Thursday, August 6, 2009
A privately-run informant program operating nationwide encourages Americans to anonymously turn each other in to the authorities for cash rewards in a chilling echo of the Nazi “denunciations” of 1930’s Germany, where neighbors would grass their neighbors up to the local Gestapo officer over petty issues.
The WeTip organization takes anonymous tips online or via toll free phone lines and carries the creepy slogan “For A Safer America!” on its website beneath an image of a U.S. flag.
The group forwards tips given by the public to law enforcement authorities across the country, with no jurisdictional borders.
An Orwellian poster being plastered up across American towns and cities as part of a campaign run by the organization reads, “ILLEGAL ACTIVITY IS NOT TOLERATED” and advises citizens to “turn them in” and receive a reward of up to $1000. Things to “turn them in” for include drug dealing and theft, but more vague examples such as “threats and intimidation” as well as “weapons” and “gang activity” are listed, as is “child abuse”.
Is the presence of a “weapon” in and of itself evidence of a crime in a country where citizens have the legal right to own firearms? Will your neighbor be turning you in if he sees you loading your car with a rifle on your way to the shooting range? What about “child abuse”? Will your friendly local spy be informing the authorities when he sees you disciplining your child?
What else constitutes suspicious activity? According to law enforcement and Homeland Security guidelines, suspicious behavior includes owning guns, being politically active, and having bumper stickers on your car.
The WeTip organization also offers a training institute for schools, businesses and government employees, presumably providing skills courses on how to become an expert domestic spy, just like in Communist East Germany.
WeTip also claims in its promotional material that it has been endorsed by both Bush presidents, as well as Bill Clinton and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Deliciously ironic therefore it is that Arnie starred in the 1987 movie The Running Man, a futuristic portrayal of a wacky dictatorship where citizens are reminded by huge TV screens placed on street corners that they can “earn a double bonus for reporting on a family member!”
As America sinks into a military police state, it begins to parallel more and more aspects of Nazi Germany, especially in the context of citizens being turned against each other, which in turn creates a climate of fear and the constraining sense that one is always being watched.
One common misconception about Nazi Germany was that the police state was solely a creation of the authorities and that the citizens were merely victims. On the contrary, Gestapo files show that 80% of all Gestapo investigations were started in response to information provided by denunciations by “ordinary” Germans.
“There were relatively few secret police, and most were just processing the information coming in. I had found a shocking fact. It wasn’t the secret police who were doing this wide-scale surveillance and hiding on every street corner. It was the ordinary German people who were informing on their neighbors,” wrote Robert Gellately of Florida State University.
Gellately discovered that the people who informed on their neighbors were motivated primarily by banal factors – “greed, jealousy, and petty differences,” and not by a genuine concern about crime or insecurity.
Gellately “found cases of partners in business turning in associates to gain full ownership; jealous boyfriends informing on rival suitors; neighbors betraying entire families who chronically left shared bathrooms unclean or who occupied desirable apartments.”
[efoods]“And then there were those who informed because for the first time in their lives someone in authority would listen to them and value what they said.”
Gellately emphasizes the fact that the Germans who sicked the authorities on their neighbors knew very well what the consequences for the victims would be – families torn apart, torture and internment in concentration camps, and ultimately in many cases death – but they still did it with few qualms because the rewards of financial bounties and mere convenience were deemed more important to them.
As we have covered before, the WeTip program is by no means the only initiative that is training Americans to become amateur domestic spies.
One of the largest cable TV companies in the United States, Bright House, is training its employees to look for suspicious behavior and report it to police under the guise of a neighborhood watch initiative called Operation Bright Eyes.
The legacy of training Americans to spy on each other in the name of “safety” has its origins in Operation TIPS, which was supposedly nixed by Congress, a DOJ, FBI, DHS and FEMA coordinated program that would have recruited one in twenty-four Americans as domestic informants, a higher percentage than was used by the Stasi in Communist East Germany.
Government funding was cut after an outcry but private funding continues and the same program was introduced under a number of sub-divisions including AmeriCorps, SecureCorps and the Highway Watch program.
In July last year we reported on how hundreds of police, firefighters, paramedics and utility workers have been trained and recently dispatched as “Terrorism Liaison Officers” in Colorado, Arizona and California to watch for “suspicious activity” which is later fed into a secret government database.
Also last year, a New York Times feature article heartily celebrated the fact that an increasing number of Americans are becoming informants and turning in their neighbors and family members to the authorities in return for cash rewards. In a piece about a new program run by Southwest Florida Crime Stoppers, citing gas prices, foreclosure rates and runaway food price inflation, The Times lauds the fact that citizens are reporting on each other, ensuring “a substantial increase in Crime Stopper-related arrests and recovered property, as callers turn in neighbors, grandchildren or former boyfriends in exchange for a little cash.”
As the Recession Ready America blog points out in relation to the WeTip program and its offer of $1,000 for turning people in, in an environment of recession and unemployment, the temptation to inform on people for minor indiscretions would be too tempting for many to resist, creating a gargantuan backlog of petty offences reported by people with no criminal detective skills whatsoever, leading to harassment of innocent people and ensuring that more real crimes go unsolved.
We invite our readers to use the WeTip “Submit a Tip” form to remind the crypto-Nazis behind this program that this is America, not Germany in the 1930’s. Building strong communities is all about establishing strong bonds and friendships with your neighbors, not grassing them up to the authorities for a quick buck.