Tag Archives: Los Angeles

New research: post-9/11 architecture of fear turns cities into police state zones

 

 

 

Police State

Wednesday, January 05, 2011 by: S. L. Baker, features writer

 
(NaturalNews) Almost a decade after the 9/11 attacks on the U.S., significant downtown areas in some of this country’s most prominent cities remain largely sealed off with metal gates and barriers. The explanation is that these urban areas allegedly need “security zones” to protect the populace from terrorist attacks. But a new study just published in the journal Environment and Planning A concludes this “architecture of fear” has done nothing but blight the landscape, limit public access and may promote paranoia.

“Our most open, public cities are becoming police states,”study author Jeremy Nemeth, a University of Colorado Denver assistant professor of planning and design, said in a statement to the press. “While a certain amount of security is necessary after terror attacks, no amount of anti-terror architecture would have stopped the 9/11 attacks, or the Madrid or London subway bombings. And by limiting access and closing off space, we limit the potential for more ‘eyes on the street’ to catch possible acts in the process.”

If supposed continued terror threats dictate the need for so-called “security zones”, Nemeth argues these areas should be planned and designed in ways that involve the public and are useful to downtown built environments. “Right now they consist of haphazard placement of metal gates, Jersey barriers and cones. But if these are to become permanent additions to the urban landscapes, we must understand how to integrate them into the existing built fabric,” he stated.

The new study is the first to compare public and private security districts in multiple cities. It included research into areas of downtown Los Angeles, New York City and San Francisco and found that while each city values protecting potential terrorist targets, what each city considers off-limits varies widely.

In fact, almost 40 percent of New York‘s civic center district is now in a “security zone” where it can be accessed only by people with the “proper clearance”. On the other hand, less than four percent of San Francisco’s civic center area has the same designation. However, a huge 23 acres area of public space in Los Angeles has been placed in a hard-to-access “security zone”.

Not only do these designated “security zones” affect the way landmark buildings now look, but Nemeth also noted they reflect an actual architecture based on fear. For example, embassies and other perceived targets now frequently have a bunker-like appearance.

Although the “architecture of fear” and restricted areas are aimed at assuring both property developers concerned with investment risk and residents and tourists with the idea that any lurking terror threats are being addressed, Nemeth pointed out that there’s a question as to whether these measures actually do much to protect the public at all. “Indeed, overt security measures may be no more effective than covert intelligence techniques,” he concluded.

For more information:
http://www.ucdenver.edu/about/newsr…

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Tension grows between Calif. Muslims, FBI after informant infiltrates mosque

Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 5, 2010; 12:47 AM

IRVINE, CALIF. – Before the sun rose, the informant donned a white Islamic robe. A tiny camera was sewn into a button, and a microphone was buried in a device attached to his keys.

“This is Farouk al-Aziz, code name Oracle,” he said into the keys as he sat in his parked car in this quiet community south of Los Angeles. “It’s November 13th, 4:30 a.m. And we’re hot.”

The undercover FBI informant – a convicted forger named Craig Monteilh – then drove off for 5 a.m. prayers at the Islamic Center of Irvine, where he says he spied on dozens of worshipers in a quest for potential terrorists.

Since the 2001 terrorist attacks, the FBI has used informants successfully as one of many tactics to prevent another strike in the United States. Agency officials say they are careful not to violate civil liberties and do not target Muslims.

But the FBI’s approach has come under fire from some Muslims, criticism that surfaced again late last month after agents arrested an Oregon man they said tried to detonate a bomb at a Christmas tree-lighting ceremony. FBI technicians had supplied the device.

In the Irvine case, Monteilh’s mission as an informant backfired. Muslims were so alarmed by his talk of violent jihad that they obtained a restraining order against him.

He had helped build a terrorism-related case against a mosque member, but that also collapsed. The Justice Department recently took the extraordinary step of dropping charges against the worshiper, who Monteilh had caught on tape agreeing to blow up buildings, law enforcement officials said. Prosecutors had portrayed the man as a dire threat.

Compounding the damage, Monteilh has gone public, revealing secret FBI methods and charging that his “handlers” trained him to entrap Muslims as he infiltrated their mosques, homes and businesses. He is now suing the FBI.

Officials declined to comment on specific details of Monteilh’s tale but confirm that he was a paid FBI informant. Court records and interviews corroborate not only that Monteilh worked for the FBI – he says he made $177,000, tax-free, in 15 months – but that he provided vital information on a number of cases.

Some Muslims in Southern California and nationally say the cascading revelations have seriously damaged their relationship with the FBI, a partnership that both sides agree is critical to preventing attacks and homegrown terrorism.

Citing Monteilh’s actions and what they call a pattern of FBI surveillance, many leading national Muslim organizations have virtually suspended contact with the bureau.

“The community feels betrayed,” said Shakeel Syed, executive director of the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California, an umbrella group of more than 75 mosques.

“They got a guy, a bona fide criminal, and obviously trained him and sent him to infiltrate mosques,” Syed said. “And when things went sour, they ditched him and he got mad. It’s like a soap opera, for God’s sake.”

FBI and Justice Department officials say that the Monteilh case is not representative of their relations with the Muslim community and that they continue to work closely with Muslims in investigating violence and other hate crimes against them. Officials also credit U.S. Muslims with reporting critical information in a variety of counterterrorism cases.

The bureau “relies on the support, cooperation and trust of the communities it serves and protects,” FBI spokesman Michael Kortan said, adding that agents conduct investigations “under well-defined investigative guidelines and the law, and in close coordination with the Department of Justice.”

Officials said they have gone to great lengths to maintain good relationships with Muslims, including meetings hosted by Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. Last week, FBI officials met to discuss law enforcement and other issues with predominantly Muslim Somali community members in San Diego and Minneapolis.

Steven Martinez, assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles field office, declined to comment on Monteilh, citing Monteilh’s lawsuit. He said that in certain circumstances, if there is evidence of a crime, FBI agents may “conduct an activity that might somehow involve surveillance in and about a mosque.”

But he said the agency does not target people based on religion or ethnicity.

“I know there’s a lot of suspicion that that’s the focus, that we’re looking at the mosques, monitoring who is coming and going. That’s just not the case,” he said.

The ‘chameleon’

Monteilh’s career as an informant began in 2003. Like many other informants, he was familiar with the inside of a prison cell. He had just finished a sentence for forging bank notes when local police officers he met at a gym asked him to infiltrate drug gangs and white supremacist groups for a federal-state task force.

“It was very exciting,” Monteilh said in an interview with The Washington Post. “I had the ability to be a chameleon.”

Monteilh, who stands over 6 feet tall and weighs 260 pounds, had worked as a prison chaplain before he was incarcerated. Married with three children, the Los Angeles native said that after he became an informant, an FBI agent on the task force sought him out. Law enforcement sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about informants, said Monteilh was promoted from drug and bank robbery cases because his information was reliable and had led to convictions.

In early 2006, Monteilh said, he met with his FBI handler at a Starbucks.

“She asked if I wanted to infiltrate mosques,” he said. At a follow-up session at a doughnut shop, he said, his new handler told him that “Islam is a threat to our national security.”

“It was very exciting,” Monteilh said in an interview with The Washington Post. “I had the ability to be a chameleon.”

Monteilh, who stands over 6 feet tall and weighs 260 pounds, had worked as a prison chaplain before he was incarcerated. Married with three children, the Los Angeles native said that after he became an informant, an FBI agent on the task force sought him out. Law enforcement sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about informants, said Monteilh was promoted from drug and bank robbery cases because his information was reliable and had led to convictions.

In early 2006, Monteilh said, he met with his FBI handler at a Starbucks.

“She asked if I wanted to infiltrate mosques,” he said. At a follow-up session at a doughnut shop, he said, his new handler told him that “Islam is a threat to our national security.”

Monteilh said he was instructed to infiltrate mosques throughout Orange and two neighboring counties in Southern California, where the Muslim population of nearly 500,000 is the nation’s largest. He was told to target the Islamic Center of Irvine, he said, because it was near his home.

FBI tactics were already a sensitive issue at the Irvine mosque, a stucco, two-story building that draws as many as 2,000 people for Friday prayers. With tensions rising between law enforcement and Muslims over allegations of FBI surveillance, J. Stephen Tidwell, then head of the FBI’s Los Angeles office, spoke at the mosque in June 2006.

“If we’re going to mosques to come to services, we will tell you,” he said, according to a video of his speech. “. . . The FBI will tell you we’re coming for the very reason that we don’t want you to think you’re being monitored. We would come only to learn.”

Two months later, in August 2006, Monteilh arrived at the same mosque. He had called earlier and met with the imam. That Friday, he took shahada, the Muslim declaration of faith, before hundreds of worshipers.

Worshipers said that in Monteilh’s 10 months at the mosque, he became almost manic in his devotion, attending prayers five times a day and waiting in the parking lot before the 5 a.m. prayer. Monteilh said he was told by the FBI to take notes on who opened the mosque each day.

Worshipers said his Western clothes gave way to an Islamic robe, a white skullcap and sandals, an outfit Monteilh said was chosen by his handlers. As he grew closer to Muslims, he said, the FBI told him to date Muslim women if it gained him intelligence.

Worshipers noticed that Monteilh often left his keys around the mosque, said Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Los Angeles chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, who speaks often at the mosque.

“It seemed strange to people,” Ayloush said.

Inside the car remote on the bundle of keys was a microphone that recorded Muslims at the mosque, in their homes and at a local gym. Monteilh, who told people he was a fitness trainer, used the gym to seek out Muslim men.

“We started hearing that he was saying weird things,” said Omar Kurdi, a Loyola Law School student who knew Monteilh from the mosque and gym. “He would walk up to one of my friends and say, ‘It’s good that you guys are getting ready for the jihad.”

Worshipers said Monteilh gravitated to Ahmadullah Sais Niazi, an Afghan-born Arabic-language instructor who was a regular at Friday prayers.

Read the rest of the story

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Facism Comes To America-More Of The Beginning Of The End

Coffee, Tea, or Should We Feel Your Pregnant Wife’s Breasts Before Throwing You in a Cell at the Airport and Then Lying About Why We Put You There?

by Nicholas Monahan

This morning I’ll be escorting my wife to the hospital, where the doctors will perform a caesarean section to remove our first child. She didn’t want to do it this way – neither of us did – but sometimes the Fates decide otherwise. The Fates or, in our case, government employees.

On the morning of October 26th Mary and I entered Portland International Airport, en route to the Las Vegas wedding of one of my best friends. Although we live in Los Angeles, we’d been in Oregon working on a film, and up to that point had had nothing but praise to shower on the city of Portland, a refreshing change of pace from our own suffocating metropolis.

At the security checkpoint I was led aside for the “inspection” that’s all the rage at airports these days. My shoes were removed. I was told to take off my sweater, then to fold over the waistband of my pants. My baseball hat, hastily jammed on my head at 5 AM, was removed and assiduously examined (“Anything could be in here, sir,” I was told, after I asked what I could hide in a baseball hat. Yeah. Anything.) Soon I was standing on one foot, my arms stretched out, the other leg sticking out in front of me à la a DUI test. I began to get pissed off, as most normal people would. My anger increased when I realized that the newly knighted federal employees weren’t just examining me, but my 7½ months pregnant wife as well. I’d originally thought that I’d simply been randomly selected for the more excessive than normal search. You know, Number 50 or whatever. Apparently not though – it was both of us. These are your new threats, America: pregnant accountants and their sleepy husbands flying to weddings.

After some more grumbling on my part they eventually finished with me and I went to retrieve our luggage from the x-ray machine. Upon returning I found my wife sitting in a chair, crying. Mary rarely cries, and certainly not in public. When I asked her what was the matter, she tried to quell her tears and sobbed, “I’m sorry…it’s…they touched my breasts…and…” That’s all I heard. I marched up to the woman who’d been examining her and shouted, “What did you do to her?” Later I found out that in addition to touching her swollen breasts – to protect the American citizenry – the employee had asked that she lift up her shirt. Not behind a screen, not off to the side – no, right there, directly in front of the hundred or so passengers standing in line. And for you women who’ve been pregnant and worn maternity pants, you know how ridiculous those things look. “I felt like a clown,” my wife told me later. “On display for all these people, with the cotton panel on my pants and my stomach sticking out. When I sat down I just lost my composure and began to cry. That’s when you walked up.”

Of course when I say she “told me later,” it’s because she wasn’t able to tell me at the time, because as soon as I demanded to know what the federal employee had done to make her cry, I was swarmed by Portland police officers. Instantly. Three of them, cinching my arms, locking me in handcuffs, and telling me I was under arrest. Now my wife really began to cry. As they led me away and she ran alongside, I implored her to calm down, to think of the baby, promising her that everything would turn out all right. She faded into the distance and I was shoved into an elevator, a cop holding each arm. After making me face the corner, the head honcho told that I was under arrest and that I wouldn’t be flying that day – that I was in fact a “menace.”

It took me a while to regain my composure. I felt like I was one of those guys in The Gulag Archipelago who, because the proceedings all seem so unreal, doesn’t fully realize that he is in fact being arrested in a public place in front of crowds of people for…for what? I didn’t know what the crime was. Didn’t matter. Once upstairs, the officers made me remove my shoes and my hat and tossed me into a cell. Yes, your airports have prison cells, just like your amusement parks, train stations, universities, and national forests. Let freedom reign.

After a short time I received a visit from the arresting officer. “Mr. Monahan,” he started, “Are you on drugs?”

Was this even real? “No, I’m not on drugs.”

“Should you be?”

“What do you mean?”

“Should you be on any type of medication?”

“No.”

“Then why’d you react that way back there?”

You see the thinking? You see what passes for reasoning among your domestic shock troops these days? Only “whackos” get angry over seeing the woman they’ve been with for ten years in tears because someone has touched her breasts. That kind of reaction – love, protection – it’s mind-boggling! “Mr. Monahan, are you on drugs?” His snide words rang inside my head. This is my wife, finally pregnant with our first child after months of failed attempts, after the depressing shock of the miscarriage last year, my wife who’d been walking on a cloud over having the opportunity to be a mother…and my anger is simply unfathomable to the guy standing in front of me, the guy who earns a living thanks to my taxes, the guy whose family I feed through my labor. What I did wasn’t normal. No, I reacted like a drug addict would’ve. I was so disgusted I felt like vomiting. But that was just the beginning.

An hour later, after I’d been gallantly assured by the officer that I wouldn’t be attending my friend’s wedding that day, I heard Mary’s voice outside my cell. The officer was speaking loudly, letting her know that he was planning on doing me a favor… which everyone knows is never a real favor. He wasn’t going to come over and help me work on my car or move some furniture. No, his “favor” was this: He’d decided not to charge me with a felony.

Think about that for a second. Rapes, car-jackings, murders, arsons – those are felonies. So is yelling in an airport now, apparently. I hadn’t realized, though I should have. Luckily, I was getting a favor, though. I was merely going to be slapped with a misdemeanor.

“Here’s your court date,” he said as I was released from my cell. In addition, I was banned from Portland International for 90 days, and just in case I was thinking of coming over and hanging out around its perimeter, the officer gave me a map with the boundaries highlighted, sternly warning me against trespassing. Then he and a second officer escorted us off the grounds. Mary and I hurriedly drove two and a half hours in the rain to Seattle, where we eventually caught a flight to Vegas. But the officer was true to his word – we missed my friend’s wedding. The fact that he’d been in my own wedding party, the fact that a once in a lifetime event was stolen from us – well, who cares, right?

Upon our return to Portland (I’d had to fly into Seattle and drive back down), we immediately began contacting attorneys. We aren’t litigious people – we wanted no money. I’m not even sure what we fully wanted. An apology? A reprimand? I don’t know. It doesn’t matter though, because we couldn’t afford a lawyer, it turned out. $4,000 was the average figure bandied about as a retaining fee. Sorry, but I’ve got a new baby on the way. So we called the ACLU, figuring they existed for just such incidents as these. And they do apparently…but only if we were minorities. That’s what they told us.

In the meantime, I’d appealed my suspension from PDX. A week or so later I got a response from the Director of Aviation. After telling me how, in the aftermath of 9/11, most passengers not only accept additional airport screening but welcome it, he cut to the chase:

“After a review of the police report and my discussions with police staff, as well as a review of the TSA’s report on this incident, I concur with the officer’s decision to take you into custody and to issue a citation to you for disorderly conduct. That being said, because I also understand that you were upset and acted on your emotions, I am willing to lift the Airport Exclusion Order….”

Attached to this letter was the report the officer had filled out. I’d like to say I couldn’t believe it, but in a way, I could. It’s seemingly becoming the norm in America – lies and deliberate distortions on the part of those in power, no matter how much or how little power they actually wield.

The gist of his report was this: From the get go I wasn’t following the screener’s directions. I was “squinting my eyes” and talking to my wife in a “low, forced voice” while “excitedly swinging my arms.” Twice I began to walk away from the screener, inhaling and exhaling forcefully. When I’d completed the physical exam, I walked to the luggage screening area, where a second screener took a pair of scissors from my suitcase. At this point I yelled, “What the %*&$% is going on? This is &*#&$%!” The officer, who’d already been called over by one of the screeners, became afraid for the TSA staff and the many travelers. He required the assistance of a second officer as he “struggled” to get me into handcuffs, then for “cover” called over a third as well. It was only at this point that my wife began to cry hysterically.

There was nothing poetic in my reaction to the arrest report. I didn’t crumple it in my fist and swear that justice would be served, promising to sacrifice my resources and time to see that it would. I simply stared. Clearly the officer didn’t have the guts to write down what had really happened. It might not look too good to see that stuff about the pregnant woman in tears because she’d been humiliated. Instead this was the official scenario being presented for the permanent record. It doesn’t even matter that it’s the most implausible sounding situation you can think of. “Hey, what the…godammit, they’re taking our scissors, honey!” Why didn’t he write in anything about a monkey wearing a fez?

True, the TSA staff had expropriated a pair of scissors from our toiletries kit – the story wasn’t entirely made up. Except that I’d been locked in airport jail at the time. I didn’t know anything about any scissors until Mary told me on our drive up to Seattle. They’d questioned her about them while I was in the bowels of the airport sitting in my cell.

So I wrote back, indignation and disgust flooding my brain.

“[W]hile I’m not sure, I’d guess that the entire incident is captured on video. Memory is imperfect on everyone’s part, but the footage won’t lie. I realize it might be procedurally difficult for you to view this, but if you could, I’d appreciate it. There’s no willful disregard of screening directions. No explosion over the discovery of a pair of scissors in a suitcase. No struggle to put handcuffs on. There’s a tired man, early in the morning, unhappily going through a rigorous procedure and then reacting to the tears of his pregnant wife.”

Eventually we heard back from a different person, the guy in charge of the TSA airport screeners. One of his employees had made the damning statement about me exploding over her scissor discovery, and the officer had deftly incorporated that statement into his report. We asked the guy if he could find out why she’d said this – couldn’t she possibly be mistaken? “Oh, can’t do that, my hands are tied. It’s kind of like leading a witness – I could get in trouble, heh heh.” Then what about the videotape? Why not watch that? That would exonerate me. “Oh, we destroy all video after three days.”

Sure you do.

A few days later we heard from him again. He just wanted to inform us that he’d received corroboration of the officer’s report from the officer’s superior, a name we didn’t recognize. “But…he wasn’t even there,” my wife said.

“Yeah, well, uh, he’s corroborated it though.”

That’s how it works.

“Oh, and we did look at the videotape. Inconclusive.”

But I thought it was destroyed?

On and on it went. Due to the tenacity of my wife in making phone calls and speaking with relevant persons, the “crime” was eventually lowered to a mere citation. Only she could have done that. I would’ve simply accepted what was being thrown at me, trumped up charges and all, simply because I’m wholly inadequate at performing the kowtow. There’s no way I could have contacted all the people Mary did and somehow pretend to be contrite. Besides, I speak in a low, forced voice, which doesn’t elicit sympathy. Just police suspicion.

Weeks later at the courthouse I listened to a young DA awkwardly read the charges against me – “Mr. Monahan…umm…shouted obscenities at the airport staff…umm… umm…oh, they took some scissors from his suitcase and he became…umm…abusive at this point.” If I was reading about it in Kafka I might have found something vaguely amusing in all of it. But I wasn’t. I was there. Living it.

I entered a plea of nolo contendere, explaining to the judge that if I’d been a resident of Oregon, I would have definitely pled “Not Guilty.” However, when that happens, your case automatically goes to a jury trial, and since I lived a thousand miles away, and was slated to return home in seven days, with a newborn due in a matter of weeks…you get the picture. “No Contest” it was. Judgment: $250 fine.

Did I feel happy? Only $250, right? No, I wasn’t happy. I don’t care if it’s twelve cents, that’s money pulled right out of my baby’s mouth and fed to a disgusting legal system that will use it to propagate more incidents like this. But at the very least it was over, right? Wrong.

When we returned to Los Angeles there was an envelope waiting for me from the court. Inside wasn’t a receipt for the money we’d paid. No, it was a letter telling me that what I actually owed was $309 – state assessed court costs, you know. Wouldn’t you think your taxes pay for that – the state putting you on trial? No, taxes are used to hire more cops like the officer, because with our rising criminal population – people like me – hey, your average citizen demands more and more “security.”

Finally I reach the piece de résistance. The week before we’d gone to the airport my wife had had her regular pre-natal checkup. The child had settled into the proper head down position for birth, continuing the remarkable pregnancy she’d been having. We returned to Portland on Sunday. On Mary’s Monday appointment she was suddenly told, “Looks like your baby’s gone breech.” When she later spoke with her midwives in Los Angeles, they wanted to know if she’d experienced any type of trauma recently, as this often makes a child flip. “As a matter of fact…” she began, recounting the story, explaining how the child inside of her was going absolutely crazy when she was crying as the police were leading me away through the crowd.

My wife had been planning a natural childbirth. She’d read dozens of books, meticulously researched everything, and had finally decided that this was the way for her. No drugs, no numbing of sensations – just that ultimate combination of brute pain and sheer joy that belongs exclusively to mothers. But my wife is also a first-time mother, so she has what is called an “untested” pelvis. Essentially this means that a breech birth is too dangerous to attempt, for both mother and child. Therefore, she’s now relegated to a c-section – hospital stay, epidural, catheter, fetal monitoring, stitches – everything she didn’t want. Her natural birth has become a surgery.

We’ve tried everything to turn that baby. Acupuncture, chiropractic techniques, underwater handstands, elephant walking, moxibustion, bending backwards over pillows, herbs, external manipulation – all to no avail. When I walked into the living room the other night and saw her plaintively cooing with a flashlight turned onto her stomach, yet another suggested technique, my heart almost broke. It’s breaking now as I write these words.

I can never prove that my child went breech because of what happened to us at the airport. But I’ll always believe it. Wrongly or rightly, I’ll forever think of how this man, the personification of this system, has affected the lives of my family and me. When my wife is sliced open, I’ll be thinking of him. When they remove her uterus from her abdomen and lay it on her stomach, I’ll be thinking of him. When I visit her and my child in the hospital instead of having them with me here in our home, I’ll be thinking of him. When I assist her to the bathroom while the incision heals internally, I’ll be thinking of him.

There are plenty of stories like this these days. I don’t know how many I’ve read where the writer describes some breach of civil liberties by employees of the state, then wraps it all up with a dire warning about what we as a nation are becoming, and how if we don’t put an end to it now, then we’re in for heaps of trouble. Well you know what? Nothing’s going to stop the inevitable. There’s no policy change that’s going to save us. There’s no election that’s going to put a halt to the onslaught of tyranny. It’s here already – this country has changed for the worse and will continue to change for the worse. There is now a division between the citizenry and the state. When that state is used as a tool against me, there is no longer any reason why I should owe any allegiance to that state.

And that’s the first thing that child of ours is going to learn.

December 21, 2002

Nick Monahan works in the film industry. He writes out of Los Angeles where he lives with his wife and as of December 18th, his beautiful new son.

Copyright © 2002 by LewRockwell.com. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is gladly granted, provided full credit is given.

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And if you think going through the scanners is an alternative worth considering look at this. Besides the obvious danger from radiation exposure (several scientists have noted the potential) do you really want strangers looking at you to this degree? (E)

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Revisit Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451

Revisit Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451

Mises Daily: Thursday, August 26, 2010 by

[Transcribed from the Libertarian Tradition podcast episode “Ray Bradbury‘s Fahrenheit 451.”]

Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury celebrated his 90th birthday this past Sunday. He was born August 22, 1920 in Waukegan, Illinois, a medium-sized town of around 20,000 people about midway between Chicago and Milwaukee on the western shore of Lake Michigan. Bradbury has depicted Waukegan fondly, even idyllically, in his fiction, most notably in his 1957 novel Dandelion Wine — even though the Waukegan conjured up in that book, which is set in 1928, is a bit larger than the Waukegan Bradbury was born into in 1920. The town’s population grew by more than 50 percent during the ’20s. By the beginning of the Great Depression, there were more than 33,000 people who called Waukegan home. The Bradbury family was not to be among these people for much longer, however.

They had already spent a year in Tucson, Arizona in the ’20s, for reasons having to do with Ray’s father’s employment. Tucson was where Ray attended first grade. And in school year 1932/33, when Ray was 12, they were back in Tucson again. Then, after a few months cleaning up loose ends in Waukegan, not long before Ray’s 14th birthday, they moved to Los Angeles, where they remained. Ray Bradbury himself is there to this day. It was in Los Angeles that he went through high school and in Los Angeles that he launched his extremely successful career as a fiction writer.

It is common to hear Ray Bradbury described as a “science-fiction writer,” but this is misleading at best. Only a minority of Bradbury’s total production is science fiction by any normal standard, and at least half of it is straightforward realistic fiction like Dandelion Wine. The fact is, however, that Bradbury’s second, third, and fourth books, his first three books to come to widespread attention — The Martian Chronicles (1950), The Illustrated Man (1951), and Fahrenheit 451 (1953) — were works of science fiction, or, at least, were widely believed to be. Bradbury was typecast early, you might say. He came to fame as a “science-fiction writer,” and a “science-fiction writer” he will therefore forever remain.

For our purposes here, on the other hand, Bradbury’s most important book is undeniably the third of those titles I just listed: Fahrenheit 451, his short novel about censorship, one of the most influential libertarian novels of the 20th century, first published nearly 60 years ago. And of all Ray Bradbury’s books, Fahrenheit 451 is probably the one most entitled to be called “science fiction.”

It describes an American society of the indeterminate but probably fairly near future in which possession of books is illegal. In an emergency — if, for example, an individual is found to be in possession of a sizable collection of books — the local fire department is summoned. The firemen arrive on a truck, dressed in fire-resistant clothing and carrying hoses. But their hoses pump, not water, but kerosene, which they use to drench the illegal collection of books they’ve been called to take care of, along with the rest of the house in which they’re stored. Then they set the whole sodden mess afire and watch it burn to the ground.

Actually, not all books are illegal in Bradbury’s America of the probably fairly near future. Or so, at least, it would appear. For when Guy Montag, the young fireman who is the main character of Fahrenheit 451, poses a question to his colleagues at the local firehouse — “In the old days, before homes were completely fireproofed,” he asks them, “didn’t firemen prevent fires rather than stoke them up and get them going?” — they answer him by consulting “their rule books, which also contained brief histories of the Firemen of America.”

According to these rule books, the Firemen of America was “established [in] 1790, to burn English-influenced books in the Colonies.” The “First Fireman,” according to the rule books, was Benjamin Franklin. Like all state-sponsored official history, this relies on a certain level of ignorance in its readers if it is to have its full intended effect. The firemen reading the rule books should be unaware, for example, that by 1790 “the Colonies” had been politically independent from England for seven years, and that Benjamin Franklin, in 1790, was 84 years old and on his deathbed. It would help if the firemen reading these rule books were also unaware that Franklin really was a pioneer fireman, though it was in the 1730s not the 1790s, and he was, of course, the kind of fireman who puts fires out and prevents them rather than the kind who stokes fires and gets them going. Of course, in a society whose government banned the possession of any books that taught any contrary, revisionist history, such a level of ignorance might be fairly easy to maintain in the general population.

It might be argued that people don’t have to have books, necessarily, to stave off such ignorance. They could get correct information about history from other media. And this is true. Today, for example, people can get such information from the Internet, and we haven’t even reached the future yet.  There is no Internet in Fahrenheit 451. There is only television.  In fact, television is very close to omnipresent. But it is a kind of television that could exist only with the assistance of computer technology.

A typical middle-class home in the world of Fahrenheit 451 has an entire room devoted to TV, with the images being received on huge screens that cover three or four of the walls in that room. In some programs, the viewer is given a small part, addressed by name by the other characters, and assigned a few lines to speak. But never is any actual information of any lasting importance conveyed to the viewer.

Bradbury never makes it perfectly clear whether the utter mindlessness of television in the world of Fahrenheit 451 is a result of government censorship or an outcome of market processes. It unquestionably might be the latter. One of his characters, a retired English professor and secret lover of books named Faber, speaks contemptuously of “the solid unmoving cattle of the majority,” and it is, of course, majorities that markets serve best. “Remember,” Faber tells Montag at one point, “the firemen are rarely necessary. The public itself stopped reading of its own accord. You firemen provide a circus now and then at which buildings are set off and crowds gather for the pretty blaze, but it’s a small sideshow indeed, and hardly necessary to keep things in line.”

And why did the public itself stop reading of its own accord? Because so many of the individuals who made up that public wanted to avoid ever being offended by reading anything they didn’t already believe. And most of the rest wanted to avoid having to think at all — they wanted to avoid difficult decisions, the strain of trying to focus their minds on ideas that could plausibly be looked at and understood in more than one way.

Another of Bradbury’s characters, a fire chief named Beatty, explains the part about being offended in a key conversation that takes place about a third of the way into the novel. “Let’s take up the minorities in our civilization, shall we?” Beatty says to Montag.

Bigger the population, the more minorities. Don’t step on the toes of the dog-lovers, the cat-lovers, doctors, lawyers, merchants, chiefs, Mormons, Baptists, Unitarians, second-generation Chinese, Swedes, Italians, Germans, Texans, Brooklynites, Irishmen, people from Oregon or Mexico. The people in this book, this play, this TV serial are not meant to represent any actual painters, cartographers, mechanics anywhere. The bigger your market, Montag, the less you handle controversy, remember that! … Magazines became a nice blend of vanilla tapioca. Books, so the damned snobbish critics said, were dishwater. No wonder books stopped selling, the critics said. … There you have it, Montag. It didn’t come from the Government down. There was no dictum, no declaration, no censorship, to start with, no! Technology, mass exploitation, and minority pressure carried the trick, thank God. Today, thanks to them, you can stay happy all the time.

“Ask yourself,” Beatty says to Montag, “What do we want in this country, above all? People want to be happy, isn’t that right? Haven’t you heard it all your life? I want to be happy, people say.” According to Beatty, one part of what has to be done to make people happy is to make them feel equal to everybody else. “Surely,” he says to Montag,

you remember the boy in your own school class who was exceptionally “bright,” did most of the reciting and answering while the others sat like so many leaden idols, hating him. And wasn’t it this bright boy you selected for beatings and tortures after hours? Of course it was. We must all be alike. Not everyone born free and equal, as the Constitution says, but everyone made equal. Each man the image of every other; then all are happy, for there are no mountains to make them cower, to judge themselves against.

“Why did the public itself stop reading of its own accord? Because so many of the individuals who made up that public wanted to avoid ever being offended by reading anything they didn’t already believe.”

Keeping people happy, Beatty tells Montag, also requires that you avoid confusing them or expecting them to judge between competing ideas. “If you don’t want a man unhappy politically, don’t give him two sides to a question to worry him,” Beatty tells Montag, “give him one. Better yet, give him none. … If the Government is inefficient, top-heavy, and tax-mad, better it be all those than that people worry over it.”

In the space of a crucial week, Montag himself opts to worry instead of being mindlessly happy. He has been vaguely aware for a while now that, despite the government’s best efforts on his behalf, he is not, in fact, happy. His wife drifts mindlessly through her nights and days in a haze induced either by sleeping pills or by radio and TV. She no longer has anything to say to her husband, who has become, at best, an afterthought in her life.

Montag has been stealing the occasional book from the clandestine libraries he is assigned to burn. By the time of the beginning of Fahrenheit 451, he has accumulated maybe 20 of these books and has stuffed them into a hiding place he has devised behind an air-conditioning grill in the ceiling of his suburban house. He has tentatively decided to take a look at these books, see for himself what they contain, why they’re illegal.

Then one night on his way home from work, he meets a 16-year-old girl on the street. It turns out she’s his next-door neighbor, a girl who likes taking walks in the evening, a girl with a startlingly different way of looking at things and the world — a girl who, perhaps unwittingly, encourages Montag’s growing determination to rebel, if only in a small way, against the system that, at least through his employment, sustains him. Within a week of meeting the 16-year-old Clarisse, Montag has murdered his fire chief and destroyed his station’s expensive, high-tech Mechanical Hound. He has left his wife, gone on the lam, and joined an underground organization of men and women, each of whom has committed one or more books to memory, awaiting the day when it will once again be legal to print, sell, and read such things.

Fahrenheit 451 has become one of the most influential libertarian novels of the past century, in large part through the efforts of schoolteachers in both public and private institutions of learning. Virtually anyone who has gone through 7th, 8th, and 9th grades in this country in the past 40 years has likely been assigned Fahrenheit 451 in an English class. When I was in 7th, 8th, and 9th grades myself only a few years earlier, between 1958 and 1961, Fahrenheit 451 was not yet part of the official curriculum; instead, it was one of those books students were likely to be seen carrying around with them, in some sort of cheap, mass-market paperback edition, to read on their own time, for pleasure.

The fact that students liked it was, of course, one of the reasons it became part of the official curriculum. Here was a book you didn’t have to struggle to get kids to read. Also it was a book that would raise the hackles of few, if any parents; there was no sex in it at all, and only a few hells and damns by way of so-called bad language.

On top of all that, for a libertarian novel it was really fairly kind in its depiction of the state. It absolves the state of blame for starting the war on books. It acknowledges that powerful impulses toward mindless conformity and suppression of deviation exist in the population itself — that, on a deep level, many, many people want to be “protected” by the state from the risk of being offended and from the necessity of thinking for themselves.

And so it is that a large segment of our population knows this book because it was assigned in school. For many, it is probably one of the few good things school ever did for them. The downside of the situation is that millions of these people, probably the majority of them, have not looked at Bradbury’s remarkable little novel for years, since they were 13 or 14 years old.

It’s worth another look.

Jeff Riggenbach is a journalist, author, editor, broadcaster, and educator. A member of the Organization of American Historians and a Senior Fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute, he has written for such newspapers as The New York Times, USA Today, the Los Angeles Times, and the San Francisco Chronicle; such magazines as Reason, Inquiry, and Liberty; and such websites as LewRockwell.com, AntiWar.com, and RationalReview.com. Drawing on vocal skills he honed in classical and all-news radio in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Houston, Riggenbach has also narrated the audiobook versions of numerous libertarian works, many of them available in Mises Media. Send him mail. See Jeff Riggenbach’s article archives.

This article is transcribed from the Libertarian Tradition podcast episode “Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.”


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