Wherever you live, look around. What are the biggest security threats? What’s real, and what’s paranoia?
According to a speech this week by Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, America is in a state of perpetual war with enemies abroad and within. We are naively living our lives while a new terrorist attack is looming. The nation is awash in crime; we’re losing the war on drugs; everything our society uses to live and work is targeted. And only the police, who are doing their jobs, can save us.
“If lawmakers do not like the laws they’ve passed and we are charged to enforce, then they should have the courage and skill to change the laws,” Kelly said at George Washington University. “Otherwise they should shut up and support the men and women on the front lines.”
If Kelly’s first major speech depicted the mindset of one of America’s top cops, he was previewing a more aggressive police state. There will be more domestic spying, targeting of immigrants, no-holds-barred tactics, partnerships with Silicon Valley to spy via computers, crackdowns on the wrong drug (marijuana, when the leading cause of drug death is opiates), and no apologies.
“We will never apologize for enforcing and upholding the law,” Kelly concluded. “We will never apologize for carrying out our mission. We will never apologize for making our country more secure. We ask for nothing more than respect and your support. We don’t do this for the thank-yous — we do this to keep America strong, secure, and free . . . We are vigilant. We are prepared. And we will do our jobs.”
Kelly’s speech has been criticized for its apocalyptic vision that ignores some key facts, such as the decrease in violent crime nationally, and history: everything the country has done since 9/11 to combat terrorism. His intent was seemingly to transform the Trump campaign’s racist rhetoric and bullying into federal marching orders.
“Of course it is necessary to take seriously threats from extremist groups and criminals, and take measures against them. But they do not justify Mr. Kelly’s incendiary message to his workforce,” the New York Times’ editorial page said Friday. “The tone he sets can only encourage abusive behavior among his officers further down the chain of command against immigrants, and also lead to the curtailment of Americans’ civil liberties and privacy . . . [It] also telegraphed more drastic measures to come.”
Here are 10 points Kelly made in his speech, followed by some of his quotes. You can decide who is being dystopian and unduly paranoid.
1. Wake up and don’t believe the press. The president’s political opponents and the press are lying to the public, Kelly said, citing the crackdown on immigrants, which included the recent deportation of a mother of four who was her family’s sole breadwinner and a 23-year-old Californian who came to the U.S. when he was nine.
Kelly said: “I make my way up the Beltway every day, and I use that hour or so to read the news clips about DHS. It’s one of the first two things I do every day — the other is the daily intelligence briefing. In one, I read what other people are saying about me — and more important, what they’re saying about my people. In the other, I learn about what’s really going on. There’s a big gap between the two. So today, I want to set the record straight.”
2. Federal police are only following orders. Kelly dismissed criticism for Immigration and Customs Enforcement tactics like arrest at state courthouses, which the conservative Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court said was akin to “stalking” immigrants.
“While some members of Congress, or state and local politicians, or a member of an advocacy group read or listen to a partial or inaccurate media report on some alleged event at an airport, in a courthouse, or at a border crossing and assume the men and women or DHS are intentionally abusing innocent individuals while breaking or ignoring U.S. law or court orders — instead of assuming as they should that the men and women of DHS are carrying out their assigned mission in accordance with the law.”
3. The police aren’t getting the credit they deserve. Kelly gave a long list of duties that law enforcement carries out daily — such as Coast Guard rescues at sea, apprehending human traffickers and freeing victims — and said few people realize the work that’s being done. “The professionals at DHS are protecting the homeland and in many cases putting their lives on the line for a population the vast majority of whom will never know they are protected by such dedicated and well trained public servants. And that’s an ordinary day, one that doesn’t make the papers.”
4. America is under relentless attack. Kelly said the country is awash in crime. “We are under attack from criminals who think their greed justifies raping young girls at knifepoint, dealing poison to our youth, or killing just for fun. We are under attack from people who hate us, hate our freedoms, hate our laws, hate our values, hate the way we simply live our lives. We are under attack from failed states, cyber-terrorists, vicious smugglers, and sadistic radicals. And we are under attack every single day. The threats are relentless.”
That sensational assessment is factually incorrect, according to a report released this week by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School on crime trends over the past 20 years. “Crime rates have dropped dramatically and remain near historic lows despite localized increases in some places, according to a new report analyzing data from the last quarter-century,” the Brennan report said. “Crime has dropped precipitously in the last quarter-century. While crime may fall in some years and rise in others, annual variations are not indicative of long-term trends. While murder rates have increased in some cities, this report finds no evidence that the hard-won public safety gains of the last two and a half decades are being reversed.”
5. Record overdoses — yet going after pot. Kelly said deaths from drug overdoses — 52,404 in 2015 — was an all-time record, “more deaths than the peak of the AIDS epidemic in 1995 . . . almost as many as was lost in 12 years in Vietnam.” He said DHS would keep going after opiate smugglers, but pivoted and said marijuana was also a target. “Let me be clear about marijuana. It is a potentially dangerous gateway drug that frequently leads to the use of harder drugs. Additionally, science tells us that it is not only psychologically addictive but can also have profound negative impact on the still developing brains of teens and up through the early 20s. Beyond that, however, its use and possession is against federal law and until the law is changed by the U.S. Congress we in DHS are sworn to uphold all the laws on the books.”
6. Racial profiling, online spying continue. Kelly said the FBI was investigating terrorism in every state, whether caused by Islamic extremists abroad or domestically. “As I speak these words, the FBI has open terrorism investigations in all 50 states, and since 2013, there have been 37 ISIS-linked plots to attack our country,” he said. “But the dangers don’t just come from overseas. Over the past few years, we’ve seen an unprecedented spike in homegrown terrorism . . . Homegrown terrorism is notoriously difficult to predict and control. And what’s feeding this homegrown violence? Most experts agree a major contributor is the internet.”
7. Expanding bans on air travel from Mideast. Kelly said the government was expanding its restrictions on air travelers from Muslim-majority countries beyond laptops. “Recently, based on intelligence, I banned electronics bigger than a cell phone on some commercial flights,” he said. “This program will likely expand given the sophisticated threats aviation faces... That ban, and the intelligence that drove it, demonstrates that commercial aviation continues to be a prime target for terrorists. I do not know why they are so intent on killing innocent men, women, and children, but I will not hesitate to take any measures.”
8. Working with corporations to spy on everything. The nation’s police and intelligence agencies have long been able to access virtually all electronic devices used, demanding Silicon Valley build ways to trace communications in computer hardware. But Kelly said that effort would expand. “We’re working with our nation’s most critical businesses to build in resilience to our digital and physical infrastructure. This helps ensure criminals and other bad actors — including Mother Nature — can’t disrupt the systems and networks that drive our American way of life. At the same time, we’re striving to foster a culture where organizations of all stripes, from Main Street to Wall Street, are able to defend themselves against cyber threats.”
9. Critics should put up or shut up. Kelly returned to his opening theme that his federal police aren’t getting the respect and acknowledgement they deserve from the public, press and many politicians. “In many ways similar to the treatment suffered by law enforcement over the last few years, they are often ridiculed and insulted by public officials, and frequently convicted in the court of public opinion on unfounded allegations testified to by street lawyers and spokespersons,” he said. “If lawmakers do not like the laws they’ve passed and we are charged to enforce, then they should have the courage and skill to change the laws. Otherwise they should shut up and support the men and women on the front lines.”
10. There’s nothing to apologize for. To Kelly, the federal police under him have nothing to apologize for. He defended their tactics as necessary and legal and said he would keep enforcing the law until it changed, using every means available to him. “We will never apologize for enforcing and upholding the law,” he said. "We live in a dangerous world. Those dangers are increasing.”
Kelly’s speech was more than a spirited defense of his federal agency and cheerleading for demoralized troops; it was a call to arms to take off the gloves. While Donald Trump may have few legislative achievements as he nears the end of his first 100 days in office, Kelly’s speech attests to expansion of oppressive federal policing, most intensively faced by immigrant communities that live in a heightened state of fear across the country.
The Times’ editorial page called Kelly's speech “unrestrained fearmongering.” What Americans now have to fear is a federal police state bent on increasing its power, flexing its muscles, and as Kelly said, never apologizing.