Addict (drugaddict) wrote,

From the Guardian today:

*Fascist America, in 10 easy steps

*From Hitler to Pinochet and beyond, history shows there are certain
steps that any would-be dictator must take to destroy constitutional
freedoms. And, argues Naomi Wolf, George Bush and his administration
seem to be taking them all
*Naomi Wolf
Tuesday April 24, 2007

*Last autumn, there was a military coup in Thailand. The leaders of the
coup took a number of steps, rather systematically, as if they had a
shopping list. In a sense, they did. Within a matter of days, democracy
had been closed down: the coup leaders declared martial law, sent armed
soldiers into residential areas, took over radio and TV stations, issued
restrictions on the press, tightened some limits on travel, and took
certain activists into custody.

They were not figuring these things out as they went along. If you look
at history, you can see that there is essentially a blueprint for
turning an open society into a dictatorship. That blueprint has been
used again and again in more and less bloody, more and less terrifying
ways. But it is always effective. It is very difficult and arduous to
create and sustain a democracy - but history shows that closing one down
is much simpler. You simply have to be willing to take the 10 steps.

As difficult as this is to contemplate, it is clear, if you are willing
to look, that each of these 10 steps has already been initiated today in
the United States by the Bush administration.

Because Americans like me were born in freedom, we have a hard time even
considering that it is possible for us to become as unfree -
domestically - as many other nations. Because we no longer learn much
about our rights or our system of government - the task of being aware
of the constitution has been outsourced from citizens' ownership to
being the domain of professionals such as lawyers and professors - we
scarcely recognise the checks and balances that the founders put in
place, even as they are being systematically dismantled. Because we
don't learn much about European history, the setting up of a department
of "homeland" security - remember who else was keen on the word
"homeland" - didn't raise the alarm bells it might have.

It is my argument that, beneath our very noses, George Bush and his
administration are using time-tested tactics to close down an open
society. It is time for us to be willing to think the unthinkable - as
the author and political journalist Joe Conason, has put it, that it can
happen here. And that we are further along than we realise.

Conason eloquently warned of the danger of American authoritarianism. I
am arguing that we need also to look at the lessons of European and
other kinds of fascism to understand the potential seriousness of the
events we see unfolding in the US.

*1 Invoke a terrifying internal and external enemy

*After we were hit on September 11 2001, we were in a state of national
shock. Less than six weeks later, on October 26 2001, the USA Patriot
Act was passed by a Congress that had little chance to debate it; many
said that they scarcely had time to read it. We were told we were now on
a "war footing"; we were in a "global war" against a "global caliphate"
intending to "wipe out civilisation". There have been other times of
crisis in which the US accepted limits on civil liberties, such as
during the civil war, when Lincoln declared martial law, and the second
world war, when thousands of Japanese-American citizens were interned.
But this situation, as Bruce Fein of the American Freedom Agenda notes,
is unprecedented: all our other wars had an endpoint, so the pendulum
was able to swing back toward freedom; this war is defined as open-ended
in time and without national boundaries in space - the globe itself is
the battlefield. "This time," Fein says, "there will be no defined end."

Creating a terrifying threat - hydra-like, secretive, evil - is an old
trick. It can, like Hitler's invocation of a communist threat to the
nation's security, be based on actual events (one Wisconsin academic has
faced calls for his dismissal because he noted, among other things, that
the alleged communist arson, the Reichstag fire of February 1933, was
swiftly followed in Nazi Germany by passage of the Enabling Act, which
replaced constitutional law with an open-ended state of emergency). Or
the terrifying threat can be based, like the National Socialist
evocation of the "global conspiracy of world Jewry", on myth.

It is not that global Islamist terrorism is not a severe danger; of
course it is. I am arguing rather that the language used to convey the
nature of the threat is different in a country such as Spain - which has
also suffered violent terrorist attacks - than it is in America. Spanish
citizens know that they face a grave security threat; what we as
American citizens believe is that we are potentially threatened with the
end of civilisation as we know it. Of course, this makes us more willing
to accept restrictions on our freedoms.

*2 Create a gulag

*Once you have got everyone scared, the next step is to create a prison
system outside the rule of law (as Bush put it, he wanted the American
detention centre at Guantánamo Bay to be situated in legal "outer
space") - where torture takes place.

At first, the people who are sent there are seen by citizens as
outsiders: troublemakers, spies, "enemies of the people" or "criminals".
Initially, citizens tend to support the secret prison system; it makes
them feel safer and they do not identify with the prisoners. But soon
enough, civil society leaders - opposition members, labour activists,
clergy and journalists - are arrested and sent there as well.

This process took place in fascist shifts or anti-democracy crackdowns
ranging from Italy and Germany in the 1920s and 1930s to the Latin
American coups of the 1970s and beyond. It is standard practice for
closing down an open society or crushing a pro-democracy uprising.

With its jails in Iraq and Afghanistan, and, of course, Guantánamo in
Cuba, where detainees are abused, and kept indefinitely without trial
and without access to the due process of the law, America certainly has
its gulag now. Bush and his allies in Congress recently announced they
would issue no information about the secret CIA "black site" prisons
throughout the world, which are used to incarcerate people who have been
seized off the street.

Gulags in history tend to metastasise, becoming ever larger and more
secretive, ever more deadly and formalised. We know from first-hand
accounts, photographs, videos and government documents that people,
innocent and guilty, have been tortured in the US-run prisons we are
aware of and those we can't investigate adequately.

But Americans still assume this system and detainee abuses involve only
scary brown people with whom they don't generally identify. It was brave
of the conservative pundit William Safire to quote the anti-Nazi pastor
Martin Niemöller, who had been seized as a political prisoner: "First
they came for the Jews." Most Americans don't understand yet that the
destruction of the rule of law at Guantánamo set a dangerous precedent
for them, too.

By the way, the establishment of military tribunals that deny prisoners
due process tends to come early on in a fascist shift. Mussolini and
Stalin set up such tribunals. On April 24 1934, the Nazis, too, set up
the People's Court, which also bypassed the judicial system: prisoners
were held indefinitely, often in isolation, and tortured, without being
charged with offences, and were subjected to show trials. Eventually,
the Special Courts became a parallel system that put pressure on the
regular courts to abandon the rule of law in favour of Nazi ideology
when making decisions.

*3 Develop a thug caste

*When leaders who seek what I call a "fascist shift" want to close down
an open society, they send paramilitary groups of scary young men out to
terrorise citizens. The Blackshirts roamed the Italian countryside
beating up communists; the Brownshirts staged violent rallies throughout
Germany. This paramilitary force is especially important in a democracy:
you need citizens to fear thug violence and so you need thugs who are
free from prosecution.

The years following 9/11 have proved a bonanza for America's security
contractors, with the Bush administration outsourcing areas of work that
traditionally fell to the US military. In the process, contracts worth
hundreds of millions of dollars have been issued for security work by
mercenaries at home and abroad. In Iraq, some of these contract
operatives have been accused of involvement in torturing prisoners,
harassing journalists and firing on Iraqi civilians. Under Order 17,
issued to regulate contractors in Iraq by the one-time US administrator
in Baghdad, Paul Bremer, these contractors are immune from prosecution

Yes, but that is in Iraq, you could argue; however, after Hurricane
Katrina, the Department of Homeland Security hired and deployed hundreds
of armed private security guards in New Orleans. The investigative
journalist Jeremy Scahill interviewed one unnamed guard who reported
having fired on unarmed civilians in the city. It was a natural disaster
that underlay that episode - but the administration's endless war on
terror means ongoing scope for what are in effect privately contracted
armies to take on crisis and emergency management at home in US cities.

Thugs in America? Groups of angry young Republican men, dressed in
identical shirts and trousers, menaced poll workers counting the votes
in Florida in 2000. If you are reading history, you can imagine that
there can be a need for "public order" on the next election day. Say
there are protests, or a threat, on the day of an election; history
would not rule out the presence of a private security firm at a polling
station "to restore public order".

*4 Set up an internal surveillance system

*In Mussolini's Italy, in Nazi Germany, in communist East Germany, in
communist China - in every closed society - secret police spy on
ordinary people and encourage neighbours to spy on neighbours. The Stasi
needed to keep only a minority of East Germans under surveillance to
convince a majority that they themselves were being watched.

In 2005 and 2006, when James Risen and Eric Lichtblau wrote in the New
York Times about a secret state programme to wiretap citizens' phones,
read their emails and follow international financial transactions, it
became clear to ordinary Americans that they, too, could be under state

In closed societies, this surveillance is cast as being about "national
security"; the true function is to keep citizens docile and inhibit
their activism and dissent.

*5 Harass citizens' groups

*The fifth thing you do is related to step four - you infiltrate and
harass citizens' groups. It can be trivial: a church in Pasadena, whose
minister preached that Jesus was in favour of peace, found itself being
investigated by the Internal Revenue Service, while churches that got
Republicans out to vote, which is equally illegal under US tax law, have
been left alone.

Other harassment is more serious: the American Civil Liberties Union
reports that thousands of ordinary American anti-war, environmental and
other groups have been infiltrated by agents: a secret Pentagon database
includes more than four dozen peaceful anti-war meetings, rallies or
marches by American citizens in its category of 1,500 "suspicious
incidents". The equally secret Counterintelligence Field Activity (Cifa)
agency of the Department of Defense has been gathering information about
domestic organisations engaged in peaceful political activities: Cifa is
supposed to track "potential terrorist threats" as it watches ordinary
US citizen activists. A little-noticed new law has redefined activism
such as animal rights protests as "terrorism". So the definition of
"terrorist" slowly expands to include the opposition.

*6 Engage in arbitrary detention and release

*This scares people. It is a kind of cat-and-mouse game. Nicholas D
Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, the investigative reporters who wrote China
Wakes: the Struggle for the Soul of a Rising Power, describe
pro-democracy activists in China, such as Wei Jingsheng, being arrested
and released many times. In a closing or closed society there is a
"list" of dissidents and opposition leaders: you are targeted in this
way once you are on the list, and it is hard to get off the list.

In 2004, America's Transportation Security Administration confirmed that
it had a list of passengers who were targeted for security searches or
worse if they tried to fly. People who have found themselves on the
list? Two middle-aged women peace activists in San Francisco; liberal
Senator Edward Kennedy; a member of Venezuela's government - after
Venezuela's president had criticised Bush; and thousands of ordinary US

Professor Walter F Murphy is emeritus of Princeton University; he is one
of the foremost constitutional scholars in the nation and author of the
classic Constitutional Democracy. Murphy is also a decorated former
marine, and he is not even especially politically liberal. But on March
1 this year, he was denied a boarding pass at Newark, "because I was on
the Terrorist Watch list".

"Have you been in any peace marches? We ban a lot of people from flying
because of that," asked the airline employee.

"I explained," said Murphy, "that I had not so marched but had, in
September 2006, given a lecture at Princeton, televised and put on the
web, highly critical of George Bush for his many violations of the

"That'll do it," the man said.

Anti-war marcher? Potential terrorist. Support the constitution?
Potential terrorist. History shows that the categories of "enemy of the
people" tend to expand ever deeper into civil life.

James Yee, a US citizen, was the Muslim chaplain at Guantánamo who was
accused of mishandling classified documents. He was harassed by the US
military before the charges against him were dropped. Yee has been
detained and released several times. He is still of interest.

Brandon Mayfield, a US citizen and lawyer in Oregon, was mistakenly
identified as a possible terrorist. His house was secretly broken into
and his computer seized. Though he is innocent of the accusation against
him, he is still on the list.

It is a standard practice of fascist societies that once you are on the
list, you can't get off.

*7 Target key individuals

*Threaten civil servants, artists and academics with job loss if they
don't toe the line. Mussolini went after the rectors of state
universities who did not conform to the fascist line; so did Joseph
Goebbels, who purged academics who were not pro-Nazi; so did Chile's
Augusto Pinochet; so does the Chinese communist Politburo in punishing
pro-democracy students and professors.

Academe is a tinderbox of activism, so those seeking a fascist shift
punish academics and students with professional loss if they do not
"coordinate", in Goebbels' term, ideologically. Since civil servants are
the sector of society most vulnerable to being fired by a given regime,
they are also a group that fascists typically "coordinate" early on: the
Reich Law for the Re-establishment of a Professional Civil Service was
passed on April 7 1933.

Bush supporters in state legislatures in several states put pressure on
regents at state universities to penalise or fire academics who have
been critical of the administration. As for civil servants, the Bush
administration has derailed the career of one military lawyer who spoke
up for fair trials for detainees, while an administration official
publicly intimidated the law firms that represent detainees pro bono by
threatening to call for their major corporate clients to boycott them.

Elsewhere, a CIA contract worker who said in a closed blog that
"waterboarding is torture" was stripped of the security clearance she
needed in order to do her job.

Most recently, the administration purged eight US attorneys for what
looks like insufficient political loyalty. When Goebbels purged the
civil service in April 1933, attorneys were "coordinated" too, a step
that eased the way of the increasingly brutal laws to follow.

*8 Control the press

*Italy in the 1920s, Germany in the 30s, East Germany in the 50s,
Czechoslovakia in the 60s, the Latin American dictatorships in the 70s,
China in the 80s and 90s - all dictatorships and would-be dictators
target newspapers and journalists. They threaten and harass them in more
open societies that they are seeking to close, and they arrest them and
worse in societies that have been closed already.

The Committee to Protect Journalists says arrests of US journalists are
at an all-time high: Josh Wolf (no relation), a blogger in San
Francisco, has been put in jail for a year for refusing to turn over
video of an anti-war demonstration; Homeland Security brought a criminal
complaint against reporter Greg Palast, claiming he threatened "critical
infrastructure" when he and a TV producer were filming victims of
Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana. Palast had written a bestseller critical
of the Bush administration.

Other reporters and writers have been punished in other ways. Joseph C
Wilson accused Bush, in a New York Times op-ed, of leading the country
to war on the basis of a false charge that Saddam Hussein had acquired
yellowcake uranium in Niger. His wife, Valerie Plame, was outed as a CIA
spy - a form of retaliation that ended her career.

Prosecution and job loss are nothing, though, compared with how the US
is treating journalists seeking to cover the conflict in Iraq in an
unbiased way. The Committee to Protect Journalists has documented
multiple accounts of the US military in Iraq firing upon or threatening
to fire upon unembedded (meaning independent) reporters and camera
operators from organisations ranging from al-Jazeera to the BBC. While
westerners may question the accounts by al-Jazeera, they should pay
attention to the accounts of reporters such as the BBC's Kate Adie. In
some cases reporters have been wounded or killed, including ITN's Terry
Lloyd in 2003. Both CBS and the Associated Press in Iraq had staff
members seized by the US military and taken to violent prisons; the news
organisations were unable to see the evidence against their staffers.

Over time in closing societies, real news is supplanted by fake news and
false documents. Pinochet showed Chilean citizens falsified documents to
back up his claim that terrorists had been about to attack the nation.
The yellowcake charge, too, was based on forged papers.

You won't have a shutdown of news in modern America - it is not
possible. But you can have, as Frank Rich and Sidney Blumenthal have
pointed out, a steady stream of lies polluting the news well. What you
already have is a White House directing a stream of false information
that is so relentless that it is increasingly hard to sort out truth
from untruth. In a fascist system, it's not the lies that count but the
muddying. When citizens can't tell real news from fake, they give up
their demands for accountability bit by bit.

*9 Dissent equals treason

*Cast dissent as "treason" and criticism as "espionage'. Every closing
society does this, just as it elaborates laws that increasingly
criminalise certain kinds of speech and expand the definition of "spy"
and "traitor". When Bill Keller, the publisher of the New York Times,
ran the Lichtblau/Risen stories, Bush called the Times' leaking of
classified information "disgraceful", while Republicans in Congress
called for Keller to be charged with treason, and rightwing commentators
and news outlets kept up the "treason" drumbeat. Some commentators, as
Conason noted, reminded readers smugly that one penalty for violating
the Espionage Act is execution.

Conason is right to note how serious a threat that attack represented.
It is also important to recall that the 1938 Moscow show trial accused
the editor of Izvestia, Nikolai Bukharin, of treason; Bukharin was, in
fact, executed. And it is important to remind Americans that when the
1917 Espionage Act was last widely invoked, during the infamous 1919
Palmer Raids, leftist activists were arrested without warrants in
sweeping roundups, kept in jail for up to five months, and "beaten,
starved, suffocated, tortured and threatened with death", according to
the historian Myra MacPherson. After that, dissent was muted in America
for a decade.

In Stalin's Soviet Union, dissidents were "enemies of the people".
National Socialists called those who supported Weimar democracy
"November traitors".

And here is where the circle closes: most Americans do not realise that
since September of last year - when Congress wrongly, foolishly, passed
the Military Commissions Act of 2006 - the president has the power to
call any US citizen an "enemy combatant". He has the power to define
what "enemy combatant" means. The president can also delegate to anyone
he chooses in the executive branch the right to define "enemy combatant"
any way he or she wants and then seize Americans accordingly.

Even if you or I are American citizens, even if we turn out to be
completely innocent of what he has accused us of doing, he has the power
to have us seized as we are changing planes at Newark tomorrow, or have
us taken with a knock on the door; ship you or me to a navy brig; and
keep you or me in isolation, possibly for months, while awaiting trial.
(Prolonged isolation, as psychiatrists know, triggers psychosis in
otherwise mentally healthy prisoners. That is why Stalin's gulag had an
isolation cell, like Guantánamo's, in every satellite prison. Camp 6,
the newest, most brutal facility at Guantánamo, is all isolation cells.)

We US citizens will get a trial eventually - for now. But legal rights
activists at the Center for Constitutional Rights say that the Bush
administration is trying increasingly aggressively to find ways to get
around giving even US citizens fair trials. "Enemy combatant" is a
status offence - it is not even something you have to have done. "We
have absolutely moved over into a preventive detention model - you look
like you could do something bad, you might do something bad, so we're
going to hold you," says a spokeswoman of the CCR.

Most Americans surely do not get this yet. No wonder: it is hard to
believe, even though it is true. In every closing society, at a certain
point there are some high-profile arrests - usually of opposition
leaders, clergy and journalists. Then everything goes quiet. After those
arrests, there are still newspapers, courts, TV and radio, and the
facades of a civil society. There just isn't real dissent. There just
isn't freedom. If you look at history, just before those arrests is
where we are now.

*10 Suspend the rule of law

*The John Warner Defense Authorization Act of 2007 gave the president
new powers over the national guard. This means that in a national
emergency - which the president now has enhanced powers to declare - he
can send Michigan's militia to enforce a state of emergency that he has
declared in Oregon, over the objections of the state's governor and its

Even as Americans were focused on Britney Spears's meltdown and the
question of who fathered Anna Nicole's baby, the New York Times
editorialised about this shift: "A disturbing recent phenomenon in
Washington is that laws that strike to the heart of American democracy
have been passed in the dead of night ... Beyond actual insurrection,
the president may now use military troops as a domestic police force in
response to a natural disaster, a disease outbreak, terrorist attack or
any 'other condition'."

Critics see this as a clear violation of the Posse Comitatus Act - which
was meant to restrain the federal government from using the military for
domestic law enforcement. The Democratic senator Patrick Leahy says the
bill encourages a president to declare federal martial law. It also
violates the very reason the founders set up our system of government as
they did: having seen citizens bullied by a monarch's soldiers, the
founders were terrified of exactly this kind of concentration of
militias' power over American people in the hands of an oppressive
executive or faction.

*Of course, the United States is not vulnerable* to the violent, total
closing-down of the system that followed Mussolini's march on Rome or
Hitler's roundup of political prisoners. Our democratic habits are too
resilient, and our military and judiciary too independent, for any kind
of scenario like that.

Rather, as other critics are noting, our experiment in democracy could
be closed down by a process of erosion.

It is a mistake to think that early in a fascist shift you see the
profile of barbed wire against the sky. In the early days, things look
normal on the surface; peasants were celebrating harvest festivals in
Calabria in 1922; people were shopping and going to the movies in Berlin
in 1931. Early on, as WH Auden put it, the horror is always elsewhere -
while someone is being tortured, children are skating, ships are
sailing: "dogs go on with their doggy life ... How everything turns
away/ Quite leisurely from the disaster."

As Americans turn away quite leisurely, keeping tuned to internet
shopping and American Idol, the foundations of democracy are being
fatally corroded. Something has changed profoundly that weakens us
unprecedentedly: our democratic traditions, independent judiciary and
free press do their work today in a context in which we are "at war" in
a "long war" - a war without end, on a battlefield described as the
globe, in a context that gives the president - without US citizens
realising it yet - the power over US citizens of freedom or long
solitary incarceration, on his say-so alone.

That means a hollowness has been expanding under the foundation of all
these still- free-looking institutions - and this foundation can give
way under certain kinds of pressure. To prevent such an outcome, we have
to think about the "what ifs".

What if, in a year and a half, there is another attack - say, God
forbid, a dirty bomb? The executive can declare a state of emergency.
History shows that any leader, of any party, will be tempted to maintain
emergency powers after the crisis has passed. With the gutting of
traditional checks and balances, we are no less endangered by a
President Hillary than by a President Giuliani - because any executive
will be tempted to enforce his or her will through edict rather than the
arduous, uncertain process of democratic negotiation and compromise.

What if the publisher of a major US newspaper were charged with treason
or espionage, as a rightwing effort seemed to threaten Keller with last
year? What if he or she got 10 years in jail? What would the newspapers
look like the next day? Judging from history, they would not cease
publishing; but they would suddenly be very polite.

Right now, only a handful of patriots are trying to hold back the tide
of tyranny for the rest of us - staff at the Center for Constitutional
Rights, who faced death threats for representing the detainees yet
persisted all the way to the Supreme Court; activists at the American
Civil Liberties Union; and prominent conservatives trying to roll back
the corrosive new laws, under the banner of a new group called the
American Freedom Agenda. This small, disparate collection of people
needs everybody's help, including that of Europeans and others
internationally who are willing to put pressure on the administration
because they can see what a US unrestrained by real democracy at home
can mean for the rest of the world.

We need to look at history and face the "what ifs". For if we keep going
down this road, the "end of America" could come for each of us in a
different way, at a different moment; each of us might have a different
moment when we feel forced to look back and think: that is how it was
before - and this is the way it is now.

"The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary,
in the same hands ... is the definition of tyranny," wrote James
Madison. We still have the choice to stop going down this road; we can
stand our ground and fight for our nation, and take up the banner the
founders asked us to carry.
Guardian Unlimited © Guardian News and Media Limited 2007

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