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The flowering of fascism

Silencing dissent is extremist and un-American

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Derek Alphran is a regular guy. He's a law professor at a local college. Note I didn't say which college. There's a reason. This column is about that most thuggish and un-American of traditions, intimidating people to give up their constitutional rights.

Alphran doesn't want his face shown, or his law school named, or his exact address in Inman Park given. The night riders have been to his house, brandishing fire and terror.

"It's chilling," he says, "and, yes, I'm chilled a little."

A specialist in civil liberties and a former ACLU lawyer, Alphran not only believes abstractly in "rights," he exercises his freedoms -- which is exactly what real patriots from Tom Jefferson and Tom Paine to MLK and Paul Wellstone intended.

"I put some 'War Is NOT the Answer' signs in my yard," he says. "I went to a few demonstrations. This war is a burning issue, and I wanted to make a statement as a patriotic American."

On March 21, the terrorists came, torching the signs.

I've received a half-dozen calls about what appears to be a fairly organized group that is, in all respects other than they neglect to wear sheets, a reincarnation of the Klan. The Kluxers used violence to keep blacks from voting and exercising their rights; the latter-day goons are targeting citizens who practice what the Founding Fathers preached.

"What do the sign burners think our country stands for if not freedom of speech?" Alphran says. "I just do not understand the virulent reaction to people who speak out. Now is the one time when free speech is most important."

Todd Collins runs Your Friendly Grocery on Lake Avenue, near Alphran's home. Collins has alerted me to incidents of political vandalism more reminiscent of Germany's Brown Shirts or Italy's Black Shirts than the red, white and blue ideal of American liberty.

"What's happening around here is frightening," he says. "The people who would burn signs are IG-NOR-ANT. I mean, who is the true patriot? It sure isn't the guy destroying someone else's attempt at free speech."

On Columns Drive, which parallels the Chattahoochee River in Cobb County, Dan Lowe spied a truck trashing a yard and destroying "War Is NOT the Answer" signs.

"I'm pissed, Mr. Sugg, and I have no idea what to do about it, at least if I don't want to get my yard terrorized," Lowe says. "This is a time I thought I'd never see as an American, where it's quite dangerous to speak your mind."

Among my callers last week was a mucho irate guy name Jerry. After a few minutes of screeching into the phone ("You're slime ..." blah, blah, blah), he simmered down and we had a fairly civil discussion. The burned signs were on my mind, so I asked him what he thought of the modest blue card peace statements. He bragged that whenever he saw one of the "War is NOT the Answer" signs, he'd stop his car and rip it out of the ground.

I asked Jerry if he really believed destroying the signs was an all-American act, and he assured me he did. So, I queried him about where he got his information. Not surprising, Jerry is one of the lumpen masses who depend on talk radio for their reality. He said he only watches Fox News and doesn't read newspapers.

Jerry told me that he had heard the same message broadcast by all of the airwave hate clones -- Sean Hannity, Michael Savage, Neal Boortz and Rush Limbaugh are four he named. The message was that anti-war protest threatens national security, is unpatriotic and that dissent endangers our troops.

I asked Jerry if he found it curious that he heard the same message up and down the AM dial. "Huh?" he responded. So here's what I explained to him:

Almost daily, the radical right's think tanks and command centers -- the Republican National Committee and the Heritage Foundation, for example -- suggest "talking points" to the talk shows. The hosts trumpet the message in unison, and it sounds like some Great Truth has been revealed. After all, everyone is yapping the same thing.

That's why, across the radio spectrum and on, say, Fox's Bill O'Reilly All-Spin Zone, you've been hearing that "homeland security" is jeopardized by anti-war demonstrations. The word -- from the White House agitprop masters through the foundations to the airwaves -- is that when police are needed to monitor demonstrations, cities are left vulnerable to terrorist attacks.

Puh-leeze, it's total claptrap, as any of the hosts could find out if, as I did, they contacted their local cop shops.

But, of course, truth isn't a word in the vocabulary of either the Bush administration or the talk show hosts. Thus, the profound ignorance of people such as Jerry.

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