Signs of a Police State Are Everywhere

Signs of a Police State Are Everywhere

By James Petras

Years ago, a well
known author, Bertram Gross, wrote that fascism would come to the U.S. with a
friendly face: not with Nuremburg rallies, or doctrines of racial superiority,
without formally banning parties, abrogating the Constitution or eliminating the
three branches of government, but with the same nationalist fervor, arbitrary
dictatorial laws, and violent military conquests.

In the U.S.,
signs of a police state are evident everywhere. Thousands of U.S. citizens of
Middle Eastern descent have been arrested without charges, and the exercise of
their right to criticize U.S. policy in the Middle East has been branded as
support for terrorism. This pogrom has been encouraged and incited by government
officials, especially by the police, both local and federal, and by assorted
veterans’ groups and demagogic politicians. The president has decreed
dictatorial powers, setting up anonymous military tribunals to try “suspicious”
immigrants and overseas “suspects” who can be kidnapped and tried in the U.S.
Habeas corpus has been suspended. School children have been forced to sing
quasi-religious anthems and pledge allegiance to the flag. Many employees who
voice criticism of the war or U.S. support of Israel or denounce Israeli
massacres of Palestinians have been suspended or fired. All letters, emails, and
phone calls are subject to control without any judicial review. The mass media
spews government propaganda, churns out chauvinist stories, and is relatively
silent on overseas massacres and domestic repression.


One of the
hallmarks of a totalitarian regime is the creation of a state of mutual
suspicion in which civil society is turned into a network of secret police
informers. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) soon after September 11
exhorted every U.S. citizen to report any suspicious behavior by friends,
neighbors, relatives, acquaintances, and strangers. Between September and the
end of November almost 700,000 denunciations were registered. Thousands of
Middle Eastern neighbors, local shop owners, and employees were denounced, as
were numerous other U.S. citizens. None of these denunciations led to any
arrests or even information related to September 11. Yet hundreds and thousands
of innocent persons were investigated and harassed by the federal police. Tens
of millions of Americans have become paranoid—fearing “terrorism” in their
everyday work, shopping, and leisure activities. People refrain from the mildest
criticism of the war or the government for fear they will be labeled terrorist
sympathizers, reported to the government, investigated, and lose their job.


Friendly fascism
scapegoats Arabs—arresting, investigating, accusing, targeting—while its public
discourse proclaims the virtues of tolerance and pluralism. Racial doctrines are
not in evidence, but racial profiling of “Middle-Eastern” people is an
established and accepted operating procedure of federal, state, and local
police. Large concentrations of Arab communities, such as in Dearborn, Michigan,
feel like they are living in a ghetto, waiting for a pogrom to happen. The head
of the FBI considers all Arab civic, charity, and other associations suspect of
aiding terrorism and subject to investigation and its members targets for
arrest. The massive “razzias,” police sweeps into houses, stores, and offices of
civic groups, have created a siege mentality. The police campaign has aroused
the racist instincts and fomented a rash of civilian insults and hostility.

Dictatorial Powers

In totalitarian
states, the supreme leader seizes dictatorial powers, suspends constitutional
guarantees (citing “emergency powers”) empowers the secret police, and handpicks
tribunals to arbitrarily arrest, judge, and condemn the accused to prison or
execution. On November 13, President Bush took the fatal step toward assuming
dictatorial powers. Without consulting Congress, Bush decreed an emergency
order. The order permits the government to arrest non-citizens who they have
“reason to believe” are terrorists to be tried by military tribunal. The trials
are secret and the prosecutors do not have to present evidence if it is “in the
interests of national security.”

The condemned can
be executed even if one-third of the military judges disagree. Dictatorial
powers to jail or execute suspects without due process is the essence of
totalitarian rulers.

In mid-November,
the Department of Justice refused to disclose the identities and status of more
than 1,100 persons arrested since September 11. As in totalitarian regimes,
political prisoners are constantly interrogated without lawyers and without
charges by the FBI in the hope of forcing confessions.

On October 26
Bush signed the USA/Patriot Act, which vastly strengthened the powers of the
police over civil society. The extension of secret police powers was approved
almost unanimously by Congress (most of whose members never read the law). Every
clause of this law violated the U.S. Constitution. Under this law: (a) any
federal law enforcement agency may secretly enter any home or business, collect
evidence, not inform the citizen of the entry, and then use the evidence (seized
or planted) to convict the occupant of a crime; (b) any police agency has the
power to monitor all Internet traffic and emails, intercept cell phones without
warrant of millions of “suspects”; (c) any Federal police agency can invade any
business premises and seize all records on the basis that it is “connected” with
a terrorist investigation. Citizens who publicly protest these arbitrary,
invasive police actions can be arrested.

The USA/Patriot
Act, like its totalitarian counterparts, has a vague, loose definition of
“terrorism” that allows it to repress any dissident organization and protest
activity. According to section 802 of the Act, terrorism is defined as
“activities that involve acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of
the criminal laws of the United States…(and) appear to be intended to intimidate
or coerce a civilian population (or)…to influence the policy of the government
by intimidation or coercion.” Any anti-globalization protest, such as occurred
in Seattle, can now be labeled “terrorist,” its leaders and participants
arrested, their homes and offices searched, documents seized, and, if they are
not citizens, shipped to military tribunals. These “emergency” decrees and laws
are in place until 2005 and beyond if the investigations began prior to the
terminal year.

Perhaps, when the
country has been re-democratized and the chauvinist fever has ebbed and a fair
and pluralistic media has replaced the current state propaganda machines, we may
discover harsh truths. When the secret police files are opened we may discover
that many honorable and respectable people denounced their neighbors and friends
because of personal vendettas; that professionals secretly informed on their
colleagues who were critical of Israel; that the FBI spied on millions of
law-abiding progressive American citizens because right- wing ideologues sought
to eliminate them. In studying the recordings, transcripts, and videos of the
messages of the mass media, we will be able to see how easily, quickly, and
completely they became propaganda arms of the friendly fascist state.

Researchers will
marvel or be shocked by the corruption of political language: massive bombings
of large cities in the name of “anti-terrorism”; euphemisms to justify
massacres; mass killings of prisoners of war described as “killed during a
prisoner revolt.” Historians will also note the absent voices of critics; the
absence of any reports of civilian casualties. Future scholars watching videos
of Defense Secretary Rumsfeld’s jocular pronouncements to “kill all terrorists,”
will not join the laughing audience of journalists, remembering the mountains of
corpses executed in cold blood by Rumsfeld’s surrogate mercenaries.

Historians will
debate whether the mass acquiescence by the U.S. public to the bombings and
executions was a reflection of the incessant and all-encompassing propaganda or
whether they were willing accomplices of the slaughter. The philosophers and
psychologists will debate whether the flag waving celebrants of the New World
Order were motivated by the smiling faces and bellicose rhetoric of their
leaders or embraced friendly fascism because of their paranoia, fear, and
anxiety induced by the voices of authority and amplified by the media.

This view
presumes that critical voices will survive the current period of friendly
fascism and build a movement to challenge its power. One can hope and believe it
will happen because, otherwise, the lies and murders of the present will go
unanswered.               Z

Petras teaches sociology at SUNY, Binghamton and is a longtime writer on
political issues.