As nightfall does not come all at once, neither does oppression. In both instances, there is a twilight when everything remains seemingly unchanged. And it is in such a twilight that we all must be aware of change in the air—however slight—lest we become unwilling victims of the darkness. ~Justice William O. Douglas~
In April, 2007 I was pleasantly surprised to find Naomi Wolf’s article, “Fascist America, In 10 Easy Steps” posted in several places online. I have been a fan of Wolf for many years, greatly appreciating her works and especially her 1991 book, The Beauty Myth. I had been looking for a list—or more specifically, an encyclopedia of the losses of civil liberties in the United States that might clarify for my history students the extent to which America has become a fascist empire. Wolf’s “10 Easy Steps” was perfect, but her just-published book, The End Of America: Letter Of Warning To A Young Patriot, from which the 10 easy steps was compiled, offers an even fuller picture—a succinct and engaging explanation of how our civil liberties have been hijacked in the past decade. It is the most poignant, powerful, genuinely patriotic piece of literature I have encountered since Thomas Paine’s Common Sense. No wonder then, that the book’s cover greatly resembles that 46-page tract by Paine written in 1775—as well it should.
One of the most frightening realities of teaching college history is that most students rarely have a clue what fascism is. They know about Hitler and the extermination of Jews, but they see little connection with Nazi rule in the 1930s and 40s and the current political milieu in the United States. Overwhelmingly, they cannot define fascism, nor can they define socialism or democracy. After all, they were pre-occupied during grammar school with becoming standardized human beings by way of taking standardized “No Child’s Behind Left” tests, five hours a day, four days a week. So why would they know the definitions of fascism, socialism or democracy?
Refreshingly, Wolf is not shy about using the term fascism and lets the reader know why. “I have made a deliberate choice in using the terms fascist tactics and fascist shift when I describe some events in America now. I stand by my choice. I am not being heated or even rhetorical; I am being technical.” (20) She explains that where Americans tend to see the various political “isms” as all-or-nothing, that perception is often inaccurate because of what she calls a “range of authoritarian regimes, dictatorships, and varieties of Fascist states…there are many shades of gray on the spectrum from an open to a closed society.” (20)
Wolf also emphasizes that America has flirted with fascism openly in the 1930s when numerous corporations and robber barons helped finance Hitler and when as Edwin Black notes in IBM And The Holocaust, some American corporations assisted the Nazi regime in carrying out its “final solution” to the “Jewish problem.” In fact, several of these corporate tycoons attempted to stage a coup d’ etat to overthrow Franklin Roosevelt in 1933 and restructure the American government under fascist control. A thorough investigation of American politics and society from the end of the Civil War until the present moment reveals, as I have carefully traced in my book U.S. History Uncensored: What Your High School Textbook Didn’t Tell You, that much of recent American history is replete with a preference on the part of corporations and the politicians they own for an economic and political system on the far right end of the spectrum. In fact, resistance to fascism in the United States has been an arduous and daunting struggle for those who have been able to understand and oppose the appeal that fascism has to the corporatocracy, and in fact, take seriously Mussolini’s fundamental definition of fascism: “Fascism should more properly be called corporatism because it is the merger of state and corporate power.”
As an historian who views American history as the complex unfolding of events that it is, I feel invigorated upon hearing someone like Wolf—especially the Wolf of feminist Beauty Myth fame—part company with the presentation of the Founders as “dead white men” inwardly tormented by various hypocrisies, such as the ownership of slaves and the subordination of women. Yes, Jefferson owned slaves and fathered six children by one of them, but what gets lost in that drama and other colorful stories of the Founders is that they were also thinking, speaking, and writing highly subversive thoughts. “You are not taught,” says Wolf, that “these men and women were radicals for liberty; that they had a vision of equality that was a slap in the face of what the rest of their world understood to be the unchanging, God-given order of nations; and that they were wiling to die to make that desperate vision into a reality for people like us, whom they would never live to see.” (27) I do not wish to romanticize the Founders and their generation living in a milieu replete with racism, misogyny, and classism, but neither will I throw their achievements out with the bathwater of political correctness, nor is Wolf willing to do so in her examination of them.
In the “10 easy steps” outlined by Wolf, countries move from open to closed and repressive societies by devolving past certain markers, and Wolf makes a powerful case for the way in which the United States is following a similar pattern without any significant deviation. In each instance she compares and contrasts how America’s adherence to the pattern compares or contrasts with the pattern in pre-World War II Germany. The 10 steps are:
- Invoking an external and internal threat
- Establishing secret prisons
- Developing a paramilitary force
- Surveiling ordinary citizens
- Infiltrating citizens’ groups
- Arbitrarily detaining and releasing citizens
- Targeting key individuals
- Restricting the press
- Casting criticism as “espionage” and dissent as “treason”
- Subverting the rule of law
As noted in the quote from Justice Douglas above, the fascist shift is a protracted process; it never happens overnight, and in U.S. History Uncensored, I offer an historical narrative describing exactly how we have arrived where we are—at “the end of America”. Some aspects of the process were generated before the U.S. Civil War, but our recent history is nothing less than the story of the acceleration of the fascist agenda and the death of the Republic.
Frequently, books come into our lives with momentous timing. Several weeks ago a friend of mine was traveling through a small town in upstate New York looking for the location of a meeting he was scheduled to attend. Realizing that he was lost, he spotted a police officer in a marked car and waived to the officer to pull over. The officer pulled over, and my friend innocently got out of his car to walk back to the officer’s car. Suddenly, the officer’s voice came blasting across a loud speaker, “Get back in the car! Stop where you are! Get back in the car!” My friend returned to his vehicle and waited for the officer to approach his driver’s side window. The officer, with a hand on his holstered firearm, angrily asked my friend what he wanted. When my friend asked him for directions, he replied with hostility that he didn’t know the location of the place for which my friend was searching and once again repeated, “Never get out of your car when you’re dealing with a police officer.” So much for asking directions from a police officer these days.
On another occasion, two friends of mine returning from Canada were detained at the U.S./Canadian border, and while one of them had a U.S. passport, the other had forgotten to bring his. He produced a variety of identification but was taken aside, questioned, shouted at, and harassed in an extremely hostile manner as if he were an enemy of the state. Fortunately, after over-the-top intimidation from a couple of surly customs officers, he was allowed to enter the U.S.
About three weeks ago I was returning from a routine visit to the dentist in Mexico and had a U.S. passport with me, even though none will be required for returning from Mexico until January, 2008. I was told by a very aggressive female customs agent to pull over to the center where vehicles are detained. I was ordered in a very hostile manner to give her my driver’s license and the keys to my vehicle and stay in my vehicle. When I asked what the problem was, I was told to be quiet and again, to stay in my vehicle. Having taught in Mexico for three years, returning to the U.S. every day and rarely having to show any identification whatsoever, I found this procedure to be astonishingly rigid and unnecessary. I have made many trips to Mexico in recent months and have never had any problem when the automatic photos that are taken of every license plate crossing the border appeared on U.S. Customs computer screens.
After what seemed like an eternity the female officer returned and told me that it appeared that I had had an expired vehicle registration four years ago which I had not taken care of and that I needed to do so at once. She gave me the name of the court where the offense was allegedly registered. The very next day I contacted the court and discovered that indeed I had been stopped four years ago for an expired registration for which I was given a warning. Every year since, I have purchased my annual registration well before the deadline, but the offense was never brought to my attention, and I even acquired a new driver’s license last year through the motor vehicles division and was not informed of the offense. Not wanting any further hassle regarding the “heinous crime” of having an expired registration four years ago, I agreed to pay the small fine imposed by the court.
Some readers may assume that I was harassed because of who I am and my open delivery of alternative news and opinions on this website daily. I, on the other hand, do not believe that this was “all about me.” Whether or not it was, it is blatantly obvious to me that the behavior of law enforcement in the United States has shifted dramatically in recent months. Whether or not I was targeted, which I sincerely doubt, this kind of treatment is becoming standard in law enforcement procedure throughout the United States.
And now fast-forward to yesterday, September 18, 2007, at Florida State University and the tasering of a student questioning John Kerry regarding the 2004 elections and Kerry’s membership in Skull and Bones—an incident which has been viewed by millions on the internet and on mainstream TV news broadcasts. Writing of this debacle, Wolf’s article “A Shocking Moment For Society” appeared on various internet sites this morning, and in it she states:
There is a chapter in my new book, The End of America, entitled “Recast Criticism as ‘Espionage’ and Dissent as ‘Treason,’” that conveys why this moment is the horrific harbinger it is. I argue 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’ — even though the abuse was technically illegal. 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 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.
As I read Wolf’s latest article, I realized that despite my enormous admiration for her and The End Of America, there are a number of areas where I must disagree with her.
First, the only thing shocking to me about the University of Florida incident is that so many Americans are shocked that it happened. Last night I posted a communication to her mailing list regarding the incident from former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney who says:
No police officer should be in the business of denying Constitutional rights to anyone; I am particularly chagrined when it appears that a black police officer participated in this attack on an innocent student.
What is happening to us???? How much more will the people accept?? I was outraged as early as 2000 when Florida was stolen and the Democrats said nothing!!!! Now, innocent students get tasered just for asking questions.
What kind of US Senator do we have who can’t or won’t answer a question about his own election that affects all of us???
Wolf has given us a compendium of civil and Constitutional rights stolen from us during the past eight years of the Bush administration. If one understands this odyssey of oppression, then yesterday’s tasering of a questioning student makes perfect sense. I appreciate why Wolf used the word “shocking” in her most recent article, but I’d be willing to bet that she isn’t shocked at all—not after the extraordinary documentation she has given us in The End Of America. What I do believe she wishes to clarify is the intentionally traumatizing methodology of law enforcement to maintain social control.
Secondly, I must take issue with Wolf regarding her statement that “…we on the left must snap out of our ‘it’s-all-the-WTO-the-two-parties-are-the-same’ torpor…We have to reengage in an old-fashioned commitment to democratic action and believe once again in an old-fashioned notion of the Republic. We need to help lead a democracy movement in America like the ones that have toppled repressive regimes overseas.” (141)
Again, let’s fast forward not to yesterday, but today and the headline “Senate bars bill to restore detainee rights”—a decision which supports the Bush administration’s denial of habeas corpus to Guantanamo prisoners who want to challenge their imprisonment in court. Need we reiterate one more time that since the 2006 elections, the Democrats have done virtually nothing to end the occupation of Iraq? Need we watch the video one more time of John Kerry standing mute and statue-like on the University of Florida auditorium stage—saying or doing nothing as a student was tasered for asking him why he handed the 2004 election to George W. Bush? Does anyone seriously believe that in a world where fellow students applaud as police remove and taser a questioning student and do nothing to speak up against such an outrage that we will see a viable, effective “democracy movement in America like the ones that have toppled repressive regimes overseas”?
As for Wolf’s suggestion in today’s article that we “take to the streets”, the police state is preparing for that eventuality as well by letting us know that it has developed severely injuring electromagnetic crowd control technology that will dramatically limit how many and how often people can “take to the streets.” Welcome to full-spectrum “1984”.
I repeat: the police state is right here, right now!
Moreover, some pivotal factors that Wolf has not addressed are global energy depletion, climate change, and global economic meltdown which are exacerbating the fascist shift about which she so brilliantly writes and which will continue to embolden that shift as energy scarcity, climate chaos, and financial crises add fuel to the fires of terrorism that the ruling elite have so consciously and carefully incited and fanned throughout America. As American society continues to unravel, the fascist shift will escalate, and what is left of our civil liberties will further evaporate.
As for political parties, I prefer the definition offered by Mike Ruppert in “America: From Freedom To Fascism” in which he explains that the two major parties are like two crime families—the Genoveses and the Gambinos. They function like players in a crap game that feign opposition to each other, but when the chips are down, they will always unite to serve their common interests. (If the Iraq occupation is not a case in point, then I don’t know what is.) When we vote in presidential elections for corporately-owned candidates or “the lesser evil”, we are merely choosing between the two crime families, and even if one candidate were not a crime family member, our votes in the past two presidential elections, as Bev Harris has so astutely demonstrated, have been hacked. In the throes of the current, and I might add, rapidly-accelerating fascist shift, what evidence do we have for assuming that if there is an election in 2008, anything will be different? Tell me again, what’s the definition of insanity?
At this moment another Naomi comes to mind—Naomi Klein whose book Shock Doctrine I shall soon review on this site. In that work Klein documents one of the key strategies of fascist empires: shocking their citizens into submission in a variety of ways from widespread societal terrorism to the administering of electroshock therapy to individuals. What we witnessed at the University of Florida yesterday, and what we are likely to see more frequently in America, are deliberate shock tactics applied by law enforcement to citizens for the purpose of achieving massive social control.
Some of my students who are criminal justice majors tell me that the latest strategies now being taught to police officers are “shock doctrine” techniques which terrorize and intimidate civilians in order to control them. Law enforcement officers are no longer encouraged to “keep a cool head” but to “follow their own instincts” (which usually means their own internal, adrenaline-charged state of terror) and react with full force because it’s easier to apologize (or encounter a lawsuit) than to ask permission or risk being killed. Terrified people should not be wearing a badge and carrying a gun, and when they are, a fully terrorized society is guaranteed.
In spite of my disagreements with Naomi Wolf’s suggested solutions, I cannot recommend The End Of America enthusiastically enough. It is now a permanent part of my U.S. history curriculum and is an ideal tool not only for educators, but for parents who want to teach their children where all those civil liberties we used to have actually came from as well as how and why they are disappearing in the present moment.