An Enemy of the State
I remember my last morning in Los Angeles. The day began normally enough. A voice from my clock radio announced that it was time to get up and get going.
"Good morning, Los Angeles. It’s 7:35—the sun’s up, and it’s waiting for you. It'll be a beautiful Saturday with a high of 89 degrees. This afternoon our old friend, Mr. Cool Ocean Breeze, will fan the Southland’s coastal areas, then move inland. From the mountains to the Mexican border, from the blue Pacific to the Inland Empire, it's the beginning of another gorgeous weekend in L.A. So, don’t just lie there, get up and be part of it!"
I could have slept for at least an extra hour. But the promise of another excellent Southern California day offset my annoyance with the radio. Besides, the station was now playing relaxing jazz music, and that meshed perfectly with the way I felt on this laid-back, warm morning.
I always found it delicious to stretch out on the bed, lounging in the fact that it was Saturday. And today, the sun was bright, I felt good about myself, and I didn’t have to go to work. I remember thinking “What could be better?” This was reward time, the start of a well-earned, lazy weekend. How glorious.
I labored as a mid-level bureaucrat in the Social Security Administration. Despite the fact that most Social Security functions had been turned over to private companies, some aspects of the program were still maintained by government offices. It was a tough job that demanded time and close attention to details.
Mostly, however, it was monotony that wore me down by the end of the week. My task was to verify first-time claims from new retirees seeking their benefits. It was tedious work involving computers and phones, applications, printouts, and employer verification forms. Sure, it wasn’t a glamorous occupation for a virile 45-year-old American male, but it paid the bills, and it was necessary work. Furthermore, my job gave me satisfaction in knowing that I was helping retired workers get their well-earned pension checks.
Besides, weekends always provided release from the routine. I liked to lollygag over breakfast with a hot cup of coffee and the Los Angeles Times that was delivered to my apartment daily. I refused to subscribe to the online version. I just wasn’t comfortable sitting with a computerized tablet at the kitchen table or on my living-room easy chair. Even if it did cost more money, I preferred the old-fashioned feel of a fat newspaper printed on paper. It reminded me of my childhood in the 1980s when my parents emphasized the importance of keeping up with current events by reading a daily paper.
Still, even this part of my weekend had recently changed. Until early last year, I actually subscribed to two newspapers: the New York Times as well as the Los Angeles Times. But when the New York paper was sold to a right-wing Florida syndicate, the new owners promptly ceased publication and celebrated the demise of the Gray Lady. Furthermore, when Congress passed the Journalism Act of 2018 with its censorship requirements on reportage and editorial content, the result was that newspapers essentially became the same from coast to coast. Although I disagreed with the law and the subsequent Supreme Court decision upholding its constitutionality, I was becoming accustomed to the standardized, sanitized hometown newspaper I was receiving.
Before getting to breakfast and enjoying my Saturday morning read, however, I loved to rest in bed with relaxing music coming from the radio. Here, half way between sleep and consciousness, I enjoyed vegetating for a while. But today, my reverie was rudely assaulted. Loud banging on the front door suggested not only that I had a visitor, but that this uninvited caller was impatient.
“Damn! Who could this be?” I muttered. “Of all days and times.”
Reluctantly, I rolled out of bed and staggered toward the noise. "Alright, don't get your bowels in an uproar," I barked at the obnoxious intruder. "I'm coming, I'm coming. Why didn’t you use the intercom first?"
Opening the door, I was confronted by a half-dozen police officers dressed in intimidating black uniforms. All carried guns. A few had rifles. “Is this the home of Michael Oliver Tenney?” the leader of the group bluntly inquired.
“Yeah, I’m Mike Tenney. What’s this all about?” I asked with more than a little confusion in my voice. “Who are you? Well, I know who you are. But, what do you want with me?”
“We're from the Los Angeles Police Department, Mr. Tenney. We’re here to place you under arrest,” the lead officer responded. Reading from the white card held in his hand, the policeman continued: “Pursuant to Article 5 of the Patriotic Orthodoxy Act of 2019 all men and women of liberal political values and/or support for the Democratic Party are considered to be in violation of the law. Therefore you are now under arrest for crimes committed against the people of the United States of America. You will be taken immediately to face a Special Tribunal of Homeland Harmony that will consider your case. Until the Tribunal assesses your crimes, Mr. Tenney, your rights as a citizen of this country are officially suspended.”
This was stunning news to me. “Liberalism a crime? The Democratic Party illegal? Crimes against the American people? What the hell are you talking about?” I blurted out. “I've committed no crime. And what is this Tribunal? This Orthodoxy Act? It’s all too ludicrous! I was born here in the good old U.S. of A. and I’m demanding my legal rights. I want to see a lawyer.”
“Sir, you are under arrest and you are not entitled to an attorney,” the officer responded forcefully. “There will be no courtroom trial, no jury, or judge. Your status will be determined solely by the Special Tribunal of Homeland Harmony. As of now, Mr. Tenney, you are a prisoner of the American people.”
My protestations persuaded no one, especially not the tall officer who took out a pair of handcuffs and moved toward me. Before being manacled and escorted from my apartment, however, the police did allow me to change out of my pajamas. Then they placed me in handcuffs. That was the extent of the officers’ courtesy.
Once outside, I was shoved ungracefully into a waiting police van. “Get your ass in there, you traitor,” said one of the cops as he pushed me face-first onto the dirty floor of the wagon. It was a hard landing. In fact, I scraped my face on the metal floorboard and actually bloodied my chin.
As I struggled to my feet, dusted off my clothes, and wiped blood from my face, I noticed that I was not alone. There were five other men and women sitting chained against the wall of the vehicle. A few were crying; all of them appeared to be terrified.
There was no chance to talk with anyone because seated among us was a muscular police sergeant with a mean-looking rifle that stifled conversation. “Just sit down and shut up, creep,” the officer commanded. “You’re going on a little trip across town. You’ll learn more when we get you before the judge.” He then shackled me to the wall of the squadrol.
As much as I hoped that it was just a horrible nightmare, the throbbing pain I felt on my injured chin convinced me that this was really happening. So did the pinching of my wrists by the handcuffs. It was difficult to believe, but this was all happening in the United States of America.
I never heard of the Patriotic Orthodoxy Act, the POA as the police called it. Sure, American politics had been bending to the radical right throughout the last decade. And after the two liberal administrations of Barack Obama, the election of the firebrand reactionary John S. Birch III only accelerated the rightward trend. I knew that my political views were unpopular, even reviled by many throughout the country. But I didn’t see this coming.
Even if right-wing Republicanism guided politics to the point that the U. S. had become virtually a one-party country, whoever heard of an American citizen—at least a middle-class white male—being arrested for his politics? “What crime could I have committed?” I asked myself. “Voted? Not voted? Spoke out? Tore a “Birch for President” poster from a telephone pole? What are the charges? And what is this Homeland Harmony Tribunal all about?”
As the police van sped along the freeway in the direction of downtown, I recall peaking through a round air-hole drilled into the wall of this jail cell on wheels. Outside, everything seemed normal. The traffic was dense, it was hot already, and the air was tinted with pollution. Even though the radio weatherman had promised near-perfection, I recognized that it was just another dirty L. A. day.
But it wasn’t a normal day in Southern California, nor was it an average day anywhere in the nation. I learned some time later that this was Day One of the new governmental system that Congress and the President Birch had brought into existence the evening before. By terms of the far-reaching Patriotic Orthodoxy Act, Washington had established Conservative Republicanism as the sole and official political ideology of the country. By terms of the POA, liberalism and its practical manifestations, found mostly in the Democratic Party, were now outlawed.
Congress, overwhelmingly reactionary since the final years of the Obama presidency, had simply enacted what seemed obvious: because the American electorate embraced conservatism so thoroughly, all other political viewpoints were considered ipso facto subversive. Senator William Bedford Forrest of Alabama had recently articulated the new Conservative credo, “One Nation, One People, One Party.”
While even most Democrats during the past decade accepted conservative values, a small percentage, myself included, remained unreconstructed. To right-wingers, this was apparently an intolerable situation. Their victory was not complete. To them, the elimination of liberalism was a moral issue, an act of political purification justifiable in the name of maximizing domestic tranquility. Still, they knew that until restrictive legislation was passed and signed into law, liberals were free to persuade others to their point of view.
Although the slide of America to the right had been largely popular, Republican leaders in Washington still felt that passage of the POA had to be secretive and sudden. In Washington the Republican plan worked beautifully. The handful of real Democrats still left in Congress—fifteen in the House of Representatives, and the two Senators from California—had been excluded from formal deliberations by a clever ruse. While the majority Republicans plotted, the Democrats blissfully departed the capital for a Party conference in Havana, Cuba.
Flown there in corporate jets loaned by complicit multinational corporations, the naive Democrats sipped Cuba Libres and strolled the beach at Malecon (renamed George W. Bush Beach after the former President who years ago had called for the overthrow of Fidel Castro and his brother, Raul) while their enemies in Washington finalized the details of legislation that would homogenize U.S. politics forever.
Within minutes of its passage, conservative plans were set in motion. Already mobilized for the task, federal, state and local police, as well as National Guard units and U.S. military personnel sprang into action. The FBI and CIA were also involved, as were thousands of trustworthy church leaders.
At one minute past midnight Eastern Standard Time, this army of enforcement was unleashed. Throughout the nation Democrats were rounded up and arrested. It was the largest manhunt in American history, and it progressed with great efficiency.
Some areas were easier to cleanse than others. Mass arrests took place flawlessly in most Western states. For example, by 5 o’clock in the morning, Wyoming, Montana, Utah, and the Dakotas reported the apprehension of all liberals within their borders. Idaho had reached that point ninety minutes earlier. And in most of the South, with the exception of disorganized Florida, state officials estimated that their sweeps would be completed before lunchtime.
This was a pogrom.
Anticipating a sizable number of detainees, months earlier the federal government had begun constructing detention camps throughout the U.S. The plan called for the internment of liberals in these camps until they could be politically rehabilitated and rendered safe for reentry into conservative society. Intensive indoctrination by hard-right ideologues, it was predicted, would quickly convert the deviates to Orthodoxy. After all, Republican propaganda had already seduced most Americans into joining the One True Party, the OTP as the reactionaries often called it. How could detention fail to be effective with a captive audience of terrified Democrats?
Toward that end, thousands of wooden barracks had been secretly erected in national parks, forests, and battlegrounds. The public was largely unaware of construction projects in places such as Yellowstone, Acadia, Great Smoky Mountains, Yosemite, Dry Tortugas, and many others. The federal park system had been closed since 2015. That’s when government funding was terminated and lumber companies were granted exclusive rights to cut down the national forests. Ironically, in many instances timber from these massive harvests was used to build the new detention camps.
There had been glitches. Although construction started last year, delivery problems forced the government to set up temporary “tent cities” in some localities. This was particularly true in several Sun Belt states where Washington bureaucrats reasoned that tents could do the job until wooden facilities were operational in the colder climates.
Because Republican leaders expected that a small percentage of liberals would be harder to redeem, the government quietly erected a second tier of incarceration camps. I never visited any of them, but I learned that these facilities were maximum-security prisons used primarily for segregating racial groups.
One of the most effective camps was located in Carlsbad Caverns where Asian-American prisoners were housed in bat-filled caves. All exits from the caves were guarded by U.S. Army personnel equipped with the latest in electronic sensors and pocket-sized machine guns. Of course, the presence of millions of flying bats also worked to keep the prisoners in line.
Similar intensity was demonstrated in planning for a facility in the Grand Canyon. Here the Canyon floor was studded with barracks and tents for tens of thousands of African-American and Native American prisoners. Security was tight here at what was later called Camp Barry Goldwater. While the liberal hordes were imprisoned at the bottom of the Canyon, U.S. Marine Corps sharpshooters on the rim guarded the steep slopes, Coast Guard gunboats cruised up and down the Colorado River that flowed through the installation, and Air Force reconnaissance jets and helicopters periodically crisscrossed the skies to discourage resistance. I believe it was Congressman Jacobo “Big Jake” Guano who best expressed the pride Arizonans had in their camp when he declared, “Our Canyon is a big hole, even bigger than the one those liberals dug for this great country of ours. From now on, they're stuck at the bottom of Arizona’s hole, like bein’ buried alive. Just let ‘em try to get out of our Big Ditch.”
At the highest level of POA enforcement were the gulag penal complexes. These units were inspired by the isolated Communist prisons maintained in Siberia during last century. The U.S. facilities were for liberals of any background who proved to be totally unfit for rehabilitation. They were designed as a string of permanent detention centers in Alaska on the remote Aleutian islands of Attu, Agattu, Amchitka, Kiska, and Tanaga—ironically, not very far from Siberia. For obvious reasons, the Alaska gulags quickly became known by the collective term, “The Refrigerator.”
On the island of Amchitka, Camp Sarah Palin was the ultimate in prison isolation. It was named after the former half-term governor of Alaska, but only after she had negotiated a fair price for her naming rights. Palin was no place for visitors. No communication with the outside world, just seals and snowstorms, and a bridge that once led to nowhere, but now took Democrats to the gulag. And all of it was guarded by United States Navy Seals.
If an unreconstructed Democrat ended up in a Refrigerator outpost he or she was totally cut off from human society. This was a living death, the ultimate in cryo-punishment, as Republican wags had quickly come to describe the cold-weather warehousing of political enemies.
As we neared downtown Los Angeles, the police wagon exited the freeway and soon arrived at what appeared be a large high school gymnasium. Quickly and roughly we were taken out of the vehicle and marched into the building. I was right. A large banner above the bleachers saying “Home of the Mustangs” clearly identified this place as a high school gym.
Situated directly below this pep-rally sign, however, a large photograph of President Birch surrounded with red, white, and blue bunting suggested that the federal government had co-opted the building for a non-sports use. Instead of basketball players, cheerleaders, and screaming fans, the hardwood floor was filled with handcuffed prisoners standing in lines before twenty to thirty folding tables. I remember thinking about the irony of the scene: the mustang, American symbol of freedom and unfettered movement, yet it was we free-ranging human beings, we liberal Democrats who were being rounded-up. And what would be our fate? At this point, I had no idea.
Seated behind the tables was a cadre of young white males. They all looked so clean and neat, like spotless, sterile symbols of authority. They all wore preppy blazers—single-breasted, dark blue, gold-colored buttons—with white shirts and little bow ties. Out of fashion and slightly old before their time, they reminded me of what the Children of the Damned must have looked like when they entered early adulthood.
“You are about to face the Special Tribunal of Homeland Harmony of the United States of America,” boomed a deep voice from the public address system. “You will stand quietly in line in front of the particular table to which you have been directed. Do not say a word. Answer only if the Tribune asks you a question. Furthermore, by terms of the Patriotic Orthodoxy Act, you all have been designated as 'enemy combatants' and, therefore, you are not entitled to legal counsel. You have no rights but those the U.S. government chooses to grant you.”
It was a bizarre sight. The lines were long and slow-moving. New prisoners—men, women, and children—were flooding into the gymnasium for processing. Many arrestees were sobbing. Some were trembling uncontrollably. I saw a few try unsuccessfully to resist their police escorts. But most people just seemed to be dazed, stunned that their world had been so swiftly and definitively transformed into a police state.
Except for the occasional squeal of rubber-soled gym shoes on the wooden floor and the whimpering of fear-filled Democrats, there was an eerie quite in the building. I was directed to the middle of the gym to Line 18. I waited patiently, trying to comprehend the events of the past hour.
My thoughts were interrupted when a prisoner in Line 14 screamed out his defiance. “I protest this witch hunt in the name of the Constitution of the United States. This is illegal!” he yelled. All eyes quickly turned to an African-American man who appeared to be about twenty-five years old. Would his rebelliousness spark a commotion among us prisoners? Not at all. His agonized cry fell on deaf ears.
Before the young protester could say much more, police with stun guns brought him to his knees. He was quickly dragged outside writhing in pain. I could only wonder where the authorities would take him and what might be his fate.
When I finally reached the front of the line to face interrogation by my Tribune, it would have been humorous if the circumstances had not been so confusing and terrifying. Here was a young man, barely twenty years of age, imperiously scanning a computer screen. This kid, I thought to myself, has barely begun shaving and here he is, ready to pass some sort of summary judgment on me.
I couldn’t help but notice the small pin on my inquisitor’s lapel; it bore the initials “Y.R.” I immediately recognized my juvenile Torquemada as a member of the Young Republicans. For years these quintessentially reactionary twerps had dressed in Brooks Brothers jackets, button-down Oxford shirts, and silly-assed bow ties, hallmarks of the young fogeys who used Young Republican membership as a stepping stone for careers in reactionary politics and corporate leadership.
“I am Tribune Miller,” the boy stated. “You will answer each question with a simple yes or no. Understood?” With a great deal of cynicism, I answered YES.
“Are you Michael Oliver Tenney? “ YES
“Do you live at 4601 El Diablo Place in Los Angeles? “ YES
“Are you married?” NO
“How predictable. You liberals were always anti-family. Do you have any minor children?” YES, TWO
“If the children are here with you, they will be turned over to Los Angeles Child Welfare until politically-suitable relatives accept one or both. Otherwise, they will enter our Republican Foster Family program and be assigned to a wholesome, conservative, heterosexual household until your reeducation is completed. Do they live with you?” NO. THEY’RE WITH MY EX-WIFE—AND SHE’S ALREADY A REPUBLICAN.
"Good. Now, our records show that you work as a federal functionary in the failed Social Security Administration. Is that right?” YES
“Did you vote against any Republican candidate in any election since the year 2000?” YES
“Are you a Muslim?” NO
“Are you a liberal?” On this question I hesitated. I started to explain my political views. WHAT’S A LIBERAL? I CAN TELL YOU HOW I FEEL ON EACH ISSUE, BUT. . .
“Shut up, Mr. Tenney. Yes or no: are you now, or have you ever been a liberal?” snapped Tribune Miller. YES
“Are you now, or have you ever been a member of the Democratic Party?” NO
“You have never been a member of the Democratic Party?” NO
“According to our informants, you have been a card-carrying member of that subversive organization! Do you deny this?” YES
“You have confessed your liberalism, but you deny Party membership. Maybe, you were just one of those pinko Dem-Symps, a party sympathizer with light Red political views? Maybe you only voted for Democrat candidates? Is that it?” NO
“You mean that you’ve actually voted for Republican candidates? YES
“What Republicans did you ever vote for?” LOOK, THIS IS NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS, BUT WHEN I LIVED IN NEW YORK CITY YEARS AGO, I DID VOLUNTEER WORK FOR RUDOLPH GIULIANI’S MAYORAL CAMPAIGN, AND A FEW YEARS LATER I VOTED FOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG FOR MAYOR.
“Sorry, Mr. Tenney, that’s no achievement. Giuliani was an ex-Democrat, and he was well-known for having moderate leanings. And Bloomberg was another crypto-liberal who turned Republican only as a means of getting elected to office. So you don’t get any credits there.” IF YOU SAY SO.
“When you were in New York, did you ever vote for any of the following: Charles Schumer? Hillary Rodham Clinton? Kirsten Gillibrand? Andrew Cuomo?” YES, YES, YES, AND YES.
“Bad move. Don’t you know that your type of liberalism is dead, or should I say kaput, comrade? The Democratic Party has been outlawed? This makes you a subversive, Mr. Tenney, a Red Menace to American social harmony. At least, you’ll require ideological rehabilitation. At worst…well, let’s see what happens.”
I couldn’t hold my temper any longer. I lashed back at the questioner. “What in God’s name are you right-wingers doing? This is a pluralistic nation committed to tolerance and human dignity. We have a Constitution. What are you doing to us? We are citizens of the United States, and you’re acting like a fascist goon!”
“Got it out of your system, Mr. Tenney? Go ahead, let the venom out,” my inquisitor said smugly. “First of all, we are not right-wingers. If there’s no longer a left-wing, then there can’t be a right-wing. Get it? We are American politics, all there is. You lost—and now you’re being purged. So, adios, baby!”
He continued his correction of my outburst, “Pluralism, as you conceive it, is based upon support for diversity and compromise among people of different views. We disagree. We are not diverse, and we don’t compromise with your political fantasies. We are not pluralistic. Pluralism is subversive. We are the believers, Mr. Tenney. We Republicans are building the perfect political society, and we will not tolerate non-believers. Does God allow non-believers into heaven? Of course not! Don’t you get it, fool?”
I was taken aback by the forcefulness of his response. No rhetorical dodging here. This was in-your-face authoritarianism, and I was helpless. More than helpless, I was one of its first victims.
As I opened my mouth to respond, Tribune Miller cut me off. “Don’t say anything more, Mr. Tenney. Just shut up. By the powers invested in me by the people of the United States, I hereby sentence you to spend all the time necessary to be politically repaired. You are remanded to the Patriotic Orthodoxy Reeducation Facility at Yellowstone National Park. You will stay there until you are fully committed to conservative political thought and to the Republican way of life. Meanwhile, all your assets will be frozen by the government. If you have pets at home, they will be given to the Humane Society for adoption or euthanasia. Do you understand me?” YES, TRIBUNE MILLER, YOUR HIGHNESS.
“Cut out the wisecracks, Mr. Tenney, or you’ll find yourself in a lot rougher place than Yellowstone. How would you like to be sent to the Aleutian Islands?” he sneered as he handed me a yellow armband with the letter “L” printed on it. “Please place this around the upper part of your left arm. It’s your temporary mark of identification. It’s important that you wear it at all times. A microchip embedded in the “L” contains your entire biographical file, and it tells our people to what Orthodoxy facility you have been assigned.”
Dutifully, I wrapped the band around my arm. It was a horrific experience.
However, before I could think much more about my predicament I was yanked away by a burly police officer. “Just wait a damned minute. Where are you taking me?” I demanded. Without uttering a word the policeman pushed me toward the back exit of the gym.
Outside I was surprised to see a virtual bus depot. There were dozens of buses, large and small. Amidst the noise of idling engines and the smell of diesel exhaust, I observed that they were being filled with handcuffed prisoners headed, apparently, for Orthodoxy camps all over the West. The signs of the vehicles showed them destined for Sequoia, Yosemite, the Channel Islands, and Death Valley, all in California, and to National Parks as far away as Zion, Grand Teton, Big Bend, Rocky Mountain, and Bryce Canyon.
The ambiance reminded me of the time last year when I had taken a Greyhound to Las Vegas for a short vacation. But, that was a happy event. This present trip held no promise of relaxation amid lavish stage shows and whirling slot machines. This was a journey to imprisonment. Thousands of us were being shipped to detention camps for a crime that didn’t existed yesterday.
As I continued to watch the waiting buses, I recognized that a few of the destinations were not exactly known for their natural beauty: Gila River in Arizona, Manzanar and Tule Lake in California, and Topaz in Colorado. I was familiar with history. I knew these destinations to be sites of federal concentration camps used to incarcerate people of Japanese descent—all American citizens or legal residents—throughout World War II. I figured that the Republicans must have rebuilt the old wartime compounds and turned them into Orthodoxy camps, too. The right-wingers obviously anticipated that the incarceration of all unreconstructed liberal Democrats would overwhelm the national parks.
“Will all prisoners precede to the waiting buses for transportation to their assigned destinations,” commanded a young man holding a bullhorn. “Be sure your armband is wrapped tightly around your left arm between your shoulder and elbow. Then, proceed through one of the screening portals. From there you will be directed to the appropriate vehicle.”
The lines passing through the screening sites were long, but they moved at a rapid pace. Like a winding river breaking apart at its delta, the prisoners flowed though the electronic machines and then streamed toward their respective buses. Before boarding, however, National Guard personnel inspected the prisoners’ handcuffs and then applied chains to their ankles.
Departures went smoothly, however. As soon as one conveyance was filled, it pulled out and was replaced by an empty one. Many of the vehicles came from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the company that serviced daily commuters in Los Angeles. Others came from suburban bus services, major commercial bus lines, city and county jails, and elementary and high school districts. I even spotted church buses and a few from private day-labor agencies. "How patriotic," I whispered to myself with more than a bit of sarcasm. "Reminds me of the fleet of private boats evacuating British soldiers from Dunkirk in 1940—only now the bad guys are in charge of the evacuation, and the good guys are going to prisoner of war camps."
It was obvious to me that I was a long way from being rehabilitated.
Copyright © 2012 J. Fred MacDonald - All Rights Reserved.