As the Bush/neo-con 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
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 GOP 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 same way.
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 prosecute whoever reveals that spying is going on,
including a KGB-style search for the hero who leaked Bush's warrantless wire-tap
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
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
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 "mis-use" 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
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 upon conviction.
In Cleveland Heights, Carol Fisher has been charged with a major felony for
putting posters on public lamp-posts. 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 ten 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 come.
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 neo-cons 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 ten 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 neo-cons 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.
Harvey Wasserman and Bob Fitrakis are co-authors of HOW
THE GOP STOLE AMERICA'S 2004 ELECTION & IS RIGGING 2008, available at www.freepress.org.
They are co-editors, with Steve Rosenfeld, of WHAT HAPPENED IN OHIO?, upcoming
from The New Press.