As the Bush/neocon kleptocracy disintegrates in a toxic
cloud of military defeat, economic bankruptcy, environmental disaster and
escalating mega-scandal, its attack on basic American freedoms -- its "New
Totalitarianism" -- has escalated to a desperate new level, including
brutal Soviet-style prosecutions against non-violent dissidents and an all-out
offensive for state secrecy, including an attack on the Internet.
In obvious panic and disarray, the GOP right has turned to a
time-honored strategy -- kill the messengers. While it slaughters Americans and
Iraqis to "bring democracy" to the Middle East, it has made democracy
itself public enemy Number One here at home.
The New Totalitarianism has become tangible in particular
through a string of terrifying prosecutions against non-violent dissenters, an
attack on open access to official government papers, and the attempted
resurrection by right-wing "theorists" of America's most repressive
legislation, dating back to the 1950s, 1917 and even 1797.
Bush's universal spy campaign is the cutting edge of the
assault. The attorney general has told Congress both George Washington and
Abraham Lincoln engaged in electronic wiretapping. He has deemed the Geneva war
crimes accords a "quaint" document and treats the Bill of Rights the
Evidence of no-warrant spying on thousands of US citizens
continues to surface. Like all totalitarian regimes, this one believes its best
defense is to terrorize its citizenry by intruding, Big Brother-like, into all
facets of personal life. Inevitably, it is moving to prosecute whoever reveals
that spying is going on, including a KGB-style search for the hero who leaked
Bush's warrantless wire-tap program.
Along with spying comes official secrecy. The Bush regime is
reclassifying millions of pages of harmless, marginal documents to prevent
public scrutiny. It demands access to the papers of the deceased investigative
reporter Jack Anderson so they can be reclassified. It has moved to prosecute
reporters, government officials and even lobbyists who have used documents in
ways the administration doesn't like.
In Ohio, the official secrecy has entered the state level.
Governor Bob Taft, the first sitting criminal governor in Ohio history, is
moving to classify thousands of pages of state policy papers. Taft recently
admitted to four misdemeanor crimes involved with Tom Noe, a Republican hack
now under both state and federal indictment.
Noe can't explain the whereabouts of some $15 million in
state funds he supposedly invested. Taft says any documents that allow him to
make policy are "privileged." As critics point out, if an aide hands
him even a copy of a published newspaper, it becomes covered under
"executive privilege" in the first time in Ohio history, and its
"misuse" can be a crime.
Should the trend expand, US citizens could find themselves
shut out of access to even the most rudimentary official information at all
levels, down to the smallest town.
Simultaneously, prosecutions against dissenters have
dramatically escalated. Taft walked away from his convictions with a small fine
and an apology. But a community organizer here has been sentenced to 119 days
in jail for speaking out at a Columbus School Board meeting. A severe diabetic,
Jerry Doyle has been temporarily turned away from his jail sentence due to
life-threatening health problems. But authorities intend to imprison Doyle
while Taft walks free.
Ironically, Doyle was initially charged with trespassing at
the podium although he had an authorized speaker's slip. He was complaining
about a school official, Sheri Bird-Long, who stole some $200,000 from the
school system, pleaded guilty to one felony count of having an unlawful
interest in a public contract and one misdemeanor count of unauthorized use of
property, a theft-related offense. Unlike Doyle, Bird-Long got no jail time
In Cleveland Heights, Carol Fisher has been charged with a
major felony for putting posters on public lampposts. The posters are critical
of the Bush attack on Iraq. Fisher, who is committed to non-violence, was
assaulted by local police who ordered her to take down the posters, then threw
her down on the ground and charged her with felonious assault.
"I am 53 years old," she says, "not exactly a
spring chicken. A hand comes down to push my chin against the concrete. By this
time there are four cops on the scene. My hands are tightly cuffed behind my
back. They lift me up and shove me onto a park bench and shackle my legs. I am
still calling out, telling people what this is about."
Fisher says the police cursed her, shouting "Shut up or
I will kill you! . . . I am sick of this anti-Bush shit! . . . You are
definitely going to the psyche ward." Fisher now faces years in prison and
the loss of her livelihood.
Such gratuitous, mean-spirited and overtly repressive
prosecutions against non-violent dissenters have proliferated throughout the Bush
era, in which ordinary citizens with moderate bumper stickers or T-shirts have
been turned away from or arrested at public events.
The clear and present purpose is to spread a climate of
totalitarian fear aimed at reversing the sacred American freedoms embodied in
the first ten amendments to the Constitution.
The campaign runs in tandem with the attack on academic
discourse coordinated by David Horowitz and other haters of open debate. In the
guise of seeking "balance," the rightist campaign aims to purge
liberals from the liberal arts.
It parallels the industry-centered attempts to clamp down on
the Internet, which has been the sole grassroots source of reliable information
and dissenting opinion in the US for years.
With total corporate domination of the major media, only the
Internet and a few talk radio shows and liberal magazines have kept alive the
American tradition of a free press. Predictably, the administration is using a
corporate front to shut off this last source of open "diablog."
Bush has taken the same tack against science itself. As Joe
Stalin exiled and killed researchers whose fact-based conclusions seemed to
contradict the party line, so the GOP attacks the overwhelming consensus among
climatologists that global warming is real. With true Orwellian flare, the
administration disappears official research (and researchers) whose data say
the oil barons who define Team Bush must curb their emissions.
The repression has reached new theoretical levels. In recent
weeks, right-wing journals such as the National Review have featured articles
demanding enforcement of ancient legislation outlawing "sedition."
With the US now "at war," the right-wingers say it is perfectly fine
for Bush to arrest and imprison those who advocate peace. In particular they
cite repressive legislation used in the 1950s to clamp down on "known
Communists." They also cite acts passed in 1917, during World War I, and
the Sedition Act, passed under John Adams in 1797.
These laws in essence gave the chief executive power to
imprison American citizens at will. Woodrow Wilson used them to jail Eugene V.
Debs and thousands more who resisted US intervention in Europe. Debs was
sentenced to 10 years in federal prison for urging resistance to a war opposed
by a significant majority of the American people (Debs ran for president from
his Atlanta prison cell in 1920 and got nearly a million votes). Some
dissenters were arrested for carrying posters that quoted Wilson's own writings
in favor of peace. Opponents of the military draft were routinely jailed
without trial. A "Red Scare" was used as cover to smash the Socialist
Party and radical labor movement, debilitating the American left for decades to
John Adams's Sedition Act had similar aims. Its reign was
brief and less destructive. But according to the New Totalitarians, it remains
in force, and should be used to crush opponents of Bush's Iraq attack.
The neocons have taken particular aim at generals and other
officers who have criticized the Bush military strategy, if it can be called
that. The critiques have merely underscored the astonishing incompetence of the
Bush junta. They reflect the highest order of courage and patriotism.
But such honor and honesty comprise the New
Totalitarianism's worst nightmare. With indictments flowing deep into the
kleptocracy, the most anti-democratic of all American regimes has just two
tactics. The first is to create a culture of fear while silencing the
dissenters, by all means necessary.
The second is to rig voting machines and strip voter rolls
to guarantee that no matter how deep dissent actually carries in this country,
it will have no tangible impact on who holds the reins of power. In tandem
comes the deliberate shrinking of the electorate through repressive ID requirements
and digitized voter registration lists. Thus far up to 10 percent of the entire
Ohio electorate -- some 500,000 voters -- have been stripped from the state's
registration rolls, all from Democratic strongholds.
Today Bush's popularity has sunk to about a third of the
population, a level similar to Hitler's percent of the vote when the Nazis took
power in 1933. The GOP neocons have clearly realized that they can only hold
power with old-fashioned thuggery and high-tech Tammany.
Having lost the public debate on its suicidal military,
economic, environmental and social policies, all-out repression and stolen
elections are the two remaining pillars of the New Totalitarianism.
Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman are co-authors of "How
the GOP Stole America's 2004 Election and Is Rigging 2008".
They are co-editors, with Steve Rosenfeld, of "What Happened in
Ohio?" soon to be published by The New Press.