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(Naomi Wolf is the author of The End of America: Letter of Warning To A Young Patriot. She has written extensively about Blackwater and joins us in the comments — jh)

Congress is finally asking questions of Erik Prince, the head of Blackwater, the private mercenary organization that massacred seventeen civilians in Iraq recently. As I mentioned before, Blackwater operates in Iraq entirely outside the rule of law and has close ties to the White House. The New York Times today reported just how close — Prince’s sister-in-law is a major Bush fundraiser and ally.

What still evades the framing of this debate, though, is that the violent lawlessness perpetrated against civilians in Iraq by this newly created thug caste is a taste of what is in store for us at home — unless Congress confronts the President’s and Prince’s plans to bring Blackwater increasingly to a neighborhood near you. It is remarkable that the hearings focus on what Blackwater is doing in Iraq — but not on what Blackwater plans to and is legally able to do here in the US when the President determines there is a `public emergency’ that requires the restoration of `public order’ — a power that he arrogated more completely with the 2007 Defense Authorization Act. The second phase of the blueprint of what I have called in The End of America a `fascist shift’ is what we are beginning to see now: increasing physical intimidation of civilians and increasing staging or provocation of situations in the a federalized national guard or a Blackwater paramilitary force is sent in at the behest of a leader — over the heads of the people’s representatives — to `restore public order.’ I note that Congress is outraged that there were plans to stage a fake scenario of a dirty bomb detonation in three US cities next week — plans that were not fully revealed to Congress. The second stage of a fascist shift on the blueprint I identified in The End of America calls for disorienting public spectacles, sudden scenes of shocking violence against civilians (see the tasering of a student in Gainesville, Florida, and the death of a woman who looks like you or me in a holding cell in the Phoenix airport) and the declaration that a situation is unstable so call for a paramilitary force in order to keep the people safe.

Congress doesn’t get who Blackwater contractors are. Prince likes to wrap his people in the flag and say they are facing `bad guys.’ Prince actually systematically recruits the baddest of the `bad guys’: Jeremy Scahill reports that Blackwater intentionally recruits former military and paramilitary personnel from regimes that specialize in neofascist repression of their own populations and who train their paramilitary and military in the torture and subjugation of their own critics, journalists, political leaders and other civil society figures: Ecuadorans, Nigerians, Chileans, Syrians. That is who we can find ourselves facing in the streets of New York — or Kansas City — tomorrow unless Congress rolls back the horrific laws that gave the President and Prince these dark-side powers.

41k31p91ial_aa240_.jpgRemember: Italy was a parliamentary democracy — with newspapers, cinema, a wide span of political parties, dissent and a vital modern culture — when the Blackshirts began to beat selected individuals in newspaper offices, in the countryside, around voting booths. Italy was still a democracy when the Blackshirts murdered a major opposition figure, shocking a society that was still technically free into silence. Same tactic was used by the National Socialists — who studied Mussolini — before they came formally to power. In what was still a working democracy a targeted paramilitary responded to Hitler’s directives – intimidating protesters, beating up critics, essentially taking ownership of the streets — even while Germany still had a working Parliament and Constitution. Remeber when TSA officials were making passengers at the airport drink their baby’s milk — including human breast milk? Both the Blackshirts and the Brownshirts forced citizens to drink liquids such as emetics as anintimidation tactic.

Reports are coming in from around the US that passengers in line at airports are being told by TSA agents to `FREEZE!!’ in line — for up to half an hour. A Mills College professor was taken into a holding cell (most of us don’t know that US airports now have what are essentially interrogation cells — Maher Arar was kept in one for two days and prevented by US agents from calling his lawyer — then rendered to Syria for torture). She was told that if she moved she would be considered to be assaulting her interrogator. For the record, National Socialists forced their prisoners to freeze in place — sometimes until they dropped.

Immigrants are being rounded up and the men separated from the women — another chilling scene from the infamous past, and a new scene in America – then deported en masse to holding areas in another state — leaving babies and children behind. Agents rounding them up are breaking into their homes, smashing glass. A mayor in the reddest of red states, Alabama, said a predawn raid that cleared out his town was like `a Gestapo tactic’. Again in the case of the raids we see that the State begins its crackdown with people at the margins, then moves to the heart of society; but in all these cases, what is clear is that the State is habituating citizens to being moved around at gunpoint, physically intimidated or frightened by representatives of the government. Once people are scared of being hurt if they speak up democracy is more than halfway closed down; physical fear silences people that can never be quieted if they know that they are, as the Founders intended, safe in dissent — or simply while waiting in line at the airport.

Congress shouldn’t just be questioning Prince about Iraq; it should be prohibiting any activity of mercenaries on our soil, and investigating the crimes committing in tyhe course of this administration’s determination to gut the Second Amendment and to give the executive his own bloody army of proven torturers, ready to train on citizens here as well as at home.