Terrorism used to be defined as acts taken to instill fear in a population with the aim of coercing a change in social policy. In my lifetime, that definition has changed and “terrorism” now is defined as generally any action undertaken by humans in an effort to alter the exercise of power. Even standing on the sidewalk outside of a cosmetics lab is now an act of terror. Tersely-worded complaints to law-makers can get you surveiled for life as a potential terrorist.
We live in an age where grumbling is terrorism.
But, at the same time, we have also diminished what constitutes terrorism when it comes to state actors. While everything we do as humans is now understood by the state as a potential act of terror, we now very-narrowly define hardly anything the state does as terror. Sure, we recognize Bashir al-Asad’s barrel bombs of nerve gas as state terror, but hardly anything else. We don’t consider all the subtle ways in which the states terrorize us.
As I am fond of pointing out, nation states are equipped with Apache attack helicopters. These helicopters are pretty mobile; they can point that way, or they can point this way. You bought that helicopter. Paid for every single component, from the rotar to the gun barrels. So, in the event that things get hectic and the Apache attack helicopter gets pointed at you, you can ponder the irony as you duck for cover that you paid for those shells.
But, apart from the literal Apache attack helicopters, we’re also up against a lot of figurative ones. Police squad cars are some figurative Apache attack helicopters particularly in the black community. Prisons and jails also cast a looming shadow.
In that sense, there really is a vast state terror apparatus imposed on all of us, all the time– maybe not as spectacular as barrel bombs and nerve gas, but maybe more effective in the long haul.
Consider the whole point of terrorism– state terrorism or otherwise –is to alter the conduct of those being terrorized. Think of all the ways that these subtle terrors influence our behavior. Think about “the talk” that parents must have with their black children about police and how to conduct themselves in an incredibly cautious way in order to avoid getting shot and killed. Think about how that constant threat, the looming shadow of that proverbial Apache attack helicopter influences behavior. All of those images of gun-happy cops gunning down unarmed black men, year after year, month after month, day after day, it instills a climate of constant fear, anxiety, and apprehension. It potentially stops black people particularly from doing what they otherwise might do in confronting police or protesting or any other form of visible expression that might involve confronting police with guns.
The use of so-called “terrorism enhancements” by the state to punish mundane activities like protesting on public sidewalks, imposing twenty year sentences for peaceful behavior, is designed to alter our conduct. It’s designed not just to compel us out of fear to go along with the program, but also to impose a new program.
And it works. We do less. We say less.
State terror is very effective.
In my own experience recently, state terrorists apprehended me and removed me from population, once again targeting my communication to the outside world. In emails sent out for posting, I described how prison officials engaged in a criminal conspiracy to steal my incoming mail from courts, a theft of mail designed to prevent me from effectively suing the very prison officials stealing my mail. In emails, I directed free-world people as to whom they should call to complain.
State terrorists, targeting my outgoing communications, decided to put me in segregation on the ridiculous pretext that calling prison officials “fart goblins” constituted “disrespect to prison employees.” So, now, unflattering commentary ABOUT state terrorists is the same as unflattering commentary TO state terrorists.
I had to go ten days on a hungerstrike to resolve the disciplinary frame-up in a way that I can still drop in security in July to obtain programs and maybe someday get a parole. And still, my email access has been suspended, which was not part of the resolution. Very possibly, state terrorists will simply pull the plug on any of my communications mediums. I now face the constant threat that anything I say to anyone may offend the state terrorists who will again (and again and again) subject me to minor terrors and the threat of extended imprisonment… simply for telling the truth.
So, I have to wonder, in what ways have the state terrorists influenced my own commentary? How much of my own word choice, how much of the decision-making about the topics I choose to address is shaped even in an unconscious way by the ever-present threat of deprivations and brutality by my lawless captors and their criminal agenda? To what degree am I compromised by the fear of subtle terrors?
That, I think, is the really insidious part of it all. Not only do we not conduct ourselves as free people, but we ourselves do not even know to what degree we have self-censored our own words and conduct. To what extent have we cut out our own tongues and amputated our own fingers, conforming to the expectations of those state terrorists who cast that looming shadow of their Apache attack helicopter over our lives?
State terror works.
Sucks to be us.
This is Anarchist Prisoner Sean Swain from Warren Corruptional in Lebanon, Ohio. If you’re listening, you ARE the– [Click, sound of dial tone.]