The End of America – a film by Annie Sundberg and Ricki Stern
10 STEPS THAT CLOSE AN OPEN SOCIETY
1. invoke an internal and external threat
People who are afraid are willing to do things that they wouldn’t otherwise do.
2. establish secret (unaccountable) prisons where torture takes place
In a secret system, the government does not have to provide any proof of wrongdoing by those it holds, so it can incarcerate anyone it wants.
3. develop a paramilitary force
A private military force — under the exclusive direction of the “commander in chief” with no accountability to Congress, the courts, or the public — blurs the line between a civilian police force and a militarized police state.
4. surveil ordinary citizens
People who believe they are being watched are less likely to voice opposition. To scare a population into silence, the government need only monitor the activities of a few to make everyone fear that they are being surveilled. Every closed society keeps a “list” of so-called opponents it tracks.
5. infiltrate citizen’s groups
Spies in activist groups put psychological pressure on genuine activists by undermining their trust in one another. They may also disrupt legal activities, undermining the effectiveness of group efforts.
6. detain and release ordinary citizens
Detention intimidates or psychologically damages those arrested and also lets everyone know that anyone could be labeled an “enemy combatant” and “disappeared.”
7. target key individuals
People are less likely to speak out when those who are highly visible, like journalists, scholars, artists, or celebrities, are intimidated or have the livelihoods threatened. Targeting those who are especially visible makes it less likely that people will speak out and robs society of leaders and others who might inspire opposition.
8. restrict the press
The public is less likely to find out about government wrongdoing if the government can threaten to prosecute anyone who publishes or broadcasts reports that are critical of the government.
9. recast criticism as espionage and dissent as treason
People who protest can be charged with terrorism or treason when laws criminalize or limit free speech rather than protect it.
10. subvert the rule of law
The disappearance of checks and balances makes it easier to declare martial law, especially if the judiciary branch continues to exercise authority over individuals but has no authority over the Executive branch.
The movie presents these steps with lots of references to fascist and communist totalitarian history, particularly Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. According to the movie we are rapidly moving away from a democratic open society to a closed fascist one. The historical context for these changes in America is strictly the post 9/11 era and Ms. Wolf seems blind to the extent to which our society ceased being very open and veered away from democracy long ago. The seeds of our present situation in which corporatist interests joined at the hip with the American Empire and its military/security apparatus substantially dominate politics and the mass media are to be found long before 9/11.
An interesting aspect of this list, and a significant blind spot for Ms. Wolf and the makers of this movie, is the extent to which most of these “steps” have been present consistently in American life. John Adams and the Federalist’s Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 speak directly to steps 8 and 9. Cold War America used Steps 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, & 10 throughout this period. The post WWII security state has consistently treated the Constitution and Bill of Rights as rhetorical cannon fodder for propaganda to be ignored or more forthrightly nullified when found inconvenient. For the most part, Ms. Wolf’s Ten Steps really stand out because they have been the subject of enormous intensification and institutionalization since 9/11. The American domestic security state is now united with the war making operations of the DOD to make the reach of American government truly comprehensive globally and domestically.
The government and the mass media, in a self-serving and cynical fashion, blew the 9/11 attacks into a gigantic existential threat. To this day 9/11 is treated as though it were a 21st century Pearl Harbor. In practical terms, 9/11 was a mere pin prick to an elephant. Though this attack wounded our self-perception of invulnerability and offended our sense that we are the saviors of the democratic world, it was just a terrorist attack, an incident to be dealt with proportionally, not by passing draconian Patriot Acts and building a gigantic addition onto the US security apparatus. Not to mention using this as a pretext to launching wars in two countries that have now lasted more than ten years and cost in the $ trillions.
On top of that, the government, in a completely bi-partisan display of unity, seized the opportunity to build whole new empires of security. We have the Department of Homeland Security with a $57 billion budget for fiscal 2012 and more than 200,000 employees (third largest department). 60,000 employees are in the TSA, that wonderful institution of airport silly business.
We now have to remove our shoes to get on an airplane, but do not have control of the hundreds of thousands of shipping containers that come to our ports each year. Better to demonstrate to the American populace the cost of our security by conducting invasive pat downs than to undertake real protection measures that might slow down commerce or even increase the expenses of corporations. I have been having a recurring bad dream of a small container ship floating into one of our harbors with a dirty bomb on it that we seem to have no effective means to prevent or detect.
Viewed from the perspective that Ms. Wolf’s Ten Steps are not new, but simply an intensification of fifty years of the American Empire, I think only the brutish forces of history will undo this mess.