The Third Reich wasn’t built in a day. Before the ugly brutality of the Gestapo and the SS there was the brutality of the Freikorps, essentially paramilitary mercenary units that served the Weimar Republic and were responsible for maintaining law and order throughout Germany. Military castes were defined by feudal tradition as separate and privileged above the common people. The Freikorps were allowed to take freely from the commoners, not just food and lodging, but also women and riches. Common Germans and Prussians would offer their means freely, since not doing so, or even showing hesitation could result in seizure by force. (And yes, this meant that any woman approached by a trooper would gleefully submit because any less could mean the pillaging and razing of her town. German women knew well not to ever say no.)
A century later, here in the United States, recruits into the United States Department of Justice are still taught the Peelian principles that establish policing by consent, assuring that the police are still part of the the people. It’s a job, not a status. But our justice system revels in the dissonance between the way things are established by code and how they actually play out on the field. I’ve mentioned before how plea bargains are still illegal in the US, and to accept a plea bargain, a suspect has to lie to the judge and say that he has not conferred with the prosecution regarding his guilty plea.
So it is with policing by the people. According to some accounts from our less-pale minorities it’s clear that the Jim Crow era never quite faded into history. The police take who they please and what they please, assured that in the majority of courts the word of a police officer will be valued more than ten civilian witnesses verifying the testimony of a black man.
Police authority often even trumps video. Recently, conviction of North Charleston police officer Michael Slager for the murder of Walter Scott was delayed by a hung jury, despite video showing in Slager shooting Scott eight times in the back before planting evidence in order to lie about the particulars of the incident. But one juror in twelve could not, in clear conscience, convict a police officer, even with video of the crime of which Officer Slager was accused. Some of us respect the authority of our officers to such a degree that we would let them get away with murder. Slager’s retrial will begin in 2017.
The War on Drugs established the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984 in which civil forfeiture became policy in the United States. Originally intended to prevent drug lords from using their ill-gotten gains to hire a strong defense (which, to me, smacks of an indictment of the legal system, suggesting a good lawyer is a better defense from conviction than being actually innocent. Also, it’s a circumvention of due process since suspects, not convicts, are being punished by seizure of property).
Nowadays, civil forfeiture is used by the police to seize assets that are suspected to be involved in drug trade, even if their owners are not involved themselves. Items don’t have Constitutional rights and the rights of their owners are disregarded entirely, so it’s an arduous and extensive legal process to get stuff back. The precincts get to keep the spoils (or it is divided among the agencies who cooperated in the seizure), which has given the police incentive to step up arrests, justify probable cause (fabricated, if necessary) and search anyone they suspect of carrying large amounts of cash, of solvent assets or even large properties such as real estate or nice cars. By the 2010s, the assets confiscated by law enforcement across the nation annually exceeded the assets lost to burglary. The mob-organizational nature of our law enforcement is now quantifiable.
In 2001, the War on Terror added justification to restrict speech, curb civil rights, deny due process and engage in unreasonable search and seizure against the ordinary people of the United States. We all are criminals in the eyes of the Department of Justice, just as soon as they have need to put any one of us away. And no small number of enemies of the Obama Administration have been imprisoned, not for committing a serious crime against the people, but for embarrassing the current administration by exposing its wrongdoing.
The United States government is about to transition into a new administration that is much easier to embarrass, and is less inclined to show restraint regarding its powers, and enjoys the spectacle of the humiliation and suffering of its enemies before seeing them ultimately neutralized. All the guns established by the Bush and Obama administrations, including our extensive torture program, featuring black sites, abduction teams and secret transportation authorities; including our secret courts who use secret interpretations of law to enact and enforce secret laws against the American people; an indefinite detention program which now features secret rooms (rooms that officially don’t exist) in our supermax penitentiaries, extensive drone-strike capabilities which has been in operation by the CIA with little oversight and with no permanent records so as to sustain plausible deniability by the officials who run or direct it; the most extensive, intrusive electronic surveillance program in the world, originally promised to be used only to catch terrorists, but now they send anonymous tips to local law enforcement regarding trafficking data and (I’m not kidding here) large sums of cash held by innocent people to be easily seized; countless militarized police departments who firmly believe that now they are dressed as soldiers, they can just act like soldiers, and not keepers of the police; and the entire thermonuclear arsenal of the United States of America, are going to be handed over, without qualification or provision, to President-elect Donald Trump and his cabinet.
Claus von Stauffenberg is credited to getting the closest to actually assassinating Adolph Hitler. There were over 40 attempts and Hitler had profound luck in evading them all. It is only by dumb luck that Hitler survived Stauffenberg’s bomb, about which books have been written and movies made. Yet Hitler did survive. After the attempt, anyone even remotely related to the plot was hunted down, about five thousand people were executed without ever knowing why. Those that didn’t commit suicide in advance were hung up by piano wire to assure they would suffer a long time before finally expiring. Hitler was not a nice man.
Trump is not a nice man either.
The police state in the United States is here. Now. Today. Trump doesn’t need to build it. It’s been established in advance. Trump only needs to feel sufficiently annoyed or humiliated, then he just needs to choose who he wants to disappear and when, and like that, they’ll be gone.