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Responding to President-elect Barack Obama’s proposal for a “civilian national security force,” an idea supported by President Bush and designed in part to revive the moribund Americorps (see March 31, 2009), Representative Paul Broun (R-GA) accuses Obama of wanting to establish a Gestapo-like security force to impose a Marxist dictatorship. “It may sound a bit crazy and off base, but the thing is, he’s the one who proposed this national security force,” Broun says. “I’m just trying to bring attention to the fact that we may—may not, I hope not—but we may have a problem with that type of philosophy of radical socialism or Marxism.… That’s exactly what Hitler did in Nazi Germany and it’s exactly what the Soviet Union did. When he’s proposing to have a national security force that’s answering to him, that is as strong as the US military, he’s showing me signs of being Marxist.” Obama campaign spokesman Tommy Vietor says the candidate was referring to a “civilian reserve corps” that could handle postwar reconstruction efforts in lieu of the military. The idea has been endorsed by the Bush administration. Broun also says that if elected, Obama will ban gun ownership among American citizens. Obama has repeatedly says he respects the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms, and favors “common sense” gun laws. Some gun advocates fear that Obama will curb ownership of assault weapons and concealed weapons. “We can’t be lulled into complacency,” Broun says. “You have to remember that Adolf Hitler was elected in a democratic Germany. I’m not comparing him to Adolf Hitler. What I’m saying is there is the potential of going down that road.” (Associated Press 11/11/2008; Terkel 11/11/2008)
Michael Savage, a conservative radio host, calls President Obama a “dictator” as part of a larger diatribe against the president. He calls Obama “a young, articulate rabble-rouser” who “is espousing a message that I call ‘trickle-up poverty’.… Where it ends? I know where it ends, because I’ve studied history. I know where it ends. The signal as to when this begins, when the end begins, will be when he organizes a militia directly under his own control. He will not call it a militia. It will be called, perhaps, the ‘Ecology Corps’ or the ‘Environment Corps,’ or the ‘Global Warming Corps,’ or the ‘Energy Corps.’” Savage may be referring to Obama’s efforts to revive the moribund Americorps, a volunteer organization (see November 11, 2008 and March 31, 2009). “Whatever it will be called, they will all wear uniforms. They will either be blue denim or green denim. They will have the executive power under the ‘urban czar’ to come into your home without any court order to investigate your energy use, but they will be looking for other things as well. Would you have any chance to stand up to this army of Obamaites?” Savage asks, rhetorically, if he has “gone over the edge,” and then says: “I’ve gone over the edge before, and every time I have, I’ve been right eventually. I see the handwriting on the wall. Obama is a dictator.” Savage accuses liberals of failing to understand that any dictatorship, leftist or rightist, “is not going to be good for your children.” He then shouts, “Someone has to oppose this man.” He also claims that the White House “is going after” anyone who criticizes it, and repeatedly mixes his accusations of “government” persecution with “media” persecution of White House or Obama critics. “Fundamentally,” Savage concludes, “we have a dictatorship emerging.… Now I’ll make another prediction. I predict that very soon, Obama will create a crisis along the lines of the Reichstag Fire [the 1933 attack on the Reichstag by Nazi militiamen, who later blamed the fire on Communists, and used the attack to gain control of the German government]. I don’t know what form it will take. But I believe that once the minions are seen for what they are, Rahm Emanuel [the White House chief of staff] and his gang will set off a Reichstag Fire in this country of some kind, and they will” begin arresting US citizens without warrants much as President Lincoln did during the Civil War. “I will tell you as I sit here I fear that every night as I go to sleep.” Savage offers no evidence for any of his claims. (Media Matters 3/4/2009) Two days later, Savage calls Obama a “neo-fascist dictator in the making.” (Media Matters 3/6/2009) Savage has called the landmark civil rights decision Brown v. Board “sickening” (see May 18, 2004), accused Obama of being educated in a radical Islamic madrassa (see January 10, 2008 and April 3, 2008) and being a potential “radical Muslim” (see February 21, 2008), called Obama’s presidential victory “the first affirmative-action election in American history” (see February 1, 2008), accused Obama of being sympathetic towards the Nazis and the Imperial Japanese of World War II (see March 13, 2008), said that homeless Americans should be put in “work camps” (see June 6, 2008), called Obama an “Afro-Leninist” (see June 6, 2008), said that welfare recipients should lose the right to vote (see October 22, 2008), accused Obama of using his grandmother’s death to conceal his “efforts” to falsify his Hawaiian birth certificate (see November 10, 2008), and accused Obama of planning to fire all the “competent white men” in government once he became president (see November 18, 2008). Other conservatives, including Fox News’s Glenn Beck, will accuse Obama of being a Nazi, or of intending to create a “Reichstag Fire” crisis to gain power (see September 29, 2009 and October 3, 2010).
Congress sends the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act to President Obama, who will sign the act into law sometime in April. The bill passed both houses of Congress with large majorities. Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), who co-sponsored the Senate legislation, says the bill is “probably the most bipartisan bill we will see on the Senate floor this year.” House Republicans wrote in the House committee report: “[W]e applaud the inclusion of reforms that Committee Republicans have long championed to ensure that recipients of taxpayer funds are held accountable for results. We are pleased to join with the Majority in supporting bipartisan efforts to strengthen the national service laws and improve service delivery throughout the country.” The bill provides for the expansion of the AmeriCorps program from 75,000 to 250,000, creating new groups of volunteers focusing on health care, education, renewable energy, and veterans, and reauthorizing such AmeriCorps organizations as VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) and the National Civilian Community Corps. The Kennedy Act also calls for awarding college students who complete a full-time national service job an “educational award having a value equal to the maximum amount of a Federal Pell Grant.” AmeriCorps says this would increase the amount its members receive upon completion of service from $4,725 to $5,350, which they can use to pay for school or pay back student loans. First Lady Michelle Obama says the bill is of particular concern to her, as volunteerism is one of her priorities. The legislation was originally known as the “Generations Invigorating Volunteerism and Education (GIVE) Act,” but senators renamed it in honor of ailing Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), who helped craft the bill. Kennedy says of its final passage in the House of Representatives: “Today’s House vote again demonstrates the high priority Congress gives to encouraging citizens of all ages in all communities across America to participate in public service. This legislation will enable many more Americans to do something for their country to meet the many challenges facing us. I look forward to the president signing this bill into law so that a welcome new era of national and community service can begin.” The bill also establishes September 11 as a national day of service. (Herszenhorn 3/31/2009; Annenberg Political Fact Check 3/31/2009)
'Re-Education Camps' - Some Republican lawmakers, along with a variety of conservative pundits and radio show hosts, have claimed that the bill is far more sinister than it seems. House Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN) says the bill will allow the Obama administration to create what she calls “re-education camps for young people…” Bachmann tells a Minnesota radio audience: “It’s under the guise of—quote—volunteerism. But it’s not volunteers at all. It’s paying people to do work on behalf of government.… I believe that there is a very strong chance that we will see that young people will be put into mandatory service. And the real concerns is that there are provisions for what I would call re-education camps for young people, where young people have to go and get trained in a philosophy that the government puts forward and then they have to go to work in some of these politically correct forums. (Steller 4/6/2009) The Annenberg Public Policy Center’s FactCheck.org receives numerous letters asking questions such as: “Is Congress creating a mandatory public service system? Are participants not allowed to go to church?” One writer tells FactCheck: “I have been getting all kinds of e-mails from people claiming that bill calls for mandatory service and in violation of our 13th amendment, and that I should call my congressman and tell them that this bill is modern day slavery. I have also received e-mails saying that service would still be voluntary and that the bill is just expanding current volunteer opportunities.… There is a lot of confusion out there right now regarding this very important legislation and was hoping you guys could shed some light.”
Debunking Claims - FactCheck reports, “The national service bill does not mandate that youth must participate nor does it forbid anyone who does participate from going to church.” It notes that many conservative pundits and bloggers have claimed that the bill “requires the government to draw up plans for a ‘mandatory service requirement for all able young people.’ Others say the bill forbids participants from attending church. These claims are false. Neither the House-passed bill nor the Senate-passed version says these things.”
'Mandatory Service Requirement?' - Bachmann and others have also claimed that the bill provides for a “mandatory service requirement for all able young people,” but that provision is not in any version of the bill. The original House bill did advance that as an idea worthy of study, and called for a “Congressional Commission on Civil Service” to “address and analyze” several topics, including “issues that deter volunteerism” and how they can be overcome, how expanding international public service might affect diplomacy and foreign relations, and “[w]hether a workable, fair, and reasonable mandatory service requirement for all able young people could be developed, and how such a requirement could be implemented in a manner that would strengthen the social fabric of the Nation.” The proposed commission would also investigate “[t]he need for a public service academy, a 4-year institution that offers a federally funded undergraduate education with a focus on training future public sector leaders.” However, that entire section was removed from the final bill. Hatch has confirmed that the bill contains no such provisions, saying on the floor of the Senate: “Consistent with our All-Volunteer Army and volunteer opportunities and individuals’ choice in communities, nothing in this legislation is mandatory. This bill simply provides more Americans more choices and opportunities to give back to their neighborhoods and their country all through the means which they freely choose.” The bill does provide for the inclusion of service-learning programs in public schools.
Church Attendance Prohibited? - Perhaps the most inflammatory claim is the one promulgated on conservative blogs and talk radio shows claiming that the bill would prohibit volunteers from attending church. FactCheck notes that such a provision “would be an incredibly draconian law—and a clear violation of the First Amendment right to freedom of religion, upon which this country was founded…” The claim seems to originate from the Jonas Clark Ministries, which has made Web postings and sent out mass e-mails claiming that the language of section 125 of the bill “prohibited activities and ineligible organizations,” and as such volunteers would be prohibited from attending church. The bill makes no such prohibition. It does, however, says that national service volunteers cannot attempt to “influence legislation,” organize “protests, petitions, boycotts or strikes,” promote “union organizing,” engage in “partisan political activities, or other activities designed to influence the outcome of an election to any public office,” and engage in “religious instruction, conducting worship services, providing instruction as part of a program that includes mandatory religious instruction or worship, constructing or operating facilities devoted to religious instruction or worship, maintaining facilities primarily or inherently devoted to religious instruction or worship, or engaging in any form of religious proselytization.” The language is virtually identical to what AmeriCorps and Senior Corps has told their volunteers for years. FactCheck writes: “In other words, public service activities can’t include anything overtly religious or political. And this is nothing new.” AmeriCorps spokesman Sandy Scott later tells FactCheck: “Both House- and Senate-passed bills codify long-standing regulatory restrictions on engaging in certain activities while ‘on-duty’ as an AmeriCorps member. They do not cover what individuals do on their own time at their own initiative.” (Annenberg Political Fact Check 3/31/2009)
The non-partisan FactCheck.org, an organization sponsored by the Annenberg Public Policy Center, examines a claim being promulgated in a recent series of chain emails. The emails claim that President Obama has the ability, under the newly passed health care reform legislation, to create his own “private army” of 6,000 soldiers. The email states in part: “Obama Just Got His Private Army. Were you aware of the fact that the health care bill created a civilian army? A Ready Reserve Corps for service in time of national emergency. All commissioned officers shall be citizens of the United States and shall be appointed without regard to the civil-service laws (which means they will not be sworn to uphold the Constitution) and compensated without regard to the Classification Act 2 of 1923, as amended. Remember when Obama said he wanted a ‘national security force’? Not the national guard, but a civilian one that has not sworn to uphold the Constitution?” The email references then-presidential candidate Obama’s July 2008 speech, where he advocated the creation of “a civilian national security force that’s just as powerful, just as strong, just as well-funded” as the US military. Obama was talking about strengthening organizations such as the Peace Corps, Americorps, the USA Freedom Corps, and the State Department’s foreign service arm. (Republican lawmakers such as Michele Bachmann have accused Obama of wanting to turn Americorps into “re-education camps” designed to brainwash American children—see March 31, 2009). Since then, some have insisted that Obama wants to create a privately operated “national security force” answerable only to himself. They believe that Section 5210 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the health care overhaul recently signed into law, gives Obama just such power. The US Public Health Service Commissioned Corps now has the power to create and eventually deploy a “Ready Reserve Corps,” under the control of the surgeon general and designed specifically to help the Public Health Service (PHS) respond quickly and effectively to emergencies such as natural disasters. The Commissioned Corps has integrated the former, quite small reserve corps into itself, expanding its numbers to some 6,600 personnel—mostly doctors, nurses, scientists, and medical professionals. The new Ready Reserve is intended to augment the Commissioned Corp when the government sends response teams to offer assistance in areas that are stricken by natural disasters such as floods or hurricanes, or in the case of sudden pandemic outbreaks of dangerous diseases such as H1N1. The Reserve Corps is still being formulated, but PHS officials anticipate the number of Reserve Corps members as being in the neighborhood of several thousand. Most will be public health professionals. Jerry Farrell, executive director of the Commissioned Officers Association, says that the Ready Reserve can help the PHS avoid situations such as what happened after 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, when so many members of the regular and reserve corps were dispatched to New Orleans and other areas hit by the hurricane that “the corps discovered, for instance, that they had deployed a whole surgical clinic of the Indian Health Service.” FactCheck concludes “there is absolutely no support for this chain email’s speculation that uniformed members of the Public Health Service would be ordered to give ‘lethal injections’ (a.k.a. vaccinations) to ‘unworthy people.’” (FactCheck (.org) 4/7/2010)
Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank, in an examination of Fox News host Glenn Beck’s slippery grasp of history, notes that Beck routinely invokes Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler and former US President Woodrow Wilson in comparisons to President Obama. Beck has accused Obama and his administration of supporting “eugenics” similar to those advocated by some Nazis (see May 13, 2009), claimed that Obama, like the Nazis, believes in enforced sterilization, claimed that Obama would create “death panels” to decide who lives and dies under his health care reform proposals (see August 10, 2009), told his viewers to “read Mein Kampf” if they want to understand Obama’s ideology, repeatedly accused the Obama administration of “fascism” (see September 29, 2009), claimed the Obama “brownshirts” were readying a strategy to arrest Beck and other Fox News personnel in an attempt to shut down the network, accused the United Nations of “Nazism” in pursuing efforts to curb global warming, said Obama wanted to create his own version of the SS and Hitler Youth in revamping and expanding AmeriCorps (see March 31, 2009), and more. Milbank notes that Beck either gives no evidence whatsoever to bolster his claims, or gives evidence that is either misrepresented or entirely false. Milbank writes: “Beck, it seems, has a Nazi fetish. In his first 18 months on Fox News, from early 2009 through the middle of this year, he and his guests invoked Hitler 147 times. Nazis, an additional 202 times. Fascism or fascists, 193 times. The Holocaust got 76 mentions, and Joseph Goebbels got 24. And these mentions are usually in reference to Obama.” As for Wilson, Beck routinely labels the former president a “racist” “horror show” who was “the spookiest president we ever had,” usually in preparation for comparing him to Obama. (Milbank 10/3/2010) Six weeks later, Fox News president Roger Ailes, defending Beck, will tell an interviewer that Milbank should be “beheaded” for criticizing Beck (see November 17-18, 2010).
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