PATRIOT ACT Means Never Having to Say You're Sorry

Congress passed the PATRIOT ACT — a long, badly written, insanely complicated piece of legislation — without reading it. No surprise — they all had rage boners, and Americans love big, grand gestures of we're-really-a-gonna-do-something-now, like voting for 342 pages of prolix government-empowering drivel without reading past the big shiny PATRIOT label.

If the people who voted on it never read it and don't understand it, then it shouldn't surprise us that the rest of America doesn't know what the hell is in it, either.

This fundamental ignorance is reflected in two trends. The first trend is for the media to blame government actions on the PATRIOT ACT, even when the particular law enforcement behavior at issue actually has nothing in particular to do with it. See, the government already had all sorts of scary-ass powers before 9/11, and in many cases the PATRIOT ACT left them alone or barely tweaked them. But the media — and people who like talking to the media — enjoy promoting ignorance by attributing all law enforcement excesses to post-9/11 fervor.

The second trend is an outgrowth of the first. "Because of the PATRIOT ACT" has become a popular alternative among cops to "because I said so, motherfucker. How does the pavement taste?" Case in point:

In a YouTube posting, Christopher Fussell left the camera rolling when he was confronted by three MTA officers for taking pictures at the Baltimore Cultural Light Rail Station.

“It is my understanding that I am free to take pictures as long as it’s not for commercial purposes but for personal use,” Fussell said in the video.

“Not on state property, not without proper authorization,” an officer said.

Fussell: “From who?”

Officer: “Nobody’s allowed to take pictures.”

The MTA admits the officers were in error.

“They can most certainly take photos of our system,” Ralign Wells, the MTA Administrator, said.

In addition to being wrong about MTA and state policy, the officer incorrectly cites the Patriot Act.

“Listen, listen to what I’m saying. The Patriot Act says that critical infrastructure, trains, train stations, all those things require certain oversight to take pictures, whether you say they are for personal use or whatever, that’s your story,” the officer said.

Now, cops have always vaguely referred to bodies of law to justify telling people not to do things they have a protected right to do. But the PATRIOT ACT gives them undreamed-of street cred when they do so. See, (1) hardly anyone knows what is in it, (2) the media blindly pushes the narrative that the PATRIOT ACT actually does let cops do all sorts of stuff they've always done, and (3) the culture blindly pushes the narrative that we need to yield to authority whenever that authority can forge a connection, however tenuous, to OMG 9/11. Hence ignorance — both our own, and that of the people we look to for information — is one of the chains that binds us.

Few people stand up and question it like Christopher Fussell did in this case. Most people cave. Good for Christopher Fussell.

Last 5 posts by Ken White


  1. Jingles says

    Holy shit, I think I've met that guy before; he used to be involved with a railroad history group here in Oregon. Good for him.