Over the weekend of September 25 to 27th I traveled to Phoenix, Arizona for the Second Amendment Foundation’s 2015 Gun Rights Policy Conference. I delivered a short address from the podium on Sunday the 27th that was video-recorded both by the Polite Society Podcast and C-SPAN. In addition I was interviewed before my speech by the Polite Society Podcast and both before and after by Ernest Hancock’s Declare Your Independence radio program.
Copies of the Alongside Night 3-disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack and a bulk order form were placed on the conference attendee’s seats.
The thrust of my presentation was also the theme of Alongside Night:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
–from the Declaration of Independence
The libertarian movement as I first knew it has lost its way. Disrupted by narrow ideology and petty squabbling over single issues it has been marginalized and the power of its message dissipated.
There needs to be a New Libertarian movement refocused on the original Revolution built from the ground up, and I decided a conference of activists devoted to at least one, if not more, of the Bill of Rights was a proper place to start.
Here’s my address to the conference plus my interviews.
This, and Alongside Night, are presented in the hope it will remind freedom-lovers what the libertarian movement was, and will again be, about and inspire the work needed to free us all.
Like the Phoenix of legend out of the ashes comes a rebirth.
–J. Neil Schulman
I’m J. Neil Schulman, author and filmmaker and I made this movie, Alongside Night, about the American Revolution returning in our time, and we gave copies to just about everybody who came to this conference. And for those of you watching on C-SPAN you can go to Amazon.com and buy it.
So let’s talk about the first American Revolution.
By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood
And fired the shot heard round the world.
Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote those words about felons illegally in possession of firearms who on April 19th, 1775 used those illegal guns to shoot at police legally appointed by the governor to confiscate their illegal guns. In the exchange of gunfire three cops were killed and nine cops were wounded.
Sheriff David Clarke, I have bad news for you.
This country was founded by cop-killers.
Roughly 226 years later, on September 11th, 2001, four commercial jetliners filled with passengers, flight attendants, and flight crew – all of them disarmed of firearms by United States federal law – were overpowered by Jihadi militiamen armed only with box cutters, four per aircraft. Two of those captured aircraft were used as weapons to crash into New York’s twin towers financial headquarters, one crashed into the U.S. military headquarters in Washington DC, and one flight – where the disarmed passengers, none of them with military or police uniforms or badges – fought the jihadi militiamen who rather than surrender crashed the plane into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The casualties that day were just under 3,000, but in subsequent years wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere costs the United States thousands of more lives, trillions of dollars, and a wounded warrior class.
Gun control gave us 9/11.
I’m a writer and filmmaker who has sold stories and screenplays to Hollywood production companies, including an original script for the Twilight Zone, broadcast by CBS in prime time, March 7, 1986. My new narrative feature film, Alongside Night, based on my first novel published in October 1979, was given out to participants at this conference, as a counterpoint to the usual Hollywood movies that treat privately held firearms as dangers to public safety.
Hollywood writers and producers led by Harvey Weinstein hate private gun ownership yet the entertainment industry makes movies and TV shows full of guns. Hollywood gets past its own objections by having these guns be either futuristic ray guns or ordinary guns used to shoot the heads off zombies, or by having the guns be used by cops. Prime time U.S. television is dominated by shows featuring law-enforcement officers and military service personnel as the armed heroes.
On the other side is a political right-wing dominated by politicians who assign absolute human rights only to the unborn. Anyone breathing air has only government granted privileges – driving licenses, gun licenses, work permits, and so forth. They talk about a “right to work” but want to build a wall to keep out workers.
They want gun rights only for the law-abiding – in other words, anyone who meekly complies with thousands of tyrannical regulations.
I’m here to agree with the signers of the Declaration of Independence – a legal document more binding than the Constitution — that when any government’s police and regulations become oppressive of the people’s rights the people have the moral right to resist abuse of their rights under color of law – and existing federal law agrees with me. Look up Title 18 US Code Section 242 which says that any official – local, state, or federal – who violates constitutionally protected rights is acting as a criminal and has zero legal authority to do so.
By the way, the Second Amendment in a recent Seventh Circuit decision, applies to illegal immigrants.
And I need to tell you something that is not going to be pleasant for a lot of you to hear. It also applies to drug gangs because nowhere in the U.S. Constitution is the word “drug” mentioned and according to te 9th and 10th amendments if it ain’t listed in the Constitution as powers of the federal government anything they do on this subject is void ab initio.
That’s how Black Lives Matter and defenders of the Bill of Rights – you in this room — can get together.
Due to the college campus shooting today at Oregon’s Umpqua Community College I decided to add two additional videos.
Are you “Black Lives Matter” or “All Lives Matter”?
Do you think a Christian baker should be fined if he doesn’t provide a wedding cake for a same-sex couple — or that a county clerk’s job descrption requires providing a marriage license to a same-sex couple despite her own religious beliefs?
Do you think the “right to work” applies only to persons with permission from the United States government or is the right to make an honest living a universal human right that applies both to the person who offers paid work and the person who accepts it?
All of these are current controversies that exist only because government creates them.
“Black Lives Matter” is juxtaposed with “All Lives Matter” on the proposition that blacks are targeted by police powers more than other ethnicities, especially those perceived as “white.”
Obviously a Venn Diagram based on universal human rights would include “black lives.” Whether that happens in everyday life is a matter not of acknowledging abstract rights but of political reality. But there would be no division if there was not first a division between “law enforcement officers” and “civilians.” Just watch an episode of the CBS network series Blue Bloods in which the TV script writers reflect the premise that the killing of a cop is worse than the murder of us lowly “civilians,” the protection of whom is in theory the raison d’être for police departments in the first place.
The Declaration of Independence states “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” The word” men” in that statement means human, not anatomically endowed with a penis. It’s a declaration of universal human rights.
It took a bit more than a half dozen decades before legal reality caught up with this universal intent to include blacks, and more decades before it included female humans. Today it’s moving in the direction of including LGBT individuals, but still legally excludes persons not deemed by a bureaucratic class to be “citizens” or government-approved “legal residents.”
Kentucky County Clerk Kim Davis sits in jail for violating a federal judge’s order to issue marriage licenses inclusive of same-sex couples. This is a legal controversy only because marriage is licensed in the first place by government bureaucrats. I posted on a website frequented by Christians who side with Kim Davis for standing up for their commonly held belief that marriage requires one-each penis and vagina. My suggestion that marriage arrangements be entirely separated from government was ignored. The website posters were too invested in taking sides in a current political controversy that exists only because it is subject to public policy and not left a matter for people to decide entirely in the private sphere.
Colorado baker Jack Phillips faces massive fines because he’s not allowed to choose his customers according to the principle of both free association and free disassociation. The private sphere of commerce has been invaded by bureaucrats. It was tyrannical when legislators first forced lunch counters not to serve black customers then later made it mandatory. It’s tyrannical now when legislators make it mandatory to violate one’s own beliefs and be a slave required to work for anyone who demands service. The LGBT who were first discriminated against, when they gain political favor, replace victimization with victimizing. They betray the principles of free association and free disassociation. They make themselves just one more class of thugs, dividing us.
The ancient Romans faced off Christians with lions.
Current day Americans face off Christians with lesbians.
Government exists by sucking up all human decision-making into the public arena — our economic and social life — then making us all gladiators fighting for our share of the loot stolen from us.
Government makes us war against each other to the benefit only of those who use government to rob and rule us.
You want to get out from under this mega-scam, stop playing a game rigged against you. Don’t acknowledge their right over your life or property. Refuse to play. Opt out. Don’t demand political privileges granted by force that deprives other human beings of their natural rights. Enact only your right established in the first legally binding document — the Declaration of Independence — to run your own life without the permission from a despot or tyrant.
That belief in universal human rights is the meaning of American Exceptionalism — not as Fox News pundits would have you believe that “exceptionalism” means being the Imperial Power who bullies the rest of the world into compliance.
And if you’re looking for a handle on this, we who stand up for those indivisible principles call ourselves libertarians, voluntaryists, and Agorists.
I’ve been writing about the Alongside Night Movie for over five years, starting when I was still trying to put together casting and financing to get it made. I’ve sold it hard on the libertarian content in the movie and how I believe a feature-length narrative film can be effective in approaching people — especially young people — to consider libertarian principles and comparing libertarian approaches with far-more-popular government-reliant policies.
The Alongside Night Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack just hit the market. We just started running the first radio commercial, beginning on Art Bell’s return to radio, Midnight in the Desert.
I’ve dedicated my career to the belief that storytelling can convey complex ideas to large audiences.. I became a libertarian because I read stories by Robert Heinlein. Many libertarians started with Ayn Rand.
This approach is called show-and-tell or to use an older term, a parable. History’s most effective teachers — Buddha, Jesus, Aesop, Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, Robert A. Heinlein, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Ayn Rand — have taught by storytelling.
Masters of totalitarian propaganda including Goebbels, Lenin, Stalin, and FDR all understood that movies have been essential in mass communication.
Libertarians, Agorists, Voluntaryists, lend me your ears — and eyes.
Watch these clips from Alongside Night.
–J. Neil Schulman, who wrote the novel and made the movie
Let’s start with the plot from the most recent episode of the TNT series Proof, a paranormal drama about researchers attempting by scientific means to prove or disprove the reality of life after death.
In Season 1 Episode 6 “Private Matters” (July 21, 2015) one of the researchers — reminiscent of the 1983 movie Brainstorm — dies while wearing equipment recording his brainwaves and sophisticated computer algorithms record not only life memories but imagery suggesting transmissions from the afterlife. But when the researcher’s grieving widow is brought into the lab to separate memory imagery from possible afterlife imagery she freaks out that her late husband’s brainwave recordings of their life together is violating her privacy and sues to destroy the recordings.
I was immediately reminded of how — in a tabloid campaign reminiscent of The Banner‘s campaign against Howard Roark’s architecture for Enright House in Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead or real-world yellow-paper campaigns conducted by Pulitzer or Hearst or Murdoch-owned newspapers — FNC’s Bill O’Reilly has been exploiting the grief from family members of murder-victim Kate Steinle to promote a new law cracking down on serial violators of U.S. immigration law.
Bill O’Reilly interviews Kate Steinle’s parents, James Steinle and Elizabeth Sullivan
This vile use of grief as a weapon is nothing new. Inflaming public passion by parading grieving family is business-as-usual for proponents of all sorts of more restrictive statism. After the Empire of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor hysteria about Americans of Japanese ancestry — with nothing other than race linking them to the enemy — led to American citizens’ property being seized while they were imprisoned in American concentration camps.
Every time a perp uses a gun to cause havoc gun-ban advocates parade out victims’ family members and use their tears as weapons to promote their totalitarian civilian-disarmament agenda.
If the perp can be associated with a foreign faction such as in the case of Mohammad Youssuf Abdulazeez who on July 17, 2015 committed a multiple-fatality shooting of Marine and Naval personnel in Chattanooga, TN, military officials will be brought on camera to express their teary-eyed rage.
The agenda is always the same: to take a criminal and his vile acts and — instead of focusing on how the public can arm themselves against future attacks — to inflame public outrage against some larger class of despised outsiders by recruiting the tears of family, friends, and co-workers as weapons stockpiled in the cause of tyranny.
No doubt there were some actual Russians who died at the hand of Ukrainians to justify Stalin’s mass starvation Holodomor and Nazis who were murdered by actual Jews used by Hitler to justify deporting Jews to Dachau and Auschwitz.
Letting one’s grief be the reason one becomes the pawn of master manipulators is understandable. They get you, like any other heartless con man does, when you’re at your most vulnerable.
But those in the media who use grieving to get ratings or, worse, to gain more power for their puppet masters, have no excuse. They are the very devil.
I revisit this topic in my article Weaponizing Grief
Let’s get one thing out of the way. Like the Hero Oscar Gordon in Robert A. Heinlein’s 1963 epic fantasy novel Glory Road, I’m a coward. Whenever possible. That doesn’t mean I’m not trained in arms and will use them to defend my cowardly life if necessary to remain alive and cowardly. I’m just too old to run away anymore.
I’m not a supporter of Donald Trump, or any other political candidate for that matter. I’m not only a coward but I’m an anarchist. Most people, even a lot of fellow anarchists, don’t know what the word means. It doesn’t mean not respecting the rights of other people and favoring chaos. That would be the nihilists. I mean that I’ve studied governments, empires, and statism and concluded the human race could do far better if affairs were organized in free marketplaces and other organization that doesn’t start with someone threatening someone else with violence or killing someone as an example to scare others into non-resistant compliance.
But I agree with Trump’s initial statement about John McCain. John McCain is no hero to me.
That doesn’t mean McCain isn’t brave and endured hellish conditions as a Vietnam War POW he chose not to escape for the sake of his fellow captured Americans. It does mean I don’t consider the job John McCain was doing as a soldier in an ultimately useless war that ended in the enemy’s victory was in any way service to the American people. McCain followed the orders of poltroons and by the trial standards established at Nuremberg his “just following orders” was no escape from moral turpitude. Certainly there is little virtue in McCain’s suspending his presidential run to lobby fellow senators to give unearned taxpayer billions to still unindicted financial criminals.
But even by the standards legendarily preached by General George Patton, there’s no “E for Effort” in warfare. Patton, like Trump, preferred winners. Alvin York in World War I and Audie Murphy in World War II — both Congressional Medal of Honor winners — are by the rules of warfare more entitled to be called heroes than service members who got captured and spent their service as prisoners. That’s not the opinion of this cowardly anarchist who never spent a day serving in the military. (If you don’t count the year I spent at age 14 wearing the United States Air Force uniform as a cadet information officer in the Massachusetts Civil Air Patrol, the Air Force Auxiliary.) That’s how the American government itself hands out ratings for military heroism.
My dad was found 4F and never recruited when he reported for duty after his World War II draft notice but if my dad had been accepted he likely would have played violin in Glenn Miller’s Army Air Force Band — Dave Schwartz, my dad’s roommate at the Curtis Institute of Music who played viola in that band, would have arranged for Colonel Miller to request him. Instead, my dad toured military bases in the U.S. as a solo violinist and played in war bond concerts. Does that make my dad’s “service” less worthy than my uncle Murray who spent the war as a U.S. army med tech in New Guinea? I don’t think so.
One of my first jobs was as a uniformed security guard for Holmes Security in New York City. Somewhere I can’t find it easily is a photo my dad took of me in my guard uniform, which if you didn’t know better could swear was the uniform of a Nazi SS officer. On one occasion I was assigned to join U.S. Secret Service, Israeli Mossad and New York City police as the protection detail for Yigal Allon, Deputy Prime Minister of Israel, on a visit to New York. I was the guy who was detailed to look for bombs. Does my working in the private sector mean I wasn’t “serving”? Does that make me a hero? I don’t think so.
There is a mythology of Service applied only to those who serve the State that questioning their heroism or service is unpatriotic. Donald Trump tripped that wire and that makes him briefly worthwhile to the libertarian cause. Someone’s job description is always up for rational analysis and there are no protective halos — not for soldiers, not for a president, not even for a Saint Mother Teresa or a Pope Francis.
Robert A. Heinlein graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy and served on a peacetime U.S. destroyer; during World War II he was a civilian worker in high-tech (for its time) defense work.
Robert A. Heinlein
None of this is anywhere near as important service as Heinlein’s work as a science-fiction writer (author of the pro-military novels Starship Troopers and Space Cadet, if that matters to you) whose work on the movie Destination Moon helped inspire the Apollo moon landings.
Or my dad’s work as a concert violinist.
Or, to be hoped, this cowardly anarchist’s work as a writer, publisher, activist, and filmmaker.
This desperate statist veneration of its armed forces and police as somehow being more valuable to a free society than civilians in a host of other jobs — and on this point I disagree with Heinlein — puts the world out of balance and leads to needless destruction.
I’m a native New Yorker. Had I been alive in the past centuries with my current beliefs I would have been a slavery Abolitionist and if possible both an activist in the Underground Railroad smuggling slaves to freedom in Canada and an agitator for slave rebellions against slaveholders in states where slavery was legal.
That said, I oppose the current move by retailers including Amazon, Walmart, Target, Sears and eBay to ban sale of merchandise displaying the Confederate Battle Flag and of Warner Brothers to stop making toy “Dukes of Hazzard” cars carrying the Confederate flag decal.
Dukes of Hazzard General Lee
This wiping out of American history, putting the Confederate flag into an Orwellian Memory Hole, can only benefit a totalitarian view where the honoring of any rebellion against central government is tagged as unallowable. The cause of preserving slavery was an evil motive for rebellion but the Constitution as permitting no exit clause for dissenters against hegemonic centralism is also evil.
I would have agreed with abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison that, if anything, the non-slave-owning states should have seceded from the Union and been a haven for slaves escaping from the slave-holding states.
Libertarians make a mistake if we believe our freedom can only be lost to government edict. The surrender without a fight to trendy historical censorship is as quick a path to tyranny.
When private companies ban merchandise because the fragile among us object, it will never stop. Banning sales of firearms and ammunition when evildoers use them against the innocent will follow. The battle flag of the American Revolution — the “Dont Tread on Me” Gadsden Flag — will disappear if some demented Tea Party zealot commits a lone-wolf act of terrorism and embraces that symbol while doing it.
And when we see drone-strike “collateral damage” burning the Stars and Stripes should Americans pull down their national flag in sympathy as well?
Abandon your past and you condemn your future.
If flags can be banned, so can books and movies.
The title of this article reads like a Zen Kōan, the best-known being “What is the sound of one hand clapping?”
I don’t mean my title as a mystery or a riddle. I mean it exactly.
You don’t need to focus on police killings of black men such as Michael Brown, Eric Garner, or Freddie Gray to conclude that there’s an underclass vulnerable to homicide under color of law. If we look no wider it’s facile to adopt a narrative that the Civil Rights movement failed to move the United States past institutionalized white supremacy, paradoxically at a time when Freddie Gray’s Baltimore has a black mayor and police chief and both the two-term current President of the United States and both the current and previous Attorney General of the United States are black.
The evidence alone demands we look further.
Spending a few minutes looking at the CopBlock project website tells us it’s not just black men who are on the business end of thuggish police. There is no race, gender, or age that is not regularly the subject of harassment and brutal tactics at the hands of law-enforcement officers — local, state, and federal. I’m not talking about bad apples generally unrepresentative of their departments, sadists failed to be weeded out. I’m talking about officers trained in official use-of-force policies that exonerate sworn officers when they use weaponry and tactics justified with the argument that any fear of harm to an officer exonerates lethal or barely sublethal violence for even the most minor offense or generalized suspicion.
This is the sort of official lawlessness under color of law that brings out news trucks, protesters, political hucksters, wannabe nihilist revolutionaries armed with bricks, bottles, and Molotov cocktails, fire fetishists to whom a burning building is orgasmic, and opportunistic looters.
There’s a federal law supposedly addressing this: Title 18 USC Section 242 — which can be found on the Department of Justice website:
DEPRIVATION OF RIGHTS UNDER COLOR OF LAW
Section 242 of Title 18 makes it a crime for a person acting under color of any law to willfully deprive a person of a right or privilege protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States.
For the purpose of Section 242, acts under “color of law” include acts not only done by federal, state, or local officials within the their lawful authority, but also acts done beyond the bounds of that official’s lawful authority, if the acts are done while the official is purporting to or pretending to act in the performance of his/her official duties. Persons acting under color of law within the meaning of this statute include police officers, prisons guards and other law enforcement officials, as well as judges, care providers in public health facilities, and others who are acting as public officials. It is not necessary that the crime be motivated by animus toward the race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status or national origin of the victim.
The offense is punishable by a range of imprisonment up to a life term, or the death penalty, depending upon the circumstances of the crime, and the resulting injury, if any.
TITLE 18, U.S.C., SECTION 242
Whoever, under color of any law, statute, ordinance, regulation, or custom, willfully subjects any person in any State, Territory, Commonwealth, Possession, or District to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured or protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States, … shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both; and if bodily injury results from the acts committed in violation of this section or if such acts include the use, attempted use, or threatened use of a dangerous weapon, explosives, or fire, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both; and if death results from the acts committed in violation of this section or if such acts include kidnaping or an attempt to kidnap, aggravated sexual abuse, or an attempt to commit aggravated sexual abuse, or an attempt to kill, shall be fined under this title, or imprisoned for any term of years or for life, or both, or may be sentenced to death.
If this law alone was enforced, we’d be halfway to the restoration of law and order because the assumption of Sovereign Immunity that protects the police — a concept antithetical to the concept of an America freed from monarchy — would no longer shield the shielded from more obvious cases of officious criminality.
Nonetheless that kind of obvious lawlessness is the least of our current abandonment of law.
When in the Course of human events …
- The Fifth Amendment is nullified and any non-cooperation or technically false statement to an official investigator can get one imprisoned — and Martha Stewart was neither black nor poor — there is no law and order anymore;
- Not complying with tax laws or mandated accounting;
- Failure to return library books or failure to pay parking tickets;
- Allowing your child to walk home from a park unaccompanied by an adult;
- Non-compliance with any of hundreds of thousands of obscure and contradictory local, state, and federal regulations and paperwork;
- Possession of substances or objects arbitrarily prohibited
- Civil forfeiture of private property without a conviction of a crime, approved by the Supreme Court;
- Death by drone, detention without charges, official spying without limit;
makes what is claimed as law a chute into court, seizure of one’s property, arrest, extortion into a plea, and imprisonment for even the top one-percent — much less the other 99% who barely scrape by and can’t afford expensive accountants and lawyers, or worse, the grave …
Then the claim we live under reasonable or fair law demanding obedience is a God damned lie.
We live in an age of patchwork customs and legality, some based on legislation, some from bureaucratic rule-making bought and paid for by lobbyists, some from court ruling and precedent forged by a class of professional philosophunculists.
Nobody is “equal under the law.”
Some people have established privilege and protection.
Some people have extra risk and liability.
Sometimes the difference is a yard or two crossing an imaginary territorial line.
Sometimes it’s race/class/gender/shifting popularity.
Sometimes it’s looking at someone powerful the wrong way.
Sometimes it’s just confusing, like whether a Native American has more brownie points than a Transgender or a Veteran.
It’s heaven-made for lawyers, a priestcraft who navigate our way through this established insanity for hundreds of bucks per billable hour.
It’s also confounded by statistics everybody knows which aren’t true and partisan divisions that are moving targets.
There is no law. There is only power and market and what Ayn Rand delightfully called the Aristocracy of Pull.
Equal under the law? There’s law?
You conservatives are just kidding, right — and you liberals are just in denial?
I never thought I’d see the day when Michael Moore, the filmmaker of Bowling for Columbine would agree with me that the reason for the Second Amendment is to arm the public so it can defend themselves. But Moore tweeted on April 30th, four days ago, “Next demand: Disarm the police. We have a 1/4 billion 2nd amendment guns in our homes 4 protection. We’ll survive til the right cops r hired”
When police commit crime under color of law, the law dies and the lawless rule.
Usually councils of business leaders are the most vocal supporters of police and government in general. How long will it take for business leaders to remember that the American Revolution of the 1770′s was supported by business leaders for the obvious reason that sending capricious and bureaucratic “swarms of Officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance” is bad for business?
And if the costs of complying with evermore government regulation doesn’t wake them up to the cost of official lawlessness, could arson and looting trashing their businesses — following just about every instance of police lawlessness — possibly make the small business a revolutionary vanguard again?
When business relies not on government to provide law, but the rules of business itself to provide a stable market, we might get going a coalition to get our country back from those liars who claim that anarchists like me are the foes of law, when the opposite is true: the most dangerous enemies of law today are those who claim to enforce it.
Watching Citizenfour in its HBO premiere Monday evening, a day after it won the Oscar for Best Feature-Length Documentary, leaves me with the perception that I haven’t watched a documentary but a work of dramatic fiction.
This is not to criticize documentarian Laura Poitras for deliberately slanting coverage of her subject, Edward Snowden, toward the sympathetic. She’s entitled to an editorial point of view.
Edward Snowden. From Citizenfour
by Laura Poitras / Praxis Films
The trouble is with Edward Snowden, himself, as much in this film as in Brian Williams’ NBC interview with Snowden that aired in May 2014.
Edward Snowden explains his actions in terms common to fictional heroes, and when non-controversial characters like these are found in real life they’re usually decorated military, police, or firemen.
What makes Edward Snowden come across as a fictional character is that he as an individual – with no institutional backing – took unilateral action with global consequences and justifed his actions on moral grounds. In real life when this happens it’s usually a terrorist – a bomber, assassin, or violent psychopath – pitting his moral claims against a society he sees as wrong. But Edward Snowden is not a nut job, rather a sane and reasonable man who found himself with an unique opportunity to act against grand institutional criminality that he saw could not be corrected within an existing institutional framework.
That makes Edward Snowden the rarest of real-life characters: a noble and effective revolutionary.
In real life it’s exceptionally uncommon to find a man like Edward Snowden, facing felony charges of violating espionage laws, and living a relatively low-profile life in exile.
Edward Snowden reminds me of no fictional character so much as Ayn Rand’s John Galt in her novel Atlas Shrugged, an engineer who decides to sabotage a state growing toward totalitarianism, by first withdrawing his personal sanction then convincing others of talent and expertise to do likewise.
But Edward Snowden is not a fictional character out of Atlas Shrugged … or my own novel and movie about a current-day rebellion against the United States government, Alongside Night. He’s a real-life current day American Revolutionary in the direct tradition of the Founding Fathers.
Edward Joseph Snowden seems to be aware of his place in history. Reacting to Oscar host Neil Patrick Harris’s joke about treason directly after Citizenfour won its Oscar, Snowden quoted Patrick Henry: “If this be treason, make the most of it.”
Patrick Henry made that statement in 1765, eight years before the Boston Tea Party, ten years before Paul Revere’s ride and the Battles of Lexington and Concord, and 11 years before the Continental Congress signed the Declaration of Independence triggering the American Revolutionary War.
Make no mistake: if America is not to degrade into totalitarian fascism then Edward Snowden is a harbinger of a re-upped American Revolution. His explanation in support of his having revealed what he regards as unconstitutional criminal acts by the United States government is based on the same principles as the Declaration of Independence’s explanations for refusing to obey the laws of Britain’s king and parliament.
Snowden is a hero to me because I share with him the libertarian values of the American Revolution and do not see anything short of a revolutionary refusal to abide violation of fundamental human rights under color of law as a remedy.
I don’t know what’s more frightening: that we have a real-life John Galt declaring in our own time the reasons for rebellion against a burgeoning American tyranny that betrays its Enlightenment foundations … or that we need one.
J. Neil Schulman discusses the legality, morality, and purposes of Edward Snowden’s revelations of classified government documents regarding massive government spying on American citizens in the radio podcast The Real Side with Joe Messina interview J Neil Schulman (December 16, 2014)
J Neil Schulman is the author of 12 books, including three novels, and a Twilight Zone writer. He’s writer/producer/director of the near-future suspense feature film Alongside Night (out in a limited release), which he adapted from his 1979 award-winning novel of the same name. The Prometheus Hall of Fame novel was endorsed by Nobel-laureate Milton Friedman, A Clockwork Orange author Anthony Burgess, and Dr. Ron Paul http://alongsidenightmovie.com