By Gregory Patin , Madison Independent Examiner
"When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross."
--- Sinclair Lewis, It Can't Happen Here . (1935)
In the spring of 2003, ex-corporate executive and political scientist Lawrence W. Britt published an essay in Free Inquiry magazine entitled "Fascism Anyone?" In his work, Britt examined the traits of the two governments that formed the original historical model for fascism, Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, and five other protofascist regimes that imitated that model, Franco's Spain, Salazar's Portugal, Papadopoulos's Greece, Pinochet's Chile, and Suharto's Indonesia. He identified 14 characteristics that were common to all of them. These traits have since been widely accepted as the 14 defining characteristics of fascism.
Nearly three generations removed from the horrors of Nazi Germany, all of these regimes have been overthrown, but fascism's principles can still be found in many nations. History tends to repeat itself because many leaders and nations fail to learn from history, or draw the wrong conclusions. Sadly, historical amnesia is the norm in the world today.
In the U.S., leaders, teachers, media and citizens proudly claim that America is a democratic society with certain freedoms and rights guaranteed to all citizens by the constitution, bill of rights and rule of law. But is that really the case? A close look at the 14 characteristics of fascism in light of what has changed in America in the past few years may raise some questions as to whether or not Americans truly live in a democratic society.
1. Powerful and continuing expressions of nationalism. From the prominent displays of flags and bunting to the ubiquitous lapel pins, the fervor to show patriotic nationalism, both on the part of the regime itself and of citizens caught up in its frenzy, was always obvious. Catchy slogans, pride in the military, and demands for unity were common themes in expressing this nationalism. It was usually coupled with a suspicion of things foreign that often bordered on xenophobia.
Drive down any street in suburban or small-town America and witness the amount of flags flying, flag stickers on mailboxes, ribbon stickers on vehicles and patriotic tee shirts. Then-Senator Obama was criticized during his 2007 campaign for not wearing the ubiquitous flag lapel pin that many politicians wear. Nearly everyone has heard catchy slogans such as "Freedom isn't Free," "God Bless America" and "Support the Troops." Borderline xenophobia is exemplified when french fries were renamed "freedom fries" in D.C. cafeterias. The fear of "illegals" taking scarce jobs has been written into legislation in states such as Arizona , where failure to carry immigration documents is a crime. Your papers, please?
This characteristic may be the most innocuous one of the 14. Americans have always had a strong sense of patriotic nationalism and there is nothing inherently wrong with that. But patriotic symbolism and nationalistic legislation have been taken to a new level in the years since the first Gulf war when the first yellow ribbons were placed on trees.
2. Disdain for the importance of human rights. The regimes themselves viewed human rights as of little value and a hindrance to realizing the objectives of the ruling elite. Through clever use of propaganda, the population was brought to accept these human rights abuses by marginalizing, even demonizing, those being targeted. When abuse was egregious, the tactic was to use secrecy, denial, and disinformation.
The use of extraordinary rendition, military tribunals instead of public trials, the refusal to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, waterboarding and other "enhanced interrogation techniques" are good examples of human rights violations. Many were done in secrecy until the information was leaked to the press. Capturing people and imprisoning them without charges is repeatedly called "extraordinary rendition" in the media, simulated drowning is called "waterboarding," refusing the right to a fair trial a "military tribunal" and torture "enhanced interrogation." All are good examples of the use of propaganda to make these practices palatable to the American people.
Disdain for human rights in the U.S. has never been more apparent than in recent years. The rights of free speech and assembly obviously do not apply to the over 6700 citizens that have been arrested and the many that have been beaten and pepper-sprayed since the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement began last September.
The National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 (NDAA) , signed into law by President Obama in December 2011, gives the government the power to indefinitely detain, imprison, torture and murder anyone, anywhere if he or she is considered a suspect of anything the US government wants to make up. The detention, imprisonment, torture and murder can occur without the person having been charged and without a trial.
These practices would probably have caused public outrage at any time in U.S. history before the new millennium, but now are accepted by many Americans as necessary tools in the "War on Terror," (itself a slogan). Ask anyone present at recent OWS demonstrations how "free" they think Americans are now.
3. Identification of enemies/scapegoats as a unifying cause. The most significant common thread among these regimes was the use of scapegoating as a means to divert the people's attention from other problems, to shift blame for failures, and to channel frustration in controlled directions. The methods of choice--relentless propaganda and disinformation--were usually effective. Often the regimes would incite "spontaneous' acts against the target scapegoats, usually communists, socialists, liberals, Jews, ethnic and racial minorities, traditional national enemies, members of other religions, secularists, homosexuals, and "terrorists.' Active opponents of these regimes were inevitably labeled as terrorists and dealt with accordingly.