During her little noticed appearance on The Colbert Report this week author Naomi Wolf mentioned a list of ten specific steps that can and will lead a country from Democracy and Freedom into Totalitarian Fascism - and unfortunately it appears that we've already ticked our way past all but one of those goalposts while hardly blinking an eye.
From Hitler to Pinochet and beyond, history shows there are certain steps that any would-be dictator must take to destroy constitutional freedoms. And, argues Naomi Wolf, George Bush and his administration seem to be taking them all
The old analogy of the frog in the frying pan clearly applies here. It's only by very slowly and gradually increasing the heat that we are lulled into believing everything is just fine - meanwhile our skin is peeling off.
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 recognize 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 society. 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 realize.
Naomi makes an excellent point, but what is even more chilling is the fact that it has happened before - TO US!
Step 1. Invoke a terrifying internal and external enemy
As was done after the Reichstag Fire and the Attack on Pearl Harbor a new and enduring enemy of the state has been identified, both within and without - both real and imagined. In Germany the imagined enemy were the Jews, Gypsies and Gays, in America it was the interned Japanese-Americans, the dreaded "Fifth Column" and later The Reds and Commies.
As the Reichstag Fire was followed by the Enabling Act which supplanted constitutional law with a perpetual state of emergency, we have seen Sept 11th followed by the Patriot Act, the (toothless) Detainee Treatment Act, the Military Commissions Act and the FISA Act - all of whom have continued to trade freedom and protections against the overreaching of the state for the pyrite of "Security" in a deal so naked in it's lopsidedness it would make Beelzebulb blush with envy.
Today the real threat is indeed al Qeada, albeit a far less deadly and damaging threat than the one which wiped most of New Orleans from the map, while the imagined one are those damn filthy Liberals who just about seem to be to blame for everything. Especially those mouthy Liberals who would rail against the slow loss of liberty and our national moral standing. Pity those who dare to stand firm against the juggernaut of fear and loathing, they who will become nothing more than grease upon it's wheels.
Step 2. Create a Gulag
As we've seen under Stalin once you have identified your enemies - you need a dank dark place to put them. Permanently. And of course, like a little butter to make this bitter pill go down - you need a sham kangaroo court to make your Secret Prisons and Detention Centers seem completely legitimate.
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 offenses, and were subjected to show trials.
Today people such Abu Omar, Maher Arar and Pulitzer Prize winning AP photographer Bilial Hussein have been literally snatched off the street by U.S. forces and agents, kidnapped, transported across international lines against their will and in several cases tortured by our "allies" only to be later to have been found as Omar and Ahar have been - to be completely innocent. Most of those held at Abu Ghraib were innocent of any real charge, and had no connections to insurgents or terrorists - yet they have remained.
Meanwhile the American public has hardly lifted a voice in protest, let alone a finger. Just as they remained silent during the internment of Japanese-Americans, and the blacklisting of suspected "Pinkos" in decades past.
3. Develop a thug caste.