Trump has unleashed his secret federal police onto the streets of American cities. Ever since this president’s inauguration, many horrified American critics who could foresee what was coming have nonetheless been reluctant to use the “F” word (Fascism), much less compare Trump and his supporters to the “N” word (Nazi). But just as individuals (and countries) go bankrupt—in the words of Ernest Hemingway—“gradually, then suddenly,” so, too, do democracies slide into fascism gradually, and then suddenly.
Trump’s “secret” police force isn’t so secret anymore, since it has now been reported in multiple credible media outlets that he has been deploying paramilitary officers domestically from Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), two components of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). He has done so by reassigning these officers to the Federal Protective Service (FPS). However, they remain anonymous on the streets, bearing no official government insignia or identification on their uniforms. When they confront protesters, they do not identify themselves. When they make arrests, the vehicles in which they take people away are unmarked.
All of these actions are signs of creeping fascism.
Though by their very nature, these paramilitary operatives are unnamed, they do in fact constitute a new kind of secret federal police. Where have we heard of this before? Let’s see. Remember something called the Gestapo? Yes, I’m going there. It may not be evident to most Americans, but Gestapo is not a German word. Instead, it is an acronym. GE stands for “geheime” which means “secret.” STA stands for “staats” which means “state” or “national” (which we would be more likely to term “federal” in the United States). And PO stands for “polizei” or “police.” So Gestapo stands for secret federal police.
The German Gestapo was created by Hermann Göring in 1933. It became a national agency in 1936, under the leadership of Heinrich Himmler. The Gestapo engaged in extralegal and extrajudicial repression of any activity the Nazi Party considered unacceptable. You’ll recall that the Nazis weren’t defeated until 1945.
I shouldn’t have said “creeping” above. Fascism has long since crept its way into American daily life. We’ve moved beyond “gradually” and have arrived at “suddenly.” Anyone who is not terrified is not paying attention.
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“How did you go bankrupt?” a fictional character named Mike is asked in a well-known American novel. “Two ways,” he replies. “Gradually, then suddenly.” Often misquoted, and misattributed, this quote comes from Ernest Hemingway’s novel, The Sun Also Rises.
Eric Lutz, “Trump’s Secret Police: Coming To A City Near You: First Portland, next Chicago? The deployment of federal law enforcement reeks of authoritarianism, but Republicans—who supposedly care about government overreach—don’t seem too bothered.” Vanity Fair (July 21, 2020).
See entry for “Gestapo” in the Holocaust Encyclopedia, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/gestapo.