King, Obama, and the Surveillance State

On the 50th anniversary of Dr Martin Luther King Jr’s speech in Washington, DC, as our first black president speaks at the same spot, it might be a good idea to remember that in that time, Dr King was being spied upon, constantly, aggressively and thoroughly illegally. Dr King was never under suspicion of committing a crime. He was not a terrorist, nor did anyone believe he was a terrorist. At no point in time did any police agency stand before a judge and ask for a warrant to tap his phone, bug his hotel rooms, read his mail and follow his movements. The entire point of the effort was to discredit, harass, intimidate, and silence a man who was engaged in peaceful, Constitutionally-protected, political speech. The vast spying power of the state, justified by a need to fight an existential threat to the United States, was used instead to try to silence dissent. Because that’s what it’s always used for, then – and now.

Oh, and did you notice how well all those FBI agents following King around actually protected him from an actual, real terrorist? Right.

The major difference between then and now is that today, the state has the power to bug each and every one of us as thoroughly as it did King. We each have a microphone we carry around, that the FBI can turn on at will. They read our email. They know who we call and they know what we say. They track our movements. And all of this is done without a court order or even a suspicion of having committed a crime. And it is only a matter of time before the trove of information that is being gathered on us all is harnessed to squash dissent.

President Obama might consider this history when he stands up and talks in Dr King’s place, as his administration relentlessly advances the perpetuation and expansion of the National Surveillance State. He might, but he probably won’t.


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