FREE SPEECH ZONE | The NDAA and the Ron Paul Revolution: Dumb and dumber

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Ron Paul is angry.  Actually, angry doesn’t do his emotions justice — he’s downright furious.  He described the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 as a “slip into tyranny.”  He’s got some other choice phrases to describe the legislation, including my favorite: “[a] descent into totalitarianism.”  Paul’s followers are just as upset.  They’re congregating at their favorite hang-out spot — internet comments sections and message boards, letting the public know what congress is up to behind their backs.  The NDAA’s sections 1021 and 1022, they allege, allow for the “indefinite detention of American citizens” both abroad and on our soil.  Just to get everybody on the same page, let’s outline the two sections in question. 

Section 1021 states that the President has the authority to detain individuals who have been “substantially” supported by Al Qaida, the Taliban, or associated groups.  These detainees may then be held by the military without trial, until the end of hostilities as defined by the notorious Authorization for Use of Military Force act of 2002, which is almost entirely based on operations in Iraq.

Section 1022 is an extension of the aforementioned authorizations, and specifies that the President’s authority to detain individuals suspected of terrorist activities or associations is not exclusive to foreign soil.  Those captured within the United States are subject to military detention, and much of the current debate stems from 1022’s curious use of the word “require” regarding the process by which suspects are to be detained.

Most of the opposition to the bill is based on the idea that these two sections either are intended to justify the indefinite detention of American citizens, or that the ambiguity of the bill’s language enables the executive branch to indefinitely detain Americans.

Ron Paul and his supporters prescribe to the former belief, despite the final bill’s clear language stating that nothing in section 1021 shall be construed to affect existing law or the detention of American citizens, “lawful resident aliens of the United States,” or any person arrested on American soil.  Section 1022 specifies that any individual suspected of terrorist activity or  any individual who has ties to terrorism is required to be held by the military, with a sub-section that once again excludes lawful residents of the US.  Some have argued that since 1022 merely prohibits the “requirement” to detain US citizens, future administrations could interpret this to mean that US citizens can indeed be indefinitely held.  The text of the bill seems to dispute this interpretation- if these authorizations are not to be construed to affect existing law, then they will not and cannot be used to circumvent our constitutional rights.  And when section 1022 states that it is in regard to individuals as outlined by section 1021, that includes the disclaimer that lawful US residents are exempt from the legislation’s authorizations.

But Ron Paul’s followers haven’t been arguing semantics or the possible interpretations of these sections.  Instead, they’re arguing that the NDAA strips Americans of their constitutional rights.  Searching the web for “NDAA,” an endless stream of opinion articles and blog entries state the same thing over and over again: 

“Allows for the indefinite detention of American Citizens.”

-Houston Chronicle

“Allows for the indefinite detention of US citizens”

-Philadelphia Inquirer

“Authorizes the indefinite detention of American citizens.”

-Press TV

“…Allows for the indefinite detention of US citizens…”

-Philadelphia Weekly

And those who aren’t copying and pasting that particular talking point are unleashing some real gems, such as this one:

“…If someone accuses me of being a terrorist, I can be arrested by military police or quasi-military agents who can then imprison me for the rest of my life, denying me a fair trial, and even spirit me our of the country to some backwater nation where torture is “legal.”

-The Tennessean

A popular Youtube clip titled “Obama signs NDAA Martial Law” has the cringe-inducing description: “Nazi Germany has arrived in the US…”  The video goes from Fox News clips to scary music backing up images of a burning constitution, Hitler, and of course, clips of innocent children at gun point!  Editorials are all over the place, declaring the end times of American democracy.  There’s no time for rational discussion, clearly.

Well, apparently Al Franken believes there is time for rational discussion.  Franken, who voted against the final bill, is very clear about his feelings toward the NDAA.  He’s “concerned,” as well as “troubled.”  He believes that the bill could undermine our fight against terrorism.  But instead of telling his followers that our President has declared martial law, he wrote an editorial published by the Huffington post which explains why he voted against the bill.  He expressed disappointment that the bill wasn’t significantly improved from its earlier version (which he voted for with the hope that the necessary changes would be made.)  He also reminded readers of the injustice done to Japanese citizens during World War II and the subsequent laws passed to prevent such an injustice in the future– in particular, Nixon’s Non-Detention Act.

And, most importantly, Franken proposed amendments to fix the parts he took issue with, unlike Ron Paul.

Which is precisely why I am concerned and troubled about the so-called “Ron Paul Revolution.”  There’s no doubt that Ron Paul is an extremely intelligent person.  And thus there is no doubt that he fully understands the difference between the NDAA and the declaration of martial law.  But time and time again, Paul has shown that he has no problem with using overblown statements and ridiculous comparisons to mobilize his base.  He called global warming the “greatest hoax in [hundreds] of years.”  He said the civil rights act “reduced individual liberty” and “failed” to promote racial harmony.  Nevertheless, he strongly denied charges of racism and espoused Rosa Parks as a “personal hero,“ an interesting claim for the sole member of congress who voted against awarding Parks with a congressional medal of honor.  He wants to get rid of most federal agencies and eliminate income taxes.  He wants to abolish Roe V. Wade and strike down the separation of church and state (saying that courts use it as a justification to “deprive citizens of their religious liberty”).

The fact is that Ron Paul’s diehard advocates treat everything he says as gospel, and proceed to echo his words again and again, creating a game of talking point telephone where the message becomes more and more extreme and less and less accurate.  One writer particularly far down in this chain of telephone is David Seaman, a writer for the website Business Insider.  He writes about the passage of the NDAA on a daily basis, but has somehow written on the subject every day for weeks without ever actually mentioning what the bill says.

Seaman seems to have attracted quite a few outraged readers with his NDAA coverage, as his comments sections typically overflow with sentiments such as this: “Just remember, there are two ways to change a government……..Ballots or bullets.  How have those ballets been working out for you lately America?”  Very classy.  The article under which this comment appears is similarly asinine.  It is essentially a list of quotations about the legislation.  One of the quoted individuals is simply listed as “Tumblr user Raychel,” who said: “I first found out about NDAA through my research on Ron Paul via YouTube… I don’t think the traditional media has done it’s (sic) job of bringing it to the public’s attention.”  Apparently the “non-traditional” media she’s referencing, which offers the objective truth, is Tumblr, Ron Paul, and YouTube. 

The real kicker in Seaman’s article is where he links to an online petition to get FOX News to invite him to discuss the NDAA, urging his readers to take some time to support him.  So much for hiding your ulterior motives. 

Believe it or not, I’m not going to start a petition for myself to be featured on a cable news show.  I only ask one thing of you: don’t believe things without researching them first.  I saw a comment from a Ron Paul supporter who said “I have cancelled my cable and newspaper subscriptions.  If there’s news I need to know about, it will be on Ron Paul’s website.”  Frankly, this extreme variety of willful ignorance is a much more dangerous threat to the United States than the NDAA.  Because this is the age of information, and in this era all politicians will eventually be held accountable for their actions.  The only way that we will continually regress is if we fail to inform ourselves of what’s really happening, and thus be unable to differentiate between Mr. Smith and Washington.

Personally, my opinions of the NDAA are similar to those of Al Franken, my Senator and a candidate who I actively worked to get elected.  I disagree with much of what‘s in the NDAA.  I don’t think indefinitely detaining suspects of terrorism is a good idea.

My biggest issue with this legislation is that it promotes institutions like Guantanamo Bay by preventing congress from dedicating money to building similar facilities inside the United States and prevents us from sending individuals held by our military to other countries.  I’m disappointed that Obama has failed to close down Guantanamo, as he promised he would do in 2008.  There’s a lot to be disappointed about, frankly. 

But martial law has not been declared, the end of democracy is not imminent.  There are a sole few issues that we simply cannot agree on, such as abortion, evolution vs. creationism, and global warming.  We can’t agree on these issues for one simple reason: we can’t agree on the facts regarding those debates.  We can talk about the NDAA and debate it fairly only after we agree on the facts.  Ron Paul isn’t talking about the facts, therefore his loyal internet followers don’t know the facts, and the attention-starved aspiring “journalists” such as David Seaman only reinforce this community’s failure to grasp even the most basic information.

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