In the recent film X-men: Days of Future Past, the “Sentinels” are robots programmed by non-mutant humans in the government to hunt and keep down the feared and marginalized population of “mutants.” Eventually, however, their programming undergoes major “mission creep,” and according to Wikipedia, the Sentinels, “expand their targets beyond mutants to baseline humans based on the logic that they have the potential to produce mutant descendants, culminating in a dystopian future where most of humanity and mutantkind have been wiped out.” This is an apt parable for the police state, which is also used against the marginalized, but which also eventually will turn on its creators and enablers.
The late scholar Chalmers Johnson used to say, “Either give up your empire, or live under it,” referring to the truth that foreign empires tend to foster domestic police states. American experience, especially in past years, has shown just how prescient this unheeded warning was. The September 11, 2001 terrorist blowback from U.S. imperialism in the Middle East excused a massive swelling of the “homeland” security state, as well as an imperialist double-down in the invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq. These foreign wars, in turn, engorged our police state even further, as a torrent of surplus military gear streamed into our local police and sheriff’s departments, ramping up an already long-running militarization of the police in America.
This militarization has been largely under the radar, in spite of efforts to publicize it by prolific libertarian writers like Will Grigg and Radley Balko. The issue has finally broken into public consciousness and mainstream media coverage after police responded to protests and unrest (over the police shooting death of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown) in Ferguson, Missouri with militarized full-spectrum dominance, putting all their new toys from the Pentagon to use and on display.
And yet, even with their news and social media feeds bombarded by images of an American town that are indistinguishable from images of occupied Iraq, many conservatives are still clinging to a “Support Your Local Police” attitude toward the matter. They don’t see the images as indicative of the tyranny of empire “coming home.”
This in part is due to identity politics, which currently dominates judgments concerning public affairs, at the expense of principled concerns for justice and individual rights. These generally non-black, middle-class “law and order” conservatives identify with “black neighborhood” blacks in Ferguson about as little as they identify with Arab townsfolk or bedouins. To many of them, it is not a truly American town that is being militarily occupied, or true Americans being tear gassed. In X-men argot, they’re not “baseline humans,” so it is deemed okay if the “Sentinels” get rough with them.