The New McCarthyism
December 19, 2001 9:39 PM   Subscribe

The New McCarthyism This is so scary. It doesn't seem like anything more than intimidation, but, that's now. What will happen next?
posted by bas67 (32 comments total)
What will happen next is that the right-hand side of the room is going to say these people were asking for it by acting suspicious. Then the left-hand side of the room will say no no no, this is america, we should be able to act suspicious if we want to. Then the right-hand side of the room will say but what about the terrorists? The the left-hand side of the room will say but what about our civil liberties? Then the right-hand side of the room will say oh calm down this isn't so bad, it's not like we're sending anybody to internment camps or anything. Then the left-hand side of the room will say oh yes it is that bad, or it will be soon if you guys on the right don't shut up and listen to us on the left. Then the right-hand side of the room will say we're not gonna shut up, why don't you shut up. Then the left-hand side of the room will say no you shut up. No you shut up. No you shut up. No you shut up. Fascist. Commie. Jerk.

There, I saved us the trouble of having this thread. Next.
posted by ook at 9:59 PM on December 19, 2001

For all those people who thought that there was a lot of 'Sky is Falling' here, there's this:

All in all, they were there for about an hour. "As they were leaving, they asked me where I went to school, and if my parents knew if I worked at a place like this, and who funded us, and how many people came in to see the exhibit," she says.

Is it still 'the sky falling'? Now you can't go to a fucking museum without the Feds watching you. Why would they want to know where she went to school, or if her parents know she's working there? What kind of bull shit is that?

And for those of you who thought that Barry Reingold was lying because he couldn't remember the names of those who visited him, Donna Huanca, in this article, did: The two men were Terrence Donahue of the FBI and Steven Smith of the Secret Service.
posted by Rastafari at 10:09 PM on December 19, 2001

Clearly this was a waste these two agents time, but is it that clear that they were really trying to intimidate?

The tone of the article was clearly not shy about trying to instill fear of Big Brother, but the sad reality is that our country is still in a state of alert of what happened. This was less than a month after the 11th, so people were particularly paranoid. Someone went into this place, saw something featuring burning buildings, a 'great satan' (ok, I'm embelishing a little) and the president.

So they called the FBI. Or the Secret Service. Or both. Maybe it was stupid, but it happened and these agents had an obligation to look. They didn't ask anybody to change the exhibit, they didn't arrest anyone, they looked around and left. They were presented rather ominously, but that's the word of a person who felt intimidated by the situation as a whole, and the slant of the article.

Think about all the stories after Columbine of people who posted clearly humorous or non-threatening stories or drawing on the internet, who were visited by the FBI. Or children who were suspended or sent to counselling for drawing or having squirt guns.

It's the same thing. Someone high up in the government said "ok, be on high alert for anything that might imply killing coworkers or students" before, and the FBI chased down absurd leads. On the 11th someone said "be in high alert for things that imply violence towards the president or terrorism," and the FBI is chasing down absurd leads.

None of this is to say that there's not great evidence that those in government aren't trying hard to erode our rights to speech and protection against unlawful search and siezure (to name just two), of course. But it seems very plausible that this is just classic american beurocracy combined with a skittish public.
posted by mragreeable at 10:11 PM on December 19, 2001

My favorite part was when the docent at the Art Car Museum said "It was scary because I was alone, and they were really big guys." R-i-g-h-t. She was scared because these really big FBI guys came in and asked her some questions. Sounds terrifying. Who knows what those really big guys might do to her, all alone there!

Or the peacenik who quits her job and then says "they basically hounded me for about two weeks for my letter of resignation, so I finally caved under duress." R-i-g-h-t. How terrifying. They FORCED her to write a letter of resignation! How scary! Hounded into writing a letter of resignation!

And I shouldn't leave out the author of the book on McCarthyism who reports, "I'm terrified!"

Wait a second, I get it. The US government is waging a war on terrorism, so all these people are being really clever by claiming that they themselves are the victims of terror at the hand of the US government: they all say they're "terrified"!

Give me a break.
posted by peeping_Thomist at 10:12 PM on December 19, 2001

See? I was right.
posted by ook at 10:15 PM on December 19, 2001

Thanks for deletes on my false alarm (where is that embarasses emoticon when I need it). I must have read that elsewhere. My apologies to bas.

ook, as someone well on the left-hand side, I don't fit your sides... I'd say calling this (and other similar recent posts) "McCarthyism" is crying wolf, and that's the real danger.

As far as I'm concerned, as long as they handle it in a courteous manner, and try to avoid disrupting business/a person's life (they visited before the museum was open!), I don't see any problem with them going out for interviews and filing a report on every tip they get.

There were countless cases like this BEFORE septemeber 11th, the FBI always checks out reported threats to the president (what was reported here), and they are more to tune to it now. It sucks that this woman was scared, but there was no harm done.
posted by malphigian at 10:16 PM on December 19, 2001

Wow, that's a long article. It's just now occuring to me that they may make some freaking awesome points later on and you'll quote them and make me look like an ass, so um... full disclosure : I only read the thing about the girl in the museum.

(Of course I wholeheartedly acknowledge that posting my dissenting opinion about a story after having read a full 15% of it is just begging for someone to come along and make me look like an ass.)
posted by mragreeable at 10:16 PM on December 19, 2001

In my experiences in Atlanta and at the University of Georgia, I've seen none of this of which the artivle speaks of. In AJC, there are always anti-war and anti-bush articles. At UGA, there have been some anti-war rallies and there are a few collumnists who have had more than one anti-war or anti-bush articles. The fact is, if you try to, you can always prove your point if you search hard enough. I would bet that if writer of this article tried, he/she could find isolated events like this pre 9/11. Then again, people enfactuated w/ 1984 would say that's just another way to show Big Brother's influence.
posted by jmd82 at 10:24 PM on December 19, 2001

Malphigian: Yup...we had a kid at my high school arrested (at school) for writing death threats to the prez from school.
posted by jmd82 at 10:26 PM on December 19, 2001

I'm pretty much a lefty as well, malphigian... FWIW I take your point, but at the same time think it's pretty difficult to determine at what point "just following up on leads" shades into coercion and harassment. Some of the examples cited in this article sure sound to me to go beyond what should be acceptable in a free society.

But apparently I'm in the minority... a zogby poll last week had something like 68% of americans agreeing that random searches of postal mail and random roadblocks are a good idea. (I'll dig up the url if I can find it; they keep moving their pages around.)

The problem here is that the people on the right-hand side of the room have a pretty good powerpoint slide to introduce their argument:

Bad People Will Try To Kill Us Unless We Do Something About It

The people on the right-hand side of the room have a much weaker-sounding starting argument:

Life Will Suck Really Bad For The Not-Bad People If We Go Too Far While Trying To Stop The Bad People

(Not that I'm saying it is a weaker argument by any means; it happens to be the one I agree with. But it doesn't quite have the same oomph to it.)
posted by ook at 10:34 PM on December 19, 2001

IMHO the big story here, along with government cronies doing whatever, is the turning of the minds of the american public back to a mindset of hatred-via-fear-via-ignorance. Back then, for so called "commies", now for "terrorists" or "anti-american activists". Hopefully it won't get as bad as it did during McCarthy's era when careers were ruined, and lives were torn apart for nothing more than rumors or suspicions. And what's more, thought along this line can go to ruin a valid movement. Look at the WTO protests in Seattle, where a small minority of so called "anarchists" trashed a mcd's and a starbucks. These kids had nothing to do with the protests. The vast majority of them didn't even participate. Yet, that's all you saw on the news stations and in newsweek, etc. Total evaporation of any substance. Total waste of time and money for the protestors.

BTW, does anyone know if there is a way to find out if you have an FBI file via the Freedom of Information act or something similar? Just curious, not paranoid...
posted by Ufez Jones at 10:35 PM on December 19, 2001

Wow, can we take a moment for ook and a wonderful, giddy, prescient post?
posted by grrarrgh00 at 12:43 AM on December 20, 2001

Well, I think it's beyond doubt that the average high-school is turning into a police-state system. After the Columbine thing, I was one of the many who were irrationally kicked out of school and investigated purely for fitting the 'goth' profile. There's presently a trend in the high-schools for installing school-wide surveillance systems. Sure, the 'real world' is a lot bigger on civil liberties than the high schools are. But I think that the zero-tolerance school policies are basically training our kids to accept an extremely limited view of their basic rights as citizens. If kids pick up a mentality dictating that they conform-or-face-suspension in high-school I don't think it at all unreasonable to assume that we'll have to deal with reduced basic rights once these kids grow into positions of power.

As such, we need to accept free speech. Complain about not liking what someone has to say as much as you want, but never try to imply that it's outside of their rights to say it. A lesson that perhaps needs to be passed on to George and John's Justice-O-Rama.
posted by kaibutsu at 1:22 AM on December 20, 2001

My friend works as the director of International Students at a major US university. This is what she has to say about recent developments on her campus. I don't live in the US so I don't know the full extent of what's going on, but it doesn't sound good.

My apologies for linking to my own site, but I didn't feel it appropriate to put all of it up on here.
posted by Poagao at 1:42 AM on December 20, 2001

Ufez Jones: see Department of Justice website's Making a FOIA Request.

As an older (56) MeFier and red diaper baby (my parents were members of the US Communist Party), I feel a familiar chilling effect from the actions of the Bush Administration. ACTA's list certainly reminds me of Red Channels!
posted by Carol Anne at 4:46 AM on December 20, 2001

Boy, those FBI agents sure were scary. I mean, the way they didn't arrest her and everything.
posted by dhartung at 4:48 AM on December 20, 2001

ook, could you do this for all posts from now on? It saves a lot of reading.
posted by Berend at 5:07 AM on December 20, 2001

Yeah, ook ... you're like the Cliff's Notes of Metafilter discussions!
posted by bclark at 5:43 AM on December 20, 2001

Maybe we can abolish the whole site and just put that on the front page? ducking, running…
posted by darukaru at 5:50 AM on December 20, 2001

Boy, those FBI agents sure were scary. I mean, the way they didn't arrest her and everything.

So anything short of arrest is OK? Look at the McCarthy hearings. Was it OK to force people to testify about who their friends were? About their private conversations at dinner parties? Wasn't that wrong?

And wouldn't you be intimidated by two burly FBI guys at your door? Or, at least, couldn't you understand how someone might be intimidated? Maybe the government's aim isn't to intimdate its citizens. Maybe they really are just looking in to a few reports so they can cross them off the list. But the net result is fear and intimidation. And, goddammit, that's wrong.
posted by jpoulos at 6:19 AM on December 20, 2001

Anyone else think this woman was channeling David Spade as she re-counted her experience?

"Hi, we're from the Raleigh branch of the Secret Service," two agents said.

"And they flip out their little ID cards, and I was like, 'What?'

"And they say, 'We're here because we have a report that you have un-American material in your apartment.' And I was like, 'What? No, I don't have anything like that.'
posted by schlyer at 6:20 AM on December 20, 2001

Most of the examples cited in the article didn't carry the chill of McCarthyism, but the story of Katie Sierra did. She's the high school student who was suspended for wearing a political T-shirt and whose principal then lied about what the T-shirt said. That's the wrong civics lesson to teach to high schoolers.

Although I was tickled by Katie Sierra's desire to start an anarchy club. An anarchy club! Now, that's funny. Who will be president of the anarchy club?

I disagree with Katie Sierra's politics, but if just a few high school students in this country are like her, this country will be all right when her generation holds the reins.
posted by Holden at 6:27 AM on December 20, 2001

I can boil ook's post down even a little further with some help from mathowie:

"You're wrong!....No, you're wrong!"

(good on you, ook)
posted by briank at 6:47 AM on December 20, 2001

Although I was tickled by Katie Sierra's desire to start an anarchy club. An anarchy club! Now, that's funny. Who will be president of the anarchy club?

Ha. Ha. Ha. Maybe you should learn something about anarchy?
posted by Firefly at 7:37 AM on December 20, 2001

Previous thread about Katie Sierra and anarchy: Judge rules against anti-war student.
posted by Carol Anne at 8:01 AM on December 20, 2001

Who will be president of the anarchy club?

We take it in turns to act as a sort of executive officer for the week, but all decisions of that officer have to ratified at a special biweekly meeting...
posted by Ty Webb at 8:05 AM on December 20, 2001


Boy, those FBI agents sure were scary. I mean, the way they didn't arrest her and everything.

i'm getting a bit annoyed with this attitude. fine: maybe you've an iron will, and maybe when approached by two men from the FBI you would answer their questions with collected calm, but it seems quite obvious to me that many are equally blessed. why disparage them?
posted by moz at 8:27 AM on December 20, 2001

No you shut up. No you shut up. No you shut up. Fascist. Commie. Jerk.

I think we have a new slogan for the MeFi banner.
posted by rschram at 8:29 AM on December 20, 2001

I don't think the FBI is deserving of all this anger. They don't talk to these people until some paranoid do-gooder calls them up and makes a stink about something. It's the "I'm going to be a good citizen and rat out my neighbor for saying unflattering things about the good ol' US of A" mentality that deserves some of that venom.
posted by stefanie at 9:34 AM on December 20, 2001

Since when has un-American behavior, un-American posters, un-American writing, un-American art, un-American anything been, um, un-American.

Here I thought that critique, slander, ill- or well-informed satire, directed at our government (people and activities) and so forth were rather American.

Really, the pseudoword "un-American" is itself just, well, anti-American. Or oxymoronic. Or something like that.

I know I must be missing something. Guess I've been left behind.

Gotta love all the code words of the new world order. Right?

"Sure, you're within your rights to call an attorney. You don't have to talk to us. You don't have to answer our questions. What's your social security number? Please don't get upset, we're just doing our jobs. Do you belong to any politically active groups? We're looking for terrorists. You don't support terrorism, do you? Is that a picture of a bomb on that book there? We'll have to come back if we can't close this file. You don't want us to come back do you?"
posted by yesster at 10:09 AM on December 20, 2001

The Art Car Museum can take that sort of thing. Its patrons tend to be the kind of people more likely to go after they hear about an FBI visit. However, what the curator said: "Donna was frightened, and we're all a little bit shocked that they were going to act against a small art space, to bring to bear that kind of menace, an atmosphere of dread." is revealing. Because a place the size of the Art Car Museum that didn't neccessarily have the personality it does might not deal with FBI agents so well.

Let's say word gets spread around the city that federal agents have been poking around a certain museum. Certain people -- the kind who aren't necessarily politically active or aware -- are less likely to visit. And if you've got a small set of patrons anyway, any little bit that goes away can be highly detrimental. It's pretty easy to see where a small art place could get effectively shut down by something like this.

Strangely (although undoubtedly unrelated), their website is down.
posted by fidelity at 11:49 AM on December 20, 2001

Now, obviously the FBI, Secret Service, and other agencies have an important job to do, especially in light of the intelligence failures that were at least partially to blame for 9/11..and conversly it sucks that people may be being intimidated or that a climate of paranoia may be permeating our law-enforcement agencies.

But, I believe that the investigation is somewhat wrongheaded. By all reports, the perpetrators of this attack were not the type to wave placards, write poems, or put on art exhibits. To the contrary, these guys were stealth troops, who wanted to do nothing but kill/die for allah.

So It kinda stands to reason that the placard-wavers and artists are not the type to hijack planes either. As a matter of fact allowing them free reign to express themselves may actually help bolster our natural strength. When the more asinine radicals are allowed to speak openly, people can see them for the self-important blowhards they often are, when they are repressed, people wind up seeing them as oppressed victims of the state, creating more divisiveness and conflict

Now after what our nation has been through over the past 3 months a little paranoia is a somewhat understandable reaction, but that dosen't mean we should give in to it.
posted by jonmc at 5:31 PM on December 21, 2001

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