The End of America

Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot

by Naomi Wolf

Chelsea Green Publishing, 2007, paperback


Americans expect to have freedom around us just as we expect to have air to breathe, so we have only limited understanding of the furnaces of repression that the Founders knew intimately. Few of us spend much time thinking about how "the system" they put in place protects our liberties. We spend even less time, considering how dictators in the past have broken down democracies or quelled prodemocracy uprisings. We take our American liberty for granted the way we take our natural resources for granted, seeing both, rather casually, as being magically self-replenishing. We have not noticed how vulnerable either resource is until very late in the game, when systems start to falter. We have been slow to learn that liberty, like nature, demands a relationship with us in order for it to continue to sustain us.

Most of us have only a faint understanding of how societies open up or close down, become supportive of freedom or ruled by fear, because this is not the kind of history that we feel, or that our educational system believes, is important for us to know. Another reason for our vagueness about how liberty lives or dies is that we have tended lately to subcontract out the tasks of the patriot: to let the professionals-Y'' scholars, activists, politicians-worry about understanding the Constitution and protecting our rights. We think that "they" should manage our rights, the way we hire a professional to do our taxes; "they" should run the government, create policy, worry about whether democracy is up and running. We're busy.

But the Founders did not mean for powerful men and women far away from the citizens-for people with their own agendas, or for a class of professionals-to perform the patriots' tasks, or to protect freedom. They meant for us to do it: you, me, the American who delivers your mail, the one who teaches your kids.

In 2002 the Bush administration created and named "Department of Homeland Security." White House spokespeople started to refer to the United States, unprecedentedly, as "the Homeland."' American Presidents have before now referred to the United States as "the nation" or "the Republic," and to the nation's internal policies as "domestic."

By 1930 Nazi propagandists referred to Germany not as "the nation" or "the Republic"-which it was-but rather as "the Heimat "-"the Homeland ...

At times in our own history our commitment to freedom has faltered. The Alien and Sedition Act of 1798 made it a crime for Americans to speak critically- to "bring into contempt or disrepute"-of then-President John Adams and other U.S. leaders. But Thomas Jefferson pardoned those convicted under these laws when he took office.

During the Civil War, President Lincoln suspended habeas corpus, effectively declaring martial law in several states: Close to 38,000 Americans were imprisoned by military authorities during the war-many for simply expressing their views. But when the war ended in 1865, the Supreme Court ruled that it had been unconstitutional for military tribunals to try civilians.

In 1918, labor leader Eugene Debs was arrested for giving a speech about the First Amendment; he got a ten-year jail sentence. Raids swept up hundreds of other activists." But after World War I ended, the hysteria subsided.

During World War II, the justice Department rounded up 110,000 innocent Japanese-Americans and imprisoned them in camps. When the war was over, these innocent Americans were released as well.

Anti-communist anxiety led the nation to tolerate the McCarthy hearings; but the pendulum swung back and Senator Joe McCarthy himself was condemned by his colleagues.

... In America, up until now, the basic checks and balances established by the Founders have functioned so well that the pendulum has always managed to swing back. Its very success has made us lazy. We trust it too much, without looking at what a pendulum requires in order to function: the stable framework that allows movement; space in which to move; that is, liberty. The pendulum cannot work now as it has before. There are now two major differences between these past examples of the pendulum's motion and the situation we face today. First, as Bruce Fein of the American Freedom Agenda and writer Joe Conason have both noted, previous wars and emergencies have had endpoints. But President Bush has defined the current conflict with global terrorism as being open-ended. This is a permanent alteration of the constitutional landscape.

The other difference between these examples and today is that when prior dark times unfolded in America, we forbade torture, and the rule of law was intact. Legal torture, as you will see, acting in concert with the erosion of the rule of law, changes what is possible.

Everything changed in America in September of 2006, when Congress passed the Military Commissions Act." This law created a new legal reality that heralds the end of America if we do not take action. Yet most Americans still do not understand what happened to them when that law passed.

This law gives the president-any president-the authority to establish a separate justice system for trying alien unlawfiul enemy combatants. It defines both "torture" and "materially support[ing] hostilities" broadly. The MCA justice system lacks the basic protections afforded defendants in our domestic system of laws, in our military justice system, or in the system of laws used to try war criminals-Nazi leaders got better civil liberty protection than alien enemy combatants, as did perpetrators of genocide like Slobodan Milosovic. And persons accused by the president (or his designees) of being alien unlawful enemy combatants are forbidden from invoking the Geneva Conventions, a treaty that represents the basic protections of justice common to all civilized nations. The United States has signed the Geneva Conventions and agreed to abide by them, and this repudiation is a radical departure from our traditions. Under the MCA, the government can used "coerced" interrogation to obtain evidence. Finally, and perhaps most damagingly, the MCA denies unlawful alien enemy combatants the right to challenge the legitimacy of their confinement or treatment. So, while the MCA provides all sorts of rules that the military is supposed to follow, it will be difficult, if not impossible to hold anyone accountable for breaking those rules.

But this is not all. The president and his lawyers now claim the authority to designate any American citizen he chooses as being an "enemy combatant"; and to define both "torture" and "material support" broadly. They claim the authority to give anyone in the executive branch the power to knock on your door, seize you on the street, or grab you as you are changing planes at Newark or Atlanta airports; blindfold you and put earphones on you; take you to a cell in a navy prison; keep you in complete isolation for months or even years; delay your trial again and again; and make it hard for you to communicate with your lawyer. The president claims the authority to direct agents to threaten you in interrogations and allow into your trial things you confessed to while you were being mistreated.

The president claims the authority to do any of those things to any American citizen now on his say-so alone. Let me repeat this: The president asserts that he can do this to you even if you have never committed a crime of any kind: "enemy combatant" is a status offense. Meaning that if the president says you are one, then you are.

John Adams letter to Abigail Adams, July 7,1775

But a constitution of government, once changed from freedom, can never be restored. Liberty, once lost, is lost forever.

... historians focus on how populations in fascist or totalitarian systems adapt to fear through complicity: In this view, when a minority of citizens is terrorized and persecuted, a majority live out fairly normal lives by stifling dissent within themselves and going along quietly with the state's acts of violent repression. The authors of an oral history of Nazi Germany point out that, though it may sound shocking, fascist regimes can be "quite popular" for the people who are not being terrorized.

Both perspectives are relevant here: Top-down edicts generate fear, but when citizens turn a blind eye to state-sanctioned atrocities committed against others, so long as they believe themselves to be safe, a fascist reality has fertile ground in which to take root.

Huey Long (attributed)

When America gets fascism it will be called anti-fascism.

We tend to think of American democracy as being somehow eternal, ever-renewable, and capable of withstanding all assaults. But the Founders would have thought we were dangerously naive, not to mention lazy, in thinking of democracy in this way. This view - which we see as patriotic - is the very opposite of the view that they held. They would not have considered our attitude patriotic - or even American. The Founders thought, in contrast, that it was tyranny that was eternal, ever-renewable, and capable of withstanding all assaults, whereas democracy was difficult, personally exacting, and vanishingly fragile.

John Adams

Fear is the foundation of most governments; but it is so sordid and brutal a passion, and renders men, in whose breasts it predominates, so stupid and miserable, that Americans will not be likely to approve of any political institution which is founded on it.

Hitler's Germany was no anarchic state: He used to law to legitimate virtually everything he did. Hitler often boasted that "We will overthrow Parliament in a legal way through legal means. Democracy will be overthrown with the tools of democracy." "I can say clearly," he announced at a Nuremberg rally in 1934, "that the basis of the National Socialist state is the National Socialist law code." He called Nazi Germany "this state of order, freedom and law:"'

Dictators can rise in a weakened democracy even with a minority of popular support. Hider never won a majority: In the election in 1932, only 13.1 million Germans voted for the Nazi party. Although National Socialism was the largest single party, the Nazis had fewer seats in government than the combined opposition parties did. At that point they could still have been defeated." Their numbers declined further in the next election.

At that critical time, Brownshirts waged a campaign of violence against Nazi Party opponents in the streets. A sense of crisis descended on the country. A coalition of conservatives united to provoke a constitutional crisis in Parliament as well. Lawmakers then engaged in frenzied negotiations to head off civil war. The conservative majority still believed at that point that if Hider were appointed Reich Chancellor they would be able to control him. They made a deal: Hitler was sworn in as Reich Chancellor entirely legally on January 30, 1933.

But Nazis directed events to cascade rapidly after that: They staged torchlight marches while all marches by the Communist opposition were forbidden. When thousands of citizens marched against the new government nonetheless, police arrested their leaders. Twenty opposition newspapers took issue with the new Nazi leadership-but then the papers were banned; local authorities cracked down on free assembly across the country.

Hitler told the Cabinet that an amendment to the Constitution was required, the Enabling Act, which would allow him permanently to circumvent some powers of the Parliament. It was now legal for the state to tap citizens' phones and open their mail."

Appalled at the terrorist threat, and not wanting to be seen as unpatriotic, there was little debate: lawmakers of all parties passed the Enabling Act by a wide majority: 441 to 94. The constitution remained, but from then on, Hitler could govern by decree.

... the surveillance industry is huge business: "[S]urveillance technologies are emerging as one of the ripest plums for companies to pluck in the new 'anti-terrorism biz.' In 2003, business writers estimated that this burgeoning industry was worth $115 billion a year. If trends continued, they estimated, the windfall from new surveillance and security demands would bring in $130 to $180 billion a year by 2010.

A 2003 study found that 569 companies had registered Homeland Security lobbyists after 9/11.2' The New York Times reported that "the major defense contractors want to move into the homeland security arena in a big way." Dr. William Haseltine, who sits on the boards of many of the organizations that analyze this industry, including the Trilateral Commission and The Brookings Institution, and who is one of the founders of the American Freedom Campaign, says that the "security-industrial complex" rivals the "military-industrial complex" in influencing policy.

Peace is bad for business. When the former Soviet Union fell apart, the U.S. defense industry was staring into the face of a falling market share: To grow, it would have to find a new enemy. It would also help if it expanded its product line from building fighter jets to the newfangled demand for applications involving surveillance.

Dr. Haseltine points out that the Department of Homeland Security has, like the Defense Department, an external corollary in private industry; so the relationships between the two departments are now institutionalized.' The Department of Homeland Security will be almost impossible to dismantle whether or not it is successful in protecting Americans: An $1 15-billion-a-year industry can exert major pressure on policy-making, and the Department of Homeland Security is not going to go away, even if tomorrow all the Muslim terrorists in the world were to lay down their arms.

Fifth Amendment to the Constitution

No person shall be ... deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law...

Sixth Amendment to the Constitution

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury... and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense.

The Magna Carta was signed in 1215. Since then, our Western legal tradition has held that everyone deserves some kind of judicial process before being thrown into prison. This simple yet radical notion that you cannot be unaccountably imprisoned is the cornerstone of all democracy. We Americans expect that we can't be thrown into jail without hope of getting out. That faith is so essential a part of our liberty that we scarcely think about it.

This guarantee that you can't be randomly jailed is strengthened by the concept of habeas corpus. This is the law, dating from 1679, that undergirds our freedom as Americans. The phrase comes from the Latin; it is a writ "to have the body." Having the right to habeas corpus means that if they grab you and throw you in jail, you have the right to see the evidence against you, face your accusers, and have a hearing before an impartial judge or jury to establish whether you actually committed the crime of which you are accused. In short, it means that if you are innocent, there is hope that you can prove that you are, and hope that you can eventually get out. It means your innocence protects you.

Your innocence does not protect you in a dictatorship.

Just as habeas corpus, or some equivalent procedure, is the cornerstone of virtually every democracy, so a secret prison system without habeas corpus is the cornerstone of every dictatorship.

Eighth Amendment to the Constitution

Excessive bail shall not be required. . nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

Michael Ratner, Center for Constitutional Rights

"Guantánamo is a twenty-first century Pentagon experiment that was, in fact, outlawed by the Geneva Conventions of 1949."

Michael Ratner, Center for Constitutional Rights

"[Guantánamo] is similar in purpose to the German World War II operations that led to them {Geneva Conventions] ban: it is an interrogation camp, and interrogation camps are completely and flatly illegal."

According to a Seton Hall University study, most of the Guantánamo prisoners are innocent, and were swept up by Northern Alliance warlords in Afghanistan simply because the United States had offered bounties of up to $5000 per prisoner, a major sum for that area. The warlords often simply gave the United States names of neighbors with whom they had disputes, or even of random villagers, to get the money.

Even after Congress passed the Military Commissions Act of 2006, most Americans continue to assume that the only way one can be subjected to "harsh interrogations" or other abuse is if one is actively engaged in terrorist crimes against the United States. Even now, many well-informed people believe that you can't possibly be mistreated if you are a U.S. citizen.

But President Bush has claimed the "unilateral authority" to "arrest virtually anyone, anywhere, citizen or noncitizen, even in the United States, if he deemed them an enemy combatant," warns [Michael] Ratner.

Bybee-Gonzales 2002 "torture memo"

[Torture] covers only extreme acts. Severe pain is generally of the kind difficult for the victim to endure. Where the pain is physical, it must be of an intensity akin to that which accompanies serious physical injury such as death or organ failure. Severe mental pain requires suffering not just at the moment of infliction but it also requires lasting psychological harm, such as seen in mental disorders like post-traumatic stress disorder. Additionally, such severe mental pain can arise only from the predicate acts listed .... Because the acts inflicting torture are extreme, there is significant range of acts that though they might constitute cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment fail to rise to the level of torture."

Michael Ratner

"The Pentagon has made up a new term "enemy combatant'... This is a totalitarian system in which there are no checks or balances on the executive. The president can do whatever he wants, acting as a dictator. In this system the courts have no independent function and can't protect anybody's rights...

Michael Ratner

... the president can designate people enemy combatants and detain them for whatever reason he wants ... there are no charges and prisoners have no lawyers, no family visits, no court reviews, no rights to anything, and no right to release until the mythical end to the "war on terror."

Military tribunals are the enablers of a fascist shift.

Lenin responded to an assassination attempt by setting up secret military tribunals that bypassed the established court system." Mussolini set up military tribunals to dispense summary justice. Stalin used a revived system of secretive military tribunals that also bypassed the judiciary.

The Nazis also setup a tribunal system, "People's Courts," that bypassed the formal legal system. These courts had originally been established as "an emergency body set up to dispense summary justice on looters and murderers" in 1918. These "courts" were able to sentence those charged with "treason" and were characterized by "the absence of any right of appeal against their verdicts." The "will of the people" took the place of the rule of law.'°

When the Nazis first came to power, not only was there still an independent judiciary in Germany-there were still judges outraged at SA and SS abuses of prisoners, and human rights lawyers who shared their outrage. Earlier, one of these independent lawyers had actually sought to prosecute the SS for prisoner abuse. It was at that point that the "People's Courts" went after the lawyers, the military tribunals were strengthened, and Hitler sought legislation that retroactively protected the SS from prosecution for acts of torture."

Ari Fleischer, former Bush White House Press Secretary, 2001

People need to watch what they say, watch what they do.
In China, Communist officials subject citizens to three forms of government surveillance, together called the "iron triangle." (Bush referred to three of his aides as "the iron triangle.")This consists of the residence permit, which limits where you live; the secret personnel file, which records your sins and political liability; and the work unit, which supervises every aspect of your life. The dangan, or secret personnel file, shadows every Chinese citizen. "The dangan looks like a manila envelope, and there is a special postal system for transferring them around the country. If you make a serious political mistake, your leaders put a note in your dangan, and it will haunt you in the future whenever you try to change your job, go abroad, or get a promotion ."

Dictatorships use citizen surveillance in a clear way: to blackmail and coerce the people, especially critics. In the 1960s and 1970s. Edgar Hoover's FBI amassed files on the private lives of political, union, Civil Rights, anti-war, and other leaders, and blackmailed or harassed them. The FBI's Counter Intelligence Programs (COINTELPRO) actions against civil rights workers and the left in the 1960s included planting fake evidence on them, sending bogus letters accusing them of adultery to ruin their marriages (one fake letter called Dr. King an "evil, immoral beast" and suggested he kill himself), disclosing activists' sexually transmitted diseases, tapping their phones, getting activists fired from their jobs, distributing false articles that portrayed them as drug abusers, and planting negative articles about them in newspapers.'

First Amendment

Congress shall make no law.. . prohibiting... the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

... the [Transportation Security Administration] TSA Administration does keep a "list." The American citizens on the list who do not fit a terrorist profile range from journalists and academics who have criticized the White House to activists and even political leaders who have also spoken out.

These TSA searches and releases would be trivial in a working democracy. In the 1960s, peace activists found it merely irksome to be trailed by FBI agents, and in the 1980s those who organized The Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES) on college campuses were even amused sometimes to find, on submitting a Freedom of Information Act request, that there was a file open on them. But once the first steps in a fascist shift are in place, being on "the list" is not really funny any more.

... Now there are tens of thousands of people on the list. Where did the list come from? In 2003, President Bush had the I intelligence agencies and the FBI create a "watch list" of people thought to have terrorist intentions or contacts. These agencies gave the list to the TSA and the commercial airlines. 60 Minutes got one copy of the list; It was 540 pages long. That list of people to be taken aside for extra screening had 75,000 names on it. The more stringent "no-fly list" had 45,000 names; before 9/11 there were just 16 names. The list is so secret that even Congresspeople have been prevented from looking at it. People on the list endure searches that can last for hours. One American citizen, Robert Johnson, described "the humiliation factor" of being strip-searched: "I had to take off my pants. I had to take off my sneakers, then I had to take off ç my socks. I was treated like a criminal." Donna Bucella, who was at that time head of the FBI program that oversaw the list, told 60 Minutes, "Well, Robert Johnson will never get off the list."

On December 6, 2006, Democrats in Congress tried to find out more about recent reports that the Department of Homeland Security "was using a scoring system" that rated the dangers posed by people crossing American borders. The Democrats were worried that these lists did not simply keep people from flying-they could keep them from getting jobs as well. According to the New York Times, Vermont Senator Patrick J. Leahy said that "the program and broader government data-mining efforts could make it more difficult for innocent Americans to travel or to get a job without giving them the chance to know why they were labeled a security risk." So now there is not just the anxiety that you might be detained - you could also, if you are on certain secret lists, be turned down for a job and never know why.

... in the 1950s the FBI confiscated the passports of intellectuals and journalists who had been critical of anticommunist witch hunts.

Fourth Amendment

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Every pro-democracy movement depends on people being willing and able to march as a mass; the sheer numbers of citizens is one of a budding or threatened democracy's most potent weapons. It is masses of people united who brought down the Berlin Wall; stood up to Chinese tanks; and overwhelmed a dictator in the Philippines. Massed citizens ended Jim Crow laws and brought the war in Vietnam to a close. It is so simple a tool, but so powerful.

This is why a dictatorship restricts the movements and assembly of its citizens-usually through municipal ordinances and curfews: Mussolini's arditi, for instance, warned Italian citizens to stay indoors during the fascists' mass rallies. In Mexico, police shot at and wounded student protesters in 1968.25 General Pinochet's forces also fired at protesters in 1982.26 Suppression of protests habituates citizens to the idea that the state has the right to direct their movements and to disperse large groups or to keep them from gathering in the first place.

In 2001, the National Science Foundation made it clear that its grants would no longer go to research on the basis of the science alone if that research undermined the Bush administration's agenda.

Whether driven by Mussolini or by Goebbels, by Pinochet or by China's Politburo, it's always the same tactic: The state leans on university administrators, who lean on professors and students.

Italian Fascists leaned on university rectors to scrutinize the politics of those whom they oversaw: The rector of Milan's Catholic University actively informed on politically anti-Fascist students to the secret police. If you were either a student or a professor in Mussolini's Italy, expressing unpopular views could get you fired-or even arrested and sent to internal exile. By 1927, if you wanted to secure welfare benefits or get a job or a promotion, citizens, including academics, faced a political litmus test.'°

Germany emulated the tactic: From the early 1930s, professional purges led so many Jewish and "communist" academics and scientists to emigrate that this led to a major brain drain. By 1933, about 2,000 of the nation's premier artists and writers had fled as well." The Nazi periodical The Nettle depicted this emigration as "a triumph for the German nation."

The National Socialist German Students' League was set up in 1926. It sought to get independent professors fired and to direct the universities' resources toward Nazi goals rather than toward pure research. By 1933, Propaganda Minister Goebbels set in motion one of these purges: "By the beginning of the academic year 1933-34, 313 full professors had been dismissed .... By 1934, some 1600 out of 5000 university teachers had been forced out of their jobs .... Very quickly, newly Nazified Education Ministries made political criteria central not only for appointments but also for teaching and research:"' On May 10, 1933, pro-Nazi students also orchestrated a series of book burnings-events designed to look "spontaneous" but actually directed behind the scenes by Goebbels.'

This pressure on students and academics worked in Chile in the early 1970s as well. Chilean students had been among the few who still dared to march, hold meetings, pass out flyers, and create posters attacking Pinochet after his military coup. But Pinochet purged nonaligned academics and university administrators and put his own military officers in those positions. He closed down whole departments, gutted some university programs, and moved others to new locations. He made it clear that student life was now under new management: that of his cronies. It was obvious to Chilean academics that they had to support the Junta or give up their careers."

Students and academics are always democracy's foot soldiers: Czech students helped bring about the Prague Spring democracy movement. Students in Shanghai and Beijing led the democracy movement in 1989: It was Chinese art students who set up the statue of Lady Liberty in Tiananmen Square.

First Amendment

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press...


In all dictatorships, targeting the free press begins with political pressure-loud, angry campaigns for the news to be represented in a way that supports the group that seeks dominance. Attacks escalate to smears, designed to shame members of the press personally; then editors face pressure to fire journalists who are not parroting the party line. A caste of journalists and editors who support the regime develops, whether out of conviction, a wish for advancement, or fear.

Such regimes promote false news in a systematic campaign of disinformation, even as they go after independent voices.

America is still a fairly open society in which assertions can be independently verified and a thriving Internet community can tear apart false allegations. Even in the United States, though, opinion is being penalized, and false news is being disseminated which disorients the public.

Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf

'The great masses of the people will more easily fall victims of a big lie than a small one."

Adolf Hitler

"... all effective propaganda must be limited to a very few points and must harp on these in slogans until the last member of the public understands what you want him to understand."

Democracy depends on a social agreement that is so obvious to us that it usually goes unspoken: There is such thing as truth. In an open society, we know facts may be hedged and spun in the back-and-forth of debate, but truth is the ground from which the edging or spinning begin. Democracy depends upon accountability; accountability requires us to be able to tell truth from lies; and to be able to tell truth from lies, we all first must agree that truth matters.

Once you accomplish this flooding of the plain of discourse with lies, you are much closer to closing down an open society. If citizens can't be sure you are telling the truth or not, you can manipulate people into supporting almost anything the state wants to undertake; and it is also much more difficult for citizens to advocate or mobilize on their own behalf: How can they be sure what is right and what is wrong?

At a time such as this, it -is up to U. S. citizens who are not part of the formal media world to publish online, research aggressively, check facts assiduously, expose abuses, file Freedom of Information Act requests, publish 'zines, write op-eds, and take ownership of producing as much of the news and information stream as they can.

... Blogging has to lead the way, because this is the access point for citizen journalism. But bloggers must take their impact far more seriously, becoming warriors for truth and accountability: Citizens have to start to produce reliable samizdat. Opinion is important, but opinion alone is totally inadequate when the ground of truth itself is under assault. Bloggers must become rigorous and fearless documentarians and reporters-not just to critique the news, but also to generate the news. Citizens in every venue must now apply to their work the accuracy and accountability that news editors have traditionally expected of their writers and researchers. The locus of the power of truth must be identified not in major news outlets but in you. You - not "they" - must take responsibility for educating your fellow citizens.

In 1917, the nation was at war; of course we need to root out spies during wartime. But its history is sinister.

In the nineteen-teens, a wave of left-wing activism swept the nation. Many of the activists working for better conditions and higher wages were also against the nation's entry into the war.

So as the country prepared for war, President Woodrow Wilson's communications machine issued a wave of propaganda to whip up war fervor. Congress quickly passed the 1917 Espionage and Trading with the Enemy Act, which criminalized antiwar remarks. Hundreds of American citizens were prosecuted for objecting to military recruitment or for speaking or writing things that could remotely be interpreted as dissent from the government's line. Citizens' meetings were raided by government spies and there were sweeping arrests without warrants. It was against the law under the 1917 Espionage Act to mail an antiwar opinion or even to advocate for a referendum on whether or not the United States should enter the war. Officials of the post office leaked files on antiwar "traitors" to newspapers.

Sentences were severe: A Kansas City man got ten years in prison for having written a letter to a newspaper. A mother of four criticized the war and got five years in jail. Eugene Debs, the Socialist candidate, tried to challenge the Act in 1918, invoking the First Amendment. Debs was found guilty and was sentenced to ten years."

The Palmer Raids were the culmination of these events. Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer used the 1917 Espionage Act and the 1918 Sedition Act to gather information on 260,000 citizens; the raids arrested 10,000 citizens as well as immigrants in 1919. The mass arrests were warrantless and the authorities created fake documents to deport whom they could. Teachers, librarians, and working men and women were jailed. Scores in Connecticut alone were "beaten, starved, suffocated, tortured and threatened with death in futile efforts to extract confessions." But in spite of all these arrests and imprisonments, evidence to support Palmer's accusations of a revolutionary network never surfaced."

The pendulum swung back: a group of patriotic lawyers, led by future Supreme Court justice Felix Frankfurter, issued a report calling the raids and arrests "utterly illegal." Palmer's power waned. Nonetheless, the fear remained. After the Palmer raids, many Americans were scared to subscribe to certain journals; teachers policed what they said in the classroom; editors weighed ) their words. Dissent was muted for a decade.

In November of 2006, the Senate passed The Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act-which allows federal prosecutors to "enhance" prison terms for convicted activists. When I first saw this, I thought that it was likely that soon an American environmentalist or animal rights activist would be prosecuted severely under "terrorism enhancement" guidelines aimed at crimes against animal processing facilities. Indeed, those trials began seven months later. The "terrorists" being sentenced for attacks on commercial processing facilities now looked like the boys and girls next door.

Presidential Oath of Office

I do solemnly swear... that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.

Is it reasonable - is it really a matter of common sense - to assume that leaders who are willing to abuse signing statements; withhold information from Congress; make secret decisions; lie to the American people; use fake evidence to justify a pre-emptive war; torture prisoners; tap people's phones; open their mail and e-mail; break into their houses; and now simply ignore Congress altogether - leaders with, currently, a 29 percent approval rating - will surely say, come 2008, "The decision rests in the hands of the people. May the votes be fairly counted"?

Bush has used more signing statements than any other president. The way Bush is using signing statements essentially relegates Congress to an advisory role. This abuse lets the President choose what laws he wishes to enforce or not, overruling Congress and the people. So Americans are living under laws their representatives never passed. Signing statements put the president above the law.

... Fascists coming to power in a weakened democracy simply start to ignore those assumed agreements. What has happened in the past is that at a certain point in a weakening democracy, would-be dictators pretend that everything is as it should be, but simply stop responding to the will of the people and the representatives. While the nation is trying to grapple with this interim period, then such leaders deploy sudden unexpected changes that assertively upend Parliamentary protocols and expectations.

At this point, the speed of these moves itself is disorienting: If it takes people some time to figure out what has happened. (In a very moving scene, Italian legislators were still frantically trying to engage in standard political negotiations with Mussolini-even as he simply waited for them to realize that the time for negotiating was over.) That psychological hangover-that delay in "getting it"-is a very dangerous time. This is the moment when action is most necessary, and this is the moment when the window is closing.

In Italy and Germany, legislators kept believing that they were still engaged in the negotiated dance of democracy-even as the militaristic march of dictatorship had already begun.

At a point in both Mussolini's and Hitler's takeovers, citizens witnessed a stunning series of quickly escalating pronunciamentos or faits accomplis. After each leader made his bids for power beyond what the Italian Parliament and the German Reichstag allowed him, each abruptly started to claim all kinds of new rights that were extra-parliamentary: the right unilaterally to go to war, to annex territory, to veto existing laws, or to overrule the judiciary.

"I am not a dictator," said Hitler in 1936. "I have only simplified democracy:"

At this stage, shock follows shock so quickly that the civil society institutions start to reel. At this point, in weaker democracies than ours, the police forces and the army are negotiated with. In any late shift, the final stage is the establishment of government by emergency decree or actual martial law and the leader's assertion-usually using the law to defend this assertion-that he is above the law, or that he is the law: the decider.

This is a classic coup: In Chile, in 1973, during a national strike, rumors circulated daily that there would be a military coup.

Early in the day on September 11, 1973, the military left their barracks before dawn and occupied most of the radio stations. They began broadcasting marches and periodic bulletins that they were assuming control of the country. They offered [President] Allende a plane to fly out of the country and declared a national curfew that would begin at 11:00 a.m. Informed of the military's demands, Allende first told all the workers to go into the streets and defend the government, but he later changed his mind and asked them to remain alert at their factories. Allende refused to surrender, so at noon the air force bombed the national palace. Allende died.... The military began arresting a number of prominent government leaders while others sought refuge in foreign embassies.'

Some opposition members tried to resist but found they could not overcome the power of the military. The game was quickly over.

Pinochet even had a commission rewrite the Constitution; the logic of the rewrite is echoed in the U.S. Fiscal Year 2007 Defense Authorization Bill: The military could intervene on behalf of the State whenever there was a threat to the state.

Historically, the shift to martial law, or to government by emergency decree, generally takes place during a crisis. A crisis allows a would-be dictator even in a democracy to use emergency powers to restore "public order." This kind of thing won't happen in America.

But we now have a legal infrastructure in place that could support a "paper coup"-a more civilized, more marketable version of a real crackdown.

At the end of September 2006, with little outside debate, Congress passed the Fiscal Year 2007 Defense Authorization Bill-a bill that, according to journalist Major Danby, represents "a sizeable step toward weakening states' authority over their [National] Guard units." He continues: "The provision make[s] it easier for the President to declare martial law, stripping state governors of part of their authority over state National Guard units in domestic emergencies."

This guts the Posse Comitatus Act, the provision that the states control their own National Guard units. When the president invokes section 333, he may expand his power to declare martial law and take charge of the National Guard troops without the permission of a governor when "public order" has been lost; he can send these troops out into our streets at his direction-overriding local law enforcement authorities-during a national disaster epidemic, serious public health emergency, terrorist attack, or "other condition:' He can direct these troops to disperse citizens-that is, us-and direct them to stay in their homes. The president must submit a report to Congress within 24 hours-after the fact, nonetheless.

According to this new provision, the president on his or her say-so alone can send troops from Tennessee to- quell what he or she calls a threat to civil order-say, a peace march-in Oregon, over the objections of governors of both states. The president can send what has become his or her army, not the people's, into our nation's streets and not just this president, but any president in the future may do this.

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