Friday, August 22, 2003

More on the Transmission Belt

I have to admit that at times I've wondered if I've wandered too far out onto a limb with the issues I tried to examine in "Rush, Newspeak and Fascism," especially the extent to which I think proto-fascist memes circulate into the mainstream.

Of course, even bringing this topic up among conservatives provokes the usual distortions and strawman questions: "What you're really saying is that Republicans are secretly fascist, aren't you?" Well, no: I specifically say they are not -- they are corporatists. However, the GOP, by giving wide play to a variety of extremist ideas and talking points, is quickly gaining within its ranks an extremist faction that is growing in power and influence. And that is creating the conditions that can create a genuine fascism.

Part of my problem is that I haven't really seen anyone else saying this much, other than those bloggers who have picked up on "Rush" and expanded on it, much to my delight and gratitude.

Well, this week I found at least one voice of confirmation. I suppose it's unsurprising that it comes from someone whose work influenced my thinking (and someone I quote extensively in the essay, in fact), Chip Berlet of Political Research Associates. Chip has a great piece in this month's edition of the Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Report:
Into the Mainstream:
An array of right-wing foundations and think tanks support efforts to make bigoted and discredited ideas respectable

Are black people inherently less intelligent and more prone to criminality than whites? Are Catholics incapable of self-government? Did the Civil Rights Act of 1964 strip Americans of their freedoms? Does a tiny cabal of Jewish families control international banking? Do interracial relationships have the effect of weakening both races? Are there natural ruling elites who should be governing society?

These are the kinds of ideas that are being popularized today.

How do ideas that once were denounced as racist, bigoted, unfair, or just plain mean-spirited get transmitted into mainstream discussions and political debates? Through a wide array of political and social networks. Such networks are a robust part of democracy in action, and include media outlets, think tanks, pressure groups, funders and leaders. In the 1960s, for example, networks based in churches and on college campuses mobilized people to support civil rights legislation. But it is important to remember that backlash movements also formed to oppose equality. In the 1950s and 1960s, segregationists and white supremacists mobilized to block the demands of the civil rights movement.

Today, there are still political and social networks that seek to undermine full equality for all Americans. Their messages are spread using the standard tools: prejudice, fear, disdain, misinformation, trivialization, patronizing stereotypes, demonization and even scare-mongering conspiracy theories. While many of the groups within these networks describe themselves as mainstream -- and many disagree with one another -- they all have helped spread bigoted ideas into American life.

Chip goes on to enumerate just who these transmitters are, particularly in the think-tank industry. It's far more complete than anything I attempted in "Rush," and thus really invaluable.

What's also worth noting is that this entire issue of Intelligence Report is dedicated primarily to this problem. There is a broad array of stories tackling various aspects of it:
Hate for Sale:
Beneath the radar screen of mainstream society, a commercial subculture of hate is flourishing

Reframing the Enemy:
'Cultural Marxism,' a conspiracy theory with an anti-Semitic twist, is being pushed by much of the American right

In Sheep's Clothing:
Around the country, radical right groups are staging 'European' festivals in a bid to draw ethnic whites into the movement

I was up all night reading this. It's compelling -- and another stack of evidence that the problem is worsening. Kudos to Mark Potok and crew.

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