by Naomi Wolf, October 31, 2008 10:30 AM
Picking up again from my journal from the front lines of the war against citizens —
Baltimore: we are here at the Baltimore Book Festival. Beautiful fall day, joyful crowds, stalls of booksellers, Baltimore's funky charm. In the Q and A afterwards, regarding the subject of surveillance, an audience member notes that the BALTIMORE BOOK FESTIVAL had been infiltrated and was under surveillance. This was reported and confirmed in the local press. I looked around at the elderly ladies dressed elegantly for the event, at the children running around in the sun, at the crowds at the stall next door who were celebrating the magical speaker and writer Cornel West and thought of how it worked for readers and writers behind the Iron Curtain. All these citizens interested in books: subversives.
San Francisco, the Century Club: a wonderful evening, many older people, many of them conservative, very concerned about what is happening to their nation. Afterwards a well-dressed, tall man comes to talk to me. He looks and speaks exactly like an affluent WASP businessman. 'I was a Democratic donor,' he said. 'Shortly after I gave a fundraiser, the FBI broke into my house. I was arrested and spent two years in Federal prison.' I did not get a chance to ask him what the charges were, but I asked him if I could interview him, if he would go on the record. He said he is afraid to because he is on parole and is just trying to forget those years as a prisoner. But he did add: 'There are labor camps now as part of the prison system.' This is something I had heard before: that certain prisons are being reorganized as formal work camps.
Berkeley: it has gotten to the point at which I just do not want to absorb some of what people are coming to tell me. And I don't have a newspaper behind me or a team of investigative reporters: I can't report these stories out as the New York Times can or the Wall Street Journal to assess if these are lone madmen telling me delusional tales or if they are whistleblowers trying to get the word out without jeopordizing themselves. This one I really did not want to hear: another perfectly ordinary-looking professional man in his forties — well-spoken, apparently well-educated — told me he was a computer engineer. He said he had been called to set up the computer network system for a facility near Bakersfield that he asserted was massive and that he identified as a FEMA camp. He said: 'I saw it: I was there. I saw the train cars with the shackles on the floor. They are white.' I told him no reporter could do anything with what he was claiming without his being willing to say it on the record or on background at least, and without a second source to confirm it. These camps have been rumored for years but there is no solid reporting documenting any rumors or dispelling them. He said he was now a US citizen but he had immigrated from another country and would not go on the record because he was scared about maintaining his immigration status.
Madman or concerned citizen? I cannot know. I want, of course, to believe he is suffering from a delusional disorder.
Back home, I check my email. A lovely young woman I had met in Chicago had told me, trembling, that she had protested at the RNC — she knew her group had been under surveillance, and a reporter for a New York area newspaper had confirmed to me that at the RNC he and other reporters had seen police officers who then reappeared dressed as protesters and infiltrated their groups. (I had asked him to go on the record and he refused.) The young woman said that she had come home a day or so later to find that her apartment had been broken into and nothing touched. She said she was very scared to come forward but would consider it. I asked her by email if she would go on the record — and I never got an email back.
New York again: I am interviewed by Michelangelo Signorile, the well-known journalist and commentator. He mentions that he was at the RNC and that agents that had no identification whatsoever were stopping cars, including his. He said they were in blue jumpsuits. He noted that they could have been Blackwater or even other foreign nationals, there was no way to know, and they were armed. He remarked very honestly — a point I have been trying to make for some time — that when faced with an armed man with no identifying marker, one is disinclined to resist his demand to search one's car — or to demand anything. I aked if I could quote him by name and he said sure.
I talked last night to a radio host in Portland, Oregon, one of the coolest and most laid-back of cities. She informs me that Vera Katz, the Democratic mayor, had sent Portland police to Israel to be trained in crowd control and that they had come back much more ready to engage in violent control of protesters. She described new police trucks that had officers or agents hanging off the back of them, like military trucks.
She said that the Oregonian had distributed the hate DVD inciting hostility against Muslims. In spite of many objections from readers and citizens, the paper was unmoved. They cited Free Speech, which is laudable. But I am certain the Oregonian would not distribute violently sexual (or even, perhaps, violently anti-Semitic) DVDs if asked to by an advertiser. I suggested she check with the publisher abut that and meanwhile urged her listeners to boycott their local newspapers' advertisers until there would be real investigative reporting of the First Brigade and other Constitutional issues.
Matthis Chareaux comes over to my house — the wonderful 24-year-old Afghanistan vet who refused to redeploy after five years' service to a war that he points out many members of Cngress say is illegal. He went to Congress and said he was not going because he could not obey an illegal order and he said, 'I will be in Brooklyn if you want to come arrest me.' For months he did not hear of any legal or other action against him. A few days ago he receivd a letter telling him he is facing a court-martial. Major David Antoon says that more deserters or soldiers who refuse to redeploy or resist 'stop-loss' orders are prosecuted than war criminals in this conflict. He tells me that his friend Nicholas Morgan is still in the hospital, having been trampled by police officers on horseback when the Iraq Vets against the War went to the last Presidential debate to ask why veterans' issues were not being addressed. You can send checks for Matthis' legal fees or Nicholas' medical bills to IVAW.org.
Matthis also tells me something I just do not want and am not psychologically prepared to hear. For a year now I have bee
by Naomi Wolf, October 29, 2008 5:11 PM
[Editor's Note: The following originally ran on the website Talking Points Memo
Our liberties are by no means safe and our status as a real constitutional Republic is beyond fragile. On October 1, 2008, President Bush deployed the First Brigade of the Third Infantry Division — three to four thousand battle-hardened warriors — to...somewhere in the United States. Their original stated mission according to Army Times was 'crowd control' and 'subduing unruly individuals.' They have lethal and nonlethal technologies and tanks. After some questions were raised — not, I note, by anyone in the mainstream media, which has bizarrely ignored this massive subversion of 200 years of our having been protected by the 1807 Insurrection Act and by 1879's Posse Comitatus from being policed at home by military forces — the Northcom PR people changed the stated goal of the mission to 'protecting communities affected by weapons of mass destruction.' Still, I would have thought, a story — and so thank the hundreds of citizens who are contacting me trying to find out more. For those commentators who do not yet think our liberties are at risk, I would direct their attention to the use of military forces as a source of intimidation of voters in a closely held election that is characteristic of closing societies around the world.
Just this past two or three weeks, the White House proposed a bailout bill with little oversight initially included, and passed one that has a provision that allows the IRS to turn your tax information over to other agencies without a warrant — forever. Again, this provision is buried so deep within the bailout bill that no media have reported the story. Last week on the website of our citizens' democracy movement we put up footage of brutal abuse of protesters at the RNC — and the mass arrest of ordinary American students and families sitting peacefully in the sun doing nothing at all — that only survived because the person who took the footage buried it in the ground before his arrest; police and unidentified agents confiscated the cameras and video equipment of other documenters or destroyed their digital images. And just two days ago a 24-year-old veteran of the Iraq war, who went with a group of fellow young vets to the Presidential debates to ask about why veterans' issues are not being addressed, was trampled so badly by a police officer on horseback who drove his horse into the crowd that he is still in the hospital; his young friend was at an event of mine trying to raise some money for his hospital bills.
Is this America?
And if this is not our America, whose job is it to lead us back onto the right path?
I would say that it is striking that so little of the discussion about "what is to be done" about the erosion of our liberties centers on what citizens from all walks of life can do rather than on what elites and formal national institutions can do. I would say that the crisis we face is exposing above all how severely corrupted many of our elite institutions are — from the mainstream press, which is not covering these stories, to the parties of the candidates who are not talking about wiretapping and torture. From the raters of financial products, exposed recently in the Utne reader as having known that they were overblowing the value of the products they endorsed because they derived profit from doing so, leading to the Ponzi-scheme collapse that is destroying ordinary Americans' life savings in a heartbeat.
The real salvation is going to come from citizens and not from the top of these ossified institutions. I have argued recently that citizens have been bombarded for thirty years now with a messaging about 'fake patriotism' to lead them to accept what I call 'fake democracy', which holds a smaller and smaller space for their leadership and their rights. Citizens then must learn, as we are teaching them to in our democracy movement, to create the media themselves by writing the op-eds, leaking stories to reporters, framing the news, doing radio and television, and documenting by blogging as citizen journalists. They must run for office themselves, hold the debates themselves at a town and city-wide level, rather than leaving the discussion to Fox News or CNN; they must learn to fundraise for their own nonprofits and political campaigns, start their own political movements, and expose government abuses themselves. They must come to the realization that a false left-right divide has been whipped up by vested interests—from think tanks and nonprofits to lobbyists and corporate media—to keep citizens diverted by inflated ideological warfare rather tan forming common cause against those very vested interests that would be threatened by a truly empowered citizenry whose partnership transcend party lines on issues of concern to all.
A truism going around grassroots communities of all kinds right now is that the thinking that got us into this mess is not going to be the thinking that gets us out of it. The solutions to this crisis wont be provided by the same entrenched leaders and elite institutions that have misled and manipulated the nation's citizens for so long; they will be provided, if they are to be provided at all, by the creativity and energy of ordinary Americans themselves — once they realize that it is pointless to wait for leadership; that the leadership they need will come from
by Naomi Wolf, September 21, 2007 10:37 AM
[Editor's Note: The following is the conclusion to Naomi Wolf's book The End of America
So it turns out we really are at war ? a long war, a global war, a war for our civilization.
It is a war to save our democracy.
Each one of us needs to enlist. We have no one to spare.
We need citizens from across the political spectrum to carry forward the Founders' banner together. Everyone can see this movement as expressing his or her most cherished values and will frame the effort according to his or her own subculture and language. Progressives may see this "American awakening" as a liberation or, at the least, as a campaign, while conservatives may well see the same movement as "conservative" in the truest sense ? a return to a stewardship of the Founders' vision. Surely "liberty" as the Founders understood it ? eighteenth-century Enlightenment liberty ? is the grounding of both classical conservative and classical liberal American values.
These diverse American citizens may even, in this movement, truly encounter their counterparts across the political spectrum and learn to talk to each other once again directly, as neighbors, interlocutors, and fellow patriots.
New surveillance technologies mean that today's patriots have some housekeeping to do before they can move forward effectively. This is not glamorous, but it is important to address.
Before I wrote this book, I asked an accountant to comb my tax returns, my employer records, and so on, and to identify anything that could be used against me or distorted. This process of turning an "opposition research" eye on oneself or one's organization before speaking out will have to become more common. If we are under surveillance as a nation, citizens are freer if they have disclosed their secrets to loved ones and gone over their records with a critical eye. Those in the public eye who are afraid to be forceful in opposition because of a secret they want to keep had better talk to their families or their constituencies, or their lawyers and accountants, painful as that may be in the short term. You can't ï¬ght this ï¬ght in earnest unless there is nothing left with which to blackmail you.
Some Americans, especially civil servants and members of the military, risk losing their jobs if they take up the patriot's task and speak out, or they may even risk prosecution.
Most of the rest of us? We must be willing to experience personal smears, and possibly the exposure of our secrets. Having accepted that, we all need to act and speak with courage and passion: parents, teenagers, union members, corporate leaders; the principled men and women of the military; the men and women of the FBI, CIA, and Secret Service who did not commit their lives to advance values that are un-American; those of the police forces and the National Guard who did not sign up for duty in order to suppress American rights. We need the powerful conservative Christian movement ? who may recall that their own hero was a political prisoner seized by a powerful state, convicted without a trial, and tortured by military who were just doing their jobs ? and we need the powerful environmental movement. We need to hold house parties, set up town halls, convene our neighbors, pass out users' guides to the Constitution, overwhelm our representatives and the Presidential candidates with demands for them to restore the rule of law.
Finally, we must stand up directly to confront those who have committed crimes against the Constitution ? and hold them accountable, as the Founders trusted us to do.
Yesterday afternoon, I saw something amazing. I was trying to walk across Sixth Avenue with my little boy. But we had to pause, because dozens of colorfully dressed bicyclists ? men and women and children of all races and ages ? were streaming across the avenue.
It was an event organized by Critical Mass, the bike-riders' group; their goal was to show the power and beneï¬t of tens of thousands of bike riders using city streets. I knew about this group because the Bloomberg administration had used similar Critical Mass bike rallies as a pretext to pass new laws to restrict citizens' assembly.
There were so many of them. My son and I waited, transï¬xed, but the numbers did not diminish: Thousands of Americans, no two of them alike, sped past us, exulting in freedom ? and simply enjoying the sunshine of the day.
The power of all these Americans ? moving separately yet in unison ? seemed to me like the opposite of the power of the frightened and frightening masses I had been studying.
How mighty this current of citizens seemed to be once they had chosen a direction.
Bullies are cowards: Time and again, when people have awakened to danger and risen together to confront those who have sought to oppress them, citizens in their thousands have crumbled walls and broken open massive prisons. In our own nation, in times of eclipse, patriots have become rebels again and said: "No; the nation is not going down, not on my watch."
When that happens, there is no power that can hold these patriots back.
I hope this emboldens you.
New York City
by Naomi Wolf, September 20, 2007 10:48 AM
Today I have to address something that is very hard to face.
I have written about the blueprint for fascism, and about the fact that there are ten classic steps to closing down a democracy. I have to note with sorrow and alarm the fact that we are now in a time period that also has historical foreshadowings: just as people begin to wake up to the real danger to society and to start to put the pieces together, those who are seeking the crackdown begin to escalate the assaults on democracy and make them more shocking. You saw this in Italy in the 1920s and Germany in 1931?33 as well. This period is truly a dual race against time ? the leaders seeking to shock and disorient a population before they can mobilize effective resistance, and the population struggling to 'get it' in time to take appropriate action. Unfortunately, historically, the leaders in question have the tactical advantage. (There are exceptions but they are based on citizens waking up in time; Pakistanis, for instance, who were alert to the classic warning signs of such a shift ? hello America, the effort to put cronies in positions of power in the legal system and the judiciary, and the push to criminalize speech ? just pushed back aggressively as their own martial crackdown started to unfold and Musharraf is now on the defensive).
When I was researching the book, the general principles that leapt off the pages of history, about how leaders crush an open civil society, were alarming enough. Knowing 'the blueprint' was shocking as I looked around at what was unfolding in America, because it was so predictive. From reading German history, which shows how a 'fascist shift' is engineered by expanding the definition of 'terrorist' increasingly to include citizens that look more like you and me (a tactic imitated by Stalin, the East German Stasi, the Chinese Politburo and now the Egyptians, who are referencing the Patriot Act as they round up opposition leaders and put them in jail) one could tell in fall of 2006, when laws were passed to make Animal Liberation type action against property a form of 'terrorism,' that environmentalists would start to be targeted and tried as terrorists ? which actually happened by March of the next year.
From reading the memoirs of ordinary German citizens such as Victor Klemperer, a French Literature professor, and Count Harry Kessler, you would know that the dismantling of constitutional protections for free speech and other civil liberties by the German Parliament, even before Hitler was Chancellor, led within two years to scenes like the one we saw in Florida this week. Kessler and Klemperer both write movingly about being in a lecture hall in the early days of a fascist ascendancy ? when all is still nominally a working democracy ? and seeing someone stand up, ask a unacceptable question, be surrounded by thugs and dragged out of the hall. And everyone else ? all good citizens ? tolerant, educated, inclusive, progressive ? sat absolutely still in their seats, just as the audience did in Florida this week. Count Kessler describes his urbane, liberal circle saying just the kinds of things we are saying now: these people are criminals ? surely they will be a flash in the pan ? the system will right itself ? this can't get any worse. Klemperer also describes the hush that descends in his university classroom after such scenes start to play out; he, a Jew, is still teaching ? but his students think twice before asking certain questions, just as students in Gainesville are likely now to think twice.
From reading history, one could predict with absolute certainty that within two years of citizens accepting laws that permit the suspension of habeas corpus and the abuse of prisoners by the State, that the State would start to hurt people at home. (I challenge readers to name a single society that has created a network of secret prisons where torture takes place ? that then did NOT eventually use force against dissidents, opposition leaders and other members of civil society at home).
So those predictive elements of 'the blueprint' are bad enough. But these are still generalizations ? you can intellectualize them away. What really set me aback profoundly, though ? actually setting my hair on end at times ? was what I have come to call 'historical fingerprints.' These are the moments when the small details of events in fascist crackdowns of the past are so directly echoed by small details ? signature details ? of events in the present that it is very hard to avoid the hypothesis that someone influential in this administration has rather brilliantly studied history ? not just the politics and tactics of fascism but its culture and imagery and language ? and is reusing what has been shown to work.
The National Socialists introduced the term 'Heimat' ? Homeland. The Bush administration introduced the term 'Homeland,' as in 'Homeland Security,' to take the place of the more neutral 'Domestic' or 'Internal.'
Stalin coined the hyped notion of what he called 'sleepers' or 'sleeper cells' ? these were purported to be secret terrorist agents of global capitalism who would pretend to be good Soviet citizens, perhaps for years, but who would rise up at a signal to wreak mass havoc on Soviet society. By 2002 the White House introduced the term 'sleeper cells,' which was not in common usage in America.
Joseph Goebbels pioneered the 'embedding' of reporters with military troops as a way to support favorable coverage; William Shirer was embedded with German troops in the invasion of France and Nazi filmmaker Leni von Riefenstahl was embedded with German troops in Poland.
Early on, Hitler sought legislation that retroactively protected the SS from war crimes. This was a major step to opening the door to the violence against German citizens that followed. The Bush administration has sought to shield its violent interrogators retrospectively from being charged with war crimes.
Lenin set up military tribunals that bypassed the judiciary. Mussolini imitated this and did the same. Stalin imitated Mussolini and set up secretive military tribunals that bypassed the established judiciary. The National Socialists created the 'People's Courts' that bypassed the legitimate judiciary. These courts stripped prisoners of habeas corpus and were characterized by prisoners having no right of appeal.
Stalin pioneered the use of sleep deprivation, extremes of hot and cold, standing (or 'stress') positions, psychological humiliation, the use of dogs, and a separate facility to punish uncooperative prisoners in the Gulag with prolonged isolation. Guantanamo and US-held Iraqi prisons reproduce the same tactics. (By the way, after a few days in a 'standing position,' which you recall Donald Rumsfeld supported, innocent prisoners in the Gulag would 'sign anything.')
Nazi propaganda claimed that Jews hid from arrest in 'mouseholes.' When the scene of Saddam Hussein's capture was presented to the world, talking points, widely picked up by the media, introduced, again, a term that was generally unfamiliar in the US: Hussein had been hiding in what they
by Naomi Wolf, September 19, 2007 11:57 AM
I wrote earlier here about the ten steps to a closed society
? what I call a 'fascist shift.' I use that term advisedly ? and conservatively ? to mean the point at which the state starts to use force against citizens in a targeted effort to close down democratic processes.
The third step in the shift to a closed society is to 'Develop a Paramilitary Force.' Without a paramilitary force that is not answerable to the people's representatives, democracy cannot be closed down; however, with such a force available to would-be despots, democracy can be drastically and quickly weakened. Every effective despot ? from Mussolini to Hitler, Stalin, the members of the Chinese Politburo, General Augusto Pinochet and the many Latin American dictators who learned from these models of controlling citizens ? has used this essential means to pressure civilians and intimidate dissent. Mussolini was the innovator in the use of thugs to intimidate what was a democracy, if a fragile one, before he actually marched on Rome; he developed the strategic deployment of blackshirts to beat up communists and opposition leaders, trash newspapers and turn on civilians, forcing ordinary Italians, for instance, to ingest emetics. Hitler studied Mussolini (just as Stalin studied Hitler and later despots studied these supreme dictators); he deployed thugs ? in the form of brownshirts ? in similar ways before he came formally to power.
In today's news, the government of Iraq has confronted the hired guns of Blackwater, the North Carolina-based mercenary force that has close ties to Halliburton. According to Iraqi witnesses, these contractors fired on civilians when a car did not obey a command to stop; a civilian couple and their baby were killed. The Iraqi government claims that this is the seventh such incident. Blackwater representatives strongly contest these eyewitness accounts and claim that insurgents opened fire on a convoy the contractors were protecting. Iraqis are distressed that Paul Bremer's 'Order 17' gives these private contractors ? of whom, at the peak of the war, there were over a hundred thousand in Iraq ? immunity from prosecution from what would otherwise be war crimes. (This tactic has strong historical precedents: the National Socialists sought laws shielding their own paramilitary from prosecution for war crimes.) Blackwater contractors in Iraq are a law, essentially, unto themselves.
Apart from the moral issue ? and the fact, little discussed in the US, that abuses of Iraqi civilians by such contractors feeds the insurgency and jeopardizes our troops ? why should this matter to us here at home? Believe it or not, if the Iraqi government does succeed in suspending Blackwater's operatives, they will have more say in reining in this paramilitary force than we do right now in the US. Blackwater's business model seeks to expand its operations on US soil.
What is Blackwater? According to reporter Jeremy Scahill, the firm has 2,300 private soldiers deployed in nine countries, and maintains a database of an additional 21,000 to call upon at any time. Blackwater has over '$500 million in government contracts ? and that does not include its secret "black" budget...' One congressman pointed out that in terms of its manpower, Blackwater can overthrow 'many of the world's governments.' Recuiters for the company seek out former military from countries that have horrific human rights abuses and use secret police and paramilitary forces to terrify their own populations: Chileans, Peruvians, Nigerians, and Salvadorans.
Blackwater is coming home to Main Street, and one of our key constitutional protections is at stake. The future for growth is directed at increased deplyment in the US in cases of natural disaster ? or in the event of a 'public emergency.' This is a very dangerous situation, of course, now that laws have been passed that let the President decide on his say-so alone what a 'public emergency' might be.
The Department of Homeland Security hired these same Blackwater contractors to patrol the streets of New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina ? for a contract valued at about $73 million. Does Blackwater's reputation for careless violence against civilians in Iraq, protected by legal indemnification, matter to us? Scahill reports at least one private contractor's accounts of other contractors' abrupt shooting in the direction of American civilians in the wake of Katrina: 'After that, all I heard was moaning and screaming, and the shooting stopped.'
How protected is Blackwater from prosecution for its crimes? The company's lawyers argue that Blackwater can't be held accountable by the Uniform Code of Military Justice, because they aren't part of the US military; but they can't be sued in civil court, either ? because they are part of the US military.
Does this affect the strength of our democracy? Look at how history shows thug groups have been directed at intimidating voters. Americans need to be reminded that both Italy before Mussolini and Germany before Hitler were working, if fragile, parliamentary democracies. Thugs were used in both countries to intimidate voters exercising their rights. Mussolini's fascists stood menacingly near voting booths to make sure citizens 'voted responsibly'; William Shirer wrote that the Austrians voted 99% in favor of their country''s annexation by Germany ? not surprising, he observed, since intimidating groups of brownshirts looked through a wide slit in the voting booth where the election committee did its work. The oddly specific scene of groups of identically dressed young men ? later identified as Republican staffers ? intimidatingly crowding and shouting at the vote counters in Florida in 2000 has strong historical precedents.
The Founders knew from their own experience of standing armies, responsive only to a tyrant, how dangerous such a situation was; King George's men ? armed with blanket warrants ? invaded the colonists' homes, trashed their possessions, and even raped Colonial women. It was that bitter experience that led them to insist on the second amendment ? 'a well regulated militia' that was responsive to the people and could not be deployed against the people of the United States by would-be despots. The founders knew that American tyranny was not only possible, it was likely, in the event of weakened checks and balances; and they knew a mercenary army was the advance guard of despots.
Blackwater is available to anyone who can write the checks. If there is a need to 'restore public order' in the next Presidential election ? a power that the President now can define as he sees fit ? Blackwater can be deployed. If the President declares an emergency, Blackwater can be deployed. And history shows us how very quickly citizen dissent and democratic processes close down when physically intimidating men ? who are armed and not answerable to the people ? are abroad in the land.
The unaccountable civilian deaths in Iraq should be a wake-up call to us here at home ? t
by Naomi Wolf, September 18, 2007 10:36 AM
Yesterday I wrote about the emergency our now-fragile republic faces as the Bush administration appears to be using the time-tested tactics of dictators
throughout the last century to close down an open society. I wrote yesterday about how we are one arrest away away from the 'after' in the 'before and after' of a closed society; the reasoning, you recall, is that the White House's position is that the President can designate anyone as an 'enemy combatant' ? you, me, the owners of your local bookstore or the head of your local antiwar or environmental group ? and lock you up in solitary confinement for months or years without ever filing charges. Notably, the Bush White House is proposing that the next Attorney General be the man who defended the legal position that the President can have this power over US citizens ? in the case of Padilla
. While Padilla is not a good guy, the precedent has been set and, as Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights, who represents the detainees, points out, it can now be used against you and me. It is profoundly dangerous that the man who upheld the President's authority to do this is now being presented as a moderate AG choice and could soon be in the position of enforcing the law of the land.
Today's news ? look at the front page of AOL ? shows a recognizable shock moment in the annals of a closing society. A very ordinary-looking American student was tasered by police when he asked a question of John Kerry about the impeachment of George Bush. His arms were pinned and as he tried to keep speaking he was shocked ? in spite of begging not to be hurt. A stunning piece of footage but unfortunately, historically, a very familiar and even tactical moment.
It is an iconic turning point and it will be remembered as the moment at which America either fought back or yielded. This violence against a student is different from violence against protesters in the anti-war movement of thirty years ago because of the power the President has now to imprison innocent US citizens for months in isolation. And because, as I have explained elsewhere, we are not now in a situation in which 'the pendulum' can easily swing back. That taser was directed at the body of a young man, but it is we ourselves, and our constitution, who received the full force of the shock.
Anyone who has read my chapter "Recast Criticism as 'Espionage' and Dissent as 'Treason'" will see this moment for the horrific harbinger it is. I argue in The End of America that strategists using historical models to close down an open society start by using force on 'undesirables,' 'aliens,' 'enemies of the state,' and those considered by mainstream civil society to be untouchable; in other times they were, of course, Jews, Gypsies, Communists, homosexuals. Then, once society has been acculturated to that use of force, the 'blurring of the line' begins and the parameters of criminalized speech are extended ? the definition of 'terrorist' expanded ? and the use of force begins to be deployed in HIGHLY VISIBLE, STRATEGIC and VISUALLY SHOCKING WAYS against people that others see and identify with as ordinary citizens. The first 'torture cellars' used by the SA, in Germany between 1931 and 1933 ? even before the National Socialists gained control of the state, during the years when Germany was still a parliamentary democracy ? were informal and widely publicized in the mainstream media. Few German citizens objected because those abused there were seen as 'other' ? and even though the abuse was technically illegal. Even in 1931 there were German human rights lawyers and activists who tried to speak up for the abused detainees. But then, after this escalation of the use of force was accepted by the population, students, journalists, opposition leaders, and clergy were similarly abused during their own arrests. Within six months dissent was stilled in Germany.
What is the lesson for us, from this, and from other, closing societies, some of them democracies? You can have a working Congress or Parliament; newspapers; human rights groups; even elections; but when ordinary people start to be hurt by the state for speaking out, dissent closes quickly and the shock chills opposition very, very fast. Once that happens democracy has been so weakened that major tactical and strategic incursions ? greater violations of democratic process ? are far more likely. If there is dissent about the vote in Florida in this next Presidential election ? and the police are tasering voters' rights groups ? we will still have an election.
What we will not have is liberty.
We have to understand what time it is. When the state (and it is notable to me that the student was harmed in Florida, Jeb Bush land, and that the violence happened to be so well lit and so effectively filmed ? dissent is crushed when people see and understand the penalties for dissent) starts to hurt people for asking questions, we can no longer operate on the leisurely time of a strong democracy ? the 'Oh gosh how awful!' kind of time. It is time to take to the streets. It is time to confront those committing crimes against the constitution. The window has now dropped several precipitous inches and once it is closed there is no opening it without great and sorrowful upheaval.
We also need to understand from history that the temptation at a moment like this to grow more quiet ? to stay out of the line of fire ? is the wrong choice by far. History shows categorically that if citizens do not stand up now to confront and imprison the abusers, things do not get safer ? they get much more dangerous for ordinary people, activist or not.
I was scared when I wrote The End of America ? personally scared because the blueprint I was tracing in the summer of 2006 showed clearly that protesters and critics would start to be hurt within the year. When I told a dear friend that I was scared, he gently reminded me of the history I was reading: he asked, will things be scarier for you and the ones you love if you speak up now ? or if you are silent?
We don't just need to speak up now. We need to act. It is time to rebel in the name of the flag and the
by Naomi Wolf, September 17, 2007 11:02 AM
Is it hyperbole to title a book The End of America
? Those of you who read the Huffington Post
may have seen excerpts there from the introduction of my new book of that title that is now out by Chelsea Green; the book argues that there are ten classic steps dictators or would-be dictators always take when they wish to close down an open society or crush a movement toward democracy ? and that each of these ten steps have been taken systematically in the US in the past six years. I argue in the book that, based on the models from history that show such clear, shocking parallels to the situation in the US today, we are much further along in this process than most of us realize ? and that the time for understanding and action is now.
The chapters show how recognizable these ten steps are. Whether the despot is operating in Italy in the '20s, Germany in the '30s, East Germany in the '50s, Czechoslovakia in the '60s, Chile in 1973 or China in the '80s, each of them reproduces 'the blueprint' to engineer a closed society. Would-be despots always:
â€¢ Invoke an internal and external threat (it can often be a hyped version ? as in the cases of Stalin and Pinochet ? of a real threat);
â€¢ Establish secret prisons outside the rule of law where torture takes place ? they often also create military tribunals;
â€¢ Establish a paramilitary force ? many of you are familiar with the rise of Blackwater, a powerful mercenary army that is now operating in US cities;
â€¢ Train a surveillance apparatus at ordinary citizens ? you know now that your emails, phone calls and bank records are open to scrutiny by the state;
â€¢ Arbitrarily detain and release citizens ? you may be familiar with the growth of the TSA watch list, and the fact that increasingly, American administration critics are being singled out for scrutiny or worse (see also today's paper about a blameless music teacher from Mills College who was seized and intimidated by the TSA before being told she could not reenter the United States where she had been living for years);
â€¢ Infiltrate and harass citizens' groups ? the ACLU has many lawsuits underway exposing the extent of the infiltration of your local peace or environmental group;
â€¢ Target key individuals ? civil society leaders begin to experience job setbacks, personal smears, retaliation of increasingly serious kinds as they stand up to the administration;
â€¢ Target the press ? I describe many suspicious cases of violence against non-embedded working journalists in Iraq, as well as more familiar domestic threats against reporters such as warnings that they will be prosecuted under the Espionage Act ? a law that, when it was last used widely, sent a generation of activists, editors and journalists to prison, where some were beaten, for crimes such as criticizing the war (it was at that time the Great War they were imprisoned for speaking against);
â€¢ Recast criticism as 'espionage' and dissent as 'treason' ? there is a major push right now to criminalize certain kinds of speaking out against the administration; it is disturbingly familiar to students of history to see language such as 'treason' resurface when politicians such as Mrs. Clinton criticize the war, and to hear drumbeats on the right to prosecute such people as Bill Keller, the executive editor of the New York Times, for treason ? the penalty for treason is execution. (The publisher of Isvestia was actually prosecuted for treason in the Third Moscow show trial ? and in fact executed);
â€¢ Make it easier to declare a state of emergency and martial law ? the 2007 Defense Authorization Act gives the President the power to declare a state of emergency on essentially his say-so alone ? and send in the National Guard to enforce emergency rule ? over the objections of governors of the various states.
We are at the point right now at which one arrest ? an editor prosecuted successfully under the Espionage Act, or an activist identified by the President as an 'enemy combatant' ? can close down our democracy precipitously. This is not an overstatement.
What is clear from looking at the examples of what I call the 'fascist shift' in other times and places is that once there is a certain point of pressure reached in terms of multiple assaults on a democracy, we have to understand that democracy can no longer heal democracy and a point arrives quickly at which there can be no turning back. We are close to that point. By the way, our nation's founders understood this innate fragility of democracy much better than we do; they set up our checks and balances as they did precisely because they had come from or their parents had fled repressive regimes; they knew beyond a doubt that a despot could arise in America to oppress Americans; and they realized without question that it is human nature to abuse power if power is unchecked. We need to reclaim their urgent sense of how difficult it is to sustain a democracy and how easy it is to close one down if we are to take action ? to lead a democracy movement here in America ? in time to essentially save our nation. There is no less than that at stake.
The historical record shows that these turning points are sudden once certain elements have been put into place. This morning I read in the New York Times about Nalini Ghuman, an assistant professor at Mills College in Oakland, California, who was taken to a room by the TSA, intimidated and told that if she moved she would be accused of trying to assault the agent questioning her. Having studied 'the blueprint' for The End of America, this saddened but did not shock me; it is simply part of the set of steps. Classically, when despots try to close down an open society, they begin their arrests or detentions with 'others' ? those considered alien, hostile, beyond the pale ? then move their harassment closer and closer to the kinds of people that you and I begin to identify with. What I am warning Americans about with great urgency and a sense of personal anxiety as these examples, that began in trickles as I began to write, start to cascade, is that it takes ONE such arrest of someone we identify with ? an editor, a journalist, a member of the political opposition ? to silence dissent. This blog I am writing now is part of the 'before' in a cl