It is now time to think about the unthinkable. Americans who have been raised to love their country and trust in their leaders' commitment to democracy need to be considering--even planning for--emigrating to escape before full-blown tyranny arrives in the United States.
You and Your Family Can Be Trapped in a Matter of Hours
Don't be lulled into complacency because neither you nor your friends have been hauled out of bed by the Gestapo in the middle of the night. The heavy hand of an unrestrained government is already being felt among some targeted groups, and the mechanisms necessary to institute a totatlitarian state that will impact the daily lives of all Americans are already in place. Within a matter of hours, the power of the imperial federal executive can be invoked to freeze your assets and prevent you from traveling within or out of the United States.
Do you still believe that your money is your own, and that you can do with it what you want? Then you have a lot to learn about how federal control of your money has grown in the last 15 years. Many ordinary Americans, people who are far from being terrorists or even political activists, have already encountered the Bank Secrecy Act and the features of the Patriot Act that have made it even more restrictive. Benedictine sisters at the Holy Name Monastery in Florida couldn't understand why their checks were bouncing back in 2005. A call to the bank revealed that their account had been frozen--by the bank--because one 80 year-old signatory on the account had not provided her Social Security number as required by the Bank Secrecy Act and the Patriot Act.
Federal law now requires banks to provide strict oversight of customers' accounts, ostensibly to counter money laundering and terrorist funding. Banks must first collect extensive information about depositors so that they have clear evidence of customers' identities, and then share this information with federal agencies. They must file Suspicious Activity Reports with FinCEN whenever there is "unusual" activity out of the customer's normal pattern of behavior in addition to the more widely known Cash Transaction Reports filed whenever there are cash deposits or withdrawals in excess of $10,000. Finally, they must respond quickly with information and other "appropriate action" whenever a customer's name is on the "Control List" formed from information collected from federal and local law enforcement agencies.
Banks are anxious to avoid the wrath of the federal officials who regulate them closely, and are quick to share information and even freeze accounts if there is any question about a customer. John Byrne, an official of the American Bankers' Association, testifying before the House Financial Services Committee in February, 2002, was proud of bankers' efforts to satisfy federal requests:
We have also been diligently responding to the various lists that the government has been distributing to either block or freeze accounts or to notify law enforcement that a particular individual has an account with a specific institution.
If a federal or local law enforcement agency decides to put you on the "Control List," you will lose access to your bank assets within hours.
You probably already know something about the lists that can prevent you from traveling by air. The F. B. I. created the original "no-fly" list in 1990, but the Patriot Act created a new agency, the Transportation Security Administration, to implement the list after 9/11. At the beginning of September, 2001, there were 16 people on the list. Now, European airlines, who must check the list before boarding passengers bound for the U. S., report it contains over 80,000 names.
There are actually two lists. One is a strict "no-fly" list of individuals who are not allowed to board planes at all. The larger list is the "selectee" list. People who turn up on the selectee list have their boarding passes marked with an "S" which signals security personnel to pull them out of line and subject them to stricter searches and often extensive questioning. Those who have missed flights because of begin detained or prevented from flying altogether include political active individuals on the left and right and critics of the Bush administration, intelligence services and the Iraq war.
The TSA and the agency that actually compiles the list, the Transportation Security Intelligence Service, refuse to divulge the sources for the names added to the list. They do admit that the number of names increases "almost daily" as various federal and possibly local agencies submit information.
Again, if an agency decided to submit your name, this computerized system would be able to block you from being able to travel within minutes.
If you think you can evade the TSA by getting to Canada and flying from there, think again. Transport Canada expects to have a no-fly list in place by the end of the year despite the objections of Canadian civil liberties groups and the Canadian Islamic Congress.
Nations that move toward totalitarianism follow a common series of steps as they eliminate freedom. While rhetoric aimed at target groups may begin with "love it or leave it," before long authoritarian states enact restrictions on emigrees taking assets out of the country and even on emigration itself. In the United States, those restrictions are already in place, but are currently enforced selectively against a fairly small number of people to avoid arousing too much controversy. Modern computer technology enables authorities to use the laws and systems now in place to expand the application of these restrictions far more widely to groups and individuals identified through the government's vast, illegal data gathering effort of the past few years. Those who hear themselves targeted as "traitors," "fifth columnists," "degenerates," etc.--in other words, Muslims, gays, atheists, leftists, antiwar activists, dissenters and others--should realize that they could find themselves blocked from leaving the country even before other elements of a fascist state are put in place.
There Is No Quick Turn Around on the Horizon
Those who are counting on a major electoral defeat for those who support implementing a totatlitarian government in the U. S. are pinning their hopes on a "triple bank shot."
Republicans hold a 15 seat majority in the House of Representatives and a six seat margin in the Senate (where the Vice President holds a tie-breaking vote). Even the most optimistic Democrats don't expect to prevail in the Senate because there are only four possible pickups: Pennsylvania, Montana, Rhode Island and Ohio.
The House would seem to be a stronger possibility, especially considering generic Congressional polls that show Democrats leading Republicans by an average of 13 points. But those numbers don't translate into the 15 seat pickup necessary because of redistricting that has made incumbents almost invulnerable. Stuart Rothenberg currently predicts a Democratic gain of 7 to 10 seats and rival analyst Charlie Cook identifies maybe nine Democratic pickups. The numbers just aren't there.
Even if Democrats have the votes on the ground to gain 15 seats, the problems with the electoral system that have called the last two Presidential elections into doubt have only become worse. Electronic voting machines with no paper trails are even more prevalent, and nothing has been done to prevent the voter suppression techniques that have been so successful during this decade.
Finally, there is little evidence that even a long-shot Democratic majority in the House would halt America's descent into fascism. The Patriot Act passed the House with Democratic votes both times. A majority of Senate Democrats supported the nomination of NSA wiretapper Hayden for the CIA. The Iran Freedom Support Act, called by Dennis Kucinich a "stepping stone" to yet another illegal war, passed the House 397-21 just a few weeks ago.
All this enabling behavior by Democrats makes even Democratic activists like Glenn Greenwald skeptical that a Democratic majority in the House would halt the slide toward fascism:
I've written before that, at least to me, the principal if not exclusive benefit of the Democrats taking over one or both of the Congressional houses in November is that it will impose some checks and limitations on the behavior of the administration and, specifically, will finally result in meaningful investigations into what has happened in our country and to our government over the last five years. But I have serious doubts about whether that would really happen...John Cole is absolutely right that Democrats have managed to change virtually nothing as a result of the collapse of the Bush presidency. That's because they think the same and behave the same as they did when they were getting pushed around by Bush as a highly popular "war president." As a result, there is no reason to believe they will be any better than they are now (and have been for the past four years) if and when they take over one or both Congressional Houses. One could make a compelling case that they will be even worse.
Given the intensity and promimity of the current threat to personal liberty, it is wishful thinking to hold out for an electoral victory in November that will make everything right.
Economic Factors Make Emigrating More Difficult Every Day
Emigrating is much easier with a little money. Obtaining residency in most countries requires an immigrant to demonstrate the means to survive either from assets already in hand or income from a job or business. If you can get your current employer to transfer you or have the skills to get a new job overseas, you're set. Otherwise, getting away from oppression in the U. S. may require you to assemble and use some of your financial assets.
For most people, a substantial percentage of personal assets are tied up in the family home. Equity in a house can provide the funds necessary to relocate, buy a home abroad, and start a business in a new country. The problem is that the American housing market is in decline. Inventory is up 40%. Sales are down 15-20%. Some are predicting price drops of more than 10% with a bear market that could last four or five years.
The longer you wait, the less equity you're likely to have.
On top of that, the dollar is declining. Since early April, the value of the dollar has fallen by more than 7% against the Euro, and the combination of huge trade and budget deficits suggest to some analysts that the dollar's fall will continue until 30% to 50% has been wrung out of its value.
Again, the longer you wait, the less your dollars will buy you in another country.
Economic trends are yet another factor suggesting that now is the time to emigrate before housing deflation and a dropping dollar rob you of the money you will need to start a life outside the U. S.
Delay Is Dangerous
Leaving your home and career behind is hard. I know. I've done it. But in the year since I've left, things have only gotten worse in the United States. Yes, Bush's popularity has suffered because of the endless war in Iraq, the Katrina fiasco and rising gasoline prices, but the trend toward authoritarian government has not been reversed; it has accelerated. All it takes is for one of a number of possible events--a terrorist attack, war against Iran, financial panic, an epidemic, civil unrest--to tip things to a point of no return.
The laws and mechanisms are all in place to prevent people from escaping tyranny. They have already been used to harass and trap tens of thousands. The government now has the ability within a matter of hours to prevent everyone from taking assets abroad or leaving by the light of day.
If you are inclined to "stay and fight," then I can only wish you good luck. In my fifties, I do not see myself as a freedom fighter taking to the hills with my rifle, nor would I want to put myself in a situation where I was forced to take the life of another to save my own or that of a family member. For us, it is better to go to a place where the insanity has not spread so widely.
If you believe that leaving the U. S. would be giving in to the forces of fascism, I would point you to a recent movie about a fascist dictatorship. The character Evie, played by Natalie Portman, recalls the arrest of her parents in the movie "V." As scenes of their capture and torture play on the screen, she narrates, "My mother wanted to leave the country. My father said that would be letting them win. (He thought) it was a game."
This is no game. How tragic it was that not more Jews left Nazi Germany in time to escape the concentration camps. They loved their country. They trusted in the basic decency of their neighbors. As anyone would be, they were reluctant to leave behind their homes, their careers, their friends, their family. In the end, they lost it all.
The people who now control the executive branch of the federal government have committed serious crimes already, and will not refrain from even greater abuses to hold onto power and avoid prison. No one should expect to see George Bush deliver a rambling speech about his mother before climbing aboard a helicopter in disgrace. These people will not back down.
The window is closing. Life goes on outside the boundaries of the United States. Don't wait until it's too late.
Ezekiel is an American who emigrated to Europe a year ago. He distributes a monthly newsletter for people who would like to learn more about emigration, obtaining visas, starting businesses overseas and living abroad. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.