Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

Flash fiction — inspired by Will Bunch’s April 18 column on the suppression of journalists in Minnesota.

“How did it come to this?!”

Our mind screams as residue from the pepper spray blurs our vision. Our request for water, for relief, denied the moment we were detained. From the second we were shoved into the unmarked van, with the others, protesting on the streets this night.

Not that there’s anything to see, in this dark, overcrowded, windowless van; taking us to an unknown destination against our will. Numbness, shock, disbelief — here, in the land of due process — are our only companions now.

Hadn’t we been warned about this? A year ago, when reports began to circulate about protestors being hauled away in unmarked vans? Or, when a similar fate befell Bill McKibbon for speaking out against a life that couldn’t speak for itself?

But we were different, we insisted. We were journalists, seeking only the truth. Not protestors or climate activists, pushing a controversial agenda. They would listen. They would understand. Our press passes, our vests would protect us, we told ourselves again and again.

We told ourselves this, even as the police beat us with their sticks, and the butts of their handguns. As the shoved the barrels of the guns in our faces, digging the metal into our flesh as we were hauled away; credentials ignored.

That’s all we were in Minneapolis for; to seek the truth. To sift through the noise, the spin, to figure out what was really going on, on the ground. That’s all we wanted; the truth. And for that, we’re being hauled away like common criminals, packed like sardines. COVID protocol all but ignored for the least of these.

The van jolts, knocking us against the seat, into the person beside us. We wench in pain, the bruises from the metal sticks and guns still fresh on our bodies. The pepper spray, the tear gas, burning our eyes.

Disbelief wanes. Rage muscles in its place.

“How could this happen!” we shout.

The man beside us, in long hair, braids and copper skin, laughs.

“You’ve never been on the wrong side of the law before,” he asserts, noting our middle class clothes, salon hair, and pale skin; eyes flickering to the press pass dangling from our necks.

“You’ve never been to Standing Rock. I’ve seen what an occupying army is capable of. What these people do to those who seek the truth, when the Powers that Be don’t want the truth to be found. You should write about that more often.”

He stares at nothing, as the van jolts us forward.

“What is truth?” we ask, a question as old as time itself.

When did we lose it?

We think back to high school. The enthusiasm of our formative years tempered by the horror of 9/11. We think of the outpouring of patriotism, unity, the grief; the unquenchable desire for revenge that filled the pit of our young bellies; as we watched the towers crumble to nothing.

We shake our heads in disgust at the memory. How naive, how stupid had we been? Malleable, manipulated by those same Powers that Be who were so desperate to keep the truth from us, even in our hour of need; consumed by fear, by pain.

Pain they used against us.

“Men,” hiding behind their own guise of patriotism, counting on us to forget how they cowardly avoided service when their country needed them — choosing instead to sacrifice the young, poor, Black and Brown on the alter of greed, colonialism, revenge; the sickening desire to hasten the apocalypse.

Lulled to sleep, once again, by feel-good, White supremacist rhetoric, and an, “Aww, shucks,” grin. Hidden fingers, soon soaked; dripping with the blood of thousands. Only they, were the good guys. The only one’s standing between “us” and the end of “our” civilization as “we” knew it.

The national gas lighting had begun.

Those who saw through this, gas lighting, this projection, this abuse; the Dixie Chicks, Green Day, John Kerry, were deflected as unpatriotic. Soft on terrorism. Liberals. Enablers. Criminals.

While the true criminals were rewarded with four more years by a supposedly free and independent people.

The national gas lighting just kept going.

We think back on this time, sickened by our own unquestioning allegiance to the Powers that Be; the pepper spray and swerving of the van no longer turning our stomachs.

We realize, for the first time, that the ground had been prepared before today. Cleared, cultivated and watered to preserve what remained of the Powers that Be’s loosening grip.

Before fake news and alternative facts, there was freedom fries, liberation, and the democratization of the Middle East. Before the hoax, the Deep State, there was rendition, enhanced interrogation, the UN, European elites and the New World Order.

We saw and endless war, occupation, death and a Great Recession. What independent news outlets capitalism couldn’t destroy, the Recession finished off. A news desert of independent journalism, replaced by the mouthpieces of the Powers that Be. From independence to radicalization; just in time for a new administration.

By that time, we had awoken a little, the gas lighting losing its effectiveness against the avalanche of lies and deception. This new administration, the first of the undesirables, had been charged with cleaning up the mess of the occupiers. It was then, we realize, for the first time, that the national gas lighting, projection, and deflection, had reached new, unrealized heights.

Propaganda that called opposition a new form of patriotism; state’s rights as American rights; and White Supremacy as the champion of truth and justice. And we, were blind, powerless to stop it, until it was too late.

We witnessed the rise of a new, minority administration challenged the Powers that Be; and how they were stopped by those who still clung to their power. How the seeds of the past decade of clearing, cultivation and watering resulted in a government hostel to the truth once again.

A government that called truth seekers like us enemies of the people. Who encouraged our silencing by any means necessary, including violence; with immunity granted to any who would silence us; the police, the courts, even the Powers themselves.

We realize, for the first time, that this was our fault. We exchanged a comfortable lie — one of supremacy, exceptionalism, and institutional protection — for uncomfortable truth. We lost ourselves; and now, the world is paying the price.

We saw the rise of the paramilitary during this time of stupor. Armed men with guns and camouflage, calling themselves patriots, the Proud Boys, and the 3% er’s. We saw them fight in the name of the minority leader, for the blue and the green.

The words of Timothy Snyder flash in our heads, “When the men with guns who have always claimed to be against the system start wearing uniforms and marching with torches and pictures of a leader, the end is nigh. When the pro-leader paramilitary and the official police and military intermingle, the end has come.”

Words we laughed at, at the time. None of us are laughing now.

As we are jolted closer to our unknown destination, we realize, for the first time, that this is no longer the land of the free, or the home of the brave. We are the land of the manipulated, the superior, and the oppressed. A land that fights to keep the truth hidden. A land that has chosen lies over truth. A land that has lost what remains of herself.

As the van doors swing open, the light blinding our already irritated eyes, this reality, at last comes into full focus.

The question remains — is this the dawn of a new day, or the descent into the night?

The answer, we know, is dependent on us.



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Tiffany Elliott

Writer with 15 + years experience; journalist, editor, freelancer, and play write. Advocate for the arts and rights of expendables.