Picking up again from my journal from the front lines of the war against citizens —
Baltimore: we are here at the Baltimore Book Festival. Beautiful fall day, joyful crowds, stalls of booksellers, Baltimore's funky charm. In the Q and A afterwards, regarding the subject of surveillance, an audience member notes that the BALTIMORE BOOK FESTIVAL had been infiltrated and was under surveillance. This was reported and confirmed in the local press. I looked around at the elderly ladies dressed elegantly for the event, at the children running around in the sun, at the crowds at the stall next door who were celebrating the magical speaker and writer Cornel West and thought of how it worked for readers and writers behind the Iron Curtain. All these citizens interested in books: subversives.
San Francisco, the Century Club: a wonderful evening, many older people, many of them conservative, very concerned about what is happening to their nation. Afterwards a well-dressed, tall man comes to talk to me. He looks and speaks exactly like an affluent WASP businessman. 'I was a Democratic donor,' he said. 'Shortly after I gave a fundraiser, the FBI broke into my house. I was arrested and spent two years in Federal prison.' I did not get a chance to ask him what the charges were, but I asked him if I could interview him, if he would go on the record. He said he is afraid to because he is on parole and is just trying to forget those years as a prisoner. But he did add: 'There are labor camps now as part of the prison system.' This is something I had heard before: that certain prisons are being reorganized as formal work camps.
Berkeley: it has gotten to the point at which I just do not want to absorb some of what people are coming to tell me. And I don't have a newspaper behind me or a team of investigative reporters: I can't report these stories out as the New York Times can or the Wall Street Journal to assess if these are lone madmen telling me delusional tales or if they are whistleblowers trying to get the word out without jeopordizing themselves. This one I really did not want to hear: another perfectly ordinary-looking professional man in his forties — well-spoken, apparently well-educated — told me he was a computer engineer. He said he had been called to set up the computer network system for a facility near Bakersfield that he asserted was massive and that he identified as a FEMA camp. He said: 'I saw it: I was there. I saw the train cars with the shackles on the floor. They are white.' I told him no reporter could do anything with what he was claiming without his being willing to say it on the record or on background at least, and without a second source to confirm it. These camps have been rumored for years but there is no solid reporting documenting any rumors or dispelling them. He said he was now a US citizen but he had immigrated from another country and would not go on the record because he was scared about maintaining his immigration status.
Madman or concerned citizen? I cannot know. I want, of course, to believe he is suffering from a delusional disorder.
Back home, I check my email. A lovely young woman I had met in Chicago had told me, trembling, that she had protested at the RNC — she knew her group had been under surveillance, and a reporter for a New York area newspaper had confirmed to me that at the RNC he and other reporters had seen police officers who then reappeared dressed as protesters and infiltrated their groups. (I had asked him to go on the record and he refused.) The young woman said that she had come home a day or so later to find that her apartment had been broken into and nothing touched. She said she was very scared to come forward but would consider it. I asked her by email if she would go on the record — and I never got an email back.
New York again: I am interviewed by Michelangelo Signorile, the well-known journalist and commentator. He mentions that he was at the RNC and that agents that had no identification whatsoever were stopping cars, including his. He said they were in blue jumpsuits. He noted that they could have been Blackwater or even other foreign nationals, there was no way to know, and they were armed. He remarked very honestly — a point I have been trying to make for some time — that when faced with an armed man with no identifying marker, one is disinclined to resist his demand to search one's car — or to demand anything. I aked if I could quote him by name and he said sure.
I talked last night to a radio host in Portland, Oregon, one of the coolest and most laid-back of cities. She informs me that Vera Katz, the Democratic mayor, had sent Portland police to Israel to be trained in crowd control and that they had come back much more ready to engage in violent control of protesters. She described new police trucks that had officers or agents hanging off the back of them, like military trucks.
She said that the Oregonian had distributed the hate DVD inciting hostility against Muslims. In spite of many objections from readers and citizens, the paper was unmoved. They cited Free Speech, which is laudable. But I am certain the Oregonian would not distribute violently sexual (or even, perhaps, violently anti-Semitic) DVDs if asked to by an advertiser. I suggested she check with the publisher abut that and meanwhile urged her listeners to boycott their local newspapers' advertisers until there would be real investigative reporting of the First Brigade and other Constitutional issues.
Matthis Chareaux comes over to my house — the wonderful 24-year-old Afghanistan vet who refused to redeploy after five years' service to a war that he points out many members of Cngress say is illegal. He went to Congress and said he was not going because he could not obey an illegal order and he said, 'I will be in Brooklyn if you want to come arrest me.' For months he did not hear of any legal or other action against him. A few days ago he receivd a letter telling him he is facing a court-martial. Major David Antoon says that more deserters or soldiers who refuse to redeploy or resist 'stop-loss' orders are prosecuted than war criminals in this conflict. He tells me that his friend Nicholas Morgan is still in the hospital, having been trampled by police officers on horseback when the Iraq Vets against the War went to the last Presidential debate to ask why veterans' issues were not being addressed. You can send checks for Matthis' legal fees or Nicholas' medical bills to IVAW.org.
Matthis also tells me something I just do not want and am not psychologically prepared to hear. For a year now I have been warning people that Bush can deploy the national guard and declare martial law only by declaring a 'state of emergency.' He does not need Congress to do so and he can define it however he like. Matthis caims that we are ALREADY under a declared state of emergency. WHAT? I think. He shows me his redeployment letter which references the 'state of emergency' that Bush declared several years ago in response to North Korean access to 'fissile material.' I am not a lawyer, so cannot tell if these two terms have the same meaning and value under the law or if this is entirely irrelevant. One more crucial lead I am supposed to follow up on — fearing, again, to find out more in case Matthis is not, in fact, overreacting or overreading. But either way, this is the first I had heard of that Presidential action regarding North Korea. Why are citizens informing me of far more significant developments than the national newspapers and othr media outlets are? I know some of the answers, but they make me very sad. In East Germany citizens had to tell one another what was really happening because state news sources, of course, could not be relied upon. Matthis says that as an Army journalist he was hearing firsthand reports of the torture of prisoners six months before the Abu Ghraib scandal and was told repeatedly not to go anywhere with the story. He had sent an anonymous letter to Human Rights Watch about it.
He says that when soldiers ask their Army therapists about what they can do to avoid redeployment — if they have PTSD, for instance, and they know they cannnot do it after years at the front — the counselors say: become a fugitive, redeploy, or kill yourself. I tell him I do not believe that. He says several friends of his is IVAW have reported that response firsthand from their shrinks. I still don't believe it.
Today in the Times I read a new report that the suicide rate among Iraq and Afghanistan veterans is at an all-time high, and no one really knows why.