What? Seriously? I need to register with the U.S. Justice Department as a "foreign agent" -- or is it an "enemy alien"?!
I've never been bashful when it comes to calling out bullies, regardless of who they are. But THIS? Being required to register as WHAT? And if you don't register, the threat looms that "They're Coming to Take You Away"? (Whether or not that rings a bell, there's a video link at the end. Meantime, this is serious, even if it is ridiculous.)
Used to be that some people wouldn't register to vote because they believed it would get them called for jury duty. Since the military draft ended, we doubt that anyone ever thought that registering for something in America could be ugly enough to remind us of internment camps for Japanese-Americans, or other terrifying lessons of history.
"As a native-born U.S. citizen, the last thing I ever expected to do was register in my own country as a 'foreign agent.'"
As a native-born U.S. citizen, the last thing I ever expected to do was register in my own country as a 'foreign agent.'
I heard myself muttering that Monday morning. It could just as well have been a quote from any of the American journalists or producers, camera operators, sound people, TV techies, news writing or support personnel who work for RT America. Because as of Monday, anyone with any affiliation of any kind with RT has been ordered by the U.S. Justice Department to do just that.
Is it arbitrary and capricious? Clearly, yes. Is it unjustified? Wholly. And I'll substantiate both. But is it legal? Apparently yes, simply because they can order it and get away with doing that, even though it was declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court way back in 1957.
Stuck in the middle, and without deep pockets to hire a major league law firm, I feel forced, for the sake of staying out of federal prison, to make a declaration. I'll do that here, as part of a news feature, so I can share my U.S. Justice Department-required declaration with you, where I can give it meaningful context.
This isn't one of those social-media-addict things, "I share everything, and here's a picture of today's lunch." The implications of this, what it portends, means we should all regard the entire matter with the utmost alarm and seriousness. Simply put, the requirement of this declaration, as imposed by the Justice Department, brings the most serious threat to Freedom of the Press, Freedom of Association, and Freedom of Expression, that I've have seen in this nation in my lifetime. I feel the specter of those who were forced to wear armbands with six-pointed stars.
Of course I must tell you why, out of the clear blue sky, I, a writer and independent journalist who sometimes writes for the LA Progressive, must declare myself a "foreign agent" in my own country.
FARA, the "Foreign Agents Registration Act" of 1938, has suddenly been resurrected, and for the first time ever, it was applied, effective Monday, November 13, 2017, to one global news organization and anyone having any affiliation with that news organization.
Had you spoken to me Monday, you'd have heard me say, "This is shocking and a serious theft of our Constitutional Rights!" As the day progressed, I added more exclamation points, and shock yielded first to anger, then to unbridled outrage.
You should know that this "FARA" thing—this "Foreign Agents Registration Act"—of 1938—has NEVER before been applied to ANY news outlet.
In addition, in our nation's capital on Monday, some of our prominent elected officials—of both major parties—emphatically called for an outright ban of public access to yet another source of information—Wikileaks.
We know that corporate mainstream media wants a hegemony, wants to decide for us what is news. And now, we have these two facts. First, RT America is severely impeded in its ability to collect and report news to you. Next, if these government officials get their way, there will be an unprecedented nationwide web block of a particular information site, as is done in totalitarian countries that include China, Iran, and North Korea.
Already, the U.S. shares one thing with North Korea, being the only two nations that refuse to sign the global agreement banning land mines. Will we soon share with that "rogue nation" limited access to the internet, where our citizenry can access only government-approved sites within our borders?
You might think that EVERY journalist and news source, whether online, cable, broadcast, or affiliated with any kind of publication or outlet, would ALL rise up in outraged protest against Monday's assaults on our cherished First Amendment and its traditions and guarantees of Freedom of the Press.
Certainly, WE are declaring our outrage at this act of fascism by an agency of the U.S. government. But we don't seem to have a lot of company in that.
Of course, we, like RT America, are not corporate lackeys—unlike all of U.S. mainstream media.
Except for a precious few—and dwindling number of—independent voices in journalism, nearly EVERYTHING that purports to bring you "the news" is part of just SIX corporate conglomerates, whose "news divisions" are forced to structure the "news" in an agenda carefully vetted so as to do no harm to the activities or profits of the larger corporation.
That is why the perspectives of non-corporate, non-globalist news sources is so vital.
Now, the other shoe must drop. Because the penalties, under federal law, for non-compliant failure to register in accordance with the U.S. Justice Department's edict are so harsh, we aren't taking any chances.
I, as the writer and responsible journalist of columns and feature stories that have appeared in LA.Progressive, do hereby publicly declare that I have, in the past, on numerous occasions, included links, recommendations, and endorsements to view, listen, or read content from RT America, the global news source that has been singled-out by the U.S. Department of Justice for ostracism, unjustified vilification, and registration of anyone affiliated, with said declaration required to be made under the terms of the order of the Justice Department, effective November 13, 2017.
Given the requirement for disclosure of facilitation of RT America content, I do therefore and hereby declare that I have exercised my Constitutional Rights to Freedom of the Press and Freedom of Expression to favorably review, and sometimes to endorse and/or recommend, and to include links to view, hear, and/or read content from that news source.
I further declare that I expect to have ample cause to continue offering content links, and to recommend programs and content from that and other news sources in the future.
Now, dear reader, given the U.S. intelligence communities' penchant for extraordinary rendition, if I suddenly disappear from the cyber pages and archive of this publication, you can use your imagination about what has happened to me.
Of course, I hope you're asking, "Just HOW can something like this happen in the 'rah-rah, chant-to-drown-out-criticism, U-S-A-! U-S-A-!'" -?-
The roots go back to several previous periods of officially-induced paranoia, enacted to achieve manipulation of public perceptions. You might start with the "Alien and Sedition Act" passed in the 1790's. Then there's a hundred years of institutionalized fear of black Americans, from the 1820's through at least the 1920's. And in the middle of that period, there was the unlawful jailing of state legislators who might have voted for their states' secession during the Civil War. There were also the assortment of "Asian Exclusion Acts" of the mid- to late- 1800's.
Of course, we had the era of checking under your bed for communists until Joe McCarthy finally made the mistake of accusing the U.S. Army of being run by the Reds. But there was still room for idiotic domino theories used to enrich weapons and chemical merchants and turn Vietnam into a pointless bloodbath and continuing experiment in toxic chemical synergistics.
And in this new century, we've had the arrogance of militarily imposed "regime changes" because the U.S. knew what was better for people in other countries, more than what the people knew who lived there. And we move through to the recent adjustments, in attempts to vilify Muslims. All while trying to reinvent old school imperialism for the sake of controlling the world's oil supply, while marketing arms and ultrasophisticated cyberdeath "weapons systems" to as many sides as possible. The latter being the most emphasized theme all over the Middle East, expanding to the Asian-Pacific region with Trump's trip.
Not that the press in any of those examples wasn't culpable in disseminating officially-sanctioned BS, baloney, and approved pro-war propaganda. To its shame, it did. But, uniquely in America, the press was never shut-down, hamstrung, or shut-out by the government because it refused to spread the officially-sanctioned BS. Until now.
So, in the age of the internet, when we (falsely) think we can know all the history and details of everything that's ever happened anywhere, to anybody, how can this happen here, now, to us?
Let's start with ARA, "The Enemy Alien Registration Act of 1938." FARA, the old law resurrected for today's persecution of journalism, was passed in 1938 as an important adjunct to ARA.
It was all largely facilitated as the "Smith Act," public law 76-670, and formally known as the "Alien Registration Act." The centerpiece of all this was passed in 1940 by the 76th United States Congress, 3d session, where it is archived as ch. 439, 54 Stat. 670, 18 U.S.C. § 2385, and enacted as a United States federal statute on June 29, 1940.
It set criminal penalties for advocating the overthrow of the U.S. government and required all non-citizen adult residents to register with the government.
The fact that it was repealed on June 27, 1952, in ch. 477, title IV, § 403(a)(39), 66 Stat. 280 (which took effect Dec. 24, 1952) seems not to have impeded its use in the 1950's, until the combined weight of a series of Supreme Court decisions declared it unconstitutional in 1957.
That should have been the final word on the whole thing. Except it wasn't. And now, in 2017, it's suddenly been forgotten that it was both legislatively repealed and found unconstitutional by the High Court. And it seems they can get away with ignoring the double whammy, because "ARA" isn't exactly the same thing as "FARA," those two being separate pieces of legislation, and all. So, with the dust blown-off and the sharp teeth reinstalled in ancient gums, it's back, as a weapon to support the corporatocracy and its agenda.
Oh my, history is embarrassingly informative. There's more.
ARA's other short title was (and it seems, is, once again) the "Civilian and Military Organizations License Act," and it's long title is, "An Act to prohibit certain subversive activities; to amend certain provisions of law with respect to the admission and deportation of aliens; to require the fingerprinting and registration of aliens; and for other purposes."
From 1940 through the early '50s, approximately 215 people were indicted under the legislation, including alleged communists, anarchists, and fascists. Prosecutions under ARA / the Smith Act continued until a series of U.S. Supreme Court decisions in 1957 reversed a number of convictions under the Act, and seemingly, at the time, rendered it unconstitutional.
Those Supreme Court cases, if you care to look them up, are:
- Bridges v. Wixon
- Dennis v. United States
- Yates v. United States
- Watkins v. United States; and
- Scales v. United States
But... unlike every other law that's been found unconstitutional, if you look-up this law, you find the notation that, though supposedly dead, it "has been amended several times."
That gives you a clue about how this parallels the ever-expanding, post-9/11 creation of the Cybersecurity State with the Patriot Act. And what's really been responsible for the endless litany of revelations of abuse of government power reported by Ed Snowden, Chelsea Manning, John Kiriakou*, and Wikileaks.
* - (Spend a little time at CIA whistleblower hero John Kiriakou's official site. He's the one who let the world know the U.S. was torturing detainees in Iraq. You'll be wide-eyed at what else he reveals. www.johnkiriakou.com)
And, oh, by the way, all of those things have been reported, and continue to be kept current, in detail, on RT America. It being a news source where stories are reported with citation of actual sources that are named and identified -- which is downright uncommon by the recent emphatically gossipy standards of U.S. mainstream news. All of which seems to have produced a situation wherein one of the global news outlets that regularly displays the most journalistic integrity is now the only news source that is required by the U.S. government, suddenly, as of Monday, to suffer the stigma of being forced to register as an "enemy alien" -- using an old repealed and unconstitutional law from 1938 that was intended to call-out Nazis. Back when the Nazis were the fascists who stole press freedoms. Which adds another dimension of extreme irony to this, if you think about it.
Given that this action by the Justice Department, requiring so many Americans engaged in journalism, must declare ourselves as "foreign agents" (or maybe we need to claim we're "enemy aliens" to keep them happy) is so clearly in violation of the U.S. Constitution, as declared by the Supreme Court in 1957? Why did RT America, a globally-acclaimed, internationally popular news source, comply with the order to register? And why am I making my own declaration in compliance with the Justice Department's unconstitutional order?
It's because, even if you are resolved not to fear them, you must reckon with what they can do to you in the short run.
Here's a quote from the ancient 1938 text:
"Title I. Subversive activities," The Smith Act set federal criminal penalties that included fines or imprisonment for as long as twenty years and denied all employment by the federal government for five years."
It applies to anyone who "prints, publishes, edits, issues, circulates, sells, distributes, or publicly displays any written or printed matter advocating, advising, or teaching the duty, necessity, desirability, or propriety of overthrowing or destroying any government in the United States by force or violence, or attempts to do so; or... organizes or helps or attempts to organize any society, group, or assembly of persons who teach, advocate, or encourage the overthrow or destruction of any such government by force or violence; or becomes or is a member of, or affiliates with, any such society, group, or assembly of persons, knowing the purposes thereof."
Hold on. It isn't safe to stop at the part about "overthrow or destruction... by force or violence." You need to look at the part about anyone who "affiliates with, any such society, group, or assembly of persons."
If you think that's a stretch, then it's time to ask how and why this ancient and repealed Act was suddenly brought to bear to require "enemy alien registration" of any and all persons affiliated with a cable and satellite TV / global internet streaming news channel.
It doesn't matter that RT, the news source at issue, is the most-viewed news channel on all of YouTube, with over two billion views of its programs.
It doesn't matter that most of the programming on RT America is produced and broadcast from within the U.S., and hosted by journalists who are American citizens -- including one former two-term governor of Minnesota.
I could list all those shows, including the two weekly series hosted by former CNN star Larry King. Indeed, I've recommended many of the RT network's American and British-produced shows in the past, right here in my past features and columns. For now, I'll mention just two shows that air on RT America.
First, there's the Saturday show called "On Contact," produced and hosted by Pulitzer Prize winning "Truthdig" journalist Chris Hedges. It's a must for anyone who approaches politics and society from a thoughtful perspective, rather than a mindless tribal adherence.
Then there's the splendid "Redacted Tonight," hosted by brilliant comedian Lee Camp. The latter is produced in and broadcast from Washington, D.C., the city proclaimed in the show's opening as "The belly of the beast." It is, without question, the best satirical political show on TV. And while bringing plenty of laughs, it often breaks major political news before other outlets discover what's going on.
Now, back to FARA. On Monday, Chris Chambers, professor of journalism at Georgetown University, put things in context. First, he explained that FARA, as adopted in 1938, was specifically enacted "to prevent Nazi propaganda on the eve of WWII." Then he characterized the present situation as "The government coming at you like a weasel, not like a lion with its claws out, but like a weasel, through the back door."
He continued, with particular emphasis, "It has never been used against a media outlet."
He made those remarks on "News with Ed," the daily flagship evening news broadcast on RT America. It's hosted by longtime radio journalist and former MSNBC host Ed Schultz.
In his interview with the professor, Schultz observed, "The funding for the BBC [World Service] comes from their defense department. That doesn't seem to be a red flag for the Justice Department."
Schultz could have made additional observations on the craziness of this.
For example, the excellent cable news channel "France 24," in English 24/7 for its U.S. audience, was dropped last month from the "basic plus" cable channel lineup of the former Time-Warner Cable empire. That occurred since that big corporate fish was swallowed by the bigger corporate shark that now calls itself Spectrum.
And we are on the verge of Sinclair Media swallowing Tribune, to expand beyond its current control of local TV outlets that recently ballooned to 333 stations. The additional Borglike assimilation will enable Sinclair to expand its "must carry" centrally-determined right-wing content -- which is demonstrably lacking in veracity -- to markets where there will be no locally-based indie stations left to challenge its skewed views.
Certainly, there are plenty of disseminators of "fake news" out there, from supermarket tabloids that "reveal" space aliens mating with celebrities, to websites that created "pizzagate" with absolutely no evidence to launch their horrible and libelous lunacies.
Yet it is RT that has been singled-out for registration as an "enemy alien."
Despite the fact that corporate execs from both Facebook and Twitter declared under oath to Congress, just last week, that RT played no significant role in influencing the 2016 U.S. election through their platforms.
It is RT -- and its vast global audience -- that will be impeded or separated from news gathering in the U.S. by officially-contrived barriers. Yet the Justice Department fears anyone getting biased or "unbalanced" news from RT.
It is RT whose on-air guests will feel the intimidation of needing now to file U.S. government-required reports and forms, and perhaps to undergo mandatory debriefings after appearing as members of panels, or as interview subjects, or perhaps simply for commenting on-air on an RT America program.
And, ultimately, it is independent, non-corporate news sources and journalists who, by citing or commenting or reporting on, or (gasp) providing links to, any RT America programming, who will be caught in the insane position of having to declare ourselves as "foreign agents" (or, again, maybe it's "enemy aliens").
Given the assertion of new intimidations imposed by our government, independent journalists must now reckon that we may make our situation worse by reporting on this and informing the public. Especially by continuing to report the erosion or outright theft of the Constitutional rights we hold in common with every other U.S. citizen. Even as we oppose endless war, murder of civilians by air strikes, drone strikes, and whatever other means of warfare they don't want us to know about. And even as we oppose the corrupt partisan duopoly that assures enrichment of war profiteers and an ever-expanding corporacratic empire of banksters and military-industrial-cybersecurity oligarchs at the expense of U.S. taxpayers.
Meanwhile, more of our tax dollars will now be required to process all those forms and filings and declarations that the U.S. Justice Department is suddenly requiring from journalists and anyone with any affiliation with one particular news outlet. Even as the current administration promises elimination of unnecessary government regulations that cause productive enterprise to lose time by compliance with stupid regulations. If you've read "Catch 22," this is where Yossarian emits that whistle of admiration for the consistency of bureaucratic insanity.
Finally, we must note the slogans and banners that flutter above the players. The slogan of RT America is "Question More." The slogan of the Trump campaign , continuing as the hollow mantra of his presidency, is "Make America Great Again." Taken together in the light of what the Justice Department has pulled, it reminds us of an old movie line from "Easy Rider." That line, from Dennis Hopper to Peter Fonda is, "This used to be a damn fine country."
Below is a music video link that's appropriate for this situation. It's "They're Coming to Take Me Away," updated with Trump and Hillary.