Edward SnowdenOn Friday evening nearly five weeks ago, just as the case against farmer Vernon Hershberger was being handed over to the jury, an employee of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection (DATCP) tapped an attendee at the trial on the shoulder. 


That attendee was a known supporter of Hershberger. “Can you get a message to Vernon?” the DATCP employee inquired. “Tell him that, no matter how this turns out, I am praying for him.”


I have intentionally left out the names of the people involved in this situation, since I don’t want to endanger the DATCP person’s job. That individual had made the unfortunate discovery that, when the job involves bullying farmers like Hershberger, it becomes uncomfortable, not only because of the moral and ethical issues it raises, but because of the community disapproval it stimulates. This individual was reacting as most reasonably sensitive people would react–with a sense of guilt and of concern about the harm being done to the target of a three-year enforcement campaign designed to humiliate and punish a decent and hard-working farmer. This DATCP individual had seen Hershberger’s family attending the trial, and developed feelings for them. 


I make the comparison in my heading to the National Security Agency whistleblower, Edward Snowden, because he appears to have decided to disclose the vast privacy infringements being carried out by the NSA out of similar feelings of guilt over the harm he was potentially causing to ordinary Americans who are having their most private communications monitored by the world’s largest and most secret intelligence agency. 


Indeed, the Obama Administration’s immediate purpose now in desperately bullying other countries to hand over Snowden seems to be to get video shots of the whistleblower in handcuffs, to send a message to other potential whistleblowers who would like to rid themselves of the guilt and shame they similarly feel: don’t even think about doing what Snowden did. 


The problem facing our rulers, as they shift into ever more repression, is that they require ever-larger numbers of people to run and monitor the security apparatus essential to maintain the repression. There are more than a million people now with government security clearances of the type Edward Snowden had. Expect that number to continue growing as the NSA and FBI expand their eavesdropping on ordinary Americans (as if, as the apologists suggest, secret judges are going to keep a lid on the efforts). 


Look for similar trends in hiring and repression in the food arena as well, once the Food Safety Modernization Act is fully implemented. That will be happening sooner rather than later, thanks to the legal actions of self-appointed misguided do-gooders who actually went to court to force the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to move into high gear security mode. Looks for thousands of new food security agents to be brought on board at both the FDA and its state lackey organizations like DATCP to inspect farms, and enforce thousands of pages of new rules. 


As repression expands, and more Americans are recruited for all these new security needs, the government will need to whip ever more people into a frenzy that will go beyond what is happening now around Snowden. It’s already pretty intense. I heard some talking head on NPR’s Diane Rehms show earlier this week fantasizing gleefully about Obama ordering fighter jets to force down a passenger jet carrying Snowden to Ecuador or Cuba.  (Obama was asked today by a CBS reporter about whether he planned to mobilize the U.S. Air Force go after Snowden’s plane, and he said, almost dismissively, “No, I’m not going to scramble jets to go after a 29-year-old hacker.” He’s clearly bothered by the guy.)

NBC News anchor David Gregory questioned Glenn Greenwald, the Guardian journalist who broke the Snowden story, about whether he should be subject to criminal charges.  Greenwald caught the drift right away, replying: “I think it’s pretty extraordinary that anybody who would call themselves a journalist would publicly muse about whether or not other journalists should be charged with felonies.”


I would add that it’s notable Snowden and Manning both went to foreign organizations rather than American media with their treasure troves of information. They probably didn’t think they could trust media reps who are inclined to string up a fellow journalist for obtaining a major scoop. 


As the fear mongering expands, there is inevitably a search for scapegoats who are standing in the way of national security , or food safety, or national glory–whether it’s the media, immigrants, or a particular racial or religious group. The classic example is Hitler’s Germany, which made Jews the scapegoat; while some historians have attempted to portray Germany’s ungluing as the work of a demonic dictator, the reality is that the German people widely joined in on Hitler’s excesses. A great history, Hitler’s Willing Executioners, captures the process well. 


Right now, the U.S. might be viewed as at a crossroads. There are still people willing to stand up, like Snowden and Manning. In the food rights arena, brave farmers like Vernon Hershberger have had some help along the way from unseen officials, like the local prosecutor who refused to press charges against him back in 2011, and the sheriffs deputies who let it be known they weren’t inclined to go along on any more raids of his farm. Then there were the jurors, who were given every reason by a biased judge to favor the government’s arguments, and said, “nothing doing.” 


These examples, along with that of the DATCP official who wished Hershberger well, are highly threatening to the power structure, since they represent a deterioration of internal morale. The people in power are highly skilled at countering deteriorating morale within the ranks. . And if they can’t keep up morale, they usually resort to abject fear. 


So as the repression expands, and the fear mongering and scapegoating intensify, it gets harder for ordinary people to stand up. As the perceived punishment increases, people in positions of authority find reasons to back down, to convince themselves the fear mongering is legitimate, that the people resisting are troublemakers, and are threats to security and public order. 


As people come to understand their most intimate conversations are being monitored, they become nervous about what they say. They become nervous that their neighbors or co-workers might report them for suspicious activity, suspicious statements. I know it sounds wild, but the mainstream media joining in as an active part of the state apparatus is a very bad sign. 



I’m not sure if the timing is intentional, but the magazine, Utne Reader, excerpted a chapter of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Food Rights. It’s the chapter that traces the decline of our civil liberties over the past decade-plus as part of the war on private food.  (Give the server a chance to load–it’s been kind of slow.)




Thanks to Heather Callaghan at Activist Post for the nice call-out on my coverage of the Hershberger trial and aftermath. She also provides a rather incisive analysis of the implications of Hershberger’s resistance.