US Politics

Ten Easy Steps to a Fascist USA

By Ryan McGreal
Published April 24, 2007

It's easy to throw around the f-word in politics. If you want to discredit your opponents, you call them fascists. Everyone hates fascists, right?

As a debating tactic, calling someone a fascist (or more specifically, a Nazi) often signals the point at which a discussion degenerates into a pointless shouting match, to the extent that Mike Godwin of the Electronic Frontier Foundation invoked an early Internet adage to draw attention to the overuse of a related invective:

As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.

But what happens if the comparison is apt? What if, instead of describing something as fascist because you're too furious to refrain from ad hominem attacks, you describe something as fascist because it's fascist?

Naomi Wolf, the author of The Beauty Myth, makes a painstaking case for just this accusation against the Bush administration, and it's a doozy.

Quite simply, she identifies ten common steps that governments always take when trying to transform an open society into a closed society and relates them to the actions of the US government since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

If you look at history, you can see that there is essentially a blueprint for turning an open society into a dictatorship. That blueprint has been used again and again in more and less bloody, more and less terrifying ways. But it is always effective.

Some of the steps fit the evidence more closely than others (for example, brownshirts are not yet hauling people out of their houses), but she acknowledges that the process is still in its early stages.

More chilling, other steps - like invoking a terrifying internal and external enemy, establishing gulags, and setting up comprehensive internal spying - are already well advanced.

Sidestepping Godwin's Law, Wolf draws references from Thailand's recent coup, Nazi Germany, Italy under Mussolini, the USSR under Stalin, Communist China, Chile under Pinochet, and other times and places to cast recent events in the US into a context that reveals the ten-step fascist strategy.

It's a long (4,600 words) piece, and Wolf is not the first person to make these connections, but this is required reading for anyone who wants to undersand what's going on in the US today and why so many Americans themselves don't seem to appreciate the danger.

In a fascist system, it's not the lies that count but the muddying. When citizens can't tell real news from fake, they give up their demands for accountability bit by bit. [emphasis added]

Never underestimate the power of this very strategy to wear people out.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted April 25, 2007 at 12:11:15

I haven't read the Naomi Wolf piece so I don't know if she discusses the role of the Religious Right in the rise of fascism in the US. Harper's had a piece on the Religious Right a few years back and I saved the last few paragraphs because it was so chilling:

" I can’t help but recall the words of my ethics professor at Harvard Divinity School, Dr. James Luther Adams, who told us that when we were his age, and he was then close to eighty, we would all be fighting the “Christian fascists.”

He gave us that warning twenty-five years ago, when Pat Robertson and other prominent evangelists began speaking of a new political religion that would direct its efforts at taking control of all major Americcan institutions, including mainstream denominations and the government, so as to transform the United States into a global Christian empire. At the time, it was hard to take such fantastic, rhetoric seriously. But fascism, Adams warned, would not return wearing swastikas and brown shirts. Its ideological inheritors would cloak themselves in the language of the Bible; they would come carrying crosses and chanting the Pledge of Allegiance.

Adams had watched American intellectuals and industrialists flirt with fascism in the 1930’s. Mussollini’s “Corporatism,” which created an unchecked industrial and business aristocracy, had appealed to many at the time as an effective counterweight to the New Deal. In 1934, Fortune magazine lavished praise on the Italian dictator for his defanging of labor unions and his empowerment of industrialists at the expense of workers. Then as now, Adams said, too many liberals failed to understand the power and allure of evil, and when the radical Christians came, these people would undoubtedly play by the old, polite rules of democracy long after those in power had begun to dismantle the democratic state. Adams had watched German academics fall silent or conform. He knew how desperately people want to believe the comfortable lies told by totalitarian movements, how easily those lies lull moderates into passivity. Adams told us to watch closely the Christian right’s persecution of homosexuals and lesbians. Hitler, he reminded us, promised to restore moral values not long after he took power in 1933, then imposed a ban on all homosexual and lesbian organizations and publications. Then came raids on the places where homosexuals gathered, culminating on May 6, 1933, with the ransacking of the Institute for Sexual Science in Berlin. Homosexuals and lesbians, Adams said, would be the first “deviants” singled out by the Christian right. We would be the next."

We cannot be complacent when religious conservatives in our own country, as well as the US, demonize gays and lesbians under the guise of protecting the 'family'. It's easy for Canadians to be complacent because of our same-sex marriage laws, but we need to be vigilant in protecting those hard-won rights. And if heteros think it doesn't concern them, they're mistaken. They'll be coming after women next. David Sweet anyone?

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