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On Sat., Nov. 1, at 7:00 p.m., UFPPC will sponsor a free showing of "The End of America," a documentary film that came out earlier this month based on Naomi Wolf's book of the same name, published last year, at King's Books in Tacoma (218 St. Helens Ave.).[1]  --  A synopsis of the book is posted below, followed by some critical comments and notes on the movement of which the book and documentary are a part.[2] ...

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WHAT:  "The End of America" (IndiePix Films, October 2008)
WHO:  Based on the book by Naomi Wolf
WHEN:  Saturday, November 1, 2008 -- 7:00 p.m.
WHERE:  King's Books, 218 St. Helens Ave., Tacoma, WA 98402

At 7:00 p.m. on Saturday, November 1, 2008 at King’s Books, 218 St. Helens Ave., Tacoma, King’s Books and United for Peace of Pierce County will be giving a free showing of the film, “The End of America.” The film is based on Naomi Wolf’s book of the same title.

“Along with the rest of America, best-selling author and feminist Naomi Wolf was overwhelmed by the swell of conflicting information and the sudden march to war after 9/11. Wolf looked to history to help her understand the dramatic changes she believed she was witnessing, and discovered the disturbing similarities between post-9/11 US policy and that of historically fascist regimes such as Mussolini’s Italy and Hitler’s Germany.

Wolf authored her next book, THE END OF AMERICA, which demonstrated that the United States was on a remarkably certain path toward ending democracy. Taking the thesis of her book to the streets, Wolf set out on a national tour to discuss the evolution of America from a functional democracy into a closed, fear-driven society with a terrifying absence of due process.

In this profound and eye-opening film, Award-winning veteran documentarians Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg (THE DEVIL CAME ON HORSEBACK, THE TRIALS OF DARRYL HUNT) accompany Wolf as she discusses America’s dangerous passage towards becoming a society of fear and surveillance, and expresses her plea to restore our nation’s most cherished values.”

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[Synopsis]

Naomi Wolf, The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot (White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing, [September] 2007).

Preface. The “young patriot” of the subtitle is Chris Le, whose mother fled Vietnam with her son when he was less than two months old; Wolf attended his wedding as she was writing this book (xii).

Introduction: Ten Steps. Summer 2006 headlines (1-3). Despite November 2006 elections, “the dangers are not gone; they are regrouping” (3). Appeal across the political spectrum (3). Americans take freedom for granted and know little of history (4-5). Post-9/11 echoes of the processes by which right and left dictatorships have been effected (6-11). One cannot rely on the reassuring “pendulum” view of American history (11-12). “I am not comparing the United States in 2007 to Nazi Germany, or Bush to Hitler” (13). “The fascist shift . . . progresses in a buildup of many acts assaulting democracy simultaneously, that then form a critical mass” (14). “Everything changed in September of 2006, when Congress passed the Military Commissions Act. This law created a new legal reality that heralds the end of America if we do not take action. Yet most Americans still do not understand what happened to them when that law passed” (15; 15-17).

Ch. 1: The Founders and the Fragility of Democracy. Wolf is making “a conservative argument” (19). Not the Republican Party but “a far smaller group, or rather of several smaller groups, driven by motives of power and money” are responsible for the “assault on democracy” (19). The danger is of “a fascist shift,” defined as a “process” using legislation, cultural pressure, imprisonment, and torture gradually to consolidate the power of a militaristic system that is antidemocratic (21). “Fascist” is more accurate than “authoritarianism” (22-23). U.S. flirtation with fascism in 1920s and 1930s (23-24). The Founders of the American Republic were conscious of the danger of the rise of tyranny (24-29). Violence is not the essence of the process (29-30). Appearances of normalcy are maintained in “an early fascist shift” (30-34).

Ch. 2: Invoke an External and Internal Threat. Mobilization against a demonized enemy (35-39). In his rise to power Hitler used legal institutions (39-40). Assertion of a terrorist threat by Hitler, Stalin, etc. (41-42). In the U.S. profit plays the role that ideology played in fascist Italy and Nazi Germany and has created a “security-industrial complex” (42-44).

Ch. 3: Establish Secret Prisons. Habeas corpus is replaced with a secret (i.e. unaccountable) prison system (45-47). Getting away with early arrests is a key step in the fascist shift, and is “where we are right now in America” (47; 47-48). Prison systems under Hitler and Stalin (48-51). Guantanamo (51-54). Yaser Hamdi (55). José Padilla (55-57). Examination of the government’s legal arguments shows that the state through vague language is reaching for the ability to detain and mistreat U.S. citizens as enemy combatants on the president’s authority alone (57-60). Parallels of U.S. prisons with Stalinist prisons (60-64). Endangerment of those who act to help prisoners (64-68). “I say again: you do not need ovens to create a fascist reality. All you need is fear” (68). The administration has pursued with “single-minded focus” the creation of “a place beyond the rule of law where people can be tortured”; hence the establishment of the system of military tribunals (69-72).

Ch. 4: Develop a Paramilitary Force. Blackwater (73-76). Intimidation with thugs (76-80).

Ch. 5: Surveil Ordinary Citizens. Maintenance of known surveillance helps make ordinary citizens docile (81-86). “Spying is the fuel of fascism” (86). Germans, Czechs, Chinese (86-88). “Surveillance leads to fear and fear leads to silence” (88).

Ch. 6: Infiltrate Citizens’ Groups. Infiltration, *agents provocateurs*, and harassment serve to facilitate the fascist shift (89-92).

Ch. 7: Arbitrarily Detain and Release Citizens. Watch lists (93-97). The Maher Arar and James Yee cases, with historical parallels (97-101). Arbitrary searches and seizures (101-03). Limiting citizen assembly (103-05).

Ch. 8: Target Key Individuals. Targeting campus intellectuals (Ward Churchill), with historical parallels (106-10). Pressure on artists and entertainers (110-12). Civil servants risk losing their jobs (112-13).

Ch. 9: Restrict the Press. Pressure and threats affecting journalists, with historical parallels (114-123). Propaganda, including lies and false documents, has the goal of creating “a new reality in which truth can no longer be ascertained and no longer counts” (127, emphasis in original; 123-30). Advocates a new media activism, with bloggers as “warriors for truth and accountability” (131; 131-32).

Ch. 10: Cast Criticism as “Espionage” and Dissent as “Treason.” A broadened definition of treason is part of a fascist shift (133-34). Ann Coulter, etc. (134-37). Adam Gadahn case (137-38). Historical parallels (138-41).

Ch. 11: Subvert the Rule of Law. Changing the rules of the game; e.g. signing statements (142-44). Hitler and Mussolini used “a stunning series of escalating pronunciamentos or faits accomplis” (145). In the U.S., the legal infrastructure is in place for a “paper coup” (146). The president now has authority, under the 2007 Defense Authorization Bill, “to declare martial law” (147). Wolf challenges readers with various scenarios, asking: “Would that be the end of America?” (149-51). The U.S. is in some sense the last bastion of freedom: “The United States has stood for the rule of law in the past: We set a standard for other leaders, and set a point of aspiration for other citizens. If we lose that, what force on earth will stem any barbarism that any despot wishes to impose on his people? The bureaucrats of the European Union? The fragmented voices of the United Nations?” (151).

Conclusion: The Patriot’s Task. Urges “citizens from across the political spectrum” to enlist in “a war to save our democracy” (153). Urges people to prepare by revealing secrets that could be used to blackmail them and to be willing to experience personal smears (154). Call for a movement (154-55).

Acknowledgments.

Notes. 14 pp.

Bibliography. 86 books.

The American Freedom Campaign. “[A] nonpartisan alliance aimed at restating nine basic American principles” (175). www.americanfreedomcampaign.org Also lists her publisher, the ACLU, Human Rights Watch, and the Center of Constitutional Rights. “The Pledge of the American Freedom Campaign” (176).

[About the Author. Naomi Wolf was born in San Francisco on Nov. 12, 1962. She holds a 1984 B.A. in English from Yale and from 1985 to 1987 was a Rhodes Scholar at New College, Oxford. Her controversial 1991 book The Beauty Myth made her well-known as a third-wave liberal feminist celebrity author; it posits a Western cultural “iron maiden” ideal maintained by patriarchy to “undermine us psychologically and politically.” In 1993 she published Fire with Fire, in 1997 Promiscuities, and in 2005 The Tree House: Eccentric Wisdom from My Father on How to Live, Love, and See. (Her father is an author and teacher.) Wolf was a political consultant for the 1996 Clinton and 2000 Gore campaigns. In 2004 she published in the New York Times Magazine an account alleging sexual harassment by Prof. Harold Bloom of Yale more than 20 years earlier. Her marriage to David Shipley, former Clinton speechwriter, ended in 2005; she has one son and one daughter.]

Criticisms: A charitable view of the weaknesses of book is that they are due to its desire to reach across the left-right political spectrum. Thus there is 1) no mention of the American empire, 2) no effort to identify the groups that are seeking to achieve the “end of America,” 3) only one mention of militarism and no discussion of the military-industrial complex, 4) no mention of neoliberal free-market fundamentalism, 5) no mention of impeachment, 6) almost no mention of political parties or presidential politics, 7) little discussion of media complicity, 8) exaggerated American exceptionalism, and 9) only oblique references to the role of corporations. Oddly, no doubt is cast upon the official version of 9/11. In addition, the vision of a movement that Wolf sketches at the end of the book does not seem rooted in practical realities.

Notes:  The End of America was #462 on Amazon.com on May 17, 2008.  --  The American Freedom Campaign (AFC) web site says it was launched on Jul. 31, 2007. AFC endorses the American Freedom Agenda Act of 2007 (H.R. 3835), introduced by Ron Paul in October 2007.  --  Both Barack Obama (on Oct. 3, 2007) and Hillary Clinton (on Oct. 4, 2007) have signed the “American Freedom Pledge in support of the Constitution” (a number of other Democratic candidates had signed it on Oct. 1, 2007).  --  AFC founders listed in addition to Wolf are Wes Boyd of MoveOn, David Fenton of AFC, and geneticist William Haseltine, formerly of Harvard Medical School.  --  On the web site, the campaign’s list of principles names ten rather than nine principles by separating the ban on torture and secret evidence into two separate principles.  --  “Partnership” organizations: ACLU of Southern California, Alliance for Justice, Amnesty International USA, Brennan Center for Justice, Campaign to Defend the Constitution, Center for Constitutional Rights, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Human Rights Watch, MoveOn.org, National Campaign to Restore Civil Rights, and True Majority.  --  A YouTube video of Naomi Wolf’s talk at Oct. 11, 2007, at the Univ. of Washington, Seattle is easily available; in it, Wolf says she wrote The End of America not only for the “young patriot” to whom the book is addressed, but also for an “older friend” and “mentor” who is a daughter of a Holocaust survivor.