Technology × Freedom

The Government Doesn't Fear WikiLeaks, It Fears You

June 16, 2017 invisiblehand

Courtesy of Merriam-Webster:

State \ˈstāt\ a politically organized body of people usually occupying a definite territory

Nationality \ˌna-shə-ˈna-lə-tē\ a people having a common origin, tradition, and language

A nation arises from the self-identifcation of its people with one another. From where does the state arise? The dictionary definition gives us no actor performing the action. We come upon it in medias res, as it were: it is somehow already "politically organized." But by whom? For what reason?

Keep this distinction in mind as you read the following from the EFF on the troubling origins of the 1917 Espionage Act:

On September 25, 1919, the 28th President of the United States Woodrow Wilson gave his final address in support of the League of Nations in Pueblo, CO and in his speech, he spoke of American immigrants with hyphenated nationalities: “Any man who carries a hyphen around with him carries a dagger that he is ready to plunge into the vitals of this Republic whenever he gets ready.” Wilson specifically targeted Irish-Americans and German-Americans, whom he perceived to be disloyal immigrants and potential spies.

Thus, the Espionage Act was born against the backdrop of World War I and amidst fears of subversion of American democracy. Its primary purpose was to deal with avoidance of the draft, sabotage of state activities, and espionage. But its subsequent interpretations led to the punishment of socialists, pacifists, and other anti-war activists. Most infamously during this period, former Presidential candidate Eugene V. Debs was sentenced to 10 years in prison for a 1918 speech, denouncing the Espionage Act of 1917.

The Espionage Act was further modified by the Sedition Act of 1918 but those amendments were ultimately overturned on March 3, 1921, when World War I ended. The Sedition Act sought to criminalize statements during the war that were “disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive…about the form of government of the United States.”

The goal of the Espionage Act - which whistleblowers such as Daniel Ellsberg, Chelsea Manning, and Edward Snowden have been charged with violating, and which is now being threatened against WikiLeaks - was never to protect national security, that is, the nation's security. It was to silence criticism about the state's involvement in the Great War. It was closely followed by the Sedition Act, whose express purpose was to silence any kind of government criticism at all.

If the state and the nation were the same thing - as the state would have us believe - then the Espionage Act wouldn't exist. If the state and the nation are distinct, but the state is accountable to the nation (we the people), the Espionage Act still wouldn't exist. It is only if the state is unaccountable to the nation and acting in its own, distinct interests that something like the Espionage Act could come to be. Since the Espionage Act does exist, the conclusion is simple.

The state can only arise when the fear of a greater power justifies the creation of an equally great power to defend against it. This is why the world powers continually stoke fear among its citizens about other world powers, or else tout the benefits of creating global political unions. But the state's real enemy is its own citizens, who will revolt if the illusion of government "by the people, for the people" is ever broken.

The EFF wants you to sign a petition telling U.S. policymakers to reform the Espionage Act. But this only perpetuates the illusion that we still have the power to hold the government accountable.