Jack Bauer is an American hero—of sorts. He tortures suspects. And executes them. And decapitates them. “I’m gonna need a hacksaw,” he famously declared after dispatching a pervert who knew the men behind a planned nuclear attack on Los Angeles.
If you have never watched the television program 24, you should try it for two reasons: First, it is a gripping, nerve-wracking, and, at times, terrifying thrill ride through the fictional world of huggermugger and terrorism. Each episode follows the manic derring-do of Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland), a disturbed operative in the Los Angeles Counter-Terrorism Unit (CTU), in real time for one hour. By the end of the season, viewers have seen one frenetic day in the life of Bauer and his colleagues. They thwart nuclear bombs. They stop bioterrorists. They foil presidential assassins. They accomplish all this using sophisticated computers that enable them to stalk evildoers anywhere on the planet. It is a handsome, heroic fable.
Yet, as with many fables, underlying 24 is an ugly, unspoken, unintended truth: The powers with which Übermensch Bauer and his colleagues are endowed, essentially 007’s license to kill, may be less of a threat to the bad guys than to the very people the heroes of 24 are supposed to protect: the voting, taxpaying, blissfully ignorant hoi polloi. And that is the second reason to watch the program, at least for a season. It candidly demonstrates the brutal, menacing, and potentially totalitarian apparatus of control Americans helped the government to build, and which that government routinely uses not to stop terrorists but to impose ever more petty restrictions on the activities of those same Americans. This does not mean the government does not use its awesome power to stop terrorists. It does: Ask the guests at sunny Guantanamo Bay. It means, rather, that the government uses that awesome power more often, more easily, and more effectively to control average Americans through capricious laws that would have been unthinkable in the halcyon days of Joe Friday.
While the Prometheans and their computers on 24 will knock down a bioterror attack on Los Angeles, they do little or nothing about the deluge of illegal aliens flooding across the border just hours away. Illegals are a more probable source of a terrorist strike than a British arms dealer accoutered by Brioni. Likewise, the real coppers in the federal immigration bureau concern themselves little with illegal aliens, who commit real crimes against real Americans. In other words, the average housewife in Los Angeles has more to fear from a vagabond named Gomez raping her in an alley than from a polyglot spy named Anatoly exploding a ricin bomb in a subway. Thus, 24 is a friendly biopic on omnipotent government and implicitly depicts what our late friend Samuel Francis called anarcho-tyranny, meaning the managerial state that permits average criminals, particularly Hispanic illegal aliens and blacks, to run wild in the streets (the anarchy), while average law-abiding Americans are insidiously ensnared in an increasingly complex web of petty restrictions and oppressive and intrusive laws that code, trace, and curtail their activities (the tyranny).
As Dr. Francis wrote in these pages in 1994,
this condition . . . is essentially a kind of Hegelian synthesis of what appear to be dialectical opposites, the combination of oppressive government power against the innocent and the law-abiding, and simultaneously, a grotesque paralysis of the ability of the will to use that power to carry out basic public duties such as protection of public safety.
“The goal,” Dr. Francis added,
is to avoid performing such basic functions as stopping real crime and think up purely fictitious functions that will raise revenue, enhance the power of the police or bureaucrats, and foster the illusion that the state is doing its job. The victims of these new functions and law are precisely otherwise law-abiding and innocent citizens.
So the aim of the fictional agents on 24 and the real FBI and CIA, who, as Francis noted, possess “high-tech whiz bang that tyrants of the past would drool over,” is not to protect Americans. Rather, it is to protect the managerial elites for whom they work, enabling those elites to fortify their control of society. The popularity of 24 proves we are closer to a complete usurpation of republican prerogatives than we like to think.
Among the more recent examples of anarcho-tyranny at work is the chaos that reigns on the border with Mexico. In what would be considered acts of war by any other country, armed Mexican police and military personnel routinely cross the border at will. Inside the country, illegals are waging a crime war against American ranchers who live near the border. In one case, a rancher who fought back lost his ranch and landed in prison. In Cottonwood, Minnesota, four schoolchildren fell victim to a reckless illegal alien who ran a stop sign and plowed into a school bus. Then there are the numberless illegal-alien drunk drivers who have killed Americans, or the manifold illegal-alien sex criminals running thither and yon unmolested. Two years ago, hundreds of thousands of illegals poured into American streets to protest immigration-reform legislation.
The federal answer to this mayhem? Nothing. That is not to say the Bush administration ignores all things Mexican. Over the last year, it took great pains to help José Ernesto Medellin try to void his murder conviction and death sentence. Medellin, who helped rape, sodomize, then murder two high-school girls in Houston, Texas, called upon an arcane tittle of international law to overturn his conviction, and the Bush administration supported his case before the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that “compelling national interests served by the president’s determination outweigh the relatively modest intrusion on state interests.” Still, on March 25, in what ABC News described as a “victory for the state of Texas,” the Court ruled 6-3 that the White House “cannot force the state to reconsider a death penalty case, even if the conviction violated an international court’s ruling.” President Bush will now have to turn to Congress if he is to continue pursuing our “compelling national interests” by freeing a Mexican killer.
While this anarchy reigns, the tyranny grinds on. May 11 is the deadline for states that have not received an extension from the Department of Homeland Security to implement the Real ID Act (2005), which, by federal edict, standardizes driver’s licenses. Without a “Real ID,” you will not be permitted to fly or to enter a federal building without a passport. Seven states have enacted legislation nullifying this usurpation of state prerogatives, including Maine, which is now home to several thousand Somali Muslims who moved there for the lower crime rate and better welfare benefits after the federal government settled them in Georgia.
Gun control, Dr. Francis wrote, is “the most common example of anarcho-tyranny in practice.” A vivid illustration of this followed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. After botching their initial tactical response to the situation, the feds and local authorities cracked down on the most dangerous Gulf Coast residents: law-abiding gun owners. While mostly black looters rampaged through deluged New Orleans, federal and state authorities confiscated guns from law-abiding citizens. Members of the National Guard and local police broke into their homes to grab guns, news reports said, and the authorities even tackled gun-toting, 82-year-old women. Meanwhile, looters managed to steal more than 1,000 guns from stores across the region. Of these, authorities recovered about 130. Police ended up asking citizens to lend them guns because the looters had more firepower.
Airline passengers have been a special target for law enforcement since September 11. Because lawmen are terrified of “racial profiling,” agents of the Transportation Security Administration, who guard American airports, routinely screen and search old ladies, gentlemen, and college kids, white or black, while swarthy, beturbaned characters from the Middle East and Southwest Asia sing to Allah before walking onto jets. In January 2002, an airport flatfoot collared Gen. Joe Foss, the Marine Corps’ top fighter pilot in World War II and the former governor of South Dakota, and tried to confiscate his Medal of Honor. A few years ago, I watched as a random, pre-boarding passenger screening ensnared a deeply tanned tennis bum, delaying him from boarding the plane. He was forced to remove his belt, shoes, and socks and open his carry-on bag. Before he could re-equip himself, a stewardess charged from the jetway to announce that he had better hurry up or the plane would leave without him. He was utterly humiliated. Despite such vigorous efforts, security consultant Bruce Schneier observed in December 2005 that the TSA’s convoluted screening procedures had not caught a single terrorist. “Exactly two things have made airline travel safer since 9/11,” he wrote. “Reinforcement of cockpit doors, and passengers who now know that they may have to fight back.”
The world depicted in 24 is here. We live in a computerized society in which government agents can, with a few mouse clicks, discover anything they desire to know about any American in the name of “national security.” The federal police protect the elites and the institutions they manage from citizens. The elites, of course, know they have less to fear from the jihadists and criminal aliens than they do from Americans, who own more than 200 million firearms. Bad as the occasional exploding skyscraper might be, imagine 20,000 of those angry Americans storming the Capitol. Then again, that has not happened.
As Francis explained, “another reason why the anarcho-tyranny flourishes” is the
emergence of the leviathan state along with a managed pacification and manipulation of the citizens, with the result that Americans are increasingly habituated to an entirely passive role in government, economy, culture and now even basic social functions such as childrearing and health care. The process of pacification is closely related to the managerial revolution in the United States and the emergence of centralized, technically skilled elites that specialize in the usurpation of previously autonomous social functions.
The elites know that the true threat to the state is not some deranged car bomber or criminal alien: It is us. Likewise, the greatest threat to citizens is not the jihadist or some illegal alien, dangerous as both are. It is the elites. The difference is that the elites, not citizens, run things. Your average American does not have the power of the lowest factotum on the pole in 24.
Each day, tyranny’s hammer swings closer to anarchy’s anvil. We are in between. The sooner we open our eyes to what the elites want to accomplish, the sooner we can roll out of the way and recover the liberties we have lost. Sam Francis optimistically wrote that many Americans who defend themselves from crime “are not buying into the lie of anarcho-tyranny.” True perhaps, but their numbers are shrinking, as the deadly shootings on college campuses prove time and again. So maybe the acquiescence of the hoi polloi in the government’s power grab since September 11 to fight the “War on Terror,” as well as the widespread popularity of 24, demonstrate that most Americans have purchased the lie after all. If so, the real terror has not yet begun.