I’ve always worried that DEA agents would draw their guns on my brother. He’s the manager of a “head shop,” outspoken in his liberal views about drug laws, and has worried my mom for years with his exploration of the laws of perception, physics (through motorcycle racing), and the legal system. He’s also cried at my wedding, taken my parents fishing in Alaska, and taught kids how to fix bicycles.
I can’t say I was surprised that he was startled awake by DEA agents a few weeks ago. But I can say I’m shaken about his fate and that of many of us under Bush and Ashcroft’s culture wars, brought to you by the Patriot Act and the forthcoming Patriot Act II.
The DEA arrested my brother’s friends and shut down his store for selling hand-blown glass pipes and “head” stuff over the Internet. Attorney General John Ashcroft and the Justice Department are very proud of Operations Pipe Dream and HeadHunter, which included secret surveillance of stores nationwide, monitoring of e-mails and phone calls, trash sweeps, and undercover buys. Ashcroft and his cronies boast in their press release that they have saved us from folks like my brother who “invade the homes of families across the country” and sell pipes that are equivalent to “silencers on murder weapons.”
My brother’s friends are facing three years in prison thanks in large part, I believe, to Bush and Ashcroft’s desire to be the final arbiters of right and wrong in America and the world. Most of you know that in the name of the homeland security, the Patriot Act of 2001 allows our government to conduct secret searches, wiretaps, and other covert surveillance with little oversight from the courts. I balk when I think about the e-mails on my brother’s now-confiscated hard drive. I’m selfish, I know, but I worry about my own e-mails to him–warning him to be careful of cell phone conversations for this very reason and then joking about the fun he could have, were he being listened to, misdirecting the feds and sending them on wild goose chases. Oops. Hope they have a sense of humor.
What really ties my tummy in knots is that my brother hopes to reopen the store in the same chilling climate that is introducing an even harder-hitting sequel to the Patriot Act: the Domestic Security Enhancement Act, which insiders call Patriot Act II. It would authorize secret arrests and give the attorney general unchecked authority to deport anyone he thought was a danger to our economic interests and to strip citizenship from people for lawful political associations.
The administration is hoping to sneak the act through Congress while the country is distracted by the war on Iraq. With it, they can be the ultimate judge of right and wrong, moral and immoral, in the national and international arenas. It will help them mold a society that drops bombs on millions pre-emptively but considers glassblowers and pipe-makers dangerous threats to homeland security. I admire my brother’s tenacity, and I share it in continuing to protest two wars: a military war in Iraq and a culture war at home.