The Bush-era blacklist

Thought of as a part of our past, blacklisting has become very real for outward U.S. government critics.

Chelsey Perkins

When we look back at the Joseph McCarthy era of anti-communist hysteria in our country’s history books, we think of the blacklisting and unjustified governmental questioning of suspected communists as a thing of the past.


Since Sept. 11, we have heard much about increased airport security. One of the tactics employed as a security measure in our nation’s airports is an extensive list of people who require more thorough searching before boarding flights – some are not allowed to board at all.

Although this list is touted as one that helps to identify individuals who fit the “terrorist profile,” it is 540 pages long and contains about 75,000 names. Many of the names are those of journalists, academics and well-known activists who have spoken outwardly against the Bush administration.

Naomi Wolf, author of the new book “The End of America: A Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot,” describes in an article for AlterNet how she first discovered she was on “the list.” Wolf is an outspoken critic of increased presidential power, the lack of checks and balances and its effects on our civil liberties. Wolf said that security guards pulled her aside so often it became routine, and when she asked for the reason, a guard answered simply, “You’re on the list.”

Wolf goes on to give examples of many more people on “the list” who do not fit the terrorist profile, but do, in fact, harbor dissident feelings toward the government.

Beginning to sound a little familiar? McCarthy-era anti-communism represents only a past version of what America continues to do today, and that is to discourage any sentiments incongruent with the official line of the administration.

Of course, in today’s post-Sept. 11 nation, one can be detained for more than just a few inconvenient hours when pulled out of line. Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen, was kept from boarding a flight in 2002 at the Kennedy Airport. This event was only the beginning; the United States sent Arar to Syria, where he was questioned and beaten in prison for more than a year. Officials suspected Arar of terrorist ties, which turned out to be false. Arar now is calling for Canada to end its own “no-fly” list procedures that began in June.

Although obviously an extreme example of what can happen due to this extra airport security, it also serves as a somber reminder of the power government surveillance can have – and will continue to have under the protection of law – over our lives. For those exercising rights to criticize our illustrious leaders, America continues to become a less inviting place, aided by information profiles that can include anything from personal financial records and phone records to books bought at the local bookstore. The conglomeration of information into a damning file could do more than impede airline travel – it could even prevent someone from getting a job.

One of my journalistic icons, Edward R. Murrow, who in 1954 exposed McCarthy’s interrogations, once said, “We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. When the loyal opposition dies, I think the soul of America dies with it.”

Well said, Ed.

Chelsey Perkins welcomes comments at [email protected]