As World War I drew to a close in November 1918, over 2.5 million soldiers of the Imperial German Army remained in the field. They brought training, experience and battle-hardened attitudes with them as they streamed back across Germany’s borders.
These soldaten soon found ways to deploy their skills at home. Supported by Minister of Defense Gustav Noske, right-wingers — including one Corporal Adolf Hitler — organized ex-soldiers into Freikorps, and armed them with surplus military weaponry. These militia brutally crushed Germany’s nascent post-war democratic movement. For the next 20 years, they provided the core of the feared Brownshirts, street thugs who helped Hitler and the Nazis into power.
Brownshirts in America — far-fetched? Not at all. They’re already here, this time dressed in black or camo. I’ve already told you about the militarization of our borderlands, using tactics drawn directly from the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq. I warned then that events there would soon affect you and me.
I was right. A few weeks ago, a police paramilitary unit raided a house not too far from my home in Atlanta, in search of a teenager suspected of dealing drugs. Upon breaking down the door, they lobbed a flash bang grenade into the crib of a two-year-old child, Bounkham “Bou Bou” Phonesavanh, blowing a hole in the infant’s chest. The teenager they were searching for — a relative in the family — did not even live in that house.
This is the norm in today’s America. The American Civil Liberties Union recently released a report documenting the explosive growth of paramilitary police forces like the one that assaulted Bou Bou. Originally intended for hostage situations and shootouts, police paramilitaries are now deployed tens of thousands of times each year, largely for routine jobs such as search warrants or municipal code violations — all within our own borders.
These boys have some really nasty “toys.” Since the late 1980s, the Department of Defense’s Program 1033 has transferred tons of military-grade weaponry, including machine guns, tanks and aircraft, to state and local police departments, free of charge. As our Middle Eastern wars degenerated into counterinsurgencies, these weapons have become more and more oriented to the sort of urban “combat” that SWAT teams seem to think is their mission.
None of this would have happened, however, if America’s police hadn’t embraced the opportunity to go military with such gusto. Indeed, America’s police culture long ago abandoned any pretense at a Mayberry-style “Officer Friendly” approach. With few exceptions, police now see themselves as an occupying army, confronting a population where every individual is a potential “hostile.” Police routinely refer to their daily beats as “tours,” and to interaction with potential criminals as “combat.”
What accounts for this radical change in attitudes? Where’s Sheriff Andy Taylor? The influx of former military personnel into domestic policing jobs definitely plays a role. So too does the glorification of force that goes with being a militaristic empire surrounded by imagined enemies.
More important, however, is the profound change in the relationship between citizen and government in America since 9/11.
In everything that matters, we citizens are no longer treated as the “employers” of civil servants like police, to whom they are accountable, but as the object of government’s efforts to impose its own independent will. From the National Security Agency to your local sheriff’s office, a sense of impunity and utter lack of accountability reigns supreme.
Aiding and Abetting
Today’s police are recruited and trained in a carefully cultivated atmosphere of us vs. them that treats the rest of us as potential threats to be neutralized, not as citizens to be served and protected. But every policeman in the country is theoretically accountable to representatives elected by the citizenry. If America’s police are out of control, it’s because those elected officials aren’t doing their jobs. And that means we aren’t, either.
Many citizens of interwar Germany’s Weimar Republic craved “law and order” to such an extent that they were willing to overlook blatant abuses of basic rights and freedoms, as long as they were directed at “others.” Political opponents were deemed not to be “real Germans.” As political temperatures rose, the militaristic skills and attitudes developed on the Western and Eastern fronts of 1914-18 were increasingly substituted for democratic debate and process. Many Germans thought this was fine, because the ascendant forces seemed to favor their own interests.
Then came Hitler. As the courageous theologian Martin Niemöller wrote shortly after his release from a Nazi concentration camp,
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out — because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out — because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out — because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.
Americans would do well to meditate on Pastor Niemöller’s words. Too many of us are guilty of looking the other way as our politicians allow America’s police forces to morph into heavily armed, unaccountable paramilitary thugs.
Ultimately, however, it is unlikely that our political process will arrest this trend. That’s why it’s so important to emulate another group of Germans from the 1930s — those who left while there was still time — and escape America while you still can.
Offshore and Asset Protection Editor
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