The zombies are back. They are hungry. And they are lurking around every corner.
The zombie narrative, popularized by the hit television series The Walking Dead, in which a small group of Americans attempt to survive in a zombie-ridden, post-apocalyptic world where they're not only fighting off flesh-eating ghouls but cannibalistic humans, plays to our fears and paranoia.
Yet as journalist Syreeta McFadden points out, while dystopian stories used to reflect our anxieties, now they reflect our reality, mirroring how we as a nation view the world around us, how we as citizens view each other, and most of all how our government views us.
Fear the Walking Dead -- AMC's new spinoff of its popular Walking Dead series -- drives this point home by dialing back the clock to when the zombie outbreak first appears and setting viewers down in the midst of societal unrest not unlike our own experiences of the past year ("a bunch of weird incidents, police protests, riots, and ... rapid social entropy"). Then, as Forbes reports, "the military showed up and we fast-forwarded into an ad hoc police state with no glimpse at what was happening in the world around our main cast of hapless survivors."
Forbes found Fear's quick shift into a police state to be far-fetched, but anyone who has been paying attention in recent years knows that the groundwork has already been laid for the government -- i.e., the military -- to intervene and lock down the nation in the event of a national disaster.
Recognizing this, the Atlantic notes: "The villains of [Fear the Walking Dead] aren't the zombies, who rarely appear, but the U.S. military, who sweep into an L.A. suburb to quarantine the survivors. Zombies are, after all, a recognizable threat -- but Fear plumbs drama and horror from the betrayal by institutions designed to keep people safe."
While zombies may be the personification of our darkest fears, they embody the government's paranoia about the citizenry as potential threats that need to be monitored, tracked, surveilled, sequestered, deterred, vanquished and rendered impotent.
For years now, the government has been carrying out military training drills with zombies as the enemy. In 2011, the DOD created a 31-page instruction manual for how to protect America from a terrorist attack carried out by zombie forces. In 2012, the CDC released a guide for surviving a zombie plague. That was followed by training drills for members of the military, police officers and first responders.
The zombie exercises appear to be kitschy and fun, but what if the zombies in the exercises are us, the citizenry, viewed by those in power as mindless, voracious, zombie hordes?
Consider this: the government started playing around with the idea of using zombies as stand-ins for enemy combatants in its training drills right around the time the Army War College issued its 2008 report, warning that an economic crisis in the U.S. could lead to massive civil unrest that would require the military to intervene and restore order.
That same year, it was revealed that the government had amassed more than 8 million names of Americans considered a potential threat to national security, to be used "by the military in the event of a national catastrophe, a suspension of the Constitution or the imposition of martial law." The program's name, Main Core, refers to the fact that it contains "copies of the 'main core' or essence of each item of intelligence information on Americans produced by the FBI and the other agencies of the U.S. intelligence community."
Also in 2008, the Pentagon launched the Minerva Initiative, a $75 million military-driven research project focused on studying social behavior in order to determine how best to cope with mass civil disobedience or uprisings. The Minerva Initiative has funded projects such as "Who Does Not Become a Terrorist, and Why?" which "conflates peaceful activists with 'supporters of political violence' who are different from terrorists only in that they do not embark on 'armed militancy' themselves."
In 2009, the Dept. of Homeland Security issued its reports on Rightwing and Leftwing Extremism, in which the terms "extremist" and "terrorist" were used interchangeably to describe citizens who were disgruntled or anti-government. Meanwhile, a government campaign was underway to spy on Americans' mail, email and cell phone communications.
Fast forward a few years more and you have local police being transformed into extensions of the military, taught to view members of their community as suspects, trained to shoot first and ask questions later, and equipped with all of the technology and weaponry of a soldier on a battlefield.
Most recently, the Obama administration hired a domestic terrorism czar whose job is to focus on anti-government rightwing American "extremists" who have been designated a greater threat to America than ISIS or al Qaeda. As part of the government's so-called war on right-wing extremism, the Obama administration has agreed to partner with the United Nations to take part in its Strong Cities Network program, which will train local police agencies across America in how to identify, fight and prevent extremism.
Noticing a pattern yet?
"We the people" or, more appropriately, "we the zombies" are the enemy in the eyes of the government.
So when presented with the Defense Department's battle plan for defeating an army of the walking dead, you might find yourself tempted to giggle. However, in an age of extreme government paranoia, this is no laughing matter.
The DOD's strategy for dealing with a zombie uprising, outlined in "CONOP 8888," is for all intents and purposes a training manual for the government in how to put down a citizen uprising or at least an uprising of individuals "infected" with dangerous ideas about freedom.
Rest assured that the tactics and difficulties outlined in the "fictional training scenario" are all too real, beginning with martial law.
The strategy manual's primary methods of launching a zombie counter-offensive involve surveillance, military drills, awareness training, militarized police forces, and martial law.
Notice the similarities?
As I point out in my book, Battlefield America: The War on the American People, if there is any lesson to be learned, it is simply this: whether the threat to national security comes in the form of actual terrorists, imaginary zombies or disgruntled American citizens infected with dangerous ideas about freedom, the government's response to such threats remains the same: detect, deter and annihilate.
To return to AMC's Fear the Walking Dead: it's the police state "tasked with protecting the vulnerable" that poses some of the gravest threats to the citizenry. Indeed, as David Sims writing for the Atlantic points out, "the military doesn't really have a plan except to crush any potential threat." Sims continues:
The latest episode, "Cobalt," revealed the military's endgame: With the zombie situation deteriorating, they plan to flee and wipe out everyone they leave behind, at this point motivated only by the need to survive, rather than to protect. Countering that is the family unit that has forged new bonds in the crisis. These organically loyal communities, the writers Robert Kirkman and David Erickson argue, are the only kind that can survive in such a world... More than anything, Fear the Walking Dead is a drama about occupation, the breakdown of society, and the ease with which seemingly decent people can decide that might makes right. Like any dystopian fiction, it's easy to dismiss as fantasy, but remove the zombies and Fear could be taking place in dozens of real-world locations... This is happening here, Kirkman and Erickson are saying, but it could happen anywhere.