Naomi’s 10 steps

I wrote this ages ago, but found it again recently as I was searching for my obsessive-compulsive vegie sowing spreadsheet (more on that in another post, perhaps).   It’s not really about self-sufficiency, but today is the 5th of November, so I’m throwing convention to the winds and putting it up anyway.

NB This was written in early 2009, so some points may be out of date.  Things may have changed, or not, since then…

Australia and “The End of America”

Has anyone read Naomi Wolf’s book, “End of America”?  Or seen her talk about it?  [The video is available to watch at the end of the post] Naomi Wolf is the woman who wrote “The Beauty Myth”, for anyone who’s heard of it. Anyway, in “End of America”, she looks at a series of totalitarian regimes (eg Mussolini’s Italy, Stalin’s Russia, Hitler’s Germany, Pinochet’s Chile and several others) to see what kinds of social changes occurred in the lead-up to the transition from free society to closed.  So, she looked at not at what happened when the regimes were at the height of their power, but how the totalitarian state came about.   For example, Germany in 1932 was a free society with independent judiciary, human rights lawyers, gay rights activists, an accountable military, a legitimate prison system.  How did they get from there to seven years later, when Hitler had put himself in a position to order the Holocaust?

The main point of the book is that Wolf found ten distinguishable steps, common to all transitions from free society to totalitarian state.  She argues that making progress through the steps means making progress towards a totalitarian state.  I’m not going to attempt here to convince anyone that the 10 steps lead to totalitarian stateship – I’ll leave that to Naomi.

Wolf makes a (scarily persuasive) case that America has made significant progress on almost all of the steps, and gives some pointers and a powerful pep talk on how to try to push things back towards a free society.

But I wondered about Australia, since culturally we often follow American trends (I know, I hate to say that, it’s embarrassing.  But: movies, music, TV shows, food, trade, Iraq, anti-terror legislation blah blah blah). I couldn’t find anything that examined recent social changes in Australia in the light of Naomi’s ten steps.  If anyone has any links/references etc I’d be grateful.

So I decided to look at each of the ten steps and see if, like America, Australia has made any progress towards them, ie if Naomi’s argument that the ten steps lead to totalitarian stateship was at all relevant to me.

So below are Naomi’s 10 steps.  For each, I’ve done a (not comprehensive) summary of her case, and included some of the book’s examples (again, not comprehensive) of where that step was seen elsewhere.  Then I’ve mentioned the things I could think of/find that apply to Australia.  Hmm …

  1. Invoke an external and internal threat
  2. Establish secret prisons and abolish habeas corpus
  3. Develop a paramilitary force
  4. Surveil ordinary citizens
  5. Infiltrate citizens groups
  6. Arbitrarily detain and release citizens
  7. Target key individuals
  8. Restrict the press
  9. Cast criticism as dissent and dissent as treason
  10. Subvert the rule of law

1.      Invoke an external and internal threat

Quick links: Naomi’s argument Some historical occurrences America Australia Top

Naomi’s argument

Naomi argues that an external and internal threat is necessary to persuade people to give up their freedoms and rights (see steps 2-10), in return for security.  The threat may be real in part, but hyped and made to seem more serious than it is, in order to create the necessary fear.

Some historical occurrences

In Germany, the burning of the Reichstag in 1933 was blamed on Communist terrorists, who also supposedly planned to poison the water supply, kidnap the families of government ministers, and bomb things.

In Russia, Stalin invoked counter-revolutionary terrorists, assassins and “wreckers”.

During the Cold War, Communist leaders urged East German and Czech citizens to beware “capitalist imperialists” and domestic “enemies of the revolution”.

In Chile, in 1973, Pinochet told Chilean citizens that the “terrorists” planned to assassinate many of Chile’s military leaders in one blow.


Terrorists – of course.



2.      Establish secret prisons and abolish habeas corpus

Quick links: Naomi’s argument Some historical occurrences America Australia Top

Naomi’s argument

Naomi explains “habeas corpus”:

“Having the right to habeas corpus means that if they grab you and throw you in jail, you have the right to see the evidence against you, face your accusers, and have a hearing before an impartial judge or jury to establish whether you actually committed the crime of which you are accused…it means that if you are innocent, there is hope that you can prove that you are…it means that your innocence protects you.

“Just as habeas corpus … is the cornerstone of every democracy, a secret prison system without habeas corpus is the cornerstone of every dictatorship.

“The classic secret prison system starts out modestly and metastasizes.  Initially the government targets people seen by the rest of the population as being “evil”…and then there is a “mission creep” – always.”

Some historical occurrences

In Germany, in 1933, immediately after the burning of the Reichstag, Hitler issued the Reichstag Fire Decree, which, among other civil liberties restrictions, abolished habeas corpus (the section 114 of the Wiemar Constitution mentioned in the decree relates to habeas corpus).

In Italy, Mussolini had a system called “confino” or internal exile.  In Russia, Stalin used secret prisons and gulags.


Guantanamo Bay, of course.  Also, less commonly realised is that laws are in place now that allow the president to “arrest virtually anyone, anywhere, citizen or non-citizen, even in the United States, if he deemed them an enemy combatant”. Naomi gives an example of where this has been used in America: a man called Jose Padilla, a 36-yr-old American citizen, was called an enemy combatant.  It was publicly claimed he planned to set off a dirty bomb, a charge that was later dropped. As an “enemy combatant”, he was not entitled to a trial in civilian courts.  He was transferred to a military prison, where his lawyers claim he was kept in almost solitary confinement (except for seeing his interrogator) for 3 years, his meals were slid to him through a slot, his windows were blacked out, he had only a steel slab to sleep on.  Interrogations involved hooding, stress positions, assaults and threats of imminent execution.  It took 21 months before the US let him see his attorney.  Guilty or not guilty, the real point is that the president of the United States can legally do that to any American citizen.  He doesn’t need any evidence, so it doesn’t matter if you’re guilty or not.


Bear with me, there’s a couple of intro paragraphs before the twilight zone stuff.

We don’t have a Guantanamo Bay, of course (thank goodness) but we did allow two of our citizens, David Hicks and Mamdouh Habib, to be detained and (allegedly) tortured there. It also appears we allowed Mamdouh Habib to be sent to Egypt for extra torture, even though officially that’s been denied.

I guess, also we’ve been primed for the idea of secret prisons by the mandatory detention of refugees.  (I actually naively thought that with the closure of Woomera and Nauru, mandatory detention was over, and to tell the truth, I wasn’t that interested.  I am a bit more now.  Here are some pages that explain (not very well) the Rudd government changes.)

But here’s the kicker for me:

We now have Federal and State legislation that overrides our right of habeas corpus:

Detention without charge (“preventative detention orders”).

Federal law (Section 105 of the Criminal Code Act 1995) combined with State Law (in NSW, the Terrorism (Police Powers) Act 2002 (NSW)) allows detention without charge for up to 14 days (and possibly indefinitely, although that’s almost unbelievable – can anyone advise here?  See below). There are conditions, like, police have to believe that you have some connection to a terrorist act, but that connection can include having contact with some piece of evidence, even if you are not aware that the evidence has anything to do with a terrorist act.  So you could be completely innocent and still detained for up to 14 days.  It also appears that when your 14 days are up another preventative detention order can be made against you that takes effect as soon as the first one expires:

Section 26K(6) of Terrorism (Police Powers) Act 2002 (NSW): “A preventative detention order can be made against a person to take effect on the expiration of detention under a related order against the person.”

Can any lawyers out there confirm or deny?

Police don’t need any evidence to place you under preventative detention.  They just need written reasons (“reasonable grounds”), which could easily be made up. You can meet with a lawyer, but it may not be the lawyer of your choice.  The police can monitor everything you say to your lawyer.  You have no automatic right to contact a doctor, so you may not get medical help if you need it.

You are supposed to get a copy of the reasons for your detention as soon as practicable, (not necessarily as you are taken, but afterwards, while you are being detained) but there is no requirement for specific information if that information could be said to prejudice national security.  It seems you could just be told: “you are detained in connection with evidence of a terrorist act”, and never know why you were detained.

Since you are detained without evidence, without knowing what you are charged with, and you don’t get a trial, your right to habeas corpus has been removed.

While you are detained, you are allowed to tell one person (first 48 hours) or two people (remaining time) that you are safe but unable to be contacted.  You can’t tell them you are in detention, unless you’re OK with getting 5 years jail.  If you manage to tell them in a coded way, and they tell someone else, they get 5 years jail.  So, when you don’t turn up for work, you could lose your job, but that’s your problem. And no more than one member of your family is allowed to know why you are not around.

Here’s comment from the Council for Civil Liberties.

Here’s some more explanation.

3.      Develop a paramilitary force

Quick links: Naomi’s argument Some historical occurrences America Australia Top

Naomi’s argument

A private military force — under the exclusive direction of the “commander in chief” with no accountability to Congress [or parliament, for Oz dwellers], the courts, or the public — blurs the line between a civilian police force and a militarized police state. It enables the state physically to control its dissenting citizens.

Some historical occurrences

In Germany: Hitler’s Brownshirts

In Italy: According to Naomi, as Parliament resisted involving Italy in WW1, Mussolini’s pro-war, proto-Fascist thugs organised street violence, attacks on newspapers, etc. When the thugs menaced politicians, Parliament caved in to their wishes.


Blackwater , now also known as “Xe Company”, is a private security firm that has attracted controversy for its links with Halliburton and for shooting Iraqi civilians.  It recruits ex-Special Forces troops, ex-soldiers, retired law enforcement officers and ex-commandos.  Blackwater guards were deployed on the streets of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.  The company’s business plan apparently involves deploying its private army increasingly in the US, in the aftermaths of natural disasters or in “national emergencies”.  Here is some more on Blackwater.


Thank goodness we don’t have a Blackwater here (I don’t think?).

However, we have had these, and – this was a surprise to me too, shows how much attention I haven’t been paying to current affairs – apparently the Australian Police Force has developed a paramilitary wing called the International Deployment Group (IDG). According to this article, in 2008 the IDG had approx 1200 members, equal to 2 battalions of infantry (whatever that means).  According to the AFP website, the IDG incorporates:

The Stability Response Teams (SRT) [that] provide high readiness response to incidents of international civil disorder and riots.

Tactical Response Teams (TRT) which, among other things, effect:

  • high risk searches, search warrants and arrests
  • support to public order policing
  • remote rural patrols

I had no idea – but it appears that what this means is that we have a wing of our police force that is trained to suppress civil disorder (which could very well be used to suppress protest marches).  They haven’t been used here yet, but there are 250 of them based in Canberra whose duties include “operational response”.  According to the AFP website, there are 200 dedicated operational response members based in Canberra and Brisbane.

The IDG reports ultimately to the Police Commissioner, Mick Keelty, who reports to the Minister for Home Affairs, (currently the Hon Brendan O’Connor  MP, who became Minister on 9 June 2009) and who reports to the Prime Minister.  So there is our paramilitary force that is “under the exclusive direction of the “commander in chief” with no accountability to Congress [or parliament, for Oz dwellers], the courts, or the public”.  Two battalions worth!

4.      Surveil ordinary citizens

Quick links: Naomi’s argument Some historical occurrences America Australia Top

Naomi’s argument

Tyrants place people under surveillance because it is a prime means of control.  The sense of being scrutinised breaks down citizens’ sense of being able to act freely against those in power and makes them more docile. It also allows dissidents to be identified and dealt with.

Some historical examples

The Gestapo in Germany, the NKVD and KGB in Russia, the Stasi in East Germany and the Chinese Politburo all requisitioned private data such as medical, banking and library records.


Since 2001, state surveillance on citizens has increased dramatically.  In 2005, two NY Times reporters exposed an email and phone monitoring system that was operating without warrants.  In 2006 they also revealed that US Treasury officials, in concert with the CIA, were reviewing millions of private banks transactions without warrants or subpoenas. So people’s emails (work life), phone calls (social life) and bank statements (financial business) are all being monitored.


The things I could think of, off the top of my head, are:

  • our work emails and internet usage is generally monitored (or at least, I was officially told mine was monitored) as a matter of course.
  • Police now routinely and openly videotape people at protests.
  • There are CCTV cameras in increasing numbers in shopping centres (I know my local town centre is just about to get them put in), which, along with your e-tag, can be used to provide evidence of where you were at a particular time (see here and here).

An Australian activists’ rights site warns:

Assume that there is surveillance of some type going on if you are an activist. Police have always gathered information by secret means and with advanced technology it is becoming easier. Some surveillance of protests is obvious – members of the police camera unit will stand aside from the action and continually video everything that happens.

Activists should also be aware that police special branches (or the Protective Security Intelligence Group in Victoria) and ASIO (Australian Security Intelligence Organisation) collect information including videos of individuals and groups, mostly from the left, trade unions, human rights campaigners and ethnic communities.

And then I found this! The following are extracts from this site:

Expansion of police surveillance powers
The powers that police have to conduct surveillance operations are continually expanding.  The most recent include new legislation allowing for the secret searches of people’s homes, the taking away and planting of items, without the requirement to notify the person subject to the search for many years.  This is in contrast to the previous situation where a person could inspect a copy of the search warrant and be present when the search was carried out.  Such powers, formally reserved for counter-terrorism operations, can now be carried out for ordinary criminal activity.  The threshold is relatively low – growing a few cannabis plants would be enough to trigger the powers. (NSW to allow secret searching, hacking [by police] ABC report 4 March 2009).

The extra secret search powers are in addition to extra bugging powers given to NSW police in 2008.  These powers gave powers to bug or track people for up to 4 days before the need to obtain a warrant. (Concern as police bugging power widens by Heath Gilmore Sydney Morning Herald 3 August 2008.)

Worryingly, the courts have a relaxed attitude towards collecting covert evidence (Court OK with using covert evidence by Catherine Munro Sydney Morning Herald 5 March 2009).

Internet and email surveillance
Internet surveillance of protest groups is commonplace, with some of it being farmed out to private companies (Police hire private spies to snoop online by Richard Baker and Nick McKenzie Sydney Morning Herald 26 November 2008).

Groups which have been the subject of such surveillance range from anti-whaling activists to journalists. (AFP ‘spying’ on anti-whaling activists by Narelle Towie Perth Now (powered by the Sunday Times) 24 November 2008.  Journalist reveals herself as a police target by Sally Jackson The Australian 6 October 2008

Secret searches spreading too far by Mark Polden Sydney Morning Herald 23 March 2009.

5.      Infiltrate citizens groups

Quick links: Naomi’s argument Some historical occurrences America Australia Top

Naomi’s argument

“Dictatorships and would-be dictators routinely infiltrate legal citizen groups and report back to the group in power …Historically, infiltrators are also directed to disrupt and harass such organisations.  The goal: to ensure that it becomes too costly and nerve-wracking to act out as a citizen.”

Some historical examples

In Italy: Fascist spies infiltrated groups of trade unionists.

In Russia: Stalin’s spies reported on the activities of intellectuals and dissidents.

In Germany: National Socialist agents groups of anti-Nazi students, Communists and labor activists, also attending cabarets where jazz and other “unGerman” music was being played.

In East Germany: the Stasi infiltrated dissident groups.

In Prague, 1968: infiltrators joined with groups of writers, theatre workers, journalists and intellectuals.

In Chile: Pinochet’s agents joined groups of pro-democracy students.

In China: the politburo sends state agents to infiltrate pro-democracy groups and banned religious organisations.


Naomi gives too many examples to list of police infiltrating citizen groups.  Here’s just one.  In 2006 an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) report notes that Californian police had infiltrated anti-war protests, political rallies, and other constitutionally protected gatherings, even though the constitution of California specifically forbids it.


This is another extract from this site:

Undercover police officers
In late 2008, a number of groups in Melbourne reported that they were infiltrated by a paid police informer who monitored their activists.  The police officer was said to associate himself with a number of groups, including an animal liberation group, the International Socialist Organisation (now forming part of Solidarity), Unity for Peace and Stop the Arms Fair.  There was a report that he even infiltrated Melbourne Vegan Strength, a vegan keep fit group.  (Police spying on activists revealed by Richard Baker and Nick McKenzie The Age 16 October 2008).  Here is another article.

And here’s another example, and another.  It seems reasonably common.

6.      Arbitrarily detain and release citizens

Quick links: Naomi’s argument Some historical occurrences America Australia Top

Naomi’s argument

Naomi argues that arbitrary detainment, as well as arbitrary searching and seizure of property, intimidates the “speakers out” in a free society as it moves towards totalitarian state. It also serves to limit people’s ability to go about their business, and especially to freely assemble, to protest about things they are not happy with.

Some historical occurrences

Naomi gives too many examples to list here of arbitrary detainment in moves towards historical totalitarian states.


Naomi covers three areas in this section.

The first is “The List”, a list of people who are flagged as needing extra security searches at airports, or who are not allowed to fly at all.  All these people are subject to arbitrary detainment at airport security gates, often for hours.  Naomi gives examples of a large number of people are on the list because they spoke out about the Bush government.

The second is arbitrary search and seizure.  At the time of writing of the book, George Bush wanted a “blanket warrant” to search and seize property and records, and there was debate about whether he should get it.  It now turns out that the FBI was using blanket warrants anyway.  Don’t know what the situation is there now, it seemed more important to see what the situation is like in Australia.

The third is curtailing citizens’ assembly. Naomi gives an example from 2004, when the Republican National Convention was held in New York, and protestors were denied access to the Great Lawn in Central Park.  Mayor Bloomberg’s aides gave “security” as the reason, but internal emails revealed another reason: “It is very important that we do not permit any… political events for the period [of the Convention]”.


The list: We don’t have “a list” (do we?), but we can be on the US list.

Also, in February 2005, the Northern Territory government was found to have a list of people who had criticised it, according to an article in the NT Courier Mail.  The Courier Mail website has deleted the article (too old to archive) but it has been saved (could also have been made up) on the website of a man called Alex Jones. It seems Alex Jones is a rather sensational and very annoying journalist, but it was the only full text of the article I could find.  Make up your own mind whether it’s real.

And for APEC, the police compiled a list of 61 “excluded persons”, who could be arrested if they entered some public areas in the city.  One person, Paddy Gibson, was arrested even though he wasn’t in a restricted area.  He was later released without charge.  He was paid compensation, but the police officers involved were not disciplined.

Arbitrary detention:  See “Establish secret prisons and abolish habeas corpus” for the ways in which police in Australia (or at least, in NSW, I haven’t checked the other states) could arbitrarily detain and release you now.  If you trust that the police will always use these laws in good faith, and not abuse them (ie not arrest you arbitrarily), watch these videos for some recent examples of Australian police abusing some of the lesser powers they have.

For “arbitrary search and seizure of property”, see “Surveil ordinary citizens” for ways in which you can legally have your home searched, your property seized, even without you even knowing about it for years.  Most media reports comfortingly list a number of offenses you must be suspected of before these laws can apply.  Most media reports also leave out that “sedition” (see “9. Cast criticism as dissent and dissent as treason”) is one of those offences.  Here’s an example from the ABC news website:

“The laws will apply to offences punishable by at least seven years’ jail, including drugs and firearms offences, homicide, kidnapping, assault, money laundering, hacking, organised theft and corruption.”

And don’t forget, sedition, also punishable by 7 years jail.

For curtailing citizens’ assembly, think about the APEC exclusion zones. I understand there’s also security argument for the zones, but it’s not as if the security was very effective, as the Chaser demonstrated.  The zones also conveniently kept out visible protest gatherings, exactly as with the 2004 Republican National Convention.

7.      Target key individuals


Naomi argues this is done to make examples of key dissenters, so other people shut up and accept the government line.

At this point, I kind of lost interest in Naomi’s historical and American examples, because I was so astounded by the Australian version.  If you want more, read the book, or watch the movie, or watch Naomi talk about it.

Howard was apparently a master at targeting key individuals.  See this book.  And here is a personal story from a man who investigated SIEV X, and tried to tell the public about it.

One of Kevin Rudd’s election promises was to introduce legal protection for whistleblowers.  He was obviously too busy to get to it until now, and here is some comment on the new laws.  They apparently don’t provide protection to people who tell their story to the public, only those who tell their superiors, unless a set of stringent criteria are met.  Here’s some more comment.

8.      Restrict the press


Today, the internet is the by far the most powerful press medium for democracy, since it makes available a plethora of voices and information unavailable to you if you only read the newspapers or watch TV.

In 2008, Labor introduced a policy of “mandatory internet filtering” (censorship) for all Australian internet!  The policy has been widely opposed, and may be defeated, but even though it hasn’t come into effect, the blacklist of sites to be censored has been used by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) to issue “take-down” notices to sites linking to material on the blacklist, and threatened fines of up to $11 000 per day for non-compliance.   The blacklist includes sites about (wait for it) euthanasia and video games.  Also, it appears that very recently (March this year) parts of wikiLeaks and even YouTube have been censored by ACMA.

For old-fashioned book censorship, here is a story about unsuitable books having to be removed from the University of Melbourne library.

(Apparently, in Australia there is no explicit legal protection of freedom of speech/press, as there is in America.  A number of areas of law operate so as to restrict speech (and press) in particular circumstances. These include defamation, contempt, obscenity law, blasphemy and racial vilification, the regulation of internet content, and classification of film and literature.  )

Here’s some comment from 2006, when the Australian Press Council published this report, and from 2007 when new privacy laws were set to be introduced to NSW.  Crikey weighed in recently, too.

Here is an extract from this Australian National Uni site: (NB I haven’t read the methodology of the ranking procedure, might be garbage, but might not be)

In the run-up to May 3 each year there are always reports and analyses that highlight the “freedom” (or otherwise) of the media in countries around the world.  Many are based on the most comprehensive annual effort to rank media “freedom” which is supported by US-based Freedom House.  The methodology for their study is available here.

In Freedom House’s 2007 study, the United States is ranked equal 16th, the United Kingdom is equal 31st and Australia is equal 39th [my emphasis].

9.      Cast criticism as dissent and dissent as treason


*This section is kind of unfinished because at the time of writing it we were moving up to The Creek and everything got packed…*

From (as of May 2009)

The Rudd government’s pre-election stance was in line with the ALRC recommendations on sedition laws, namely that there should be a clear distinction between free speech and conduct intended to incite violence. Refining the law in this way would leave journalists and artists free to speak out freely and to criticise governments, while maintaining avenues to pursue those who promote violence in the community. However, post-election, there has been no action to remove the word “sedition” from federal criminal law.

Before the amendment, this article poked fun at what would be outlawed:

Some more articles:

10. Subvert the rule of law


This is Naomi’s final step to becoming a totalitarian state, in any of its guises.  Luckily, we’re not here yet, and neither is America.  I’m not saying anything about whether we’ll ever get there or not, and I’m certainly not saying anyone should do anything that would come under the sedition/treason etc legislation!

Just some final thoughts…

I’m sure this is incomplete, and (I hope) incorrect in some places.  I have a life too, and it took me a couple of full days to compile it. Any comments/additions/corrections appreciated.

I started by doing this just for me, out of mild curiosity.  But after just a couple of days online, I’ve become a little unsettled, and I wanted to make this publicly available in case there’s any chance I’m not crazy.  Although many of the new anti-terror powers have not yet made it into everyday use, everything is set up nicely for someone to take complete advantage of them.  Surely I can’t be right about this?  Can anyone show I’m wrong somewhere – I’d be very grateful.

Can I also say, just in a footnote, that in researching this subject, I have found the largest number of “Page Not Found” errors and YouTube videos that have been removed “Due to terms of service violations” or “Removed by user”, that I have ever found in my internet experience.

Watch Naomi’s talk below.

This entry was posted in Social commentary, Videos and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Naomi’s 10 steps

  1. Paul says:

    scary, and i don’t think julia’s going to fix anything

    • Sarah says:

      Yes, scary, quite. When i posted this (over 9 months ago) I asked if anyone could prove me wrong, or find the flaw in the reasoning. I was really hoping someone would. But no luck so far…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *