their MOS was during their military career. That’s Military Occupational Specialty, and if they weren’t in the military they usually won’t be able to answer this question. Sometimes the smart fakers have memorized some figures, but this question weeds them out nine times out of ten.
Please understand that I’m not accusing Chris Kyle of being a poser, per se. Though this book exhibits demonstrable lies, we can say based on evidence that he was indeed a veteran and served out his military contract honorably. But if he actually reveled in the act of killing during his service as the pages and scenes of American Sniper allege, and if he actually felt the way those hateful sentences convey, then I’m led to believe that he’s either a psychopath, or that the narrative of his life has been altered to boost sales and/or garner patriotic support for continued global imperialism.
Praising the act of killing into fetish territory is not the behavior of any genuine veteran I know, which leads me to believe that Chris Kyle is either not responsible for the death-glorification that appears in the book (which, by the way, is conspicuously absent from the film), or he was a psychopath. Neither case leaves me either admiring Kyle, or feeling the need to honor his memory.
I’ve also considered the possibility that many of the stories were fabrications, either ghost-written by other writers or embellished by the editor to push sales, because there are many claims throughout the text that are blatant lies: in the book we’re meant to believe that Chris Kyle punched former Navy Seal Jesse Ventura; that Kyle sniped thirty people in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina; that he murdered two men attempting to car-jack him. There is no evidence to support any of these claims, and Jesse Ventura even filed a law suit for defamation of character when Chris Kyle was still alive.
“PUNCHING OUT JESSE”
The media really twisted up Ventura’s defamation lawsuit, vilifying the former Minnesota Governor for victimizing the “poor widow” of Chris Kyle “for greedy monetary gain”. Ventura has since set the record straight about the chapter of American Sniper entitled, “Punching Out Jesse,” that the publication company was forced to change. Despite the fact that a jury came to the conclusion that overwhelming evidence proves beyond a reasonable doubt that the incident in question never happened, instead of amending or omitting the entire chapter, HarperCollins offered money as payment to Ventura for damages. Ventura objected to the money, demanding they remove the blatant lies from the pages of the book. Though they’ve changed the name of that chapter in subsequent publications, they stonewalled Ventura on altering the content, instead writing him a check for $1.8 million, and now the media are free to berate him for taking money away from Kyle’s widow. Money that the Kyle Estate claimed was going entirely towards charity in the name of veterans organizations, which turned out to be another lie, as only about 2% of the proceeds were ever donated to said charities, according to the National Review.
This brings me to the strange circumstances surrounding Chris Kyle’s death; shot by a former Marine on a shooting range shortly after Ventura’s lawsuit began. Some analysts are drawing parallels between the Chris Kyle narrative and the Pat Tillman story. Men who’s image was worth billions in recruitment advertising to the military-industrial-complex.
A common misconception infecting the discourse of our society is that if you’re going to question the war you need to be prepared to respond to accusations of being anti-American or anti-military. As an ROTC cadet and a person who sacrificed his early life to join the military, is anyone prepared to call me anti-American? Since I was honorably discharged from my military service, is anyone prepared to call me anti-military?
22 veterans kill themselves every day. You think it’s because they’re proud of what they did? You think it’s because they’re happy with what their actions helped accomplish? You think its because they believed that their battles resulted in freedom for Americans?
And how does patriotic support of our troops equate to the anti-human stance we take on the scores of homeless veterans walking our streets every day, who we demonize for being poor? If anyone is qualified to say this, I as a veteran am: you cannot support our troops and be simultaneously against the war. That’s oxymoronic because if our troops are committing crimes against humanity, we are no different than any other totalitarian regime in history. If I’m involved in something shitty, you shouldn’t pledge my support, any more than I should be required to follow shitty orders if I think they’re unlawful. Just following orders is a coward’s excuse, and hiding behind a rifle requires far less courage than standing up to a corrupt government that continues to commit crimes in the name of freedom, God and country.
I’m not the only veteran taking a stance to set the record straight here. Former Marines Adam Kokesh and Ross Caputi who both served in Fallujah, call the Iraq war an imperialistic resource theft that exploits American soldiers who think they’re fighting for freedom.
Perhaps no one has ever said it better than two-time Medal of Honor recipient Major General Smedley D. Butler:
“I spent thirty-three years and four months in active military service as a member of this country’s most agile military force, the Marine Corps. I served in all commissioned ranks from Second Lieutenant to Major-General. And during that period, I spent most of my time being a high class muscle-man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. “I suspected I was just part of a racket at the time. Now I am sure of it. Like all the members of the military profession, I never had a thought of my own until I left the service. My mental faculties remained in suspended animation while I obeyed the orders of higher-ups. This is typical with everyone in the military service.
“I helped make Mexico, especially Tampico, safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefits of Wall Street. The record of racketeering is long. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. In China I helped to see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested.
“During those years, I had, as the boys in the back room would say, a swell racket. Looking back on it, I feel that I could have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.”
For this reason, I can’t help but cringe when people reflexively respond to the news of my military service by pumping my hand and thanking me for my service, which is part of the reason I rarely bring it up. Since we’re on the subject, I must ask you all to please refrain from thanking me for my service as a matter of reflex. Because I didn’t fight for anybody’s freedom. I fought to help guarantee the profits of assholes, just as General Butler articulated all those years before me.
This post was originally composed by journalist and Army veteran Brandt Miller.
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The price we all pay when we ignore our truth tellers while often too great to bear, is difficult to measure until it’s too late to matter. But as with many truths, denial is the path of least resistance many of us choose to walk, especially if we internalize the myth of separation that whispers sweet apathetic nothings of complacency in our ears. And what could be easier to deny than a problem we rarely if ever see? Its too easy not to care about our prison population because we have no proximity to them. Unless we ourselves are in prison, we will never be directly confronted with the 2.4 million Americans serving sentences in penitentiaries. America leads the world in few categories, but per capital incarcerated citizens is one of them. There are many reasons for our obsessive incarceration, but the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was able to see the underlying causes nearly five decades ago.
Martin warned us of a triple threat so insidious that it jeopardizes the very fabric of our precious republic. That triple threat was the three-legged monster of racism, poverty and militarism. This triple threat results today in the imprisonment of more black men than were enslaved in 1850 – and it isn’t merely a relative increase with respect to population growth, because the population of our prison population has increased disproportionately to the population of the country. Since 1970, America’s overall population has increased by 55.48%, but America’s prison population has increased by 700% over the same period of time according to the ACLU. America imprisons more people than Communist China!
Most of us are unaware that the rapid Privatization of prisons by companies like the GEO Group or Corrections Corporation of America results in that taxpayers only pay for the cells that don’t have prisoners in them. That’s right – if there are empty beds, taxpayers pay the price, thus turning empty cells into a financial disincentive. But most shockingly, we are grossly unaware of the degree of involuntary servitude our 2.4 million prisoners are subjected to, and even less aware of which corporations benefit from prison slave labor vicariously through subcontractors.
“Prisons employ and exploit the ideal worker. Prisoners do not receive benefits or pensions. They are not paid overtime. They are forbidden to organize and strike. They must show up on time. They are not paid for sick days or granted vacations. They cannot formally complain about working conditions or safety hazards. If they are disobedient, or attempt to protest their pitiful wages, they lose their jobs and can be sent to isolation cells. The roughly 1 million prisoners who work for corporations and government industries in the American prison system are models for what the corporate state expects us all to become. And corporations have no intention of permitting prison reforms that would reduce the size of their bonded workforce. In fact, they are seeking to replicate these conditions throughout the society.
“But corporate profit is not limited to building and administering prisons. Whole industries now rely almost exclusively on prison labor. Federal prisoners, who are among the highest paid in the U.S. system, making as much as $1.25 an hour, produce the military’s helmets, uniforms, pants, shirts, ammunition belts, ID tags and tents. Prisoners work, often through subcontractors, for major corporations such as Chevron, Bank of America, IBM, Motorola, Microsoft, AT&T, Starbucks, Nintendo, Victoria’s Secret, J.C. Penney, Sears, Wal-Mart, Kmart, Eddie Bauer, Wendy’s, Procter & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson, Fruit of the Loom, Motorola, Caterpillar, Sara Lee, Quaker Oats, Mary Kay, Microsoft, Texas Instruments, Dell, Honeywell, Hewlett-Packard, Nortel, Nordstrom’s, Revlon, Macy’s, Pierre Cardin and Target.”
But the scope this exploitation isn’t merely limited to individuals serving sentences in the Prison-Industrial-Complex. According to 5 million Americans on state supervision are among a sector of the population that is growing even faster than the population of our citizens incarcerated within ‘correctional’ institutions.there are twice as many individuals currently serving correctional supervision such as parole and probation, paying for urinalysis testing and probation fees. And the
Of course there is a tendency in this country to simplify these issues. So often we’ve heard, “Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time,” as though the corruption of our public institutions and the militarization of our police forces will go unnoticed to you if you simply follow the rules. But there are many punishable offenses which are not, strictly speaking, crimes.
New laws are being passed all the time to funnel larger numbers of American citizens into these corporate work camps. We’re legislating our way into hell, and we’re doing it one law at a time. America’s fetishism for new statutory regulations has created such an atmosphere of totalitarianism, that even the elites are finding it difficult to ignore. Writing in Politico Magazine, Charles Koch (of all people) recognizes this problem:
“Congress creates, on average, more than 50 new criminal laws each year. Over time, this has translated into more than 4,500 federal criminal laws spread across 27,000 pages of the United States federal code. (This number does not include the thousands of criminal penalties in federal regulations.) As a result, the United States is the world’s largest jailer.”
it isn’t difficult to see how we got here. Many politicians depend on the perception of being “tough on crime” to get elected, which all-too-often translates to vapid attempts to legislate morality, and correct societal ills by means of criminalization rather than compassionate reason. Heroin addiction is not a crime -it’s an illness, and a public health problem. Homelessness is not a crime – it’s a symptom of poverty amid an economic atmosphere so desperate that 47 million Americans depend on food stamps, 40 million Americans are below the poverty line, and 600,000 homeless Americans sleep out of doors on any given night. Nevertheless, it is in the establishment’s interest to perpetuate “tough on crime” slogans by means of exaggerating crime rates in the media. Crime rates in America are as low as they’ve ever been, but the reporting of crime in the mainstream media is more fanatical than ever before. When combined with cop dramas like CSI, Criminal Minds, and Law & Order that depict pathetically cartoonish portrayals of the world outside, the media’s overreaction to the reporting of crime perverts the collective psyche of America to the point that fascism seems normal.
Mark Warr, criminologist and professor of sociology, studies social reactions to crime and author of Companions in Crime: The Social Aspects of Criminal Conduct confirms that public perception of crime is radically out of sync with reality:
“People are bombarded with information about crime from the media, which makes them believe the world is a much more dangerous place than it really is. This creates a climate of fear that can negatively affect the way we live, the way we go to work, the times we shop and the precautions we take for our families and children.”
To cite just one statistical gem collected by Columbia Journalism School’s Dart Center, we’re provided a small glimpse into the extent of our media’s increasingly egregious fear mongering:
“Approximately half of crime news in New Orleans focused on homicide in 1981, while only 0.4% of the total crimes committed were actually homicides (Sheley & Ashkins, 1981).”
So if violent crime is so low, then why are more people than ever entering the prison population in America?
In terms of what is considered legal and what is illegal in this country, we would be wise to heed the words of Martin Luther King when he reminded us that, “We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was ‘legal,’ and it was ‘illegal’ to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler’s Germany.” If that seems like an extreme example, I invite you examine a small sample of some of Ameica’s more ridiculous statutes, which have created a climate where it is illegal to collect rainwater in Colorado, Utah and Washington, it is illegal to consume raw milk in 17 states, and federally it is not only still illegal to possess the ancient medicine we know of as Cannabis despite overwhelming public outcry, but 15 million Americans have been arrested for Cannabis possession since 1970. This is just a tip of the iceberg when we consider all of the additional fines and citations accumulated by millions of Americans every day for inconsequential and often petty, technical offenses, such as traveling 5 miles over the speed limit or failing to come to a “complete stop” at a signal. And now the paranoid atmosphere of the Terror War further ensures that the divide between the crowbar hotel and the so-called free world is often only one honest mistake away.
But the height of America’s legal absurdity comes into view vis-a-vis the hypocrisy of Nixon’s War on Drugs, which rages on to this very day.
THE FOUR-FOLD RACKET
While the War On Drugs is frequently referred to as a “failure,” this appraisal assumes that the goal of the drug war is to make America a drug-free zone. The truth is that the Drug War is an elaborate profit scheme whereby the established regime can quadruple-dip their profit margin. The initial profit comes into view with state-sanctioned cultivation and importation for large shipments of highly profitable substances, such as cocaine and heroine. It wasn’t just savvy businessmen like Frank Lucas who figured out how to use connections within the US military to smuggle heroin into America inside the coffins of dead servicemen. The government themselves, and the corporations who buy politicians through campaign contributions, have been caught with their pants down on numerous occasions conducting state-sponsored drug trafficking. This kind of state run gangsterism might have remained merely a rumor were it not for the brave journalism of Gary Webb. Marc Levin wrote in October 2014:
“Webb’s reporting uncovered the story of how tons of cocaine were shipped into San Francisco by supporters of the CIA-backed Contras and then distributed down to LA to a Nicaraguan named Danilo Blandon, who sold it to a street dealer from South Central, Freeway Rick Ross.”
The next profit margin is enjoyed almost exclusively by police unions and other law enforcement agencies who bust the users and distributors on drug crimes, imposing fines and seizing property. In fact, the American racket of seizing property without convicting anyone of a crime known as Civil Asset Forfeiture accounts for nearly $2 Billion in police revenue annually.
The third profit margin occurs when police take the newly seized drugs and turn around to sell them. Because so much of these kinds of sales happen in the shadows by the untouchable enforcers of law, this problem is more rampant than we know. But occasionally such operations become uncovered, as it was in Chicago in 2013 by New York Daily News:
“Three Chicago-area cops robbed drug dealers of their stash while executing search warrants, then turned around and sold the heroin, cocaine and marijuana, pocketing the cash.”
There is one more kind of profit in this business, and it involves the largest financial institutions in the world. In March of 2013 Senator Elizabeth Warren grilled officials from the Treasury Department, Federal Reserve and Office of the Comptroller of the Currency on the subject of HSBC’s $1.9 Billion settlement on charges of laundering money on behalf of Mexican and Columbian drug cartels. No members of HSBC were charged with a crime despite the admission by HSBC that they were responsible for laundering $881 Million in drug money, as well as violating America’s sanctions with Iran, Libya, Cuba, Burma, and the Sudan. Warren concluded her questions with the following statement:
“If you’re caught with an ounce of cocaine, the chances are good you’re gonna go to jail. If it happens repeatedly, you may go to jail for the rest of your life. But evidently if you launder nearly a billion dollars for drug cartels and violate our international sanctions, your company pays a fine and you go home and sleep in your bed at night — every single individual associated with this. And I think that’s fundamentally wrong.”
This is especially alarming when we consider that more than half of the people in prison are in there for drug-related reasons. Today’s drug war is not only a conglomeration of the three legged monster of Racism, Poverty and Militarism that Martin Luther King warned us about, but is a war that has been perpetuated to lay the groundwork for today’s American Gulag Archipelago. A vast network of prisons that rivals any concentration camp complex ever known before.
Though they’re only caught occasionally, these kinds of operations are business as usual for American institutions, and documentation for these kinds of cases exists as far back in the historical record as you care to go.
The line between legal and illegal seems to be more of a matter of one’s bank balance than of evidence-based assertions in the name of justice. And it follows that in the pervading ideology of gangster capitalism, the ownership class are not fond of anyone who spills the beans on their schemes, nor of individuals capable of rallying the public toward rejecting the tyrannical despotism crawling all around us. The establishment has repeatedly taken decisive action to silence figures like Martin Luther King and Malcom X, the Black Panther leaders and any other powerful orator capable of drawing a crowd and fanning the flames of righteous indignation. Popular leaders and effective journalists were, and continue to be, systematically exterminated to prevent any uprising capable of opposing the status quo in a meaningful way. Leaders whose popularity and notoriety protected them from assassination were imprisoned instead. One such leader was, and is, Mumia Abu Jamal.
Mumia’s incredible story chronicles an ineffable journey from gifted broadcast journalist working the streets of Philadelphia, to death-row author whose books have made him perhaps the most famous prison inmate of modern times. Assessing the reason for Mumia’s incarceration, a thorough examination of the historical record demonstrates not only that the evidence for Mumia’s guilt simply does not exist, but that the state framed him in 1981 explicitly to shut him up. Accepting life in prison as an opportunity to write seven bestselling books, today his very existence challenges our beliefs about freedom of expression. But in order to properly understand this brilliant writer, we must come to grips with the modern American Gulag, which brings me back to the fastest growing industry in the American Empire. The truth is that Mumia’s story is not exceptional. Leonard Peltier’s story shares an eerie parallel. Both men were imprisoned for crimes they did not commit, but because they were well spoken and socially adept, it was politically advantageous to imprison them and make examples of them.
IT CAN’T HAPPEN HERE?
While we were distracted with Game of Thrones and Call of Duty, our country has transformed into a the dystopia that American’s have repeatedly denied would ever happen here due to the delusion of American Exceptionalism that refuses to acknowledge that seeds of corruption could ever germinate in the U.S. For those who say “it can’t happen here,” we need but simply recall the internment of Japanese Americans in 1942 to recognize that it has happened here already, and is happening on a daily basis courtesy of a $75 Billion per year industry that garners profits for shareholders based on how many people are in jail. And now with the advent of “Guaranteed Occupancy Agreements,” if prisons fail to fill the beds, the taxpayers bear the burden. “It can’t happen here” is a sentence uttered in ignorance of the American Government’s bombing of Philadelphia neighborhoods on 13 May 1985. “It can’t happen here” is a perspective of wishful thinking that ignores the Waco siege in Texas of April 1993. “It can’t happen here” is a fantasy that outright ignores the writing on the wall provided to us by the likes of Edward Snowden, Bradley Manning, Julian Assange, Karen Hudes, Sherry Peel Jackson, and countless other whistleblowers. We can no longer afford the luxury of apathy that drives us to blindly accept this as “just the way things are” by perpetuating the lie that “it can’t happen here.” The more we ignore it, the worse it will become. Until we realize that the militarization of police nationwide is nothing short of the inception of an American Gestapo that sees the citizen as the enemy, increasing numbers of our children will attend Con Colleges and Gladiator Schools, or worse.
Even if we embrace the immature thinking that the people in prisons deserve to be there, someday most of them are going to get out and rejoin society, conceivably. When they get out, if they haven’t dealt with the internal strife that led them into prison in the first place, they’re more likely to return to prison, end up homeless, or commit suicide than effectively reintegrate into society. Jobs are already difficult to find, but try finding a job if you’re a convicted felon. The state refers to the Gulag euphemistically as the “Department of Corrections” but nothing remotely corrective happens behind bars, because there is no profit in seeking solutions. It is not in the monetary interests of this machine to allow inmates the social mobility to leave the prison system once they’ve ventured inside it. This problem is exacerbated intensely by America’s modern paradigm that sees Prisons as a Business, which is a major reason why the number of incarcerated Americans has multiplied by several orders of magnitude and rates of recidivism have soared over the past few decades. Its all on track to follow the Capitalist “Infinite Growth” paradigm until and unless something significant finally stands in its way.
In 2010 I spoke with a young man named Daniel who worked for the organization Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP). Despite the escalating drug war, Daniel was confident that the future looked hopeful. His positive outlook centered on how Baby Boomers would react to their children going to prison; that when they inevitably witness what is happening to their progeny, it would be inconceivable to allow this to continue. Daniel’s analysis couldn’t have been more lucid, and illustrates perhaps the only way to turn this around before it’s too late to reverse the Southward trend down tyranny’s slippery slope. The voting public are by and large comprised of elderly citizens, who were sold today’s America on the promise that they needed to be kept safe, which meant being tough on crime, and being tough on crime meant expanding the Prison Industrial Complex. Now that our parents can no longer ignore how the jagged teeth of this system tears their children apart, the dinner table conversations couldn’t be more necessary. There has never been a time when it was more important to turn the television off, put the cell phone down, and engage. We stand at the edge of oblivion, and whether they’ve been hypnotized by the media or not, whatever the mass of people deem as acceptable is what will prevail. We can no longer afford to maintain a mentality of apathy, complacency or indifference when it comes to America’s Prison Industrial Complex.
America’s mainstream opinions are anchored in the facade of carefully prepared sound-bytes designed to prevent discussions by fueling bigotry concerning those who question or condemn the status quo.
If, for example, you dare to question the intention behind the reality of modern warfare, droves of unconscious masses declare that you’re demeaning the brave soldiers that have fought and died for your freedom. If you dare to propose that river waters are more important to the health of unquantifiable life forms than a pipeline that threatens to pollute it, hoards of consumers condemn you as radical, leftist, environmentalist scum obviously trying to destroy our economy. In exactly the same way, if you dare to question the practices at work inside our Prisons, you’re denounced by the mob for putting all of our communities at risk by letting evil off the hook or taking sides with the ‘evil doers.’ Such obtuse opinions fail to acknowledge how evil it is to exploit the world to obtain a few fleeting crumbs from the sands of impermanence.
But by and large many have enjoyed the luxury of remaining blissfully unaware of the state of the country, until we arrive at the point where we are now. There have been so many arrests, and now so many people are in prison, and the police corruption has reached such fever pitch, that these issues have become all but impossible to ignore. But many American’s continue to struggle with the great difficulty of juxtaposing ‘American Exceptionalism’ with the state of America as it is today. It’s perfectly natural in such a situation to wonder how this is possible in the freest and most prosperous country in the world? Unfortunately, despite what we’re routinely fed through the media, not only is America not the freest or most prosperous country in the world, there is a growing consciousness which recognizes the warning signs that we may be goosestepping our way into yet another repetition of history.
When we look at the Prison-class, and what it is further becoming with the privatization of prisons, what we see emerging is a permanent slave population harvested from already impoverished communities. We see an atmosphere of jailing society’s undesirables, starting with the homeless because people can universally condemn the homeless population. And that’s usually how fascism gets going. This isn’t a mere possibility that we may be headed toward – we’re already there now. You’d think the overwhelming militarization of our domestic police forces would illustrate this straightaway. According to The Guardian:
“Since 2006, state and local law enforcement have acquired at least 435 armored vehicles, 533 military aircraft and 93,763 machine guns, according to an investigation by the New York Times published in June. This was made possible under a department of defense program that allows the agency to transfer excess military property to US law enforcement agencies. More than $4.3bn worth of gear has been transferred since the program was created in 1997, according to the Law Enforcement Support Office (LESO)”
Militarism is one of the chief factors in the triple threat to American liberty that Martin Luther King warned us about. And it continues to march through our society claiming the lives of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Rumain Brisbon, Tamir Rice, Akai Gurley, Kajieme Powell, Ezell Ford, Dante Parker, John Crawford III, Tyree Woodson, Eric Garner, Victor White III, and Yvette Smith just to name a few of the black men executed by law enforcement officers within the last 12 months. The atmosphere of police murders today is such that Americans are 8 times more likely to be killed by a cop than by a terrorist.
There are very good reasons for sending people to prison, and they include war-crimes and money laundering. Unfortunately no war criminal guilty of genocide and no banker guilty of embezzling the world’s economy faces so much as a shred of justice. Meanwhile our institutions habitually send millions of people into the hell of prison because they changed the state of their consciousness – an act that harms no one but potentially themselves. The masses go along with this scheme because it is easier in the short term to punish people than to take the steps necessary to heal them in a responsible way that will last.
Perpetuating the pain of people that most often grew up in very painful circumstances is only going to maintain this new slave-class – which is, of course, the goal of the ownership-class. Providing meaningful programs to heal deep psychological wounds and guide personal responsibility, education and self-progression would provide new-found strength that could ripple out into our communities and culture.
A transformation is possible, but requires our participation and dedication to a radical paradigm shift that embraces compassion-based solutions instead of profit-focused punishment. As long as monetary incentives to lock people up persist, the ownership-class have no reason to change course from their present trajectory, though they may use words on occasion to admit they are aware of the depravity of the situation, as Charles Koch has. This industry is too profitable to abandon, and private prison industries have spent tens of millions of dollars sending their lobbyist armies to Washington to secure their bottom line.
We must also recognize how the deliberate use of legalese to distort language and thereby coerce the population into consenting to unjust statutes makes us as liable for the present situation as those who have recognized how to exploit it.
If we are honest with ourselves about the present income inequality that has now reached fever pitch, it is simply a continuation of exploitation on behalf of the ownership class who reap the benefits from people of modest means who, for whatever reason, willingly consent to their own enslavement because they mistakenly believe they are free. The true success of this system lies in America’s routine acceptance of it. It is accepted because, “if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it” (Romans 8:25). Americans see themselves not as an exploited proletariat, but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires, and in dreaming for carrots they will never grasp, have rendered themselves docile for the duration of their lives.