When It Looks and Feels Like Totalitarianism…


by BAR editor and columnist Jemima Pierre

The Obama administration has spent the last three years building the infrastructure of a totalitarian police state, that “has surpassed the Bush administration’s attempts to expand executive power by crushing the civil liberties of US citizens.” At the center of the repressive edifice is preventive detention without trial, buttressed by various measures that, effectively, criminalize dissent. Clearly, and methodically, “the US government is preparing for domestic insurrection.”


When It Looks and Feels Like Totalitarianism…

by BAR editor and columnist Jemima Pierre

The NDAA’S dangerous detention provisions would authorize the president – and all future presidents – to order the military to pick up and indefinitely imprison people captured anywhere in the world, far from any battlefield.”

George W. Bush would blush. Joseph McCarthy would be proud. And COINTELPRO now seems like child’s play. In only three years, the Obama administration and its enablers have established, legitimized, and normalized a national security state apparatus that removes any doubt that domestic policing is a prelude to a totalitarian police state. This apparatus has surpassed the Bush administration’s attempts to expand executive power by crushing the civil liberties of US citizens. And it has done so boldly, with only a few prominent critics, and without so much as a whimper from so-called leftists.

What we urgently need is a compilation of the various acts, presidential signing statements, domestic surveillance programs, secret military and police operations, censorships, and other administrative measures that affect not only our civil liberties, but also our human rights and human dignity. For now, I will focus on two of the more recent congressionally approved draconian laws passed by the Obama administration.

On New Year’s Eve, 2011, away from the glitter and swoon of the media, Obama signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 (or NDAA). The law states that based on suspicion alone, the military can indefinitely detain anyone who is considered a “terrorist” or deemed an accessory to terrorism. This includes US citizens. According to the ACLU, this law codifies “indefinite military detention without charge or trial into law for the first time in American history.” “The NDAA’S dangerous detention provisions,” the ACLU continues, “would authorize the president – and all future presidents – to order the military to pick up and indefinitely imprison people captured anywhere in the world, far from any battlefield.”

The Obama administration and its enablers have established, legitimized, and normalized a national security state apparatus that removes any doubt that domestic policing is a prelude to a totalitarian police state.”

What is most dangerous about this law, according to its many critics, is its broad language about who can be considered a target. In his column describing why he is suing the Obama administration over NDAA, journalist Chris Hedges points particularly to Section 1031 defining a potential target as a person who is either a member of, or substantially supported, al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or “associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners.” This also includes “any person who has committed a belligerent act or has directly supported such hostilities in aid of such enemy forces.” The law doesn’t define what “associated forces” are, or what “engaging in hostilities” against the US means. And because the definition of a “terrorist” shifts according to political necessity, all of us – all over the world – are potential targets and eventual victims. Historically, we have seen how the US government has labeled “domestic terrorist” any persons or groups, particularly those on the left, who have dared challenge inequality and state oppression (clear examples are the American Indian Movement and the Black Power Movement). Most recently, we have seen the brutal suppression of domestic dissent through the militarized dismantling of Occupy Wall Street encampments – which brings us to the next worrisome law, HR 347.

The Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011 or the “Trespass Bill” (HR 347 and its companion Senate bill, S. 1794) was signed into law by Obama on March 9, 2012. This law, according to a Business Insider article, “potentially makes peaceable protest anywhere in the U.S. a federal felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison.” What it says, specifically, is that anyone can be charged with a federal felony for “trespassing” on property or grounds that is under Secret Service protection, even if the supposed “trespasser” is not aware that the area is under such protection. One can also be charged if he or she “impede[s] or disrupt[s] the orderly conduct of Government business or official functions.” This law effectively criminalizes any form of protest. This means that any place or event can, at any time and under any circumstance, be designated a “trespass” area and, anyone protesting any event can potentially be arrested. Knowing also that under NDAA, once arrested, a person can be detained indefinitely and extradited if he or she is deemed a threat, should give us all pause.

Any place or event can, at any time and under any circumstance, be designated a “trespass” area and, anyone protesting any event can potentially be arrested.”

Along with these new laws, there is the recent Executive Order signed by Obama on March 16, 2012: National Defense Resource Preparedness (EO 8248). This order allows the executive branch – through various federal authorities such as the Secretaries of Energy, Health and Human Services, Transportation, Defense, and Commerce – to take control of all food, all energy, all health resources and all transportation resources in the service of “national defense,” even in times of declared peace. It is true that this latest executive order is an update to the one signed by Bill Clinton in 1994. But in the context of the growing number of laws that expand executive and military power to stifle dissent along with the rapidly expanding national security enterprise, we should be wary.

Since the passing of the Patriot Act in 2001 and its reauthorization by Obama last year, we have seen assaults on our dignity, our human rights and ability to protest. These assaults now come from multiple fronts and contain diverse tactics. And they affect us all. We see examples in the local and federal militarized response to the Occupy Wall Street movements, the deployment of drones domestically by city governments, universities, private contractors, and local police (see domestic drone authorization map here), and we see how the Obama administration has waged an all out war against whistleblowers by using the archaic World War I era Espionage Act, prosecuting more people than all other presidents combined. More importantly, there is what the Washington Post last year called the “National Security Enterprise” that depends on “854,000 civil servants, military personnel and private contractors with top-security clearances,” and whose major work is domestic surveillance to curtail dissent. The unprecedented $1.5 billion, almost 1 million square feet National Security Agency data center (or “Spy Center”) that is being built in Utah, is to work both as a bottomless database for all information on all Americans, and as a remote interrogation center.

With all of this, it is clear that, even though it seems to only be concerned with international wars and other misadventures, the US government is preparing for domestic insurrection. And it has done so by unleashing the structures of totalitarianism, as it seeks to regulate our actions through mass surveillance, fear, and threats of repression. (For how else can we understand the recent purchase by the Department of Homeland Security of nearly 500 million rounds of ultra-deadly hollow-point bullets and 40 caliber ammo, as well as a large number of semi-portable steel checkpoint guardhouses, complete with high-impact bulletproof glass windows and doors?)

And why not? The political order is being shaken, the Western financial infrastructure is collapsing, and empire is imploding. They know it and they are ready.

Jemima Pierre can be reached at [email protected].


What time is it?

When will it be Stasi time in the USA? 

Comparing U.S. security and

Comparing U.S. security and intelligence agencies to the Stasi is an insult to the Stasi.

I've been reading Aliens and Dissenters: Federal Suppression of Radicals. 1903-1933 by William Preston and its frightening how history is repeating itself.

Interpretation is left to the viewer/reader

Thanks for reading and thinking about my comment. I leave the interpretation up to the viewer in my art and my comment is based on an art idea, graphic, that I couldn't "work out" visually on the comment.

update Apr.26 comment on Stasi - film "minireview"

Update: My first comment, April 26 makes a reference to Stasi as in Stasi time.  I had been reminded of a film I saw on DVD not long ago, "The Lives of Others" (2006 German film, new director). Note: fiction is not REAL LIFE, and a good piece of fiction (film or novel) can give the participating reader/viewer an emotional feel.  (Octavia E. Butler did that about slavery in science fiction.)  The "feel" does not replace reading, learning history, but films are often fun.  Unfortunately, people come away with distortions of what happened in REAL LIFE, history, from films.  One big example: I was pretty darned old before I learned that the wagons circling during "Indian attacks" in cowboy films were TOTAL FICTION - never happened in real life.  All war films with military "help" are distorted, as well. Black people, of course, know how Hollywood is both bullchips and segregated in films, as do women of all kinds.

The movie, "The Lives of Others", was about a dissident writer, actors, love and the Stasi in E. Germany in 1984.  Critics have pointed out that it "soft pedalled the Stasi" and not realistic.  But it's a good story that gave me an emotional feel for being an artist in a totalitarian state. It was a good mystery story. I googled wikipedia for the film (and I read the plot of a film before I buy a DVD): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Lives_of_Others  (If I didn't type that right, just google the film title.)  - Yes, this is what I'm doing today because I'm too ill to go to a May Day event.

For the REAL, wikipedia mentions Anna Funder, Stasiland:Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall, (2003) London:Granta.

  Heres a good review of the


Heres a good review of the Lives of Others by an American who lived in the GDR for many years. http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/2007/grossman190207.html 

The film is a distortion that seeks to profit from the demise of the GDR and attempts to diminish its accomplishments. I read this great book by an American reporter who visited the GDR several times discusses its accomplishments, such as rebuilding the country after World War II, promoting the rights of women, minorities and victims of Fascism, promoting culture, aiding victims of Fascism and national liberation movements abroad. http://www.amazon.com/Encounters-democracy-U-S-journalists-view/dp/0717805840/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1335914275&sr=1-1 

I don't see how the GDR can be viewed as a totalitarian state, since it was ruled by a National Front, which included several mass organizations and political parties not just the Communist SED.

Totalitarianism isn't a very useful term. No one really knows what it means and it was used a lot during the Cold War to demonize Socialism and to contrast it with the supposedly free capitalist West. Here is a good article about the term. http://www.politicalaffairs.net/-totalitarianism-fact-or-fiction/ 


While I do think that much of the criticism of the old GDR (from the West) as a closed society which encouraged its citizens to spy on one another is legitimate, this criticism loses a great deal of its punch when one places it in the context of the times. The nations of the West, which regularly and roundly condemned the GDR and other communist states for human rights abuses, simultaneously and KNOWING supported insanely murderous regimes throughout Central and South America as well as in Africa and in Asia. The post war German Federal Republic, which was carefully nurtured by America and NATO,  also had more than its share of ex-Nazis in positions of power. Whatever the sins of the GDR may have been, after the wall came down in 1989, there were no mass graves waiting to be discovered. Unlike our anti-communist allies in places like Honduras or Guatemala and elsewhere.  I've often challenged both hard-core cold warriors and average citizens with this question: who would you rather be, a Black person living in South Africa, Rhodesia, or the American South, all of which were considered to be part of the so-called Free World, or a White person living in any of the countries of the Eastern Bloc? Rarely if ever, have I received an honest answer. The GDR may not have been great, or even "good," but it was far from the worst. And many of the very worst were America and the West's very best friends.

If I could edit, I'd change that "totalitarian" to "heavily

spied on" by the government.  I'd like to stay with the theme of this blog entry and not get sidetracked.
  Ironically, I had a brush with Cointelpro in mid60s but was not savvy.  An FBI agent went to my first spouse's boss in NOLA , waiving our list of magazine subscriptions and said, "They are Communists.  Fire him.".  The boss declined and told spouse.  I didn't realize what it meant until some months later, walking on the street in San Fran. on trip with spouse for social work conference (he was a community organizer and I worked pt time, as "volunteer" for civil rights law office, after having flash bulbs (old cameras) go off in our faces after local police and FBI took photos of us coming out of an AntiVietnam war lecture (as harrassment) held in the Black WMCA by a visiting professor from Yale.

  What was our list of magazines?  The Nation, I. F. Stone, The Catholic Worker (a fab buy for 1 cent) with articles by the great activist Dorothy Day and a few more.  It was about being involved in working for change, very small "potatoes"..  Back to San Fran.: A guy in jeans and white shirt, open at the neck, came up to me on the street (I was not interested in the conference, am not a social worker) and started to chat.  He asked me if I knew any guys who went to Canada  rather than go into the military.  I was looking at him when he continued, "When you were a teacher in NYC....".  I asked him how he knew that I had been a teacher in NYC. He did not answer. I had never seen him before in my life.  He turned and walked away quickly.  Odd, yes? 

    The film hit a chord for me.  As I said, it's fiction.

My dad used to be a regular

My dad used to be a regular reader of the I.F. Stone Weekly and I've read a few of his books. I didn't mean to sidetrack the discussion, I just wanted to point out what I thought were errors in your comments.

It's OK. The topic of gov't spying, etc of this blog is vital.

There's an I F Stone website.  He was a very interesting guy: taught himself to read Greek, I think, as an old man.  He had very low vision and compensated.  I relate to disability issues,  being disabled myself, as well as lifelong nearsighted.

Ollie Harrington

The great African-American satirist Ollie Harrington had to flee the United States during the McCarthy Period and he lived for many years in exile in the GDR.