Decades After 9/11, The Long-Lived “Patriot Act” Has Miserably Failed.

And the worst part? It just encountered its sole purpose.

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Day after day, week after week, we climb a never-ending ladder of tension; outrage fills headlines and consciences — only to be drowned out by the next. Just last month, on the 17th of October, the United States sustained over three thousand deaths from COVID-19. In a single week. The last time we all faced a tragedy of this magnitude was on the 11th of September, 2001.

It’s the 19th anniversary of the “Patriot Act”.

An entire generation of youth don’t have the luxury of recalling a time before the “post-9/11” era of laws. While the attacks (thankfully) did not outlast the day, or the week, or endure for over half a year, its many consequences are felt nearly two decades later, and may linger for decades to come.

Signed into law on the 26th of October, 2001, the “Patriot Act” signaled the attitude of the U.S. government for the early 21st century. While it was set to expire at the end of 2005, its provisions have been reauthorized (three times). For what it’s worth, the act committed to the following:

  1. Building and expanding a mass surveillance apparatus.
  2. Removing information barriers across federal agencies.
  3. Expanding the list of what activities fall under “terrorism”.

A vast majority of the controversy, at least in the public eye, is embodied by the first category of provisions: mass surveillance; this much dominated radio waves and televisions in 2013. The leaks doled out by Edward Snowden were many Americans’ first impression of this — at the very least, by making it out to be something more than a backwater conspiracy theory.

“Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” — Benjamin Franklin

Several groups, including the E.P.I.C., insist that these surveillance programs violated the 4th Amendment (making them unconstitutional). While being met with ridicule by politicians throughout 2001–2020, a three-judge panel ruled that the NSA’s phone records breached the FISA; they were illegal.

But this (and more) was done in the name of counter-terrorism; the length in which the U.S. government empowered itself to fight the “War On Terror” included the surveillance of phone calls, text messages, emails, video chats, file transfers, social networking, etc. While that chilling laundry list isn’t exhaustive, it applies to domestic citizens — not just “enemies of the state”.

On top of that, the TSA, which visibly characterizes our zeitgeist better than almost anything, fails to pass 95% of efficiency tests. By their own admission. This gives us a portrait of an illegal and ineffective system. If that’s the case, then we have to ask the $35 billion question: was it worth it?

Let’s get it straight; what is terrorism?

It’s not a new idea. The word “terrorism” originated in the late 18th century, during the French Revolution. With the irregular conflicts in Northern Ireland beginning in the late 1960s, the term began to pick up popularity. Terrorism has a caricature in the United States; many internalize it as being synonymous to faraway acts of violence in the Middle-East. But what does it really mean?

Here’s a specific definition — which is appropriate. We don’t want to get lost in the trenches of nuance; Oxford (through Lexico) says: “the unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims”; take note of the words being emphasized.

  1. Unlawful; not condoned by the laws of the country.
  2. Violence; inflicting physical harm on others.
  3. Intimidation; manifesting fear onto someone.
  4. Civilians; not military or law enforcement.
  5. Political aims; of governance and power relations.

There have been many instances of terrorism on American soil; we know all about 9/11. But how many of us are willing to admit that the incident in Charlottesville, back in 2017, was an act of terror? Not just a “hate crime”.

What about the Texas campaign event, which was unexpectedly cancelled, when a caravan of Trump supporters threatened a bus of staffers? Or when a self-proclaimed Proud Boy forewarned that he’d bomb a polling station.

As recently as today, a planned demonstration in Georgia was abandoned due to the heightened presence of local militias (sympathetic to the president); and by the way — how does the president factor in all of this? Over the course of the last four years, Donald Trump has repeatedly demonized individuals and groups, resulting in the incitement of violent acts against them — which he makes statistically probable, but unable to be narrowly predicted.

Do you know what that’s called? Stochastic terrorism. In the midst of a wave of election fraud, voter intimidation, and attacks on the 1st Amendment. Twenty years after the U.S. government swore to curtail acts of terrorism, wherever it may be, it’s begun to participate in it — against its own people.

We’ve talked about failures; here’s the point.

Fighting terrorism doesn’t — and shouldn’t — require us to surrender our constitutional rights. The greatest irony is that, despite having done this, everything the “Patriot Act” has brought into law has come back to bite us. When confronted with its true enemy, it’s merely shrugged. The fight against terrorism begs a question: what causes it? Leaving behind the invisible, faceless, unidentifiable enemy, what is the root of terrorism?

It can be political; in its infancy, “terrorism” was contextualized by guerilla warfare (in which asymmetrical attacks were thrown at large enemies); it was a means to fight imperial-sized foes, even as a low-class person(s). During this stage of its graduation into a legitimate style of warfare, it was used to right perceived wrongs — because peaceful recourse wasn’t available.

It can be religious; while faith doesn’t cause terrorism, it can be an extremely effective means for radicalization. Especially when there’s a convincing force leading to a perceived necessity to act on that faith (with the rewards and the punishments being equally heavy on a “divine” scale). Religious texts can be exploited to condone terrorism, and thus, engineer a sense of ultimatum in a believer to be the instrument of a god or gods.

It can be socioeconomic; when being grossly deprived of what are perceived to be social and economic entitlements (e.g. food, shelter, a living wage, etc.), individuals can become susceptible to ideas of retribution or revolution. When negotiation is made impossible — or its avenues unreasonable — an individual or people can feel cornered, and lash out in concentrated violence.

Some of the previous conditions for producing terrorism seem to have a few common qualities; the impossibility for peaceful recourse, the sense of having no choice left but violence, and the resentment of a concentrated entity or system. In that sense, the best means of counter-terrorism would be a fair and egalitarian system, effective channels for preventing radicalization, and a peaceful interpretation of spiritual texts in a widespread fashion.

Meanwhile, we have the “Patriot Act”. And if that’s not enough, Donald Trump wants to make three of its surveillance provisions permanent, and has asked a mostly like-minded Congress to do so; the vice president has said that it is essential to continuing our “success” in the War on Terror at home.

But there’s good news; the “Patriot Act” has expired. If there’s any point at all to this article, it’s this: get in touch with your representative. Tell them how you feel about this legislation; whether you think it’s failed us. Make them understand your opinion on its renewal. And remember. Vote.

“Not voting is not a protest. It is a surrender.” — Keith Ellison

“There are far, far better things ahead than we leave behind.” — C.S. Lewis

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