Roots of the American Police State

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One clear root of the American police state is the war on drugs. Another is the notion of getting tough on crime. These are connected with the turbulent 60s when there were riots in inner cities and resistance on college campuses. Drug use was part of the culture of those resisting. There was a black power movement that scared whitey. This all resulted in mandatory sentencing and stiffer drug laws. The enforcement could only result in more militaristic tactics in the war on drugs and its extension to international locations of the war.

The last dozen years have introduced new roots to the American police state. It’s not hard to identify the increased militarism and trace it back to federal funding, Pentagon activities and the coordination of local police forces with national forces and data banks. However, the war on terror in all its facets, including distant overseas wars, is the key root. The war on terror allows themes in support of internal security and internal mobilization to be propagated. The propagation is done through well-known channels of media, articles, editorials and political officials. These use any and all events such as 9/11 and the Boston Marathon to solidify supportive sentiment. The FBI’s entrapment episodes, even if never a danger to the public, fill the air with reminders every now and then that keep the themes of security alive. In other words, the war on terror leads to a generalized support for police and the military. It leads to a generalized support of law and order. People then are far more reluctant to criticize police and far more ready to support them as “heroes”, no matter how badly they are behaving. This mindset is constantly propagated at the highest levels of government. Government benefits from keeping its citizens in line. It benefits from order, even if it’s repressive order.

There is a definite connection between fighting wars overseas and domestic repression carried out through a police state. However, most people do not understand this link. To them there seems to be no connection between a SWAT team invading a home because of suspicion of growing marijuana and American soldiers leveling Fallujah. The connection is through certain ideas that link these events psychologically and sociologically. It’s this invisibility of the linkages that makes them hard to comprehend. The connection is also through concrete training programs and equipment that change policing in far more militaristic directions.

What are these ideas? To help crystallize them, I look to some material on the roots of the Nazi police state in a book written by George C. Browder titled “Foundations of the Nazi Police State”. Hitler didn’t suddenly institute a police state. It arose between 1934 and 1936 through the efforts of Himmler. Himmler had to sell the idea of a permanent police state, not simply stronger policing in response to temporary emergency. The corresponding idea in the U.S. has been that the nation faces a very long war on terror, indeed a war that will go on indefinitely. Himmler had to win over a number of societal groups, including police themselves, the judiciary, the civil service, the media and the public. In the U.S., this process is proceeding and entering an advanced stage. The judiciary at the highest levels has already invaded Bill of Rights protections in the most serious ways, thereby enabling police state procedures. The presidency and Congress have passed laws that provide the president with near dictatorial powers of throwing Americans into jails without due process of law. He even claims a power to assassinate certain American citizens.

Himmler’s campaign was not secret and in many respects it was not carefully planned or coordinated, according to Browder. The same can be said of the growth of the American police state. Instead, the police state evolves in a complex environment in which each step of the building up of the police state being constructed seems justifiable and natural to the builders and their supporters.

The event known as 9/11 was a humiliation comparable to the humiliations that the Germans had suffered after World War I. But the Germans then, as do Americans now, regard themselves as superior. This led to a “determined defense and an aggressive counteroffensive,” writes Browder. This also happened in America. This led to “imperialistic adventure…” Again the parallel holds in America. The themes of national greatness, defense and security distract the people. They can be led to focus on higher priorities. They can be manipulated more easily.

Now comes a linkage. “Internal conflict in a nation is generally believed to sap its strength for external struggle.” Consequently, domestic enemies can be targeted by the police state. The application of excessive force and the abrogation of rights become acceptable to many in the name of unity, strength and keeping society intact and strong. Another link is that the fear of the external strangers (xenophobia) can easily be translated into distrust of nonconformists domestically. Another link is that law and order being pursued overseas vigorously supports the strong support of law and order domestically. This supports domestic spying.

I’m not saying that the American police state is comparable to the German one in the sense of being replete with concentration camps and arbitrary arrests, although the scope of arbitrary power is far too high and is rising. But the American one is tending in the direction of more and more extreme uses of power. It’s got lots of guns. It’s exceedingly heavy-handed when it wants to be. It locks down facilities at the drop of a hat. It uses excessive force routinely. It has similar roots psychologically. The government has already torn up important parts of the Bill of Rights. People can be stopped near borders and quite a distance away from borders. Money movements and foreign dealings in money are severely circumscribed. Passports are far more easily denied. Executive orders are on the books that can lead to dictatorial rule under emergency conditions that suspend the Constitution or claim to.

I would say that all of America is in these respects being turned into one giant closed society. Lines are being drawn around what people can say and do. The police state’s targets of tomorrow need not be its specific targets of today. The targets can be every American.

The last dozen years have seen a rise in government power that’s catastrophic for American freedom and rights. The police state is one side of that rise in power.

Beyond the police state, the actual powers of the government are far, far too great, unimaginably great. The government draws lines behind the scenes that criss-cross every economic decision made by any American anywhere. However, the latent powers of the government are also far, far too great; and they can be implemented in a police state environment. The degree of actual and potential control of the U.S. government over Americans is extraordinary.

4:15 pm on May 29, 2014