Inspiring Enchantment & Illumination with Tarot & Intuitive Guidance

Freedom Fridays (on Tuesday!) – Lesson Six: Be Wary of Paramilitaries

When the men with guns who have always claimed to be against the system start wearing uniforms and marching with torches and pictures of a leader, the end is nigh.

When the pro-leader paramilitary and the official police and military intermingle, the end has come.
Dr. Timothy Snyder, On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century

Thanks for hanging in there with this series, my friends. It is not happy or pleasant, and, as you may imagine, it can be disheartening to write.

But I am continuing to do so (to a dwindling audience, it seems) because this is where I can exercise my free speech, and so, do my bit to push back. As the Washington Post declares, “Democracy Dies in Darkness.” This is where I will shine my little bit of light, even as gloomy as the subject matter may be.

Today’s topic is especially disturbing because of so many current events which seem to be moving us in this direction.

The impact of giving our domestic police military-grade equipment is controversial. I am absolutely in favor of our law enforcement personnel being as well-protected as possible, and armed well enough to handle the complex engagements they face on today’s streets.


I will never forget the images of tank brigades rolling through the suburbs of Boston after the marathon attack. The martial law that locked down one of our largest, most diverse cities, and the combat warfare troops that poured through the streets was unprecedented.

Was this a justifiable response? Is this the new face of law enforcement? Or was it a dress rehearsal for something more sinister that may be waiting in the wings? When we are preparing for all-out war in the streets, might we possibly be complicit in enabling it?

I don’t know. I don’t have the answers for that. But it is worth asking, I think.

Who Are the Enforcers?

Dr. Snyder tackles this concern from a historic perspective, explaining how “most governments, most of the time, seek to monopolize violence.” In other words, where there is a rule of law in place, only the government can legitimately use force, and that force is only used lawfully.

This, he points out, is the only way that the forms of politics we take for granted can function. Otherwise, he writes:

It is impossible to carry out democratic elections, try cases at court, design and enforce laws, or indeed manage any of the other quiet business of government when agencies beyond the state also have access to violence.

For just this reason, people and parties who wish to undermine democracy and the rule of law create and fund violent organizations that involve themselves in politics.

Such groups can take the form of a paramilitary wing of a political party, the personal bodyguard of a particular politician — or apparently spontaneous citizens’ initiatives, which usually turn out to have been organized by a party or its leader.

He points to violent right wing groups such as Romania’s fascist Iron Guard death squads, and the Nazi sympathizers of Hungary’s Arrow Cross.

And of course there were the most notorious and deadly Nazi SS and SA. They were the brutal storm troopers that began as a special security detail that went about clearing the public halls of opponents during Hitler’s rallies.

As Hitler’s true believers, their thuggery soon spread from the auditoriums to the streets, creating a climate of fear that ushered the Nazi Party into power in 1932 and 1933. And of course, they ended up being the high command in charge of the genocide carried out in the concentration camps.

In Austria, the same tactics bred the local SA, who, Snyder explains, “quickly took advantage of the absence of the usual local authority to loot, beat, and humiliate Jews, thereby changing the rules of politics and preparing the way for the Nazi takeover of the country…

“During the Second World War,” he continues, “the SS extended the lawlessness it had pioneered in the camps to whole European countries under German occupation.

“The SS began as an organization outside the law, became an organization that transcended the law, and then ended up as an organization that undid the law.”

The Subtle Shift of Quicksand

The privatization of the military in the form of mercenary corporations has, doubtless, been useful in the ongoing U.S. and allied wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. But such personnel may behave as if they are exempt from the Geneva Conventions and other forms of legal accountability, as we learned from the horrors of the Blackwater Security Company’s scandal.

In addition, the self-appointed militia “catching fucking beaners” along the Mexican border is a chilling new development that may have been quietly tolerated in the past, but is now being openly encouraged and empowered.

And although Barack Obama tried to scale back the grotesque consequences of handing prison management over to for-profit corporations, this short-sighted practice is back again under the new regime.

As controversial as these practices are, in and of themselves, Snyder points out that they additionally violate the premise that the government — our duly, democratically chosen representatives — should alone be in charge of who enforces and is accountable to the law.

To have small, private groups, answerable only to their internal systems and shareholders, running operations that recruit armed forces is a very new, and potentially poisonous development for our democracy.

The Thug-In-Chief

You may recall multiple incidents during the campaign, when P45 encouraged violent retaliation against protestors at his public rallies, and even offered to pay any legal fees if necessary.

Dr. Snyder takes aim at this behavior, once again, from a context steeped in history:

What is novel is a president who wishes to maintain, while in office, a personal security force which during his campaign used force against dissenters.

As a candidate, the president ordered a private security detail to clear opponents from rallies but also encouraged the audience itself to remove people who expressed different opinions.

A protestor would first be greeted with boos, then with frenetic cries of “USA,” and then be forced to leave the rally. At one campaign rally, the candidate said, “There’s a remnant left over. Maybe get the remnant out. Get the remnant out.”

The crowd, taking its cue, then tried to root out other people who might be dissenters, all the while  crying, “USA.”

The candidate interjected: “Isn’t this more fun than a regular boring rally? To me, it’s fun.”

This kind of mob violence was meant to transform the political atmosphere, and it did.

Violence still roils below the surface of every public P45 appearance.

The dog-whistle messages of exclusion and hate are “fun” for his followers. Is it any wonder that he likes to whip up bloodthirsty emotions, as he, himself, appears to be incapable of poise or self-control?

All it takes, according to Snyder, is for this ideological atmosphere to be incorporated into the training of armed guards. “These [will] first challenge the police and military, then penetrate the police and military, and finally transform the police and the military.”

Be wary, pay attention, and know who your local “enforcers” are. And, if given the chance, vote against further privatization and concealment of those who potentially could bear arms against a dissenting public.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • August 21, 2018, 8:03 pm Ellen

    Thank you for your tenacity.

  • August 22, 2018, 6:22 am Kate

    Still here! I am reading the book along with you, and I can think of a few people who might be getting this book for their birthdays. Yes, I have a few people in my life who are twisting in the wind these days. Anyway, thanks for taking the time to discuss this important subject, Beth.

  • August 22, 2018, 1:15 pm nofixedstars

    it’s all just bloody terrifying to me, and i think to anyone with a cursory knowledge of history and/or experience of paramilitary forces or government-backed thugs today.

    i have shared the title of the snyder book around my acquaintanceship. i don’t know how many actually may read it, but a few definitely are. like you, i have no intentions of “going gently” into a not-so-good night…

  • August 22, 2018, 2:09 pm Meredith

    Thank you for posting this series; I heard about it through another website and have kept up since Week 2. I wish this information could be included in public (and, private) schools for students in civics or social studies-type classes — I’m pretty sure our salvation will lie primarily with our youth as this point.

  • August 22, 2018, 3:15 pm Woody

    I heard about Freedom Fridays a couple of weeks ago from another site and have read them all. Thanks so much for doing this hard and disturbing work. Thanks, too, for your other types of posts, which are fascinating.

  • August 22, 2018, 4:06 pm Tamara

    Thank you for being a light in the darkness.

  • August 22, 2018, 5:42 pm Jacqueline

    I have been worried about the creation of government agencies that have a paramilitary feel to them. In the past (and potentially ongoing) there were black ops groups and private mercenaries running guns and drugs in “covert operations” that were tied to the government doing questionable things behind the public’s back. Now we have, as you point out, mercenaries operating in semi-official capacities in the capture and detention of immigrants. At first the illegal immigrants but now legal immigrants as well. A good recent article in VOX addresses part of the problem with these groups but there is also the potential that they will extend their warrant even further to anyone the administration does not approve of. On the local level I have become aware of some actions being coordinated between the police and ICE and the DEA. I have been appalled by the gearing up of local police with weapons of war. It is an “edge time” when things could indeed go terribly wrong.

  • August 22, 2018, 7:48 pm Beth

    1) Thank you with all my heart for everyone’s words of encouragement. I appreciate it more than you can imagine!
    2) A warm welcome to the folks who are new here! I am so glad you’ve found your way here, and I am delighted to read your comments and thoughts. Please feel free to look around — there are 15 years of posts on just about everything imaginable, plus some! 🙂
    3) More gratitude for your shares and suggestions of other articles and resources. Pooling our knowledge and fortifying one another are indeed vital tasks at this tipping-point time.
    4) This writing can be lonely and hard at times; but just knowing you are here gives me heart. Thank you again.

  • August 25, 2018, 10:02 am Jean

    Still with you and learning.