A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Obama’s ‘National Security Force?’


Q: Is Obama planning a Gestapo-like “civilian national security force”?

A: This false claim is a badly distorted version of Obama’s call for doubling the Peace Corps, creating volunteer networks and increasing the size of the Foreign Service.

FULL QUESTION

I read a quote from Rep. Paul Broun from Georgia which stated that Obama wants to set up a civilian national security force that was similar to the “Gestapo” or the Nazi Brownshirts.

What is the truth behind Obama’s statements that he wants to create a “civilian national security force that’s just as powerful, just as strong, just as well-funded [as the military]”?

FULL ANSWER

This question stems from an interview that Republican Rep. Broun of Georgia gave to The Associated Press Nov. 10. The story carried a headline, “Georgia congressman warns of Obama dictatorship.” It said that Broun “fears that President-elect Obama will establish a Gestapo-like security force to impose a Marxist or fascist dictatorship.” And it quoted him this way:

Rep. Paul Broun, Nov. 10: It may sound a bit crazy and off base, but the thing is, he’s [Obama’s] the one who proposed this national security force. … That’s exactly what Hitler did in Nazi Germany and it’s exactly what the Soviet Union did.

Similar claims have been circulating in right-leaning blogs and conservative Web sites ever since July, when Obama made a single reference to a “civilian national security force” in a campaign speech in Colorado. Obama’s detractors make much of his expansive (and exaggerated) description of such a force as being “just as powerful, just as strong, just as well-funded” as the U.S. military. They also ignore the context.

Obama was not talking about a “security force” with guns or police powers. He was talking specifically about expanding AmeriCorps and the Peace Corps and the USA Freedom Corps, which is the volunteer initiative launched by the Bush administration after the attacks of 9/11, and about increasing the number of trained Foreign Service officers who populate U.S. embassies overseas.

Here is the relevant portion of what Obama actually said, with the sentences quoted selectively by Broun and others in bold.

Obama, July 2, Colorado Springs, CO: [As] president I will expand AmeriCorps to 250,000 slots [from 75,000] and make that increased service a vehicle to meet national goals, like providing health care and education, saving our planet and restoring our standing in the world, so that citizens see their effort connected to a common purpose.

People of all ages, stations and skills will be asked to serve. Because when it comes to the challenges we face, the American people are not the problem – they are the answer. So we are going to send more college graduates to teach and mentor our young people. We’ll call on Americans to join an energy corps, to conduct renewable energy and environmental clean-up projects in their neighborhoods all across the country.

We will enlist our veterans to find jobs and support for other vets, and to be there for our military families. And we’re going to grow our Foreign Service, open consulates that have been shuttered and double the size of the Peace Corps by 2011 to renew our diplomacy. We cannot continue to rely only on our military in order to achieve the national security objectives that we’ve set.

We’ve got to have a civilian national security force that’s just as powerful, just as strong, just as well-funded. We need to use technology to connect people to service. We’ll expand USA Freedom Corps to create online networks where American can browse opportunities to volunteer. You’ll be able to search by category, time commitment and skill sets. You’ll be able to rate service opportunities, build service networks, and create your own service pages to track your hours and activities.

This will empower more Americans to craft their own service agenda and make their own change from the bottom up.

Does that sound like a force that could kick down your door in the middle of the night and haul you off to a Gulag or concentration camp? You decide.

– Brooks Jackson

Sources

Evans, Ben. “Georgia congressman warns of Obama dictatorship.” The Associated Press, 10 Nov. 2008.

“Sen. Barack Obama delivers remarks at a campaign event, Colorado Springs, CO.” CQ Transcriptions, 2 July 2008.