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Fear in America

Social Psychology


            On September 17th, 1787, 39 men signed a document created to form a new government and a new country. They called it the Constitution. Soon after, amendments were created to secure and protect the liberty and property of the American citizens. Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment states “ . . . No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

The Constitution

            For nearly two centuries, the Constitution and its amendments protected the American citizens and their rights. However, through the medium of fear, American citizens are consciously and unconsciously giving consent to the government to control them through new acts such as the USA PATRIOT Act and NDAA (which have already been passed), and proposed acts such as the Enemy Expatriation Act.  We are slowly giving up the rights provided, and often take for granted, by the Constitution and its amendments. American citizens are allowing these Acts to be integrated into our justice system under the impression that these Acts are designed to protect “us” from the “others”. Unfortunately many of us do not realize the full impact these Acts could potentially have on any one of “us”.  For those who doubt that this could happen in America, we only need to look at recent history.
            In 1941, during World War II, heavy tension between Japan and America arose and with it began the mass imprisonment of a total of over 120,000 Japanese Americans (NPS). On February 19th, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 which authorized the imprisonment and expulsion of Japanese-Americans. Although the order was carefully worded to not single out any specific group, the targets were obvious. Using large “blacklists”, the FBI arrested over 2,000 Japanese nationals during the first few days of the war. No criminal charges were ever filed against these individuals. These Japanese -Americans were held at temporary detention camps called 'Assembly Centers' for a period of two to seven months before they were transferred to permanent concentration camps.  “Japanese Americans were imprisoned on the basis of ancestry alone. There was no evidence they had done anything illegal or were dangerous in any way. Native-born Americans were locked up without charges or trial and in complete disregard for their constitutional rights.” (NPS).  Wataru Takeshita, who was 22 at the time, said “I always told my (Japanese-born) dad, ‘They might put you in camp, but not us. We're citizens. We have equal rights.’ My dad got the last laugh.” (Stanford, 1993). Thousands of American citizens were imprisoned without charges, evidence, or trial, and in violation of every constitutional right for one reason, as stated in Executive Order 9066: “ . . . the successful prosecution of the war requires every possible protection against espionage and against sabotage . . . ” To quell our fear of possible sabotage, the rights of tens of thousands were snatched away.      

            Although the numbers were much less severe, thousands of American Germans and Italians were also targeted by Executive Order 9066.  While articles and accounts by the Germans and Italians affected by the same executive order are almost non-existent, according to George Mason University, 3,200 resident aliens of Italian background were arrested and over 300 of them were interned. About 11,000 German residents—including some naturalized citizens—were arrested and over 5000 were interned (GMU). In a conversation with the Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau, Jr., Franklin Roosevelt said “You either have to castrate the German people or you have to treat them in a manner that they can't just go on reproducing people who want to continue the way they have in the past.” (Blum, 1967). Executive Order 9066 and everything that surrounded it remain a major embarrassment on the history of American law.


While many of us would like to believe that this was simply a fluke in history, there are many signs that a reoccurrence may be in the works today. In fact we are currently living in what appears to be the preparatory phase of an attempt to legally legitimize this category of discrimination.  One month after the terrorist attacks to the World Trade Center Towers and the Pentagon on September 11th in 2001, the USA PATRIOT Act1 was passed. While the USA PATRIOT Act was created to ‘combat terrorism’, many are uncomfortable with certain sections and provisions stated within it that clearly infringe on civil rights.  One such section allows the government to acquire “any tangible things (including books, records, papers, documents, and other items)”2 regardless of their relevance to a terrorist act. The USA PATRIOT Act also allows the government to obtain intelligence surveillance orders without specifying any persons or facilities to be tapped3 (ACLU, Reform the Patriot Act ). These vague guidelines are in direct conflict with the definitive nature of the Fourth Amendment which states “. . . particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”  

            Another area of concern afforded by the USA PATRIOT Act is the National Security Letters, a form of administrative subpoena used by the FBI without requirement of judicial oversight4.This means the FBI can gather data such as telephone records, e-mail and personal bank records without a judge’s warrant or approval. On January 10, 2011 the ACLU wrote

[Section 505] . . . of the Patriot Act greatly expanded the use of the National Security Letters which allow the FBI to demand personal customer records from Internet Service Providers, financial institutions and credit companies without prior court approval.  . . . The provision also allows the FBI to forbid or “gag” anyone who receives an NSL from telling anyone about the record demand. . . . The Justice Department's Inspector General has reported that between 2003 and 2006, the FBI issued nearly 200,000 NSLs. The inspector General has also found serious FBI abuses of the NSL power. (ACLU, National Security Letters, 2011)

While the purpose of the NSLs is to protect against terrorism, the Department of Justice has documented frequent abuses of power in their review of the FBI’s use of NSLs.  Besides abusing its power, the FBI has not shown the NSLs to be successful in combating terrorism. Between 2003 and 2005, the FBI made 53 reported criminal referrals to prosecutors as a result of 143,074 NSLs, not one of which were for terrorism. (DOJ, 2007) Click here to see a comparison chart of the Constitution and the PATRIOT Act.


Yet another controversial act that was passed was the Military Commissions Act of 2006. Passed on October 17th of 2006, the MCA revoked the right to habeas corpus5 for anyone detained at Guantánamo Bay as well as for any foreigner the government detains anywhere and labels an “enemy combatant.”6 In the definitions section of the Military Commissions Act, “enemy combatant” is defined as anyone who has engaged in or is engaged in hostilities against the United States.7 This indefinite detention is also applicable to lawful alien residents as well as naturalized citizens and US-born citizens. In the case of non-legal alien enemy combatants, they can receive indefinite detention without trial8, and they may not invoke the Geneva Conventions as a source of rights9. This means they are no longer protected by the law that forbids the use of cruel and unusual punishment.

                  The Military Commissions Act also states that the President has the authority for the United States to interpret the meaning and application of the Geneva Conventions10. For all intents and purposes, the government gave the president absolute power to designate enemy combatants, and to set his own definitions for torture. Taking all of these new factors into account, the President has essentially become both the judge and the jury. (ACLU, Military Commissions Act, 2007)  The ACLU writes:

In the final hours before adjourning in 2006, Congress passed and the president signed the Military Commissions Act (MCA). In doing so, they cast aside the Constitution and the principle of habeas corpus, which protects against unlawful and indefinite imprisonment. They also gave the president absolute power to declare — on his or her own — who is an enemy combatant, decide who should be held indefinitely without being charged with a crime and define what is — and what is not — torture and abuse. (ACLU, Military Commissions Act, 2007)


The threat of indefinite detention is further strengthened by the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012 which was signed in on December 31st, 2011. This time, the indefinite detention does not only apply to “others”, but United States citizens as well. Within this document are two highly controversial sections. Section 1021 references and re-enforces the power of detention under the law of war without trial until the end of the hostilities authorized by the Authorization for Use of Military Force also known as AUMF which was passed in 2001. Section 1022 states that all persons arrested and detained according to the provisions of section 1021, including those detained on U.S. soil, whether detained indefinitely or not, are required to be held by the United States Armed Forces. The law affords the option to have U.S. citizens detained by the armed forces but this requirement does not extend to them, as with foreign persons. Lawful resident aliens may or may not be required to be detained by the Armed Forces, "on the basis of conduct taking place within the United States."11


One would imagine it could not get worse than this, however it may soon be. On October 12th, 2011 the Enemy Expatriation Act was introduced. The purpose of the Enemy Expatriation Act is to add engaging in or supporting hostilities against the United States to the list of acts for which United States nationals would lose their nationality.  Simply put, it means any United States citizen who supports any hostility against the United States, will no longer be considered an American. Notably, “supporting” is not defined, which means it could be something as innocuous as controversial blog entry or innocently donating to a charity who has ties to people who are considered hostile to the United States. The definition of “support” is therefore left up to an unknown decision-maker. If this Act is passed, not only will United States citizens be facing possible indefinite detention, but also imprisonment without trial and deprivation of the Geneva Conventions.
                  If we refer to Section one of the Fourteenth Amendment which states “ . . . No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” we must question how much longer the Constitution and its amendments will hold sway as these new Acts circumvent the very rights the Founding Fathers sought to protect. For example, the Enemy Expatriation Act makes the Fourteenth Amendment irrelevant by simply removing a citizen’s nationality, rendering all privileges and immunities moot. Andrew Arato, a Distinguished Fulbright Professor in sociology and former consultant of the U.S. State Department, says "...It is worth raising the question whether our constitutional ordering is still protecting us from this particular object of our institutional fears, which I would describe as an emergency regime potentially out of control." (Prewitt, et al., 2004, p. 1135)


Fear is being used to justify the diminishment of the basic rights of individuals. Under the pretense of “combating terrorism”, the government has been proposing and passing many Acts that, if clearly explained, would upset most if not all American citizens. Kenneth Priwitt says of this fear:

The analytic challenge is to sort out the rational from the irrational, the fear that is grounded in real threats from that which is manipulated by those in power for reasons less connected with objective conditions than private goals, such as holding on to power. ... again and again that political fear misplaced has pernicious consequences for our political culture and institutions. (Prewitt, et al., 2004, p. 1131)

Through these new Acts, the government now has the right to know everything we are doing, while we have no right to know what it is doing. Many of us do not pay attention to the impact of the Acts being passed, as many of them do not seem to apply to us. While the government claims these Acts protect “us” from the “others”, we must ask:  Do these Acts truly protect “us” considering they enable the government to strip United States citizens, without conclusive proof, of our nationality and all rights, effectively turning “us” into the “others”?

1 Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001

2 USA PATRIOT Act, Section 215 (a)(1)

3 USA PATRIOT Act, Section 206

4 18 USC § 2709

5 A legal action through which a prisoner can petition for release and the justice system must show sufficient cause or evidence to maintain imprisonment.

6 Public Law 109–366 SEC. 7. HABEAS CORPUS MATTERS

7 Public Law 109–366 § 948a. Definitions, (2)

8 Public Law 109–366 § 236A. (a) DETENTION OF TERRORIST ALIENS.

9 Public Law 109–366 § 948b. Military commissions generally, (g)


11 H. R. 1540 § 1022 (b) (2)


Sources & Additional Reading*:

ACLU. (2007, 3 13). Military Commissions Act. Retrieved 4 5, 2012, from

ACLU. (2011, 1 10). National Security Letters. Retrieved 4 4, 2012, from

ACLU. (n.d.). Reform the Patriot Act . Retrieved 4 4, 2012, from

Blum, J. M. (1967). From the Morgenthau Diaries: Years of War, 1941–1945 (Vol. III). Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

DOJ. (2007, 3). A Review of the FBI's Use of NSL. Department of Justice. Retrieved 4 5, 2012

GMU. (n.d.). Executive Order 9066: The President Authorizes Japanese Relocation. Retrieved 4 4, 2012, from


Prewitt, K., Alterman, E., Arato, A., Pyszczynski, T., Robin, C., & Stern, J. (2004). The Politics of Fear after 9/11. Social Research, 1129-1146.

Ruppert, M. C. (2004). Crossing The Rubicon: The Decline Of The American Empire At The End Of The Age Of Oil. New Society Publishers.

Stanford. (1993, 9 16). Japanese American camp survivors to return for reunion. Stanford News Service.


*None of the content in "Additional Reading" resources is related to, nor do we confirm the authenticity or views expressed therein.