On the mental bookshelf holding my imagined-but-yet-unwritten novels is the story of a revolutionary movement in contemporary California. Hispanics, angered at their treatment and the historic theft of the state’s wealth from their Mexican homeland, embark on a campaign to take California back, using traditional terrorist tactics such as bombings to deliver their message. In response, the government declares a state of martial law, imposing severe restrictions on the movement and civil liberties of the citizens in the name of protecting them from terrorism.
The twist: the government quickly finds and eradicates the terrorist cell. But the powers-that-be realize that a citizenry under martial law is much easier to control. They decide not to let the public in on the fact that the terrorists have been eliminated, and instead occasionally stage skirmishes and explosions to make it look as if danger still lurks. It takes the efforts of one man, formerly accused of being one of the terrorists, to find proof of this dastardly turn of events.
I don’t think this is a particularly original story (and in fact, my creative writing teacher in college said that the ancient Greeks used all the good plots first). It is probably inspired by a book I read back in the days after Watergate called The Last President (not to be confused with one of the more recent Daybreak series with the same name). Therein authors Michael Kurland and S. W. Barton postulate what would have happened if the presidential administration (read: Nixon) had murdered two enterprising journalists (read: Woodward and Bernstein) before they were able to uncover anything compromising about the administration (read: Watergate). In it, just as in my story, the authorities plan further attacks on the public in order to justify the suspension of civil liberties.
Now, I am not a left-wing nut job who sees right-wing nut jobs lurking around every corner and behind every explosion. But my unpublished novelist’s mind can’t help plotting. Anyone who lived through the 20th century would do the same; it’s not as if it’s never happened before. The government has always found someone for us to fear, sometimes justifiably, sometimes not. In the 1920s and 1930s, it was the Bolsheviks. In the 1940s, it was the Japanese. In the 1950s, it was the Communists again. In the 1960s, it was the radicals. In the 1970s, it was Palestinian terrorists making political demands. Later, it became Islamic terrorists making religious statements. Roseanne Rosannadanna was right.
At the same time, American history is littered with instances of the government overstepping its bounds in the name of furthering its own goals: Watergate, Iran-Contra, and more recently, we had to invade Iraq because of those weapons of mass destruction (which turned out to be no more real than my novel). Back during the Watergate hearings, bumperstickers popped up saying I love my country but I fear my government. Back then, they were plastered on cars belonging to liberals; today I suspect Tea Party supporters might claim them too.
Add to that the unsettling feeling generated by a 2010 Washington Post report that discovered:
The top-secret world the government created in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has become so large, so unwieldy and so secretive that no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs, how many programs exist within it or exactly how many agencies do the same work.
Sometimes I worry that hell hath no fury like a government agency in jeopardy of losing its funding. We’ve been relatively safe over the last dozen years since 9/11, underwear bombers aside. But what happens when politicians in the throes of sequester start looking for budgets to dismantle? What’s to stop an agency or agencies chartered with stopping terrorism from staging a high-prolife, low-fatality event just to convince us of the necessity of their existence? How would we know?
All I’m saying is, if the members of the Tsarnaev family who believe the brothers were framed are right, we may have more to fear than we think we do.