The Paranoid Style of American Governance

This article was originally posted at Memory Hole Blog and Global on June 2, 2012.-JFT

In 1964 Harper‘s magazine published the now famous essay, “The Paranoid Style of American Politics,” by historian and public intellectual Richard Hofstadter. Appearing in the wake of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination and Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater’s Republican presidential nomination, the tract remains emblematic of liberal anxiety toward serious and in many cases unresolved questions regarding the forces behind American governance. “The Paranoid Style” overall helped establish the term “conspiracy theory” as likely the most powerful epithet in the American political lexicon.  “American politics has often been an arena for angry minds,” Hofstadter wrote.

“In recent years, we have seen angry minds at work, mainly among extreme right-wingers, who have now demonstrated, in the Goldwater movement, how much political leverage can be got out of the animosities and passions of a small minority. But, behind this, I believe, there is a style of mind that is far from new, and that is not necessarily right-wing. I call it the paranoid style, simply because no other word adequately evokes the sense of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy that I have in mind.” (emphasis added)

Americans typically comfort themselves in the notion that they live in a democracy, with a government that is rational, responsible, and accommodative of their needs. Yet what if the government Americans look to for protection of personal property, the creation and enforcement of fair and just laws, and defense of the nation’s borders and interests abroad exhibits the paranoia Hofstadter attributed to John Birchers and Goldwater supporters, complete with deep suspicions and conspiratorial fantasies toward those it is supposed to serve and protect?

The New York Times Health Guide explains a prevailing symptom of Paranoid Personality Disorder as being “highly suspicious of other people.” Those afflicted “often feel that they are in danger, and look for evidence to support their suspicions. People with this disorder have trouble seeing that their distrustfulness is out of proportion to their environment.” Other symptoms include “concern that other people have hidden motives, expectation that they will be exploited by others, inability to work together with others,” “detachment”  and “hostility.”

US legislation exhibiting undue suspiciousness toward allegedly strange “others” suggests how the paranoid style has thoroughly imbued American governance, particularly over the past 10 years. An especially strong onset of symptoms is evidenced in the blizzard of new laws, programs, and executive orders dating from September 11, 2001.

Indeed, the US government’s dramatic increase in suspicion and contempt toward others over the last decade, combined with its accelerated violent and criminal aggression toward innocents at home and abroad, indicates a potential onset of what might even be deemed paranoid schizophrenia. With the development of such a condition the subject as a whole suffers from acute delusions of persecution and is tormented by illusory forces that it perceives as seeking to inflict harm on it.

This advanced stage of illness may have been triggered by the violent terrorist attack of September 11, 2001; one that the subject immediately blamed on a set of previous associates, Osama bin Laden and his mercenary group known as Al Qaeda. Despite the government’s continued insistence that bin Laden and Al Qaeda are the culprits, exhaustive expert forensic and scientific investigations have been unable to confirm their involvement in the crime. Nevertheless, the subject uses the unresolved incident as the primary rationale for its accelerated paranoia.

The following pieces of legislation, programs, and actions–by no means exhaustive–illustrate the unfortunate yet steady advance in the paranoid style of American governance that especially since 2001 has placed both the subject and all who come in to contact with it at risk of serious injury or death.

Alien Enemies Act of 1798

Gave president power to apprehend and deport resident aliens if their home countries were at war with the United States of America. With no sunset provision, act is intact today as 50 U.S.C. §§ 21–24.

Sedition Act of 1798

Made it a crime to publish “false, scandalous, and malicious writing” against the government or certain officials. Enacted July 14, 1798, with expiration date of March 3, 1801 (the day before John Adams’ presidential term was to end).

Espionage Act of 1917

Made it a crime to interfere with the war effort or with military recruitment or to attempt to aid a nation at war with the U.S.

Sedition Act of 1918

Extended Espionage Act of 1917 to cover a broader range of offenses, notably speech and the expression of opinion that cast the government or the war effort in a negative light or interfered with the sale of government bonds.

Executive Order 9066, 1942

Authorized internment of tens of thousands of American citizens of Japanese ancestry and resident aliens from Japan. Also authorized transporting these citizens to assembly centers hastily set up and governed by the militaries of California, Arizona, Washington state, and Oregon. EO 9066 was combined with other war-time orders and restrictions to smaller numbers of residents of the United States who were of Italian or German descent.

Operation Garden Plot / REX 84

General plan by the US military to respond to major domestic civil disturbances within the US by suspending US Constitution and declaring martial law. Developed in response to the civil disorders of the 1960s and now would be carried out by U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM).

Executive Order 12148, 1979

Created the Federal Emergency Management Agency that is to interface with the Department of Defense for civil defense planning and funding. Bulk of FEMA funding utilized for construction of secret underground facilities to assure continuity of government in case of a major emergency, foreign or domestic.

Executive Order Number 12656, 1988

Appointed National Security Council as principal body to consider emergency powers. Allows government to increase domestic intelligence and surveillance of U.S. citizens and would restrict the freedom of movement within the United States and grant the government the right to isolate large groups of civilians.

Omnibus Counterterrorism Act of 1995

Allows US government to use evidence from secret sources in deportation proceedings for aliens suspected of terrorist involvement. Deportee would not have right to face accusers. Makes an individual liable for contributing to an organization deemed by US President to be involved in terrorism, even if donation was for a non-terrorist activity.

Model States Emergency Health Powers Act, 2001

Calls for giving state public health officials broad, new police powers for controlling epidemics of infectious diseases during public health emergencies. Defines “infectious disease” as “a disease caused by a living organism.” Forces individuals suspected of harboring an “infectious disease” to undergo medical examinations, be vaccinated, treated, or quarantined for infectious diseases.


Enacted in response to the September 11, 2001 attacks. Provides for wide range of unchecked US government surveillance powers to access personal records, monitor financial transactions, student, medical and other information. “Sneak and peak” searches permit “delayed notice” warrants, roving wiretaps, email tracking, and Internet and cell phone monitoring.” Crime of “domestic terrorism” enacted to include anti-war activists, global justice demonstrators, environmental and animal rights adherents. Civil disobedience, and dissent of any kind may be included under all-encompassing definition. Law is vague enough to label almost anything “terrorism” at government’s discretion.

US government may confiscate or freeze all foreign and domestic assets of any individual, entity, or organization accused of engaging in, planning, supporting, concealing, or perpetrating any act considered domestic or international terrorism against America.

Establishment of United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS), 2001

Created in response to the September 11, 2001 attacks. Cabinet department of the US federal government that is domestic counterpart to US Department of Defense. with primary responsibilities of protecting the United States of America and US Territories from and responding to terrorist attacks, man-made accidents, and natural disasters. In fiscal year 2011 it was allocated a budget of $98.8 billion, spent $66.4 billion, and had 200,000 employees. Stated goal is to prepare for, prevent, and respond to domestic emergencies, particularly terrorism.

Establishment of Transportation Safety Authority, 2001

Created in response to the September 11, 2001 attacks. Charged with developing policies to protect U.S. transportation, especially airport security and the prevention of aircraft hijacking. TSA oversees security for highways, railroads, buses, mass transit systems, pipelines, ports. Responsible for screening passengers and checked and carry-on baggage at 450 U.S. airports.

Federal establishment of State and Local Fusion Centers, 2004

DHS establishes Fusion Centers, defined as a “collaborative effort of two or more Federal, State, local, or tribal government agencies that combines resources, expertise, and information with the goal of maximizing the ability of such agencies to detect, prevent, investigate, apprehend, and respond to criminal and terrorist activity.” “Fusion” also refers to data mining of multiple sources of information on citizens who may pose “terrorist threat”. There are presently 58 such centers operating throughout US.

John Warner Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 5122) 2007

Allows US President to declare a “public emergency,” station troops anywhere in America and take control of state-based National Guard units without the consent of the governor or local authorities, in order to “suppress public disorder.”

National Defense Authorization Act, 2011

Puts domestic terror investigations and interrogations into the hands of the military. Allows for stripping of due process, indefinite detention of anyone, including American citizens, based on US government claim that they are terrorists.

Strategic Implementation Plan, 2011

Coordination of United States federal government with regional and local authorities in three core areas: (1) enhancing engagement with and support to local communities that may be targeted by violent extremists; (2) building government and law enforcement expertise for preventing violent extremism; and (3) countering violent extremist propaganda while promoting US ideals.

Communities Against Terrorist Program, 2011

FBI and DOJ campaign to enlist workers in 25 industries to spy on fellow workers and citizens and report findings to federal authorities. Citizen spies being recruited from hotel and motel personnel, dive shop operators, car and property rental agents, tattoo parlors employees, gun dealers and Internet cafe clerks.

Spy-ware in Home Appliances, 2012

All new online devices provide a treasure trove of data to US intelligence on “persons of interest” or “potential terrorists.” In March 2012 CIA Director David Petraeus discussed emergence of an “Internet of Things” — or, wired devices — at summit for the CIA’s venture capital firm In-Q-Tel. “‘Transformational’ is an overused word, but I do believe it properly applies to these technologies,” Petraeus remarked, “particularly to their effect on clandestine tradecraft.”

Executive Order – Food Resources, 2012

“National Defense Resources Preparedness” EO enacted on March 16, 2012 renews and updates the president’s power to take control of all civil energy supplies, including oil and natural gas, control and restrict all civil transportation, which is almost 97 percent dependent upon oil; and even provides the option to re-institute conscription in order to achieve both the military and non-military demands of the country.

DHS Purchases Enough Ammunition to Eliminate Entire US Population, 2012

The DHS signs off on “indefinite delivery” for nearly 500 million high-power ammunition for .40 caliber firearms from defense contractor ATK. Department says it expects to continue receiving shipments from the manufacturer for the next five years.

President Obama’s Assassination List, 2012

Obama and about 100 counter-terrorism officials have created “kill lists” to specify extrajudicial executions of suspected Al Qaeda terrorists in the drone war in Pakistan and Yemen. Obama exercises complete discretion over who may be placed on list. American citizens are not exempt.

US Military to Launch Armed Drones Domestically, 2012

NDAA sets stage for US military to potentially arm up to 30,000 drones set to fly over US. More powerful versions of the famed Predator drones, known as MQ-9 Reaper drones, are being fitted with missiles and other explosive ordinances as part of the deployment of the 30,000 drones authorized to fly over the US.

8 thoughts on “The Paranoid Style of American Governance”

  1. ‘O you who fear the difficulties of the road to annihilation–do not fear. It is so easy, this road, that it may be travelled sleeping.’


  2. When the Americans finally realize that BRITISH King George III funded both sides of the so-called ‘Revolutionary War’ (Treaty of Versailles)

    and that

    Washington, DC is a 10 X 10 miles square plot of land within America, but is owned by BRITAIN,

    and that

    the “AMERICAN FLAG” (A Title 4 war flag & the CORPORATE FLAG OF THE USA, INC) that the Americans are all so willing to kill other flag wavers around the World for waving their CORPORATE FLAGS, was patented by BRITISH Queen Elizabeth II in the year 1600,

    and that

    the tune, “Hail to the Chief” is ACTUALLY the music to “Long Live the (BRITISH) Queen,” and that in 1812 ALL of the original hand-written documents that declared our freedom from the BRITISH empire were destroyed and ‘the War’ ended that day, and the BRITISH soldiers were allowed to board their BRITISH war ships, weapons under arm and canons in tow & headed back from whence they came – BRITAIN (& BTW – when has a ‘defeated’ invading force EVER been allowed to leave the battle with their weapons?)

    and that

    the American People were declared ‘enemy combatants’ to the BRITISH-BACKED usurpers in 1933,

    and that

    the reason all of these BRITISH media puppets are HERE IN AMERICA to tell us what we should be thinking about our political and social landscape, here in ALLEGED ‘free’ America, which is STILL OWNED by BRITAIN on paper & controlled from their BRITISH government-center we only ‘think’ is the capitol of the ‘free World’ – Washington, in the “DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA.” It just goes on and on.

    BRITISH admiral Cornwallis told the despotic BRITISH King’s cousin, George Washington, (Werrsington, actually) that the ‘war’ might be ‘over’ but the total take-over of the World was just beginning. It all began in ‘washing town’ where the BRITISH EMPIRE could easily clean up the story and surreptitiously control the ‘Colon-ists’ (by sticking it in their ‘colons’) on the ESTATES, that they now call THE STATES. Washington (allegedly) said nothing in response. (Because he ALREADY knew?)

    The ruse that was orchestrated by BRITISH banking agencies before the year1600 & and put into action 274 years ago, was a machination of the inbred ruling class to one day establish their ‘open’ form of Global tyranny that they are fond of calling “the New world order.” (Which as yet another descendant BRITISH-cousin-descendant-of-the-King – FDR- said, “… is not ‘new’ and isn’t based on ‘order.” WAKE UP AMERICA. Their at it again. If the symbology of the ‘attack’ (drill/hoax/false flag) in the Boston area in an attempt to remove the weapons of the Colonists once again – just like the last time the BRITISH attacked the CONCORD/LEXINGTON/BOSTON area.

    Are we beginning to see a pattern emerging here?

    You think ‘voting’ works? The odds of nearly every single CEO (aka ‘PRESIDENT’) OF THE BRITISH-OWNED, foreign CORPORATION trademarked as THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA INCORPORATED, descending from the BRITISH CEO’S ‘cousin’ GEORGE ‘WASHINGTON’ (35 out of 44 CEO/’Presidents’) IS OFF THE CHARTS! (unless of course, the ‘fix was in’ from DAY ONE.

    WAKE UP American People, you are not ‘free’ you are OWNED. But ONLY because we believe their BS and ‘acquiesce’ to their ‘alleged’ authority OVER us, which they LEGALLY deem to be our ‘consent.’ They see ‘fear of reprisal’ as ‘consent’ because remember, “All government is by consent of the governed.” – B. Obama

    I DO NOT CONSENT. (to ANY of their so-called ‘author-ity’ over me, the man, because they have bone. But most people do, and therefore the GOVERNMENT GETS TO ‘author’ their ‘reality’ for them and dictate what they can and more importantly what they CANNOT do. That’s the difference between ‘LIBERTY’ and ‘freedom’ – LIBERTY is what the ‘GOVERNMENT’ states in CORPORATE STATUTES, what we ‘are AT LIBERTY’ to do (with GOVERNMENT-APPROVAL).

    “Freedom” is being able to tell the CORPORATE GOVERNMENT, “F#*K YOU!”

    Thom. Jefferson said, that the ‘word’ “FEDERAL” comes from the word, ‘CONFEDERATION’ which means, “a federation of cons” (aka ‘criminals’ & ‘con-men’), and that the word, FEDERAL, was just slang for that.

    it’s time we free-thinking American People, begin to take a long look at the ‘nature’ of this unnatural anathema of involuntary slavery we have with our foreign-owned fiction called THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT, & work to understand the direct violation of the ‘involuntary slavery’ clause of the 13th amendment – THE STRAWMAN SCAM – (LOOK IT UP) AND MAKE OUR OWN ‘DECLARATIONS’ concerning our ‘FREEDOM’ from the tyranny of a family – see HJR 192 & learn more about the UCC-1 filing process.

    The aforementioned information is self-verifiable – but only if you stop waving CORPORATE FLAGS and care enough about the future generations to stop believing in the LIES and are motivated to seek the Truth, will you ever be able to comprehend the truly diabolical ‘nature’ of the unnatural methodologies of Global tyranny.

    1. “Are we beginning to see a pattern emerging here?”

      Sure, a string of ridiculous assertions and hilariously wrong etymologies produces a crazy jumble of nonsense. Provide links to prove your outlandish, assumed, “facts” of history, friend, if you wish to not simply be laughed at. (But if the links are as fevered as this drivel, it will only prove the point, and I’ll be laughing even harder.)

  3. I thought that somehow you overlooked the Trading With The Enemy Act – that’s covered under the Espionage Act.

    I like the former name better. It gets right to the point. “Espionage” has so many possible meanings. “Trading with the enemy” is as clear as one can get…with the exception of the definition of “enemy”.

    What we need to do is to spread awareness of the 147 and the tentacles that interfere with every person on our planet, no matter their politics or reasons for action/inaction.

    I always say that we need to enforce the original 13th Amendment – the Titles of Nobility Amendment.

    Go to

    From what I’ve read, the War of 1812 was fought entirely to disguise and then hide the ratification of this amendment.

    1. Vincent, This is the first I’ve heard about the missing 13th Amendment. Great link. What is “the 147 and the tentacles that interfere…”?

  4. All of this stripping of civil liberties and militarization of the police is unnecessary, Monsanto can do the whole job and we aren’t the first people in recorded history to go through this.

    “…I call to mind Genesis, chapter xlvii. We have all thoughtfully – or unthoughtfully – read the pathetic story of the years of plenty and the years of famine in Egypt, and how Joseph, with that opportunity, made a corner in broken hearts, and the crusts of the poor, and human liberty – a corner whereby he took a nation’s money all away, to the last penny; took a nation’s livestock all away, to the last hoof; took a nation’s land away, to the last acre; then took the nation itself, buying it for bread, man by man, woman by woman, child by child, till all were slaves; a corner which took everything, left nothing; a corner so stupendous that, by comparison with it, the most gigantic corners in subsequent history are but baby things, for it dealt in hundreds of millions of bushels, and its profits were reckonable by hundreds of millions of dollars, and it was a disaster so crushing that its effects have not wholly disappeared from Egypt to-day, more than three thousand years after the event.

    Is it presumable that the eye of Egypt was upon Joseph the foreign Jew all this time? I think it likely. Was it friendly? We must doubt it. Was Joseph establishing a character for his race which would survive long in Egypt?…

    Let us remember that this was centuries before the crucifixion.”

    –Mark Twain, 1898, Harper’s Magazine:

    I also found this interesting, an atheist looks at Joseph in Egypt:


  5. This list of greivances is so outrageous, little can be added. I recall watching a video of a Chris Hedges and Sam Harris debate recently. It was held by ‘Truthdig’ several years ago. I wanted to reread the opening Hedges statement. It is profound and deeply compelling.

    He sought to reconcile his religious experience with the real world through this essay. I hope many will find it comforting, an attempt to clarify and demystify the great world mysteries.

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