Maybe. But apparently Naomi Wolf is wrong, at least according to this piece
. It also gives little insight in a different approach to understanding state-repression not as something centralised and top-down, but actually as something that springs from "localism".
Like many critics of state coercion in the United States, Wolf seems to assume that political repression requires or entails national coordination and centralised direction from the feds. This fits with a larger tradition in the United States that sees centralised and national power as the handmaiden of tyranny, and local power as its antidote. Throughout much of the twentieth century, that was the argument of conservatives, who opposed federal involvement in such “local” matters as Jim Crow. But since the 1980s, that position has steadily migrated to the left as well.
Whatever its political provenance, however, the problem with that position - as I argued in this piece in the Boston Review in 2005, and in a much longer piece in the Missouri Law Review [pdf] - is that it's wrong.
From the battles over abolition to the labor wars at the turn of the last century; from the Red Squads of the twentieth-century police departments to the struggles over Jim Crow; state repression in the US has often been decentralised, displaying that very same can-do spirit of local initiative that has been celebrated by everyone from Alexis de Tocqueville to Robert Putnam. Though Tocqueville and Putnam were talking, of course, about things like creating churches and buildings roads, the fact is: If the locals can build a church or a road on their own, they can also get rid of dissenters on their own, too, no?
Even where there has been coordination and involvement from above, as in the epic cases of the Red Scare, McCarthyism, COINTELPRO, or now the War on Terror, what's been most striking is how local police and officials have managed to manipulate that federal involvement to their own ends. As I wrote in the Boston Review:
What history demonstrates is that police officers often use their powers, with or without federal prompting, as instruments of larger political purpose. The danger of cooperation between federal agencies and local police is not that the former will conscript the latter into repressive programs the latter would not otherwise pursue, but that it allows the police to apply the legitimising gloss of national security to their own pet projects of repression. During the McCarthy era, for example, southern politicians and law-enforcement officers used the language of anti-communism to outlaw the NAACP and to arrest and indict civil-rights leaders for sedition. In the Denver case already mentioned, the police used the rubric of domestic security to keep track of not only the groups cited above but also a local organization working against police brutality in the city. This past summer, during the Republican Party convention in New York City, the NYPD preemptively arrested more than 1,500 protesters - some of them obstreperous, virtually all of them nonviolent - as well as innocent bystanders. How did the mayor justify the arrest and prolonged detainment of these individuals? By drawing parallels, according to The New York Times, "between verbally abusive demonstrators and the Sept. 11 terrorists."
If all politics is local in the United States, as former Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill reminded us, it stands to reason that a good deal of the political repression is as well.