Has America become Fascist?
by Sherwood Ross
If it hasn't gone the way of Mussolini's
Italy and Hitler's Germany, it sure is teetering on the brink.
America is a nation in deepening crisis, a nation whose leaders
repeatedly plunge their citizens into, and make them pay for,
serial wars abroad, while stealing their liberties at home. USA
has become a country that trashes its citizens (New Orleans),
tortures its enemies (Abu Ghraib), threatens other nations with
nuclear fire (Iran), flouts international treaties (UN Charter
re Iraq), and spies on (FISA), and intimidates, its critics (No
Fly). Americans that can clearly see the totalitarian machinations
of Vladimir Putin in Russia and Hu Jintao in China are blind to
the fascism threatening to envelop them as well.
Webster's defines fascism as "a totalitarian
governmental system led by a dictator and emphasizing an aggressive
nationalism, militarism, and often racism." A comparison
of 20th century fascist and communist regimes with President Bush's
USA indicates the machinery for a full-blown totalitarian takeover
is now in place, even if no coup has occurred. As Naomi Wolf writes
in "The End of America" (Chelsea Green) the 2007 Defense
Authorization Bill's Section 333 allows the president "to
declare martial law and take charge of the National Guard troops
without the permission of a governor when 'public order' has been
lost" and to "send the guard into our streets during
a public health emergency, terrorist attack or 'other condition.'"
The enabling crowbar was the Military
Commissions Act of 2006. It gives the president authority to set
up his own system for bringing alien combatants to trial while
denying them protection of the Geneva Conventions. "The president
and his lawyers now claim the authority to designate any American
citizen he chooses as being an 'enemy combatant,'" Wolf writes
of power usurpation that characterized the post-World War One
epoch in Europe and Asia.
Thus, Congress has empowered Bush just
as Germany's Reichstag empowered Hitler, Wolf writes, recalling
Hitler's boast, "Democracy will be overthrown with the tools
of democracy." Hitler's Interior Minister issued Clause 2
that gave police the power to hold people in custody indefinitely
and without a court order, powers the U.S. Congress today has
conferred upon "The Decider" in the White House. Mussolini's
used the less grandiose "Il Duce" or "The Leader."
According to Michael Ratner, director
of the Center For Constitutional Rights, New York, "the president
candesignate people enemy combatants and detain them for whatever
reason he wantsthere 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.'"
Wolf writes that dictators justify their
usurpation of domestic liberties by raising the alarm of "terrorist"
threats. Stalin, for example, used this very term in 1934 when
he warned his public of a world-wide conspiracy by capitalists
to overthrow the Soviet state. If there have been no mass arrests
of native-born Americans it is only because the president has
not chosen to exercise this authority. If you think it can't happen
to you, recall that in September of 2003 the Army arrested 36-year-old
American-born Muslim chaplain James Yee, a West Point graduate,
allegedly for "espionage and possibly treason"---but
more likely for calling for better conditions for Gitmo inmates.
"He was blindfolded; his ears were
blocked; he was manacled and then put into solitary confinement
for 76 days; forbidden mail, television, or anything to read except
the Koran. His family was not allowed to visit him. His lawyers
were told he would face execution. (But)Within six months, the
U.S. government had dropped all criminal charges against Yee."
Yes, just as it has dropped charges against hundreds of Guantanamo
prisoners earlier, men labeled by former Defense Secretary Rumsfeld
as "the worst of the worst" but against the overwhelming
majority of whom the Bush regime apparently had no case whatever!
The treatment Yee got is typical of those
who run afoul of the Bush regime: torture first, trial afterif
there is a trial. And since his release, Yee has been denied his
free speech right to discuss his ordeal---gagged by the Pentagon.
Perhaps most incredible, even if a Guantanamo prisoner should
be found innocent, the Pentagon says he might not be released
anyway. This echoes Stalin's practice of re-arresting Gulag prisoners
after they had done their time. At one point, Stalin had eight
million souls behind bars, even exceeding President Bush, currently
the world's Incarcerator-In-Chief.
Author Wolf says another danger flag is
the creation of paramilitary groups, "aggressive men who
have no clear, accountable relationship to the government or the
party seeking power" Mussolini had the blackshirts; Hitler
the brownshirts; but whatever their dress, they were thugs. Wolf
says that Moycock, N.C.-based Blackwater Worldwide stands ready
"to deploy its unaccountable private army (35,000 men) in
the U.S.---in the aftermath of natural disasters, and also in
cases of 'national emergency.'" With at least a half billion
dollars in government contracts, "Blackwater is the world's
largest private security force, works closely with Halliburton,
and is available for action outside the scrutiny of Congress,"
Wolf writes. The outfit raked in $73 million for patrolling the
streets of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. And Blackwater
subcontractor Red Tactica, recruits former Chilean commandos,"
men described by one Chilean sociologist that are "valued
for their expertise in kidnapping, torturing and killing defenseless
civilians," Wolf wrote.
Besides creating such "security"
forces, dictators create secret prisons, as Bush has done, ranging
from prison ships in the Indian Ocean to dungeons in Poland, where
they can hide them from Red Cross scrutiny, as the CIA has done.
"We should worry about the men held at Guantanamo because
history shows that stripping prisoners of their rights is intoxicating
not only to leaders but to functionaries at every level of society,"
Wolf writes. "Gitmo" is also an interrogation camp,
an operation "that is completely and flatly illegal"
and outlawed by the Geneva Conventions in 1949, she points out.
Stalin also employed torture and in 1937 actually legalized its
use in Soviet prisons. When he received his infamous "albums"
with the names of those to be executed and imprisoned, next to
some names he often wrote: "Beat! Beat! Beat!" And only
months after taking power, Hitler "established a network
of illegitimate prisons where torture took place" and where
guards could murder inmates with "no chance of being punished,"
Wolf said. And like Stalin, The Decider has signaled his henchmen
beatings are now the American Way.
Dictators hold power by instilling fear
in their citizens. Since 2000, Wolf writes there has been "a
sharp increase in U.S. citizen groups that are being harassed
and infiltrated by police and federal agents, often in illegal
ways." She pointed to a 2006 ACLU report that California
police had infiltrated antiwar protests, political rallies, and
other constitutionally protected gatherings and were secretly
investigating them, even though the California state constitution
forbids this. And prior to the 2004 Republican convention in New
York, police department detectives infiltrated groups planning
peaceful demonstrations. At the Federal level, Bush's apparatchiks
are compiling dossiers on law-abiding citizens. The Defense Department's
Talon program has created a database about peaceful antiwar and
other groups and activists. As Jen Nessel of the Center for Constitutional
Rights says, "We have absolutely moved over into a preventive
detention model---you look like you could do something bad, you
might do something bad, so we're going to hold you."
Bush regime actions' today recall how
the Gestapo, NKVD, Stasi (East German secret police) and Red China's
Politburo "all requisitioned private data such as medical,
banking, and library records," Wolf writes, because access
to such private data "breaks down citizens' sense of being
able to act freely against those in power." And although
the Department of Homeland Security's TIPS scheme to get letter
carriers and meter readers, etc., to report suspicious activities
was met with derision and never funded, the ACLU noted it was
merely absorbed in the Pentagon's "black budget."
Privacy in America today as guaranteed
by the Constitution is fast becoming a memory. The New York Times
reported the government in 2005 was monitoring your e-mail and
telephone talk without legal warrants and the following year the
newspaper disclosed U.S. treasury officials, with CIA help, "were
reviewing millions of private bank transactions without individual
court-ordered warrants or subpoenas," Wolf pointed out.
One method of intimidation is to limit
a citizen's right to travel freely. The Bush regime has created
"watch"(75,000 names) and "no fly"(45,000
names) lists that restrict individuals' air travel--and those
searched and/or stopped from flying can complain all they like
because it won't do them any good. Robert Johnson, an American
citizen, Wolf reports, described the humiliation factor of being
strip searched when he attempted to board an airplane: "I
had to take off my pants. I had to take off my sneakers, then
I had to take off my socks. I was treated like a criminal."
This has now become a commonplace ordeal for thousands of Americans.
Even at the height of World War Two, such invasions of personal
rights would have been unthinkable.
Going back to Webster's definition of
fascism, USA today is the world's runaway leader in "militarism."
Forty-three percent of all U.S. tax dollars in 2007 went to feed
the war machine, as the Pentagon believes security depends on
operating more than 700 military bases in 130 countries overseas
in addition to 1,000 at home. Bush has escalated its budget so
that USA now spends nearly as much on arms as all the rest of
the world combined. Uncle Sam is also the No. 1 private arms peddler
to the world. By contrast, Iran, portrayed by the White House
as a menace to the Middle East, has an annual military budget
that is 1/100th of the Pentagon's outlay.
Perhaps it would be a good exercise for
Americans to read how Hitler emphasized nationalism and militarism.
As he wrote in "Mein Kampf": "Instead of everlasting
struggle the world preaches cowardly pacifism, and everlasting
peaceThere is only one right in this world and this right is one's
own strength." As for "reconciliation, understanding,
world peace, the League of Nations, and international solidarity---we
destroy these ideas." Hitler called for delivering Germans
"from the hopeless confusion of international convictions"
and educating them "consciously and systematically to fanatical
nationalism." Armed with such views the fascist state thinks
nothing of starting an aggressive war based on lies. In 1939,
Hitler claimed he was attacked by Poland, igniting World War Two.
Bush claimed that Iraq had nuclear and biological weapons to destroy
America when, in fact, it was the United States that possessed
those very weapons and it was Iraq that had none.
Bush nonetheless started a seemingly endless
war that has by some estimates to date killed more than 1 million
Iraqis, wounded perhaps 2 million more, forced a like number from
their homes, ravished their country and its economy, touched off
a civil war, forced 1 million Iraqis into foreign exile, and killed
and wounded 35,000 American troops. Former UN Secretary-General
Kofi Annan called the Iraq war "illegal" but Bush, like
Hitler, cares nothing for international treaties, even if those
the U.S. has signed under our Constitution are the supreme law
of the land. He has made a mockery to the anti-nuclear treaty,
causing former President Carter to charge his own country has
become the leader in nuclear proliferation. What's more, Bush
has spent about $50 billion on germ warfare "defense"
with no known significant foreign threat to USA.
Americans may think that Webster's view
that fascism is often accompanied by racism doesn't fit them.
Indeed, USA's strides to eliminate racism based on color in the
last century are a societal marvel. But racism against African
Americans has largely been replaced with the foolhardy notion
that Americans are better than everybody else in the world and
have the authority to set right any ruler they believe is in error.
This view of their own superiority echoes Hitler's "master
race" view of the German people or the Tokyo militarists'
view in 1940 that a superior Japan was destined to rule "the
eight corners of the world." In this sense, America is very
"racist" indeed and the "aggressive nationalism"
highlighted by Webster's is apparent in the rhetoric of its public
officials and the conduct of its foreign affairs.
Yet another characteristic of the fascist
state is its leader's use of arbitrary power. Note how Bush evades
the will of Congress by tacking on "signing statements"
to laws he doesn't like, thus refusing to enforce them, putting
himself above the will of Congress and the American people. Note
how his aides refuse to respond to Congressional subpoenas to
testify. Yet another example is how the Justice Department's own
internal investigators found Bush's appointees filled nonpolitical
posts with party hacks and then lied about what they had done.
"Civil Service Laws Were Breached in Filling Nonpolitical
Jobs" said a New York Times reported July 29th. It should
be remembered Hitler followed a like policy when he purged Jews
from their government posts. When tyrants rule, merit is ever
subservient to loyalty.
Of course, Bush has not flung thousands
of Americans into prison to torture and murder them as Hitler,
Mussolini, and Stalin did, but he has the power to do so, making
the latter half of 2008 a time of danger for Americans. Wolf writes,
"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
To repeat the question, "Is America
fascist?" the answer is that the machinery is in place for
a totalitarian takeover at the direction of a tyrant. While it
is true that the U.S. is not a one-party state (some will dispute
this owing to the many similarities of the two major parties)
like fascist Italy and Germany, and it does have free elections,
for the first time in its history in 2000 and 2004 an ominous
cloud of doubt has hung over the authenticity of the popular vote
and a vast segment of the voting public today does not trust the
election machinery to record their vote as they intend. There
are no mass arrests and executions in the thousands and millions
that typified the regimes of Hitler and Stalin (Stalin had 681,000
people executed in 1937-8 "Great Terror" alone); free
speech still exists (under Stalin, a person could be imprisoned
for making a Stalin joke); and the government has not put its
leaden hand on business as Putin has done although crony capitalism
in the selection of defense contractors is rampant. These vital
distinctions set America apart from the totalitarian society.
Yet, with each passing day in its "War on Terror" the
Bush regime tightens its hold on the machinery to establish totalitarian
Americans need to keep in mind that worse
than anything President Bush has inflicted upon its own citizenry
is what its wars of aggression have inflicted on innocent humanity
abroad. A million dead Iraqis can't give a damn by what terminology
you describe the United States. If the American people allow their
government to make criminal wars to deprive innocent foreigners
of their lives and liberties they do not deserve to enjoy either
Sherwood Ross is a Miami-based writer
who has worked as a reporter for the Chicago Daily News, a columnist
for wire services, a news director for a large civil rights organization,
and as a publicist for colleges, labor unions and entrepreneurial
start-ups. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org Phone: 305-205-8281.
The writer is indebted to Naomi Wolf for her book, "The End
of America." Ms. Wolf is cofounder of The Woodhull Institute
for Ethical Leadership, New York, an organization that teaches
young women how to assume leadership roles.)