We Thought We Were Free...

Are we really the land of the free and the home of the brave?

On Thanksgiving Day, 26-year-old law student Cesar Baldelomar was pulled over by a police officer in northwest Miami. So what was the reason for his stop? He was playing the song “F**K Tha Police” by N.W.A on his radio.

According to the Miami New Times, police officer Harold Garzon confronted Baldelomar at a stop light, and reportedly said to him, “You’re really playing that song? Pull over.” When Baldelomar pulled over, the officer claimed that it was illegal for him to being playing music that loudly within 25 feet of another person. Being a law student, Baldelomar knew that wasn’t the case.

In fact, as Baldelomar told the Miami New Times, “In 2012 the state supreme court struck down any law banning loud music. I knew that because it was a case I had actually studied in law school." Officer Garzon then reportedly issued Baldelomar a ticket for not having proof of car insurance (even though he did and offered it to Garzon) and tickets for not wearing a seatbelt and having an out-of-state license.

Cesar Baldelomar’s Thanksgiving Day run-in with the police isn’t just another example of abuse of power. It’s a symptom of a much larger problem in America: growing levels of authoritarianism.

Authoritarianism is a disease. It moves and grows gradually, but inexorably. Eventually, it grows to the point where it has completely taken over society. America is dangerously close to that point.

Think about it. Authoritarianism rears its ugly head in America every time a police officer uses excessive force.

It rears its ugly head every time we stop ourselves from saying jokes while waiting in airport security lines, and self-censor ourselves when interacting with police officers and figures of authority. And it rears its ugly head every time we think twice about what to say in our emails and text messages, because we realize that someone might be reading them.

Fortunately, we can stop the spread of authoritarianism in America, but first we must understand just how insidious it is, and how easily it can spread. That’s where the book “They Thought They Were Free” comes in.

“They Thought They Were Free” was written back in 1955 by Milton Mayer, a longtime journalist who worked for the Associated Press, the Chicago Evening Post, and the Chicago Evening American. The book details Mayer’s journey to Germany, just 7 years after Hitler’s demise.

While in Germany, Mayer got to know, and even became friends with, 10 average German Nazis. The book details his experiences, but also gives tremendous insight into how Nazi Germany came to be and into the nature of authoritarianism.

For example, Mayer writes that, “Now I see a little better how Nazism overcame Germany - not by attack from without or by subversion from within, but with a whoop and a holler. It was what most Germans wanted - or, under pressure of combined reality and illusion, came to want.”

He goes on to say that, “I came home a little bit afraid for my country, afraid of what it might want, and get, and like, under the combined pressure of reality and illusion. I felt - and feel - that it was not German Man that I met, but Man. He happened to be in Germany under certain conditions. He might be here under certain conditions. He might, under certain conditions, be I. If I - and my countrymen - ever succumbed to that concatenation of conditions, no Constitution, no laws, no police, and certainly no army would be able to protect us from harm.”

The story of how the Nazis took over Germany, and much of Europe, is a classic example of how authoritarianism spreads. Slowly but surely, the government begins to grow it's police, surveillance and military power. People begin to accept it. They learn to live it. It becomes the new normal. And then it's too late.

We can’t let authoritarianism continue to grow and become the new normal in America. More importantly, we need to retrieve our own American values from the trash-heap of history where Bush and Cheney threw them. We need to assert that we don’t need to torture people, we don’t need to spend more money on defense than every other country in the world combined, and we don’t need to be the world's police.

As Mayer points out in his book, when Germans began to realize just how bad things had gotten in Nazi Germany, it was already too late to fight back. But it’s not too late for us. It’s time to stop living in fear, and turn America back into the land of the free and the home of the brave.


stecoop01's picture
stecoop01 8 years 23 weeks ago

I have long felt that the real problem of the world today is the sheer number of people who want to dictate every little aspect of OTHER peoples lives, even though they can't run their own lives. And the number, and power, of these controls freaks is increasing.

What ever happened to 'Live And Let Live'?

stopgap's picture
stopgap 8 years 23 weeks ago

I often hear progressive broadcasters say, "the first one to use the Hitler or Nazi analogy loses". However, I believe that is the last one to use the Hitler/Nazi analogy that loses. How far do these people have to go before the comparison becomes valid.

I further believe that the Cops have become a cult that are isolated from the people that they are sworn to serve. They are isolated in their squad cars and even in their social lives where many only associate with fellow officers and their spouses only associate with the spouses of other officers. They live in a bubble that reinforces their mentality of, us against them.

HisLowness 8 years 23 weeks ago

The police had better get their act together by protecting people and not brutalizing them because vigilante justice is just around the corner. There's only so much of this nonsence people will take before they break.

DAnneMarc's picture
DAnneMarc 8 years 23 weeks ago

In 1963, Yale college professor, Stanley Milgram, published the results of an experiment he called, "Obedience to Authority." In this experiment Milgram paid an actor to sit in a chair and pretend to receive electric shocks from a student volunteer. The student was told that it was the recipient of the shock that was the subject of the experiment; however, it was actually the other way around. Under the instructions of a 'man in a smock with a name badge and clip board the student continued to shock the man in the chair repeatedly whenever he failed to answer random questions correctly. Despite the man complaining about a heart condition and how much pain he was in. The experiment intended to instruct the subject to continue shocking until the maximum voltage possible was reached despite the pleadings of the man in the chair. It was estimated that only 3.75% of the subjects would proceed to the limit. It was learned that over 65% of the subjects could be convinced to kill an innocent man under the guise of authority, simply for the purpose of a laboratory experiment. 65% of the subjects continued to ask questions and increase the level of the shock even after the actor in the chair became unresponsive and apparently dead simply because the authority figure in the room told them to.

In 1971, Stanford college professor, Philip Zimbardo, conducted what has become known as the "Stanford Prison Experiment." Student volunteers were chosen at random and assigned the role of guard or prisoner. The experiment was held in the Stanford basement. The experiment was set to determine the extent to which the guard students would use their authority. It was learned that the authority given to them was quickly abused and even become forms of torture. The prisoners on the other hand readily accepted their roles. The results, it was determined that whenever ultimate authority is given over anyone, it is ultimately abused; even, by the best of us. Even Zimbardo recanted that he willingly allowed the abuse to go on.

The conclusions of these two very important experiments shows the danger of authoritarianism. There should be no question as to whether or not this trend of growing authoritarianism is dangerous; as, that fact has already been scientifically proven beyond a doubt in two separate laboratory experiments.



Fanchon88's picture
Fanchon88 8 years 23 weeks ago

You've all made some great points, I was beneficiary to a family (mis-)trust! My parents made a woman bank officer, Mom (who soon failed) and my brother trustees. Guess who got bullied! I was on food stamps while the brother was dipping in and taking a little loan of $15K for himself. Arrogant well-spoken arson investigator. As a fireman, even his rescue work was judgmental! Nobody who calls 911 needs to be judged at that moment for a dirty bathrobe or the mistakes of a lifetime! And in my long career as a temp secretary, I worked on many cases where the brother was denying compassionate family benefits to a sister! . . . Many people do not handle a job description very well! My HUD senior housing manager, for example. Power trip! Or the Water Attendant in the dining room at Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco. One night, the Water Attendant had to go off to pee. I went to the water pitcher table and took a pitcher for my table. The man came back and gave me holy hell! This was associated with a damned church free food line! . . . I fought the VA for a decade when they garnished my Social Security Disability to the tune of $8,100 -- by mistake! I had done nothing to deserve this! Finally with a lawmaker's help, I received a check for $7,490. When I wrote and called the lawmaker's assistant about the balance owed me, he got very correct sounding, called me "Ma'am" and explained that the $610 is an administrative fee and that's how it is and he is not going to try to get the rest, etc. etc. So the VA is charging me a bundle to take my money by mistake -- and this punk in a suit is lording it over a powerless little woman veteran because of his fortunate position! . . . I complain higher up every time I observe such high-handedness. Lucky for me, my community is mostly pretty mellow.

harmonious1's picture
harmonious1 8 years 23 weeks ago

Mention and analysis about the Ferguson, MO phenomena of racism and police excesses were made in ten recent articles. Despite this number, I found no reference to behavioral science or psychological analysis. It seems that these scientific areas are more ignored than climate science by Republican congressmen from fossil fuel states.

There is enlightened knowledge available in the writing and works of both Murray Sidman for coercion and punishment and Bob Altemeyer about testing and characteristics of right wing authoritarians ((RWA). Sidman shows what is effective and not in guiding human behavior. Altemeyer has questionnaires which indicate the degree of RWA, a MAD scale which indicates the degree of exploitive, manipulative amoral dishonesty, and a social dominance scale which measures the degree of personal power, meanness, and dominance control. Altemeyers tests should be used to screen candidates applying to work as policemen to avoid having cops who use excessive force or are abusive or racist. One of the characteristics of high RWAs is ethnocentrism which includes racism. Altemeyer’s most recent book on THE AUTHORITARIANS can be easily found to be read in its entirety on the internet.

Sidman’s recommendations should be used by legislatures in drawing up more effective laws to prevent and control crime. Judging by present day laws using mainly degrees of punishment and the excessive prison population in America, legislators are ignorant of behavioral science. The present system is poor at best and very costly, and need not be if science were used in drawing up legislation.

2950-10K's picture
2950-10K 8 years 23 weeks ago

Control of our media and thus the message has played a large role in the Fascists gaining authoritarian power. Extreme Conservative/ Teabag talk radio accounts for 90% of all political talk format. Just six corporate conglomerates own most of the mass media outlets. Control of the the message makes it easy for the Fascists to subvert truth and place their self serving nutbags in office.

Once in office just vote along the Fascist line, no thinking required. In other words always vote yes on out of control spending for the military/oil industrial spy complex and then scream like hell about government being too big and vote no on anything related to promoting the general welfare of the people. Complain about the National Debt being too high and then give massive tax breaks to the same Fascists/Carbon Barons responsible for starting unfunded wars and creating that very debt. The result.....a very few gain massive wealth and power, a power much greater than our government.

Connect the dots..... control the media, buy the politicians, concentrate wealth and power, and you end up with the continual slide into the autoritarian state Thom speaks of.

bobcox's picture
bobcox 8 years 23 weeks ago

In a discussion over the limits of Freedom between Patrick Henry and Benjamin Franklin, Franklin statis "Your freedom stops at the end of my nose." (I always thought Benjamin wa speaking of the odor of Patrick's unwashed body!) However, in the age of amplified music, on persons appreciation of loud music may interfere with another's enjoyment of another genre so thke application of Freedom might include the interference in the "khappiness" of anther person. Such occupand in my first apartment wkhen my first dauhghter was crying dukring the night. He pounded on his ceiling and shouted, "Keep that baby quiet!" and threatened to call the police.

Mark J. Saulys's picture
Mark J. Saulys 8 years 23 weeks ago

We must remember that the Weimar Republic became the Third Reich by the ceding of emergency powers to the executive branch of government after the burning of the Reichstag. Fear mongering is essential to fascist (by the more common definition of aggressively intolerant authoritarianism) takeover.

richinfolsom 8 years 23 weeks ago

The conversation since Michael Brown was murdered standing in the middle of the street has stirred the media to elevate their creativity and developed a low cost reality TV show in Fergurson. Reporters on the ground. Eyes in the sky. Police eyes. Sniper rifles have laser lights pointing the way to take down anyone. Although the actors have prepared; police secured in armored artillery, reinforced transport vehicles.

A hand full of local residents wonder the street but with little hope for change. No insiring speakers to help them get to the promised land. No MLK. No Bobby. No Mandella. No dream....

The local news reminds us each night the imperative necessity of a strong police force. Murders. Beatings. Rape. Bank robberies. Domestic beatings. Rap. Missing fair skinned women. The underlying message is clear; community is dying and authority will assure commercialism will prevail.

The police are the agents of commercialism conformity. "You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile."

RichardofJeffersonCity's picture
RichardofJeffer... 8 years 23 weeks ago

When looking at the German government of the 1930's, one must remember that the US inspired a lot of ideology behind the Reich. Henry Ford, Paul Popenoe and Edward Bernays inspirational works: The International Jew (Henry Ford) helped inspire Hitler, Paul Popenoe's study of eugenics inspired Josef Megele and American ad-man and war-time propagandist Edward Bernays inspired Joseph Goebbels.

Unfortunately there are a lot more Americans, American policies and institutions that inspired Hitler's Germany.

Vegasman56 8 years 23 weeks ago

The students who participated in this experiment would be interesting to find out who Republicans were, and who Democrats were.

Aliceinwonderland's picture
Aliceinwonderland 8 years 23 weeks ago

Free, Thom? Really?! The Vietnam war, the war on drug users and the war on black people indicated otherwise. “Freedom” always seemed like such an abstraction to me. And now we have war on the workers.

Aside from all that, I have had issues with authority all my life, since I was barely out of the crib. I’ve questioned authority as far back as I can remember. As a toddler I fought Mama on a daily basis over “naptime”, when I wasn’t tired or needing the rest. In retrospect, I think SHE was the one needing the rest.

Seriously, I have never trusted authority. I have no problem with rules and restrictions that are to everyone’s benefit, for safety or civility or whatever. But throughout my life, I have found that so much of the authority that gets imposed on us is self-serving rather than for the common good. And that is the authority I don’t respect, that I refuse to comply with.

This country has been gradually leaning closer and closer to authoritarianism and fascism, ever since WWII. Knowing how hospitable the U.S. was to Nazis in the years following that war, (not to mention the ones harbored and nurtured here!) I'm not surprised. This is becoming the worst kind of environment for me, and others like me. Nobody owns us. I don’t give a damn what the “law” says. - AIW

sandlewould's picture
sandlewould 8 years 23 weeks ago

Tuesday's show was the best, most hard hitting and frank look at what's really going on in this country I think I've heard in a long time. Well done, Thom.

In answer to the question posed above, read Nafeez Ahmed's article in the Guardian; 'Pentagon Preparing for Mass Civil Breakdown'. Excerpt below;

"Prof Price has previously exposed how the Pentagon's Human Terrain Systems (HTS) programme - designed to embed social scientists in military field operations - routinely conducted training scenarios set in regions "within the United States."

Citing a summary critique of the programme sent to HTS directors by a former employee, Price reported that the HTS training scenarios "adapted COIN [counterinsurgency] for Afghanistan/Iraq" to domestic situations "in the USA where the local population was seen from the military perspective as threatening the established balance of power and influence, and challenging law and order."

One war-game, said Price, involved environmental activists protesting pollution from a coal-fired plant near Missouri, some of whom were members of the well-known environmental NGO Sierra Club. Participants were tasked to "identify those who were 'problem-solvers' and those who were 'problem-causers,' and the rest of the population whom would be the target of the information operations to move their Center of Gravity toward that set of viewpoints and values which was the 'desired end-state' of the military's strategy."

Such war-games are consistent with a raft of Pentagon planning documents which suggest that National Security Agency (NSA) mass surveillance is partially motivated to prepare for the destabilising impact of coming environmental, energy and economic shocks."

ChicagoMatt 8 years 23 weeks ago

Thom, if I didn't know any better, I'd think you were trying to convince me to buy a gun - preferably as assault rifle - and get ready to fight the "authorities" when they come to my compound.

Aliceinwonderland's picture
Aliceinwonderland 8 years 23 weeks ago

Response to #15: Matt, in the context of political & social upheaval, guns -- assault rifles, whatever -- are the obsession of those with knee-jerk reactions to everything, and no imagination. Thom does not fall into that category.

ChicagoMatt 8 years 23 weeks ago

Interesting psychology note: The reason people like to blast their music, particularly when driving, is usually because that's the only time those people have any power over anyone else. That is, the less power someone has in life, the more likely they are to turn up the music when driving, thus forcing a little bit of their tastes onto those around them. This crosses racial lines - the impoverished and young (the least powerful) from all races are more likely to play their music loud enough for others to hear while driving. As people getting older/more affluent, the volume gets lower. And, in my case, it went from blasting Pearl Jam and Nirvana, to low-volume AM talk radio.

According to my college psych professor, at least. But my personal observations confirm this.

Aliceinwonderland's picture
Aliceinwonderland 8 years 23 weeks ago

Matt, I think your psych prof was onto something.

DAnneMarc's picture
DAnneMarc 8 years 23 weeks ago

ChicagoMatt ~ (Reply to post #17) Yeah, I got to agree with that, too. I think you hit that one out of the park.

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