In my position as a research assistant I researched the criminalization of marginalized people in the United States and Argentina. I found that the weaponization of national identity and terrorism was often used against poor people, nonwhite people, and political agitators to constitute them as second-class citizens, categorize their actions as criminal, and demonize them as constant potential threats. I found that security discourse, often seen through phrases such as “tough on crime” and “war on terror,” was less a matter of keeping people safe as it was a matter of pathologizing people as dangerous to enact social control. I worked with a broad range of sources, the majority of which were journal articles but also included legal documents, penal codes, and interviews. To understand how the state materially creates non-citizens stripped of rights, I often worked within a critical legal framework. To understand more abstractly notions of identity and power, I worked with more theoretical texts.
What I found insightful beyond the legislative changes themselves was how they were used to attack broad groups. Argentine sociologist Maristella Svampa refers to this as a “permanent state of exception” that oppressed people are subjected to that is consolidated and crystallized during moments of perceived security crisis, such as after September 11. Alan Iud, a lawyer with the Argentinian human rights group Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo Association, said that “talking about crimes aimed at terrorizing the people is an overly broad concept that increases the risk that it will be used against social protests.” This has occurred to journalists covering state brutality, unarmed Mapuche activists in Chile, and the working class Piquetero movement in Argentina referred to as “irregular armies” despite being unarmed citizens. Security discourse creates threats who are seen as terrorists in waiting, while according to Guillermina Seri “the wealthier, perceived as in need of protection, are turned into decent citizens.”