May 7, 2013
The Palm Beach, Florida police program is the first of its kind in America. The Community Partners Against Terrorism (CPAT) initiative sprang out of the half-billion dollars dropped into Urban Area Security grants by the Department of Homeland Security. CPAT’s founder Sheriff Ric Bradshaw explains the purpose of the new police hot line that solicits anonymous tips: “We want people to call us if the guy down the street says he hates the government, hates the mayor, and he’s gonna shoot him. What does it hurt to have somebody knock on a door and ask, ‘Hey, is everything OK?’” Bradshaw wants to know who mutters against “the system” and who hangs a “Don’t Tread on Me” banner on a bedroom wall. A video on his website urges local citizens to report on suspicious activity such as the photographing of a bridge.
Local authorities can often perform functions that are legally forbidden to the federal DHS. In 2002, President George W. Bush introduced a domestic-spying program called Operation TIPS (Terrorism Information and Prevention System) by which average citizens reported suspicious activity. It especially appealed for information from workers who had access to private dwellings such as plumbers or television repairmen. TIPS was eventually abandoned due to a backlash that persistently compared the program to the domestic spy structure of the Stasi in communist East Germany.
Many critics of CPAT have zeroed in on discrediting Ric Bradshaw, the man. For example, whistleblower Mark Dougan is an ex-deputy from the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office; he runs a website devoted to documenting Bradshaw’s extensive corruption. Bradshaw’s response? A massive criminal investigation that resulted in five felony charges being lodged against another officer for leaking information to Dougan’s site. Dougan commented, “They couldn’t charge me criminally so in February 2013, so the Sheriff’s campaign manager attempted to purchase my web site in the amount of $75,000 using taxpayer’s money. I refused…”
Bradshaw is less interesting than the dynamics of the hot line itself. Utterly ruthless and depraved civil servants are a dime a dozen. The more compelling question is how their policies affect average citizens who are suddenly able to wield the power of government against their neighbors. Bradshaw has assured the public that the police “know how to sift through frivolous complaints.” But the respected law enforcement expert Jim Donahue has argued that the Sheriff’s office “is led by the kind of people my dad fought in WWII to defeat. They are threatening the very fabric of our republic.”
The impact of being able to turn in your neighbor for their opinions or other peaceful behavior is well documented. It is a power that encourages the worst within human nature and rewards those people who lie and betray all trust. A network of citizen-informers not only creates the Stasi or Nazi state but also the Stasi or Nazi human being.
In his remarkable book, The Gestapo and German Society: Enforcing Racial Policy 1933-1945 (Oxford, 1990), historian Robert Gellately presents a riveting window into the three-way collaboration between the totalitarianism, a complicit citizenry, and state persecution of ‘the other’.
The book arose from a chance encounter during research Gellately was conducting on WWII at a German archive. A librarian mentioned a collection of 19,000 Gestapo files that a Nazi officer had lacked the time to destroy. Although the collection covered only one region, Gellately expanded the research as best he could and found the results to be eerily similar. The files changed his view of domestic spying in Nazi Germany.
Previously, when Gellately had asked Germans from that era about the presence of secret police, they replied “it was everywhere” – behind every curtain and under every rock. After all, how else could the Gestapo so effectively detect the hidden Jews, a murmur of dissent, the ownership of forbidden literature, or a long-ago socialist sentiment? These matters were cloaked by secrecy, private dwellings and the passage of time.
Gellately uncovered a domestic spy structure in which the average German flooded the Gestapo with rumors and reports (true or false) on their neighbors’ behavior and background. The Gestapo functioned primarily as a filter for the information flow upon which they then acted to enforce policy. Perhaps a former classmate remembered someone was Jewish. A neighbor may have glimpsed a forbidden book through a window or on a casual visit. A business competitor might suspect a shop of selling more than its ‘share’ of rationed items. The Gestapo was successful at the minutia of repression because it enjoyed the popular participation of average people.
The phenomenon is not evidence of a “flaw in the German character”; it points to a tendency within human nature itself. Gellately found informers were not primarily motivated by patriotism, fear, or an ideological commitment to Hitler. Rather they were motivated by greed with businessmen reporting on partners to acquire the full share of a company. The envious turned in a richer neighbor. The spurned informed on ex-lovers and romantic rivals. The petty revenged their small disputes by calling in the Gestapo. And, then, there were those who basked in the self-importance of being listened to by authorities.
Gellately’s research led to a subsequent book, Backing Hitler: Consent and Coercion in Nazi Germany, 1933-1944 (Oxford, 2001). Backing Hitler directly challenges the idea that Nazi Germany was the ‘achievement’ of an evil elite. It occurred because a sufficient number of Germans actively cooperated. Backing Hitler also argues against the idea “it cannot happen here” because the motives that led to cooperation are grounded in a human nature shared by all nationalities.
Gallately commented on a German woman who had been interviewed for a show the BBC was presenting about his work. He stated, “When she was presented with a Gestapo document she had signed that denounced a Jewish woman, she admitted the signature was authentic….She then said, ‘But that’s not me’.” The woman was expressing a fundamental truth about people within society. When encouraged and rewarded by authority to act viciously, when their vile behavior is protected from consequences, many people will become the worst versions of themselves. They will become expressions of statism. By contrast, if viciousness is discouraged and punished by a civil society, the same people may never harm another human being. Human interaction is often defined by a framework of financial and psychological incentives.
Operation TIPS and CPAT will create the worst possible version of an American – an American who is indistinguishable from the German woman who turned in an acquaintance for being Jewish. Like the Nazi informer, the American may blithely deny the viciousness of his act by saying “that is not me.”
Of course, it is. At least, that is who the average American could become when handed the power of the state to use anonymously and with no consequences against anyone he dislikes. He is the American that the ruling elite wish to create. [And he is the American all your friends and neighbors will become. The Stasi America is coming. Get out of its way while you still can.-Ed.]
No wonder Obama’s May 5th message to the graduating class of Ohio State University was to “reject” the voice that warns “tyranny [is] always lurking just around the corner.” He would rather have Americans scrutinize their neighbors than monitor the progress of corner-creeping tyranny.
Wendy McElroy is a renowned individualist anarchist and individualist feminist. She was a co-founder along with Carl Watner and George H. Smith of The Voluntaryist in 1982, and is the author/editor of twelve books, the latest of which is The Art of Being Free. Follow her work at www.wendymcelroy.com.