Bush Brings Fascism to the United States in 10 Easy Steps!

Fascist America, in 10 easy steps

From Hitler to Pinochet and beyond, history shows there are certain
steps that any would-be dictator must take to destroy constitutional

And, argues Naomi Wolf, George Bush and his administration seem to be
taking them all

Last autumn, there was a military coup in Thailand.

The leaders of the coup took a number of steps, rather
as if they had a shopping list.

In a sense, they did.

Within a matter of days, democracy had been closed down:

the coup leaders declared martial law, sent armed soldiers into
residential areas, took over radio and TV stations, issued
restrictions on the press, tightened some limits on travel, and took
certain activists into custody.

They were not figuring these things out as they went along.

If you look at history, you can see that there is essentially a
blueprint for turning an open society into a dictatorship.

That blueprint has been used again and again in more and less bloody,
more and less terrifying ways.

But it is always effective.

It is very difficult and arduous to create and sustain a democracy -
but history shows that closing one down is much simpler.

You simply have to be willing to take the 10 steps.

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

Because Americans like me were born in freedom, we have a hard time
even considering that it is possible for us to become as unfree -
domestically - as many other nations.

Because we no longer learn much about our rights or our system of
government - the task of being aware of the constitution has been
outsourced from citizens' ownership to being the domain of
professionals such as lawyers and professors - we scarcely recognise
the checks and balances that the founders put in place, even as they
are being systematically dismantled.

Because we don't learn much about European history, the setting up of
a department of "homeland" security - remember who else was keen on
the word "homeland" - didn't raise the alarm bells it might have.

It is my argument that, beneath our very noses, George Bush and his
administration are using time-tested tactics to close down an open

It is time for us to be willing to think the unthinkable - as the
author and political journalist Joe Conason, has put it, that it can
happen here.

And that we are further along than we realise.

Conason eloquently warned of the danger of American authoritarianism.

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

1. Invoke a terrifying internal and external enemy

After we were hit on September 11 2001, we were in a state of

Less than six weeks later, on October 26 2001, the USA Patriot Act
passed by a Congress that had little chance to debate it; many said
that they scarcely had time to read it.

We were told we were now on a "war footing"; we were in a "global
against a "global caliphate" intending to "wipe out civilisation".

There have been other times of crisis in which the US accepted limits
on civil liberties, such as during the civil war, when Lincoln
declared martial law, and the second world war, when thousands of
Japanese-American citizens were interned.

But this situation, as Bruce Fein of the American Freedom Agenda
notes, is unprecedented:

all our other wars had an endpoint, so the pendulum was able to swing
back toward freedom; this war is defined as open-ended in time and
without national boundaries in space - the globe itself is the

"This time," Fein says, "there will be no defined end."

Creating a terrifying threat - hydra-like, secretive, evil - is an

It can, like Hitler's invocation of a communist threat to the
security, be based on actual events (one Wisconsin academic has faced
calls for his dismissal because he noted, among other things, that
alleged communist arson, the Reichstag fire of February 1933, was
swiftly followed in Nazi Germany by passage of the Enabling Act,
replaced constitutional law with an open-ended state of emergency).

Or the terrifying threat can be based, like the National Socialist
evocation of the "global conspiracy of world Jewry", on myth.

It is not that global Islamist terrorism is not a severe danger; of
course it is.

I am arguing rather that the language used to convey the nature of
threat is different in a country such as Spain - which has also
suffered violent terrorist attacks - than it is in America.

Spanish citizens know that they face a grave security threat; what we
as American citizens believe is that we are potentially threatened
with the end of civilisation as we know it.

Of course, this makes us more willing to accept restrictions on our

2. Create a gulag

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

At first, the people who are sent there are seen by citizens as
outsiders: troublemakers, spies, "enemies of the people" or

Initially, citizens tend to support the secret prison system; it
them feel safer and they do not identify with the prisoners.

But soon enough, civil society leaders - opposition members, labour
activists, clergy and journalists - are arrested and sent there as

This process took place in fascist shifts or anti-democracy
ranging from Italy and Germany in the 1920s and 1930s to the Latin
American coups of the 1970s and beyond.

It is standard practice for closing down an open society or crushing
pro-democracy uprising.

With its jails in Iraq and Afghanistan, and, of course, Guantánamo in
Cuba, where detainees are abused, and kept indefinitely without trial
and without access to the due process of the law, America certainly
has its gulag now.

Bush and his allies in Congress recently announced they would issue
information about the secret CIA "black site" prisons throughout the
world, which are used to incarcerate people who have been seized off
the street.

Gulags in history tend to metastasise, becoming ever larger and more
secretive, ever more deadly and formalised.

We know from first-hand accounts, photographs, videos and government
documents that people, innocent and guilty, have been tortured in the
US-run prisons we are aware of and those we can't investigate

But Americans still assume this system and detainee abuses involve
only scary brown people with whom they don't generally identify.

It was brave of the conservative pundit William Safire to quote the
anti-Nazi pastor Martin Niemöller, who had been seized as a political

"First they came for the Jews."

Most Americans don't understand yet that the destruction of the rule
of law at Guantánamo set a dangerous precedent for them, too.

By the way, the establishment of military tribunals that deny
prisoners due process tends to come early on in a fascist shift.

Mussolini and Stalin set up such tribunals.

On April 24 1934, the Nazis, too, set up the People's Court, which
also bypassed the judicial system:

prisoners were held indefinitely, often in isolation, and tortured,
without being charged with offences, and were subjected to show

Eventually, the Special Courts became a parallel system that put
pressure on the regular courts to abandon the rule of law in favour
Nazi ideology when making decisions.

3. Develop a thug caste

When leaders who seek what I call a "fascist shift" want to close
an open society, they send paramilitary groups of scary young men out
to terrorise citizens.

The Blackshirts roamed the Italian countryside beating up communists;
the Brownshirts staged violent rallies throughout Germany.

This paramilitary force is especially important in a democracy:

you need citizens to fear thug violence and so you need thugs who are
free from prosecution.

The years following 9/11 have proved a bonanza for America's security
contractors, with the Bush administration outsourcing areas of work
that traditionally fell to the US military.

In the process, contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars have
been issued for security work by mercenaries at home and abroad.

In Iraq, some of these contract operatives have been accused of
involvement in torturing prisoners, harassing journalists and firing
on Iraqi civilians.

Under Order 17, issued to regulate contractors in Iraq by the one-
US administrator in Baghdad, Paul Bremer, these contractors are
from prosecution

Yes, but that is in Iraq, you could argue; however, after Hurricane
Katrina, the Department of Homeland Security hired and deployed
hundreds of armed private security guards in New Orleans.

The investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill interviewed one unnamed
guard who reported having fired on unarmed civilians in the city.

It was a natural disaster that underlay that episode - but the
administration's endless war on terror means ongoing scope for what
are in effect privately contracted armies to take on crisis and
emergency management at home in US cities.

Thugs in America?

Groups of angry young Republican men, dressed in identical shirts and
trousers, menaced poll workers counting the votes in Florida in 2000.

If you are reading history, you can imagine that there can be a need
for "public order" on the next election day.

Say there are protests, or a threat, on the day of an election;
history would not rule out the presence of a private security firm at
a polling station "to restore public order".

4. Set up an internal surveillance system

In Mussolini's Italy, in Nazi Germany, in communist East Germany, in
communist China - in every closed society - secret police spy on
ordinary people and encourage neighbours to spy on neighbours.

The Stasi needed to keep only a minority of East Germans under
surveillance to convince a majority that they themselves were being

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

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

5. Harass citizens' groups

The fifth thing you do is related to step four - you infiltrate and
harass citizens' groups.

It can be trivial:

a church in Pasadena, whose minister preached that Jesus was in
of peace, found itself being investigated by the Internal Revenue
Service, while churches that got Republicans out to vote, which is
equally illegal under US tax law, have been left alone.

Other harassment is more serious:

the American Civil Liberties Union reports that thousands of ordinary
American anti-war, environmental and other groups have been
infiltrated by agents:

a secret Pentagon database includes more than four dozen peaceful
anti-war meetings, rallies or marches by American citizens in its
category of 1,500 "suspicious incidents".

The equally secret Counterintelligence Field Activity (Cifa) agency
the Department of Defense has been gathering information about
domestic organisations engaged in peaceful political activities:

Cifa is supposed to track "potential terrorist threats" as it watches
ordinary US citizen activists.

A little-noticed new law has redefined activism such as animal rights
protests as "terrorism".

So the definition of "terrorist" slowly expands to include the

6. Engage in arbitrary detention and release

This scares people.

It is a kind of cat-and-mouse game.

Nicholas D Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, the investigative reporters who
wrote China Wakes: the Struggle for the Soul of a Rising Power,
describe pro-democracy activists in China, such as Wei Jingsheng,
being arrested and released many times.

In a closing or closed society there is a "list" of dissidents and
opposition leaders:

you are targeted in this way once you are on the list, and it is hard
to get off the list.

In 2004, America's Transportation Security Administration confirmed
that it had a list of passengers who were targeted for security
searches or worse if they tried to fly.

People who have found themselves on the list?

Two middle-aged women peace activists in San Francisco; liberal
Senator Edward Kennedy; a member of Venezuela's government - after
Venezuela's president had criticised Bush; and thousands of ordinary
US citizens.

Professor Walter F Murphy is emeritus of Princeton University; he is
one of the foremost constitutional scholars in the nation and author
of the classic Constitutional Democracy.

Murphy is also a decorated former marine, and he is not even
especially politically liberal.

But on March 1 this year, he was denied a boarding pass at Newark,
"because I was on the Terrorist Watch list".

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

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

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

Anti-war marcher?

Potential terrorist.

Support the constitution?

Potential terrorist.

History shows that the categories of "enemy of the people" tend to
expand ever deeper into civil life.

James Yee, a US citizen, was the Muslim chaplain at Guantánamo who
accused of mishandling classified documents.

He was harassed by the US military before the charges against him
dropped. Yee has been detained and released several times.

He is still of interest.

Brandon Mayfield, a US citizen and lawyer in Oregon, was mistakenly
identified as a possible terrorist.

His house was secretly broken into and his computer seized.

Though he is innocent of the accusation against him, he is still on
the list.

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

7. Target key individuals

Threaten civil servants, artists and academics with job loss if they
don't toe the line.

Mussolini went after the rectors of state universities who did not
conform to the fascist line;

so did Joseph Goebbels, who purged academics who were not pro-Nazi;

so did Chile's Augusto Pinochet;

so does the Chinese communist Politburo in punishing pro-democracy
students and professors.

Academe is a tinderbox of activism, so those seeking a fascist shift
punish academics and students with professional loss if they do not
"coordinate", in Goebbels' term, ideologically.

Since civil servants are the sector of society most vulnerable to
being fired by a given regime, they are also a group that fascists
typically "coordinate" early on:

the Reich Law for the Re-establishment of a Professional Civil
was passed on April 7 1933.

Bush supporters in state legislatures in several states put pressure
on regents at state universities to penalise or fire academics who
have been critical of the administration.

As for civil servants, the Bush administration has derailed the
of one military lawyer who spoke up for fair trials for detainees,
while an administration official publicly intimidated the law firms
that represent detainees pro bono by threatening to call for their
major corporate clients to boycott them.

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

Most recently, the administration purged eight US attorneys for what
looks like insufficient political loyalty.

When Goebbels purged the civil service in April 1933, attorneys were
"coordinated" too, a step that eased the way of the increasingly
brutal laws to follow.

8. Control the press

Italy in the 1920s, Germany in the 30s, East Germany in the 50s,
Czechoslovakia in the 60s, the Latin American dictatorships in the
70s, China in the 80s and 90s - all dictatorships and would-be
dictators target newspapers and journalists.

They threaten and harass them in more open societies that they are
seeking to close, and they arrest them and worse in societies that
have been closed already.

The Committee to Protect Journalists says arrests of US journalists
are at an all-time high:

Josh Wolf (no relation), a blogger in San Francisco, has been put in
jail for a year for refusing to turn over video of an anti-war

Homeland Security brought a criminal complaint against reporter Greg
Palast, claiming he threatened "critical infrastructure" when he and
TV producer were filming victims of Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana.
Palast had written a bestseller critical of the Bush administration.

Other reporters and writers have been punished in other ways.

Joseph C Wilson accused Bush, in a New York Times op-ed, of leading
the country to war on the basis of a false charge that Saddam Hussein
had acquired yellowcake uranium in Niger.

His wife, Valerie Plame, was outed as a CIA spy - a form of
retaliation that ended her career.

Prosecution and job loss are nothing, though, compared with how the
is treating journalists seeking to cover the conflict in Iraq in an
unbiased way.

The Committee to Protect Journalists has documented multiple accounts
of the US military in Iraq firing upon or threatening to fire upon
unembedded (meaning independent) reporters and camera operators from
organisations ranging from al-Jazeera to the BBC.

While westerners may question the accounts by al-Jazeera, they should
pay attention to the accounts of reporters such as the BBC's Kate

In some cases reporters have been wounded or killed, including ITN's
Terry Lloyd in 2003.

Both CBS and the Associated Press in Iraq had staff members seized by
the US military and taken to violent prisons; the news organisations
were unable to see the evidence against their staffers.

Over time in closing societies, real news is supplanted by fake news
and false documents. Pinochet showed Chilean citizens falsified
documents to back up his claim that terrorists had been about to
attack the nation.

The yellowcake charge, too, was based on forged papers.

You won't have a shutdown of news in modern America - it is not

But you can have, as Frank Rich and Sidney Blumenthal have pointed
out, a steady stream of lies polluting the news well.

What you already have is a White House directing a stream of false
information that is so relentless that it is increasingly hard to
out truth from untruth.

In a fascist system, it's not the lies that count but the muddying.

When citizens can't tell real news from fake, they give up their
demands for accountability bit by bit.

9. Dissent equals treason

Cast dissent as "treason" and criticism as "espionage'.

Every closing society does this, just as it elaborates laws that
increasingly criminalise certain kinds of speech and expand the
definition of "spy" and "traitor".

When Bill Keller, the publisher of the New York Times, ran the
Lichtblau/Risen stories, Bush called the Times' leaking of classified
information "disgraceful", while Republicans in Congress called for
Keller to be charged with treason, and rightwing commentators and
outlets kept up the "treason" drumbeat.

Some commentators, as Conason noted, reminded readers smugly that one
penalty for violating the Espionage Act is execution.

Conason is right to note how serious a threat that attack
It is also important to recall that the 1938 Moscow show trial
the editor of Izvestia, Nikolai Bukharin, of treason; Bukharin was,
fact, executed.

And it is important to remind Americans that when the 1917 Espionage
Act was last widely invoked, during the infamous 1919 Palmer Raids,
leftist activists were arrested without warrants in sweeping
kept in jail for up to five months, and "beaten, starved, suffocated,
tortured and threatened with death", according to the historian Myra

After that, dissent was muted in America for a decade.

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

And here is where the circle closes: most Americans do not realise
that since September of last year - when Congress wrongly, foolishly,
passed the Military Commissions Act of 2006 - the president has the
power to call any US citizen an "enemy combatant".

He has the power to define what "enemy combatant" means.

The president can also delegate to anyone he chooses in the executive
branch the right to define "enemy combatant" any way he or she wants
and then seize Americans accordingly.

Even if you or I are American citizens, even if we turn out to be
completely innocent of what he has accused us of doing, he has the
power to have us seized as we are changing planes at Newark tomorrow,
or have us taken with a knock on the door; ship you or me to a navy
brig; and keep you or me in isolation, possibly for months, while
awaiting trial.

(Prolonged isolation, as psychiatrists know, triggers psychosis in
otherwise mentally healthy prisoners. That is why Stalin's gulag had
an isolation cell, like Guantánamo's, in every satellite prison. Camp
6, the newest, most brutal facility at Guantánamo, is all isolation

We US citizens will get a trial eventually - for now.

But legal rights activists at the Center for Constitutional Rights
that the Bush administration is trying increasingly aggressively to
find ways to get around giving even US citizens fair trials.

"Enemy combatant" is a status offence - it is not even something you
have to have done.

"We have absolutely moved over into a preventive detention model -
look like you could do something bad, you might do something bad, so
we're going to hold you," says a spokeswoman of the CCR.

Most Americans surely do not get this yet.

No wonder: it is hard to believe, even though it is true.

In every closing society, at a certain point there are some
high-profile arrests - usually of opposition leaders, clergy and

Then everything goes quiet.

After those arrests, there are still newspapers, courts, TV and
and the facades of a civil society.

There just isn't real dissent.

There just isn't freedom.

If you look at history, just before those arrests is where we are

10. Suspend the rule of law

The John Warner Defense Authorization Act of 2007 gave the president
new powers over the national guard.

This means that in a national emergency - which the president now has
enhanced powers to declare - he can send Michigan's militia to
a state of emergency that he has declared in Oregon, over the
objections of the state's governor and its citizens.

Even as Americans were focused on Britney Spears's meltdown and the
question of who fathered Anna Nicole's baby, the New York Times
editorialised about this shift:

"A disturbing recent phenomenon in Washington is that laws that
to the heart of American democracy have been passed in the dead of
night ... Beyond actual insurrection, the president may now use
military troops as a domestic police force in response to a natural
disaster, a disease outbreak, terrorist attack or any 'other

Critics see this as a clear violation of the Posse Comitatus Act -
which was meant to restrain the federal government from using the
military for domestic law enforcement.

The Democratic senator Patrick Leahy says the bill encourages a
president to declare federal martial law.

It also violates the very reason the founders set up our system of
government as they did:

having seen citizens bullied by a monarch's soldiers, the founders
were terrified of exactly this kind of concentration of militias'
power over American people in the hands of an oppressive executive or

Of course, the United States is not vulnerable to the violent, total
closing-down of the system that followed Mussolini's march on Rome or
Hitler's roundup of political prisoners.

Our democratic habits are too resilient, and our military and
judiciary too independent, for any kind of scenario like that.

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

It is a mistake to think that early in a fascist shift you see the
profile of barbed wire against the sky.

In the early days, things look normal on the surface; peasants were
celebrating harvest festivals in Calabria in 1922; people were
shopping and going to the movies in Berlin in 1931.

Early on, as WH Auden put it, the horror is always elsewhere - while
someone is being tortured, children are skating, ships are sailing:
"dogs go on with their doggy life ... How everything turns away/
leisurely from the disaster."

As Americans turn away quite leisurely, keeping tuned to internet
shopping and American Idol, the foundations of democracy are being
fatally corroded.

Something has changed profoundly that weakens us unprecedentedly:

our democratic traditions, independent judiciary and free press do
their work today in a context in which we are "at war" in a "long
- a war without end, on a battlefield described as the globe, in a
context that gives the president - without US citizens realising it
yet - the power over US citizens of freedom or long solitary
incarceration, on his say-so alone.

That means a hollowness has been expanding under the foundation of
these still- free-looking institutions - and this foundation can give
way under certain kinds of pressure.

To prevent such an outcome, we have to think about the "what ifs".

What if, in a year and a half, there is another attack - say, God
forbid, a dirty bomb?

The executive can declare a state of emergency.

History shows that any leader, of any party, will be tempted to
maintain emergency powers after the crisis has passed.

With the gutting of traditional checks and balances, we are no less
endangered by a President Hillary than by a President Giuliani -
because any executive will be tempted to enforce his or her will
through edict rather than the arduous, uncertain process of
negotiation and compromise.

What if the publisher of a major US newspaper were charged with
treason or espionage, as a rightwing effort seemed to threaten Keller
with last year?

What if he or she got 10 years in jail?

What would the newspapers look like the next day?

Judging from history, they would not cease publishing; but they would
suddenly be very polite.

Right now, only a handful of patriots are trying to hold back the
of tyranny for the rest of us - staff at the Center for
Rights, who faced death threats for representing the detainees yet
persisted all the way to the Supreme Court;

activists at the American Civil Liberties Union;

and prominent conservatives trying to roll back the corrosive new
laws, under the banner of a new group called the American Freedom

This small, disparate collection of people needs everybody's help,
including that of Europeans and others internationally who are
to put pressure on the administration because they can see what a US
unrestrained by real democracy at home can mean for the rest of the

We need to look at history and face the "what ifs".

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

"The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and
judiciary, in the same hands ... is the definition of tyranny," wrote
James Madison.

We still have the choice to stop going down this road;

we can stand our ground and fight for our nation, and take up the
banner the founders asked us to carry.



Relevant Pages

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