Searched and Seized

Last week, California lawmakers passed two new bills that will make search warrants and their supporting documents secret. Thus a Californian whose home is invaded by police may never know why the officers were demanding to search the property. Such records used to be available to the public unless a judge specifically sealed them.

Lawmen back the change. "When affidavits are filed, previously, they divulged a large portion of the investigation and where it was heading, and that could hamper the investigation and the direction of the investigation," David Gorcyc, a county prosecutor, told the Oakland Press.

Here's a public record, known as the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

The strong showing of right-wing extremist Jean-Marie Le Pen in the French presidential primary last month stunned the world, but it really should not have been such a surprise. Ever since the end of the Soviet Union, there have been increasing signs, large and small, of a fascist revival across Europe. After a recent spate of anti-Semitic attacks—including the bombing of a synagogue and the burning of a prayer pavilion in France and the beating of Orthodox Jews in Germany—police blamed the violence on North African Muslims angry over Israeli assaults on Palestinian settlements.

In the case of France, even a brief glance at history would show that despite efforts to cast themselves as freedom fighters against the Nazis in World War II, the French can't hide their history as collaborators in the Vichy government. During the summer of 1942, for example, French police rounded up thousands of terrified Jews in Paris and shipped them to Poland.

There is nothing special about the French in this regard. Most countries in Europe were more than happy to collaborate in implementing the Nazis' final solution.

Likewise today, there is fascist activity across the continent. Next week, if all goes according to plan, Europe will witness one of the largest neo-Nazi demonstrations since Hitler, when the youth wing of Jrg Haider's Austrian Freedom Party hosts a demonstration at Vienna's Heldenplatz—the place Hitler himself came to announce the annexation of Austria.

Haider's party is the most visible of a range of far-right groups clawing for position. "People no longer accept that the problems of overloaded immigration—abuse of the asylum system, foreigner criminality, internal security—are not being brought under control," the smooth, youthful Haider said recently.

Haider's Freedom corps is but the most robust of a rash of protofascist parties. In Denmark, a new right-center coalition is using tough asylum policies to turn back non-natives. For the first time since Franco, conservatives are in power in Spain, and a gay right-winger is leading the charge in the Netherlands. The so-called Progress Party underpins conservatives in Norway. In Belgium, where the far-right Vlaams Blok became the biggest political force two years ago, far-right leaders seek to repatriate all non-European foreigners. And in Italy, last year's election of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, a media magnate, was widely greeted as an outright rebirth of fascism.

Before it collapsed, the Soviet Union checked the rise of the far right in bloc countries—with the exception of East Germany, where the secret police, the Stasi, openly courted neo-Nazi skinheads to beat up punk rockers. But when the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union imploded, Russian nationalists came out of the woodwork, as did neo-Nazis across the Eastern bloc.

To mount a successful challenge to Le Pen and other fascists, it is necessary to see what is really drawing people to them. The most obvious and disgusting aspect is blatant racism. But the racism is linked to European nationalism, which itself is complex. The European Union is eroding the sanctity of the nation-state. Le Pen's victory comes on the heels of the elimination of national currencies and the imposition of the universal euro, the latest blow to local culture and identity.

But what's happening in Europe is not all that different from the activities of the far right in the U.S. Here, racists plunged into the vacuum left by both political parties during the disastrous Midwest farm downturn in the 1980s. They met with considerable approval from white working-class people, who felt abandoned by mainstream politicos. In America, the far right also offered an ideological political base, steeped in an oddball racist Christian theory. Left-leaning American politicians don't seem to understand that ideology—religious ideology, in fact—is what appeals to voters' hearts and minds. Al Gore's technocratic Democratic Party, with its constant twiddling with gadgets, just won't do the trick.

George Bush and John Ashcroft have turned the law into a theater of the absurd with defense attorneys, judges, and prosecutors acting out parodies of themselves. Even before the Patriot bill was passed by Congress with nary a squeak of protest last year, Ashcroft issued an executive order that removed the barest hint of constitutional rights. Just listen to the experience of Regis Fernndez, an immigration lawyer in Newark.

"When I go to the court, and I want to find out where my client's case is being conducted, I can check in the court waiting room," says Fernndez. "Well, after Sept. 11, I would go to court, and all the courtrooms were closed, so I didn't really know where my client was. I couldn't check the 1-800 number because the machine would answer that 'no information can be provided about these cases.' I couldn't check the public waiting-room docket sheet because all the Arab names were erased or just didn't exist, but the hearings continued to be conducted. So it was pretty pathetic.

"We got to the point of having to knock on all the court doors and just kind of peek in and see if our clients were there. And things kind of came to a head in one case when I got a call from a judge who knew me and happened to catch me in my office and said, 'Look, there's a guy here in one of these special-interest cases, and he says that you're his lawyer, and I can't tell you what his name is or anything else about the case, but I'm going to set it off for another date. But just kind of find out what client of yours this is.'"

Even if the attorneys found their clients inside the secret courtrooms, it didn't make a difference. "Anything we did was automatically denied," Fernndez continues. "Like for example, if an immigration judge granted bail, the immigration attorney could stay the release just by appealing the case. And if the Board of Immigration Appeals agreed with the immigration judge that bail should be granted, the INS prosecutor could once again stay the release for several more months just by filing an appeal."

Additional reporting by Meritxell Mir, Ariston-Lisabeth Anderson and Gabrielle Jackson.


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