For his part, Trump rushed to link the attack to the “thousands and thousands of people pouring into our various countries” — never mind that the bomber, Salman Abedi, was born in the U.K.
Similarly, in the immediate aftermath of the Westminster terror attacks in London in March 2017, when a driver plowed into a crowd of pedestrians, deliberately killing four people and injuring dozens more, the Conservative government wasted no time declaring that any expectation of privacy in digital communications was now a threat to national security. Home Secretary Amber Rudd went on the BBC and declared the end-to-end encryption provided by programs like WhatsApp to be “completely unacceptable.” And she said that they were meeting with the large tech firms “to ask them to work with us” on providing backdoor access to these platforms. She made an even stronger call to crack down on internet privacy after the London Bridge attack.
More worrying, in 2015, after the coordinated attacks in Paris that killed 130 people, the government of François Hollande declared a “state of emergency” that banned political protests. I was in France a week after those horrific events and it was striking that, although the attackers had targeted a concert, a football stadium, restaurants, and other emblems of daily Parisian life, it was only outdoor political activity that was not permitted. Large concerts, Christmas markets, and sporting events — the sorts of places that were likely targets for further attacks — were all free to carry on as usual. In the months that followed, the state-of-emergency decree was extended again and again until it had been in place for well over a year. It is currently set to remain in effect until at least July 2017. In France, state-of-emergency is the new normal.
This took place under a center-left government in a country with a long tradition of disruptive strikes and protests. One would have to be naive to imagine that Donald Trump and Mike Pence wouldn’t immediately seize on any attack in the United States to go much further down that same road. In all likelihood they would do it swiftly, by declaring protests and strikes that block roads and airports (the kind that responded to the Muslim travel ban) a threat to “national security.” Protest organizers would be targeted with surveillance, arrests, and imprisonment.
Indeed we should be prepared for security shocks to be exploited as excuses to increase the rounding up and incarceration of large numbers of people from the communities this administration is already targeting: Latino immigrants, Muslims, Black Lives Matter organizers, climate activists, investigative journalists. It’s all possible. And in the name of freeing the hands of law enforcement to fight terrorism, Attorney General Jeff Sessions would have the excuse he’d been looking for to do away with federal oversight of state and local police, especially those that have been accused of systemic racial abuses.