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Imagine what would be, if history had occurred a bit differently. Who says it didn't, somewhere? These fictional news items explore that possibility. Written by Alternate Historian

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April 15

In 1976, U.S. President Gerald L. K. Smith died of pneumonia at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C.

Smith was first elected in 1936 on the Union Party ticket, a fusion of disaffected members of the Democratic Party and the remnants of the moribund Populists, defeating President John Nance Garner, whose policies had failed to stem the Great Depression which followed the stock-market crash of October 1931. He campaigned on a platform of "traditional values," including a literal reading of the Bible, and antipathy to the "speculators and international bankers" who, he claimed, were profiting from the Depression.

President Smith dies by Eric LippsOnce in office, Smith embarked on a bigger version of the "New Beginning" program undertaken forty years earlier by President William Jennings Bryan1, taking the U.S. entirely off the gold standard, establishing a plethora of government relief and "recovery" agencies, and launching an array of ambitious public-works projects, including the Mississippi Valley Authority, which brought electricity to millions of poor Southern Americans for the first time. These moves were widely popular with ordinary Americans, though denounced as "socialist" or even "Communist" by business leaders.

Smith, however, was no left-wing zealot, as the other half of his program would prove. At his instigation, Congress drew up and passed in mid-1937 the Twentieth Amendment to the U.S. constitution2. Over the next three years, a furious campaign would press for the amendment's ratification, which would come March 15, 1940 following approval by the Illinois legislature.

At once, Smith moved to enforce the Amendment. Tens of thousands of known or suspected Communists were rounded up immediately by the FBI, and a campaign of terror against "infidels," largely carried out by private citizen militias but backed up by the National guard and U.S. military, began, ushering in what would later be dubbed the "Purification". Libraries, museums, even astronomical observatories were sacked and torched, as were the offices of "un-American" newspapers and magazines. Fresh waves of arrests followed, and special prisons were erected all over the United States, increasingly in remote regions such as Alaska and the Florida Everglades. Often, federal detainees were pressed into service to build the very prison camps intended for their long-term internment.

The election that year was a sham, the first of many, in which opponents of the President stayed away from the polls in droves for fear of arrest. It was widely expected that Smith would simply abolish future elections. In fact, he would allow them to continue, but they would increasingly be empty exercises as it became clear that Smith would not allow himself or Union Party candidates for lesser offices to be defeated except where their "opposition" held views so similar to the Party's that they might as well have worn the union eagle emblem themselves--men like Mississippi's Strom Thurmond, who would eventually abandon the Democratic Party to serve as Smith's fourth vice-president.

Under Smith's iron-handed rule the United States would become the first theocratic fascist country in the Western world, and would embark on a series of wars against its neighbors and such "inferior" nations as Japan, China, and, later, Iran and Rashidi Arabia.3 At home, his embrace of a rigid Christian fundamentalism would cripple America's technological infrastructure, as most of the scientists and engineers needed to keep that infrastructure running and permit progress were non-fundamentalists, many of them Jewish, who risked internment for their acceptance of such heretical ideas as Darwinian evolution and Einstein's theory of relativity. By the 1960s, Smith had been forced to institute reforms, including so-called "executive parole," in which internees with special skills would be let out of the camps to work, under constant surveillance, for the government's various industrial-technical enterprises. It was executive parolees who performed the work leading to America's first atomic bomb test in Nevada on July 20, 19694 and to its first non-imported electronic computers in the 1970s.

Yet by that time it was apparent that more would be needed. A generation of slave scientists who had been active since the 1930s and ?40s could not be depended on forever, but America's "purified" schools were producing a citizenry essentially devoid of modern scientific knowledge. The Smith's chagrin, he had found himself obliged to turn not only to imprisoned heretics but to experts from America's few allies (among them Britain, ruled by its own secular fascist government since 19415) for technological assistance. In 1970, he quietly ordered the establishment of a network of "leader schools" in which promising students would, for the first time in three decades, receive an uncensored scientific education. Graduates of these schools would be offered technical jobs at high pay; in exchange, they would remain under surveillance, though on less rigorous terms than their parolee counterparts.

The creation of the leader schools was overshadowed that year by another event: the Negro Uprising, in which America's millions of oppressed black citizens, who had been plunged back under Smith into a period of repression unequalled since the so-called "Redemption" following the end of Reconstruction in the mid-1870s.6 The Uprising was bloodily subdued, and in the aftermath, America's black population was forcibly relocated to so-called "protected Negro areas"--reservations designed in actual fact as extermination centers. A few tens of thousands would be spared, living in special villages modeled on a bigot's vision of their ancestors' way of life in Africa, but the remainder would be wiped out--worked to death, shot, gassed, or slain in gruesome "medical experiments".

Smith's death marked the beginning of the end for the regime he had created. Gerald Winrod, feared head of the Constitutional Police which had been founded explicitly to enforce the Twentieth Amendment and which had absorbed the functions of the old Federal Bureau of Investigation following the assassination of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover in November 1963, was an old man now, as were many other architects of Smith's Christianized America. The President had carefully ensured that his vice-presidents could never challenge him, an by the 1960s had taken to replacing them every four years, choosing devout but politically impotent figures to serve in that position. Vice-President William Hargis7, who would become President upon Smith's death, was in that mold: a former radio and television preacher, his supporters were less a faction within the Union Party than a flock of fans. Hargis would prove inept in handling the imperial presidency bequeathed him by his predecessor, and the Christian republic would stumble through his time in office driven more by inertia than by any coherent leadership.

© Today in Alternate History, 2013-. All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.