Shortly after the news broke recently that the Justice Department was quietly preparing a new, improved Patriot Act, we received a fascinating e-mail from a reader. The new bill, the reader points out, bears a scary resemblance to Hitler’s Enabling Act. Passed by the German Parliament on March 23, 1933, the ‘Law for Removing the Distress of the People and the Reich’ effectively meant “the end of democracy in Germany and establish[ed] the legal dictatorship of Adolf Hitler,” according to an article on The History Place.
Officially titled “The Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003,” John Ashcroft’s new bill would allow the government to strip the citizenship of Americans suspected of being a member of a “terrorist” group, and would nullify an array of court-ordered restrictions on police spying. Plus, just when the public is crying for more corporate and government transparency, the bill guts the Freedom of Information Act, enabling officials to suppress any information they feel might compromise national security.
While Patriot II doesn’t go quite as far as the German bill did 70 years ago, Bush and Ashcroft’s assurances that the government will exercise its expanded powers with restraint ring hollow when viewed through the lens of history.
“Just before the vote,” says the History Place article, “Hitler made a speech to the Reichstag in which he pledged to use restraint: ‘The government will make use of these powers only insofar as they are essential for carrying out vitally necessary measures. . . . The number of cases in which an internal necessity exists for having recourse to such a law is in itself a limited one,’ Hitler told the Reichstag.”
—Nick Garafola and Leif Utne