Remember when Bush’s press secretary Ari Fleischer issued the following warning? “[Such statements are] reminders to all Americans that they need to watch what they say, watch what they do. This is not a time for remarks like that….” This in response, by the way, to a statement by television’s Bill Maher that the 9/11 hijackers “were not cowards.”
Well, the House of Representatives has gone dear old Ari one better: its recently passed H.R. 1955 seeks to criminalize certain kinds of thought.
In disturbingly vague language, the bill—which passed the House and has been sent to the Senate for ratification—seeks to prevent what it calls “Violent Radicalization,” which the bill defines as “the process of adopting or promoting an extremist belief system for the purpose of facilitating ideologically based violence to advance political, religious, or social change.” It calls for establishment of both a “National Commission on the Prevention of Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism” and a “Center of Excellence for the Study of Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism.” (The latter name is especially Orwellian.) Presumably these two entities are charged with deciding the meaning of “extremist belief system,” defining exactly what the “purpose” of such beliefs may be, determining what constitutes “violence” and how we can know if such violence is “ideologically based.”
Personally, I feel confident that this bill is intended to protect us all. But the language it uses is uncomfortably close to language used in similar laws passed in other functioning democracies—the late Weimar Republic, for example—which were later leveraged by rising dictators to achieve their own ends.
With all this in mind, I want to encourage everyone to read an extraordinary book by Naomi Wolf entitled The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot. It’s a thoroughly documented examination of the 10 steps modern dictators (eventual and would-be) always take when they wish to close down an open society. You’ll find that H.R. 1955 has plenty of frightening precedents.