Remember When Conservatives “Canceled” Anyone against the War on Terror? I Do.
Life in American changed twenty years ago after the 9/11 attacks. Many Americans became enraged at anyone who did not swear allegiance to President George W. Bush’s antiterrorism crusade. Anyone who denied “they hate us for our freedoms” automatically became an enemy of freedom.
Plenty of stalwart defenders of liberty quickly found themselves banished from polite company. At the time of the 9/11 attacks, I had been bashing government policies for twenty years. Conservatives relished my battering of the Clinton administration in books such as Feeling Your Pain (St. Martin’s, 2000). But past writing provided no indemnity for subsequent sins.
Regardless, nothing happened on 9/11 to make the government more trustworthy. Two years after the 9/11 attacks, St. Martin’s Press published my Terrorism and Tyranny: Trampling Freedom, Justice, and Peace to Rid the World of Evil, attacking the war on terror across the board. I scoffed, “The Patriot Act treats every citizen like a suspected terrorist and every federal agent like a proven angel.” When the Justice Department launched a PATRIOT Act propaganda website, lifeandliberty.gov, it included an attack on my writing. As one book publicist told me, I was in “the untouchable part of the intellectual caste system.” Luckily, some outlets did not go to the dark side, including the Mises Institute, the Future of Freedom Foundation, and websites like Antiwar.com and Counterpunch.
I soon recognized that the feds had more fans than I realized, especially among self-proclaimed friends of freedom. In February 2004, I spoke to a hundred folks at the best-known libertarian forum in New York City. Some of the attendees had followed my work for years, while others may have shown up simply to howl at a heretic.
Three minutes into the speech, a paunchy middle-aged guy leaped to his feet and denounced me: “You sound like an isolationist—and that means you are anti-Israel!”
What the hell?
I began to suspect that only people with unmedicated ADHD were permitted in the audience and I’d be lucky to speak three sentences in a row. Attendees were not considered to be hecklers unless they threw physical objects at the speaker. The scene quickly became akin to a political convention, with random people jumping up to make speeches, most of them bad. It is tricky to argue with self-evident truths that were established solely by echo chambers. Plenty of attendees had never recovered from their own high SAT scores.
As the evening progressed, I was accused of everything except advocating infanticide. Perhaps the biggest surprise that night was that many people objected to making fun of the government. A tall, elderly gentleman declared that comical pratfalls by the Transportation Security Administration and the FBI were irrelevant to the “big picture.”
“What’s the ‘big picture?’” I asked.
“The fact that there haven’t been any terror attacks since 9/11 proves the feds are doing a good job,” he declared, spurring loud assents from the audience. He insisted that hundreds of Muslim sleeper cells in the US were waiting for the signal to sow mass death and chaos. I was chagrined to see folks more fearful of alleged invisible Muslim perils than of rampaging federal agencies. I have always considered mocking the government as a trademark of a free citizen. And, as H.L. Mencken wrote, “One horse laugh is worth ten thousand syllogisms.” At the end of two hours’ sparring, the host gave me a check that was larger than I expected, so all’s well that ends well (or at least profitably).
That brawl was a bellwether on how the freedom movement had changed. A few months later, the Abu Ghraib photos and memos from the Justice Department authorizing torture leaked out. A top Justice Department official had assured the White House that the president was entitled to violate criminal laws (such as the Anti-torture Act) during wartime. That preemptive “get out of jail free” card unleashed interrogation methods such as waterboarding (simulated drowning), pummeling, and long-term sleep deprivation.
There was no way to deny the depravity of Bush’s war on terror after that, right? No such luck. When I spoke at the largest nationwide gathering of freedom activists in Las Vegas and at the national Libertarian Party conference in 2004, I was booed for my criticisms of Bush’s warring and torturing. I was also later booed for opposing torture at the Foundation for Economic Education in Irvington, New York. Plenty of libertarians were no longer in favor of freedom—unless it included the freedom to torture terrorists. And how do we know who is a terrorist? That’s easy—because someone somewhere claims to suspect them of something.
A few months before the 2004 election, St. Martin’s Press published my book titled The Bush Betrayal, which flogged Bush’s secret arrests, “Total Information Awareness
Article from Mises Wire