In a 2019 article for The Atlantic, “The Lingering Trauma of Stasi Surveillance,” Charlotte Bailey explores how many of the thousands of Germans who were victims of the The Ministry for State Security—commonly known as the Stasi—still suffer from psychological trauma. The Stasi were part of the German Democratic Republic (GDR). Before its collapse in 1989 after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the GDR, as Bailey describes, “went to extraordinary lengths to spy on and control its citizens.”
The Stasi, Bailey writes, “wiretapped, bugged, and tracked citizens. It steamed open letters and drilled holes in walls. It had nearly 200,000 unofficial informers and hundreds of thousands more occasional sources providing information on their friends, neighbors, relatives, and colleagues. As the self-declared sword and shield regime, it aimed not merely to stamp out dissent, but to support a far-reaching propaganda machine in creating a new, perfect communist human being.”
I have long argued what afflicts present-day America is not fascism, or Mao-style communism, but the totalitarianism of the former spy-state known as the German Democratic Republic. “All over the world,” Bailey notes, “authoritarian regimes still use some of the tactics favored by the East German dictatorship—informers are still widely used, for instance. But states are now using modern technology to oppress their citizens in ways simply unavailable to the Stasi—by monitoring movements, spying on communications, and tracking financial transactions, to name just a few. The tools, in fact, are available to (and used by) companies and the governments of liberal democracies, too.”
David Murakami Wood, a surveillance sociologist and an associate professor at Queen’s University in Canada, says “States now have far more power than the Stasi.”
The record of your permanent digital footprint and the growing power of tech companies such as Facebook, Google, and YouTube mean that just a few companies have more information about you, and power over you, in 2022 than the Stasi could ever have imagined. With an entire spy apparatus available on their phones, students snitch on each other. Publishers reject books because the author—even one as popular as J. K. Rowling of Harry Potter fame—won’t bow to the woke state. Recently, the German artist Jess de Wahls was briefly canceled by the Royal Academy (which subsequently apologized) after trans activists complained about a 2019 essay in which de Wahls argued the intolerance of the LGBTQ community has made it impossible to call a woman “an adult human female.”
In her essay, De Wahls perceptively compared the current climate produced by the crazy Left to the life she lived as a child under the German Stasi:
Even your closest friends, or so we were told, could turn out to be working for the Stasi, the East German State Security Service, which has been described as one of the most effective and repressive intelligence and secret police agencies ever to have existed.
Everyone may have been ‘equal’ but we certainly weren’t free to think and do what we wanted.
When friends of mine occasionally remark that I endured a pummeling at the hands of latter-day Nazis in the fall of 2018 during the Brett Kavanaugh hearings, I have to correct them and say that from everything I have read, it resembled nothing so much as a Stasi operation.
On September 16, 2018, the Washington Post published an explosive article. Christine Blasey Ford, a psychologist in California, made allegations against my high school classmate, Brett Kavanaugh, who had been nominated for the Supreme Court and was about to be voted out of committee. Ford claimed that Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her when the two were in high school in 1982. Ford also claimed that I was in the room where the assault allegedly took place and that I witnessed everything before jumping in and breaking things up.
Just hours after the Post story broke, the British paper Daily Mail ran a lengthy “exclusive” about Georgetown Prep where Brett and I were friends in the 1980s. The Daily Mail story was very long and detailed. It featured quotes from books I had written and pictures I had posted, some months or years earlier, on Twitter or Facebook. It described Prep as Las Vegas on Maryland’s Rockville Pike, with keg parties, sex, drugs, strippers, and beach bacchanals.
At the same time there appeared on TV a slimy D.C. lawyer. He was wielding a copy of our 1983 high school yearbook. Blasey Ford’s own salacious yearbook was scrubbed from most internet searches and media coverage. And in addition to all of this, they even tried to ensnare me in a honey trap. Yes, it all seemed like an over-the-top crime novel.
As I have noted elsewhere, Ford herself was using an opposition researcher for weeks leading up to Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing. His name is Keith Koegler. In the summer of 2018, in the weeks between Brett’s nomination and the fall hearings, Koegler beavered away at finding anything to sink him. His work is described in The Education of Brett Kavanaugh:
A tech industry lawyer, Koegler was a voracious reader and a technical thinker. In his second-floor home office, he’d spent many hours that summer poring over news coverage of the nomination process, biographical information about Kavanaugh, and writings and videos produced by Mark Judge. In combing through YouTube, articles, and social networks, Koegler had learned more about the house parties . . . and the lexicon of 1980s Georgetown Prep than he had ever thought he would care to know.
This kind of opposition research is right out of the Stasi playbook. Koegler and others allied against us had yet another asset on their side that the old German Stasi didn’t—the American media. In her fascinating book and podcast Tunnel 29: The True Story of an Extraordinary Escape Beneath the Berlin Wall, Helena Merriman describes how a 1962 underground escape from East Berlin was financed by—hold on—NBC News. The network made a deal to make a documentary about the tunnel, in the process providing more than $150,000 to the builders.
In 2018, that same network aired an interview with a woman who claimed that Brett Kavanaugh and I had drugged girls and witnessed, and perhaps even participated in, 10 gang rapes in the 1980s. Reporters used as sources people who had never met me or any of my friends in high school, and each story seemed wilder than the last. When talking to one of these reporters on his podcast, Al Franken, like the evil Stasi interrogator Gerd Wiesler in “The Lives of Others,” dismissed Senator Susan Collins’ (R-Maine) speech on the floor of the Senate defending due process. It was, said Franken, “some convoluted thing where at the end it’s something about the presumption of innocence.”
Franken and the rest of our American Stasi were attempting the process known by the German Stasi as Zersetzung. They were going to feed to the mob everything I had written, filmed, or said that could in any way be seen as a crime against the state—and in modern woke America, that could be anything from defending male passion to drinking beer. Journalist Michael Stuchbery describes it well:
Coupled with this nigh-on omnipotent system of observation and informing was the insidious practice of ‘Zersetzung,’ or ‘decomposition.’ This was a form of psychological warfare used to at first isolate, then demoralize an individual identified as a troublemaker by the regime. ‘Zersetzung’ could be as simple as having bureaucracy turned against you. In a state like the DDR, the day-to-day life of millions hinged on permits being issued and processes being followed. Purposeful delays, ‘misfilings’ and other interference could seriously frustrate the lives of the state’s political opponents. A step up might involve fabricated evidence of affairs or other illicit behaviour being circulated, and being sent to the family and friends of someone targeted for ‘Zersetzung.’ Reputational damage was the idea during this phase, and there are records of many families being destroyed by these actions.
In her Atlantic article, Charlotte Bailey reports that many victims of the Stasi continue to experience trauma and other psychological problems. “The destruction of trust was one of the most painful legacies of their experiences in the GDR,” she writes. “The dense informer network meant that everyone spied on one another. Many did not find out who had informed on them until decades later, when they requested their Stasi file.”
German psychiatrist Stefan Trobisch-Lütge has focused his career on helping these people, who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression. At Trobisch-Lütge’s practice in Berlin, one member of the group-counseling session asks, “Friends? Do I still have friends?” While the man “is smiling,” Bailey reports, “the truth is, he says, life in the GDR harmed his ability to trust and form lasting relationships.” One woman was devastated when she discovered that the man she loved was informing on her, and later found out another friend was also spying on her. A man at the session recalled how he was thrown in jail when someone reported he wanted to leave the country. Ten years later, after seeing his Stasi file, he saw that the person who betrayed him was his girlfriend.
Such was the climate in postwar Germany, and such is the climate in 2022 America. But it also explains why I, and my closest friends, survived the assault during the Kavanaugh war.
The thing the American Stasi did not anticipate is that my friends would not help inflame the Zersetzung. In fact, the best of them used the oldest of anti-totalitarian weapons, mockery. At the height of the craziness, the media was hysterically reporting on The Unknown Hoya, an underground newspaper I founded with a couple of other guys in high school almost 35 years ago. According to the Washington Post, we were to be deeply ashamed of this sheet, which made fun of an all-girls school we didn’t like, published ribald photos from bachelor parties, and kept tabs on the kegs we drank.
The day the Post story landed, one of the Unknown Hoya editors called me. He had one question: “Is it too late to print a retraction?”