Friday, March 28, 2003


Mary at The Watch has a post worth reading:

Dealing With Bullies
One of the world's experts on bullying in schools can help as we try to find a way to counter the bullies in the White House. Dr. Ken Rigby has been studying bullying for a long time and has come up with a thesis that says the success of stopping bullying is based on the level of commitment that teachers (or adults) bring to that goal. He recommends that people who are serious about trying to counteract bullying begin by understanding how to get a commitment on what approach the group thinks will work. He says a concerted approach is more effective than a more ad-hoc, everyone do their own way approach. And he provides a worksheet that can be used by schools to help decide on tactics to confront bullies. I suggest we study the techniques and find ones that we think will work.

I agree with Mary's conclusion that a coordinated effort that stresses rational responses is going to be the answer to the bullies -- not merely those in the White House, but those on the street. More on that this weekend.

In the meantime, it pays to remember: Bullies are cowards.

A face from the past

By way of illustrating the preceding post ...

This is Tom Takeo Matsuoka, who died year before last at the age of 98 [I took this photo the year before, when he was 97]. Tom was one of the three men arrested by FBI agents in Bellevue, Wash., the night after Pearl Harbor. His arrest was one of many mistakes the FBI made in those sweeps; though only "enemy aliens" were supposed to have been arrested, Matsuoka was a citizen. But because he could not easily produce his birth records (which were kept at a tiny town in Hawaii), he was shipped off anyway to the Army detention camp at Fort Missoula.

Matsuoka was probably fingered for arrest because he was in fact a community leader in Bellevue. He was president of the Bellevue Vegetable Growers Association, which had become the main font of economic well-being for the little town's substantial Japanese population. (The two others arrested that night held similar positions -- one was the schoolmaster of the Japanese school, the other the head of the Japanese businessmen's association.) It was clear that the three were targeted mainly to decapitate, as it were, the Nikkei community, not because of any actual threat they might pose.

Matsuoka's case, I think, neatly illustrates the way even seemingly legitimate detentions can be used to intimidate and threaten the target communities.

The FBI and Iraqis: Intelligence or intimidation?

I've been following with some interest the debate between, on the one hand, Eric Muller at Is That Legal? and, on the other, Atrios and TalkLeft regarding the FBI's questioning of Iraqis, both nationals and citizens, after the outbreak of war with Iraq.

Some of the critics of these sessions have compared them to the harassment that Japanese-Americans endured after Pearl Harbor, culminating in the travesty of their internment in concentration camps. Muller correctly points out that this comparison is not quite apt; the bulk of the questioning has been aimed at Iraqi nationals, and most of the questioning is reasonable and normal. After all, the FBI would be falling down on the job if it weren't collecting intelligence on Iraqi nationals.

However, TalkLeft and Atrios have both pointed out that the interviews have in fact included some American citizens. More to the point, the Iraqi community clearly perceives them as a kind of harassment, especially because of the accusatory nature of much of the questioning. And this does indeed raise the specter of the Japanese-American internment.

I fall somewhere in between. Interviewing and even detaining nationals of an enemy nation has always been a legitimate exercise of authority during wartime. And the FBI's stated purpose -- to counter terrorism, curb hate crimes and track down illegal immigrants -- is clearly appropriate. Civil libertarians need to back off and allow law enforcement to do its work without waving the bloody shirt of the internment camps at every corner. After all, the mass detention of Japanese nationals immediately after Pearl Harbor has never been contested, was widely accepted at the time, and was not one of the acts for which Congress later made reparations.

On the other hand, this does not mean these detentions were not problematic. Indeed, the way they were handled was a separate travesty that became inextricably bound up with the internment itself. The history around them should be considered a cautionary fable for our times too.

Within the first few days after Pearl Harbor, FBI agents swept through the Japanese-American communities of the Pacific Coast and arrested some 1,268 Japanese men, nearly all of them first-generation Issei who, because of the legal prohibition that existed then against Asian naturalization, were still Japanese nationals, though many of them had been stateside for over a generation. (It should be noted that this situation differs quite a bit from that facing today's Iraqis.)

These arrests were made possible because as early as 1936, President Roosevelt had foreseen the possibility of war with Japan and had ordered preparations begun for handling the possibility of sabotage or espionage from Japanese Americans; as I pointed out earlier, FDR was a believer in the "Yellow Peril" conspiracy theories and was clearly inclined to view the Japanese as potential traitors. Apprised of contacts between Japanese living in Hawaii and Japanese merchant ships that docked at Oahu, FDR ordered that any immigrants who had such contacts should be secretly but definitely identified and his or her name placed on a special list of those who would be first to be placed in a concentration camp in the event of trouble. He thus set into motion the wheels of the nation's intelligence-gathering agencies -- initially the Office of Naval Intelligence, which wound up gathering some of this data through diplomatic-cable intercepts, and then the FBI -- and later expanded this surveillance to the mainland in 1939. By 1941 federal authorities had built dossiers on more than 2,000 potential suspects.

These men were identified by three categories:
A: "Known dangerous" suspects, people who were influential within their respective communities or who, because of their work were considered likely members of a "fifth column" of enemy spies.
B: "Potentially dangerous" people who were suspected of disloyalty but who had not been investigated yet.
C: Suspects who had demonstrated pro-Japanese leanings or engaged in pro-Japanese propaganda. Under this category, mere participation in local community associations could land a person in the FBI's dossiers.

These arrests, of course, had considerable ramifications inside the Nikkei communities. Since nearly every leading figure was in detention, the remaining members were awash at sea, fearful of what was about to befall them, and utterly without any kind of voice or representation. FBI and other documents released later made it clear that this was very much part of the intent of the arrests -- to render any remaining community essentially headless.

And of course, they had the effect of completely terrorizing the Nikkei communities. In Bellevue, for example, three community leaders -- one of them actually a Nisei citizen -- were arrested. Since the arrests affected only three Bellevue families, and since the authorities had hinted darkly that these three, like the others being held, might have participated in Japan-sponsored sabotage and espionage, their imprisonment made only a ripple in Bellevue, at least among the community at large. But among the Japanese, it cast a black pall over everyone.

"Yes, they got picked up right away, and then everything got even more panicky," recalls Mitsuko Hashiguchi, who grew up on her parents' Bellevue farm and had taken charge of it in 1940. She says the arrests had everyone in the community looking over their shoulders, or waiting for a knock at the door to come at night: "Who's gonna be picked up next?"

This was only one of the ways that officials harassed the remaining Nikkei communities. Next came the curfew, which required every Japanese person to be inside their home by 8 p.m. Then came firings from school-district jobs, bus drivers refusing to pick up Japanese schoolchildren, and the unending barrage of verbal attacks against anyone of Japanese descent.

Finally, these arrests also formed the cornerstone of the utter destruction of rural Nikkei communities that resulted from the internment (which phenomenon is the main subject of my forthcoming book, Strawberry Days). The land losses suffered by the persons arrested formed the start of what would become a pattern along the West Coast.

Take, for example, the case of Minoru Yasui, who had come to the United States in 1903, and become one of the pillars of the then-young Hood River, Oregon, orcharding community. By 1942 his business interests were worth an estimated half-million dollars. These assets were frozen by the Treasury Department when he was arrested.

Held at Fort Missoula, Mont., Yasui (like all the detainees) went before a detention hearing board in the spring of 1942 to determine his status (a number of those who had been arrested were in fact determined to have been inappropriately arrested and were released to join their families at the internment camps). Even though Yasui was co-owner of a thousand acres of farm and orchard land, member of the Rotary and the Apple Growers Association, a leader of the local Methodist Church, yet when he went before the board, only his past associations with Japanese civic organizations, including the award he received from the Emperor for promoting American-Japanese relations, were considered relevant.

"The proceedings were a complete farce," later recalled his son, Minoru, himself a Nisei activist whose challenge of the curfew laws in Portland would eventually wind its way before the U.S. Supreme Court, and who attended his father's hearings. "The most incredible thing was when they produced childlike drawings of the Panama Canal showing detailed drawings of how the locks worked. The hearing officer took these out and asked, 'Mr. Yasui, what are these?' Dad looked at the drawings and diagrams and said, 'They look like drawings of the Panama Canal.' They were so labeled, with names of the children. Then the officer asked my father to explain why they were in our home. 'If they were in my home,' my father replied, 'it seems to me that they were drawings done by my children for their schoolwork.'

"The officer then asked, 'Didn't you have these maps and diagrams so you could direct the blowing up of the canal locks?' My father said, 'Oh no! These are just the schoolwork of my children.' The officer said, 'No, we think you've cleverly disguised your nefarious intent and are using your children merely as a cover. We believe you had intent to damage the Panama Canal.' To which my father vehemently replied, 'No, no, no!' And then the officer said pointedly, 'Prove that you didn't intend to blow up the Panama Canal!' " Masuo Yasui was remanded to the custody of federal authorities and kept in Army prison camps until the spring of 1946. When he finally returned home, he had lost everything, and wound up retiring in relative poverty in Portland.

The lesson behind all this history is that these kinds of detentions and interrogations may have an official legitimacy, but they hold the potential for a world of abuse that can be extremely damaging to the target communities. Already in its handling of Muslims after 9/11, the government has engaged in questionable practices that not only concern Muslims but have raised the hackles of Japanese-Americans, including the disappearances of Muslim men after showing up at INS offices to register. And as Jeralyn at TalkLeft has documented, the recent FBI interviews have at least in some cases been conducted with such a heavy hand as to raise questions about whether they are being used, once again, to harass the Iraqi community.

These interviews are not problematic in themselves. But the FBI's conduct so far should raise some serious red flags.

Thursday, March 27, 2003

Surfing Northwest style

Waves carry surfer 18 miles in overnight ordeal
Jens Eventyr went to Westhaven State Park near Westport last week to do a bit of surfing. He did much more, getting caught in 12-foot swells in the Pacific Ocean that pushed him away from shore and had him clinging to his board through a stormy night at sea.

He finally got back to land the next afternoon, 18 miles north of where his impromptu adventure had begun.

What hate crime?

Travesty of the day:

No hate-crime charges sought in hit-run death
The man accused of striking down Jerome Steven Lovely will not face hate-crime charges, Bellingham police said Wednesday.

"At this time, we conclude there is no indication that this crime occurred solely because of the victim's race," Police Chief Randy Carroll said in a statement.

Chief Carroll should check his Washington state malicious-harassment law. There's no language in the statute requiring a crime be committed solely because of the victim's race -- other motives can be involved too (and apparently were here). But if race was a significant motive -- and it's clear that it probably was, considering the perp's background and the epithet he used when striking the victim -- then a hate-crime charge is warranted.

Indeed, the only exclusion it mentions: "Evidence of expressions or associations of the accused may not be introduced as substantive evidence at trial unless the evidence specifically relates to the crime charged." And in this case, the expression clearly was related to the crime charged.

However, there is one other problem: Washington's hate-crimes law is so weak that it would naturally be superseded by the murder and hit-and-run charges anyway. If Carroll had offered that as an explanation, it might have been acceptable.

Nonetheless, Carroll's abysmal ignorance about hate crimes is par for the course, not merely in rural Washington but in rural America generally. A Justice Department study completed two years ago uncovered the unpleasant fact that hate-crimes laws are abysmally underenforced, and their violations routinely uninvestigated, in rural districts.

The SPLC had a special report on this awhile back:

Discounting Hate: Ten years after federal officials began compiling national hate crime statistics the numbers don’t add up
Then, in September 2000, a virtually unnoticed academic study funded by the Justice Department found a "major information gap" in hate crime reporting. Based on a survey of 2,657 law enforcement agencies, the study estimated that some 37% of agencies that did not submit reports nevertheless had at least one hate crime. In addition, about 31% of the agencies with reports of zero hate crimes did, in fact, have at least one. The study’s co-authors — the Center for Criminal Justice Policy Research at Northeastern University and the Justice Research and Statistics Association in Washington, D.C. — estimated that almost 6,000 law enforcement agencies likely experienced at least one hate crime that went unreported.

The published numbers, in other words, were grossly off.

The problem, according to the SPLC, is a combination of factors: "a lack of training in recognizing hate crimes, the false belief that relatively minor crimes need not be reported to the FBI, and an over-eagerness to write off the bias aspect of criminal incidents, to outright opposition to the very notion of hate crimes."

Police officials like Carroll need to think about the message they're sending out -- not merely to African-Americans and other minorities in their community ("we won't protect you from racist yahoos") but also to minorities from other places, like Seattle or California ("here's what happens to blacks in Bellingham"). Then again, maybe that's what he had in mind. From a distance, it's hard to tell.

FWIW, my next book -- Death on the Fourth of July: Hate Crimes and the American Landscape -- will be focused on precisely this problem, drawing from a similar (though more egregious) case in Ocean Shores two years ago. I'll be working on it from now through this summer, which will mean lighter blogging for awhile.

Wednesday, March 26, 2003

The Freemen saga continues

Crazy story of the day:

Two men attempt to free Freemen leader
Of The Gazette Staff

Two men, including one from Ravalli, posed as Montana marshals last week and attempted to help Montana Freemen leader Leroy M. Schweitzer escape from federal prison in South Carolina, where he is serving a sentence for convictions in a massive bogus-check scheme.

The men, Ervin Elbert Hurlbert, 82, of Ravalli, and Donald Little, 55, of Tacoma, Wash., were arrested Friday at the Federal Correctional Institution in Edgefield, S.C., by the Edgefield County Sheriff's Department.

Hurlbert and Little appeared in federal court in Greenville, S.C., on Monday on a criminal complaint charging them with assisting in the attempted escape of Schweitzer. The maximum penalty if convicted is five years in prison. Hurlbert also was charged with impersonating an officer or employee of the United States. The maximum penalty for that charge is three years in prison.

One of the ways that In God's Country tries to explain the Patriot mindset is by likening it to an alternative universe, like in a Phil Dick novel. Events that occur in the rest of the world also occur in theirs, but they are suffused with entirely different meanings. An FBI investigation into criminal activity is, in their universe, a Satanic plot to enslave the last few free Americans on the planet.

Many of them really believe entirely in the alternative political system constructed by the Freemen, and believe that it is in fact the only legitimate authority. So these guys went marching into a prison believing they were fully entitled to carry out the operation under color of their version of "common law."

I'm having trouble locating my old Ravalli County files, but I'm pretty certain that Ervin Hurlbert was involved with Calvin Greenup's band of gun-waving Patriots.

Welcome, little one

I'm proud to announce the latest addition to the Neiwert clan -- my younger brother Eric's new son, Coen Patrick, born this morning in Portland, OR. He weighed 7 pounds 1 ounce and was 20 inches long. Everything went smoothly, and Mommy Trish is reportedly doing fine.

This little one is probably the final addition to my parents' brood of grandchildren, and one of the only boys to bear the Neiwert surname. Obviously he will face the daunting task of carrying on the family name, such as it is.

Unfortunately, this is the side of the gene pool this poor kid is emerging from. We're all keeping our fingers crossed, but it doesn't look promising.

Tuesday, March 25, 2003

The other kind of terrorism

Kopp verdict isn't the end to violence
"We've sent a message (to clinics and doctors) to be on high alert," said Buckham, director of Buffalo GYN Womenservices Clinic. The fear is that Kopp is a replaceable part. Pro-choice activists think there is a network of extremist pro-lifers that recruits a designated assassin and then helps with money, "safe houses" and other aid.

Kopp's two-day nonjury trial left unanswered questions. Where did he stay on the days he scoped out Slepian's neighborhood? Who helped him target Slepian? Who supported him with meals, money and shelter during two years on the lam in Mexico, Great Britain and France?

There's a radical fringe -- a few of whom came here for the trial -- who think it's justified to murder abortion providers. Authorities say they aren't blind to it, but pro-choice activists wonder how hard it's pursued.

White courtesy telephone for John Ashcroft.

Good and evil

Avedon Carol has some further thoughts about the nature of heroism and the evil that infects every "good" act. As always, great reading.

The 'fascist minimum'

Finally, Christopher Skinner writes in:
I'm sure you've read Robert Paxton's article on the definition of fascism ("Five Stages of Fascism," Journal of Modern History, 70:1, (March 1998).) I find this article to be very useful, and a corrective to Griffin's excesses in approaching fascism as a 'doctrine' rather than as a politics.

Paxton's approach allows a certain degree of reconciliation among thinkers, particularly between those who see fascism as an ideology and those who see it as a mélange of uneasy alliances. Paxton admits that he was, until very recently, a firm believer in the notion that fascism was not an ideology. But by suggesting a dynamic model that "begins at the beginning," Paxton reminds us that fascism is not unlike an elementary particle to which we must apply Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle. The more thoroughly we study a particular fascist movement at a given moment, the less likely we are to be able to judge the arc of its overall progress, and the more we study the ultimate impact of a movement, the less likely we are to examine its particulars. Many historians, for example, who study the "arc" of movements, have treated Nazi Germany as the touchstone for a "true" fascism. All other movements are seen as not fully "worked out," and therefore, not fully fascist.

Obviously, the debate continues with vigor, but I think this article really gets at something that goes beyond attempts at competing definition and heads towards something very interesting. Combining the "Stages" article with Richard Rorty's discussions of contingency in Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity (Cambridge UnivPr (Trd); (March 1989)) quickly leads out of the swamp of definition to a sense of much greater perspective on both fascism as a politics and on language in general. Reading these two works in sequence, and then in parallel, has convinced me that the definition of fascism is a moving target precisely because adherents to far-right ideology are, while speaking to each other, always speaking, in Rortian (and Davidsonian) terms in contingencies. This contingent discussion among rightists may be what led Zeev Sternhel in Ni droite, ni gauche to attempt to find the 'fascist minimum' in movements that had failed to seize power (the planistes in France, e.g.) in that these fringe groups were free to dialog in what they determined to be the 'true language' of fascism, uncluttered by massive contingent conversations and/or speech acts. So in a sense, the thing known as fascism is undergoing continual revision by those who themselves speak of it, and as such is very hard to come to grips with.

Actually, until Christopher sent in this note, I hadn't heard of Paxton's piece. But I'm in the process of obtaining it and will report back. It sounds as though it will be a useful update for my brief survey on fascism in Parts 1, 2 and 3 of the "Rush" series.

A thoughtful take on fascism

My friend Joel Swadesh writes in about the "Rush, Newspeak and fascism" series:
Part 1. It strikes me that Eco is talking largely about modern tactics of reactionary brainwashing. Reaction implies discrediting the present (rejection of modernism) and worship of a mythic past (cult of tradition). Brainwashing implies getting people to let go of reason (irrationalism, action for action's sake, fear of difference) and law ("rotten" parliaments). And, having stripped people of everything that makes life good-- progress, reason, law, democracy-- they must be occupied with something to distract them (endless war and hatred). The effect is to replace the ego with the state, such that the individual has no life except through the actions of the nation. What differentiates fascism from, say, the Cultural Revolution, is the use of the mythic past, entirely understandable since fascism is reactionary while Marxism is modernist.

Part 3. Griffin identifies the ethnicism as a key element of fascism. Certainly the Aryan myth was central to Nazi Germany. But as a corollary, one would conclude that pluralistic societies are incapable of fascism while ethnically homogeneous societies are exceptionally prone. While I think it's clear that pluralistic societies have a measure of resistance to fascism that homogeneous societies do not, that's more a matter of distribution of power. If one ethnic group feels that it is being made a scapegoat, it can strike back, and in particular by enlisting other ethnic groups that may feel threatened. Japan, one of the most ethnically homogeneous societies in the world, has intense ethnic fissures, in large part because people want it to be so. People divide themselves according to province or dialect or even as "sweet" and "sour" people.

I would disagree that there is any substantive difference between the antimodernism of Islamists and that of, say, German fascism. They both need modernism to produce weapons and disseminate propaganda. In those areas, they both admire modernism. Outside of those areas, both are equally anti-modernist. It is notable, I think, that the Nazi regime did not arm and equip women to fight in the final days. Their propaganda had worked too well, and they failed to realize that healthy women could be better soldiers than elderly men and young boys.

Also, in this piece, the question occurs as to whether the Patriot movement represents a creation from bottom up or from top down. I think arguments can be made on both sides. The farm crisis, the declining relative status of men (especially white men) and the stagnation of American living standards has created discontent which has spawned extremism. But, on the other hand, would that discontent have reached the level of organization it has without help from very high places?

Part 4. This segment also identifies ultranationalism as a core element of the Patriot form of proto-fascism. I agree that this is critical. What is lacking for the transformation to full fascism, as you quote Pitcavage, is the melding of individual (groupuscular) fasces into a whole. This can only be accomplished by a large scale organization such a government, perhaps through a charismatic leader-- or perhaps through an uncharismatic leader with a relentless media machine and very good PR.

Part 5. I can't agree that the Bushes are certainly not underwriting the far right. While these matters are unprovable, I think it's likely they simply use deniable methods. But George W's participation in neo-confederate organizations, and GHW's participation with the Unification Church seem to go beyond simple opportunism. These suggest to me personal commitments to extremism. I would say, don't be too quick to write off GW as a fascist.

Part 6. This distinction between the corporatist and fascist wings of the movement is strained. Hitler rose to power because most industrialists saw his rise as advantageous. But this was not pure opportunism. Clearly many of them believed part or all of Nazi ideology.

Part 7. Straws that stir the pot or employees? I have a sense that the people who you call transmitters are either actual employees of someone else or are using the movement as a means of career advancement in a society that has started choose who to promote through ideological tests (for example, the attempts of DeLay and Armey to purge Democrats from lobbying and trade groups; for example, the rise of "Christian" businesses that decline to hire people who do not share the conservative, fundamentalist faith in Money). I call Limbaugh an employee, because it's clear that much of his advertising comes from sponsors who are not making economically rational decisions to advertise on his show.

Parts 8 and 9. Here this issue of who is a transmitter and who is part of the decision-making elite becomes clear. James Dobson is not simply someone who acts passively. He is a part of top Republican leadership and an exponent of Reconstructionist views (I regard Reconstruction as a fascist movement; Christian dogma about destroying the individual to reform him around Christ can be used in a totalitarian fashion). The fact that you list so many congressmen and top theocrats -- even Rupert Murdoch's cable network -- as transmitters calls the question: Who is in charge, if not these powerful people?

Part 11. The receivers -- this is the critical part. There are always nuts, and always people who want to seize power. But only rarely are nuts granted power. Certainly it is almost unheard of for a nation that is not in crisis, that is well-educated and nominally democratic, to make a transition from democracy to fascism. The closest example I can think of is Japan, but its democratic traditions were shallow. So, we have to recognize that among the causes of the rise of fascism in the United States, we must include a widespread illness of the body politic that makes it susceptible.

I think the psychological analysis starts to reach an understanding of the phenomenon of fascism, although I will quibble with the terminology. People who join extremist movements feel alienated, even though objectively they may not seem so. They no longer identify with the broader society, even though they may be right at the center of their community. This is what I think is meant by a "lack of integrative ethic" and a sense of a "broken covenant". Feeling isolated (even if one is not) is what sets in motion coping strategies, which you quote Anthony and Robbins as calling "splitting" and "projective". In effect, because the individual feels bad, he creates a locus onto which to displace his sense of badness. But the source of the feeling of badness is the sense of alienation.

And here is where the sickness in the body politic is. These people are allowed to gain power partly through laziness, partly through lack of self-confidence, partly through ignorance -- but partly because so many Americans feel like failures. We have talked about The People of the Lie and the malignant narcissism hypothesis behind right-wingism [a previous dialogue we engaged in at Salon's Table Talk]. I think there's an important insight there.

In summary, I think it would be wiser to forget about politics (temporarily) and split the discussion of fascism along the following lines:

1) The personality disorders, particularly disorders of the ego, at the heart of political extremism.
2) The role of war, financial depressions, forced relocation and other upheavals in exacerbating personality disorders.
3) Coping strategies for crisis. I think specifically of St. Paul's separation of the sinful body and the purity of Christ sown in the heart and the Christian subordination of the ego to the body of Christ as coping strategies that are easily subverted toward wrongful ends,
4) Tactics of modern totalitarian and cult movements; the subversion of individuality, the abandonment of reason, the enlistment of the individual in a great cause such as war.
5) The critical role of the powerful in transforming protofascism into state fascism.
6) Opportunistic issues such as ethnicism, religious extremism and ultranationalism.

Ultimately, I think that what differentiates fascism from other forms of totalitarianism is extremely simple. Of all the kinds of totalitarianism, only a few are reactionary (theocracy and fascism being the main forms). Of the few forms of reactionary totalitarianism, fascism relies on corporate power to effect the transformation.

Much of the dispute about fascism strikes me as actually argumentation about the means by which power is seized, and means tend to be opportunistic or incidental. Communists are not generally in control of corporations before the revolution, so they use other means. But as I commented to an employee who had escaped from post-Tienanmen China, "You have communists in charge, and they are very bad. But in this country, we have communists in charge too. We call them capitalists." In other words, ideology is like clothes. Underneath, totalitarianism is pretty much the same.

And, as for the Bushes, it's premature to write them off as mere corporatists. I think that, as Ronald Reagan said, "You ain't seen nothing yet".

Well, I really am an optimist underneath it all, Joel. But the facade is wearing pretty damned thin these days. Lately, I'm with Digby, for whom the war has been an extremely enervating event. Killing cuts the heart out of me.

The ordinary antiwar left

Richard Einhorn writes in regarding the "Rush" series postscript:
"The confusion [by the left of Fascism with the establishment] is alive and well today with peace marchers who blithely identify Bush with Hitler and compare Republicans to Nazis. The purpose of these analogies is to shame conservatives, but they instead only give their accusers the appearance of shrill harpies willing to abuse the memory of the Holocaust for cheap political theater."

I couldn't agree more. However, and this must be stressed, among peace marchers today, they represent a minuscule fraction of the crowd and their voice has no importance.

I have participated in three rallies so far, including the one this weekend in New York. I cringe when I see signs comparing Bush to Hitler as they are so clearly wrongheaded and counterproductive. I do not like going to them but it is too important to miss. It is the only way that those of us who oppose Bush get a sense of how large our numbers are.

I think that it is important to note that most of us know full well that Bush is not Hitler redux. Rather, we recognize with ever growing concern that Bush has mainstreamed the plans and rhetoric of right wing extremists who, if not fascist, certainly have overlaps in ideology and tactics.

Would that only "nice" and "educated" marchers would come to such large gatherings. But they are a minority. Ordinary Americans who despise Bush's policies and his values are the people that have made these marches so huge.

A point certainly worth making.

Blog sighting

Welcome to the blogosphere, my old friend John McKay, whose blog is named archie. It's about "politics, fringe watching, and other stuff."

You may recall John's name from the top-notch letters he's sent previously (here and here). And he opens with a terrific post:
I hope we all had a chance to look around last Wednesday and etch the world, as it existed then, into our collective memory. There is a very good chance that Wednesday was the last day of the world we grew up in. For the last week or so I have had a quote banging around in my head. As the British Parliment votes to go to war in 1914, the Foreign Secretary, Sir Edward Grey, is supposed to have commented to a friend, "The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime." I know how he felt.

Monday, March 24, 2003

The War on Dissent: The leadership front

I often thought that the cause of so much of the viciousness of the attacks on Bill Clinton during his presidency was not merely the desire to bring him down, but to make an example out of him, a la Ann Coulter. The larger purpose being to intimidate not merely the president but anyone who happened to be on his side.

Well, Clinton isn’t such a convenient target anymore. So naturally the guns have been turning toward whoever happens to be in what vestiges remain of the Democratic leadership -- particularly Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle. Spinsanity has already done a marvelous job of compiling much of the preceding attacks on Daschle, particularly Rush Limbaugh's bizarre rant equating Daschle with Satan.

Now the attacks are growing even more vicious, especially as dissent about Bush's war in Iraq simmers along. And once again, Daschle is only being used as an example of what happens to war dissenters.

First, Daschle said what needed to be said about Bush's dirty little war:
"I'm saddened, saddened that this president failed so miserably at diplomacy that we're now forced to war. Saddened that we have to give up one life because this president couldn't create the kind of diplomatic effort that was so critical for our country."

Then came the Republican onslaught. Uggabugga has done a nice job of compiling the nastiness of these attacks, including Marc "Irony Impaired" Racicot, who called it "divisive and brazen political posturing."

More than a few people have already pointed out that Daschle, at least, is a combat veteran who was decorated for his service. Most of his critics had "other priorities" when it came time to serve.

But even more significant is a point made recently by E.J. Dionne in his Washington Post column, A Double Standard on Dissent. Dionne points out that Republicans eager to silence Daschle's reasonable points about Bush's diplomatic failures applied a different standard when President Clinton launched his 1999 air campaign in Kosovo:
"I don't think we should be bombing in the Balkans," said Rep. Tom DeLay, a Texas Republican. "I don't think NATO should be destroyed because we changed its mission to a humanitarian one." His colleague Rep. Randy Cunningham (R-Calif.) accused Clinton of pursuing "the most inept foreign policy in the history of the United States."

For what it's worth, at the time, I criticized both parties for overly personalizing the Kosovo debate around Clinton. But the fact is that DeLay, Cunningham and the other critics were, like Daschle, simply exercising their right -- as Americans and as members of Congress -- to differ with the commander in chief.

Defenders of Daschle have focused on the Kosovo debate, but almost all of Clinton's military decisions came under withering Republican criticism. That's especially true of those he took in the middle of his sex scandal. Note, for example, this Republican reaction to Clinton's missile strikes in Sudan and Afghanistan against al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden.

"I just hope and pray that the decision that was made was made on the basis of sound judgment and made for the right reasons, and not made because it was necessary to save the president's job," said Dan Coats, then a senator from Indiana and now President Bush's ambassador to Germany. "Why now? Bin Laden has been known to be a terrorist for a long time. Why did this happen?"

This is an important point, because this hypocrisy demonstrates with crystal clarity just how the Republicans' manipulation of the "patriotism" issue for their own convenience has been detrimental to the American public as a whole.

For more on this, turn to The Age of Sacred Terror by Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon. Benjamin and Simon are former counterterror officials with the National Security Council, incredibly well-informed insiders who lay out in very clear terms the road leading to the events of Sept. 11.

According to them, the turning point when al-Qaeda became America's greatest enemy was not on Sept. 11, 2001, but rather on Aug. 20, 1998 -- the day President Clinton launched missile strikes against Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda operations in Afghanistan and the Sudan, the latter being a pharmaceutical plant at al-Shifa that was being used to develop chemical weapons. First, there's this, on pp. 260-261:
For a brief moment, the operation appeared to be a qualified success. Al-Shifa was destroyed. Six terrorist camps were hit and about sixty people were killed, many of them Pakistani militants training for action in Kashmir. The Tomahawks missed bin Laden and the other senior al-Qaeda leaders by a couple of hours. This in itself was not a great surprise: no one involved has any illusions about the chances of hitting the target at exactly the right time. The White House recognized that the strike would not stop any attacks that were in the pipeline, but it might forestall the initiation of new operations as the organization's leaders went to ground.

The months that followed, however, were a nightmare. The press picked apart the administration's case for striking al-Shifa, and controversy erupted over whether Clinton was trying to "wag the dog," that is, distract the public from the Monica Lewinsky scandal. The Washington Times -- the capital's unabashed right-wing newspaper, which consistently has the best sources in the intelligence world and the least compunction about leaking -- ran a story mentioning that bin Laden "keeps in touch with the world via computers and satellite phones." Bin Laden stopped using the satellite phone instantly. The al-Qaeda leader was not eager to court the fate of Djokar Dudayev, the Chechen insurgent leader who was killed by a Russian air defense suppression missile that homed in on its target using his satellite phone signal. When bin Laden stopped using the phone and let his aides do the calling, the United States lost its best chance to find him.

Benjamin and Simon spend most of the next hundred pages or so detailing the very sound reasons for the al-Shifa strikes. For anyone serious about understanding how Sept. 11 happened, and the nature of the threat we now face, I strongly recommend reading the entirety of this book. But these passages are particularly important.

They return to the issue of the 'Wag the Dog' charges on pages 357-359:
In its coverage of al-Shifa, though, most of the media did embrace one gigantic inference: by attacking a pharmaceutical plant in Sudan, it was said, President Bill Clinton was attempting to "wag the dog," to distract the American public from a sex scandal just as war against Albania was used for the same purpose in the eponymous Robert De Niro-Dustin Hoffman move released eight months earlier. Clinton's grand-jury appearance regarding his relationship with Monica Lewinsky occurred three days before the August 20 attack. That event and the universal conviction that life was imitating art swept all considerations of American security aside on the radio and network television and in the daily papers. Within forty-eight hours of the missile attacks, NBC News had broadcast clips from the movie six times, and every other network ran the footage repeatedly as well.

On CNN's Crossfire, the satirist Mark Russell led Pat Buchanan and Bill Press in singing:
If a woman gives you trouble or maybe two or three, and your explanations put the public in a fog, no problem, pick that red phone up, it's an emergency, and go to war. It's been done before. It's "Wag the Dog."

"Wag the Dog." "Wag the Dog." Go to war, it's been done before, it's "Wag the Dog."

Well, no one will complain with a Hitler like Hussein, and everyone will understand your war. An Afghanistan distraction from your problems and your pain, namely, Monica and Paula and God knows how many more.

"Wag the Dog."

The bloodshed in East Africa had been eclipsed by a carnival.

That Clinton would be accused of trying to divert attention from the Lewinsky scandal surprised no one in the policy loop. When the Principals met in the White House Situation Room to approve the operation, Secretary of Defense William Cohen said that the President was going to be criticized for trying to change the subject from the ongoing scandal. Others in the room were somewhat surprised that Cohen felt this needed to be spelled out, and no one commented on the remark. Later, when Clinton was briefed on the operation in the Cabinet Room, one adviser said that there were certain to be allegations that he was trying to distract the country. "If I have to take more criticism for this, I will," he replied.

Just how much Clinton ultimately had to take was incredible, not only because of the implicit disregard for the bloodshed in East Africa -- Exhibit A demonstrating that the United States was in a new game with new rules -- but also because of the absurdity of the idea that any President, and especially one with such a famously acute political sensibility, would actually think he could get away with wagging the dog. In Congress, however, some believed Clinton was brazen enough to try it. Senator Arlen Specter, the moderate Republican from Pennsylvania, declared, "The President was considering doing something presidential to try to focus attention away from -- his own personal problems." Senator Daniel Coats of Indiana was less restrained: accusing Mr. Clinton of "lies and deceit and manipulations and deceptions," Coats said that the President's record "raises into doubt everything he does and everything he says, and maybe even everything he doesn't do and doesn't say." Throughout this period and the remainder of the Clinton presidency, it is worth noting, no member of Congress ever called the national security adviser to discuss the rising problem of al-Qaeda. [Emphasis mine]

Of course, as Benjamin and Simon go on to explore further, the press particularly had a field day with the 'Wag the Dog' line. I was working on the news desk at MSNBC at the time and couldn't have counted the number of times I heard the phrase, not just on our cable outlet's natterfests but especially at Fox, with a healthy helping from CNN too. Meanwhile, of course, the Limbaugh and Free Republic brigades led the charge among the True Believers, along with (naturally) the Washington Times.

The most significant point about this is the way the nation's preoccupation with the president's sex life played a role in bringing about the events of Sept. 11. It seems evident that the extent to which Clinton's initiative against bin Laden was undercut both at home and abroad by the massive 'Wag the Dog' allegations helped persuade al-Qaeda's leadership that America was vulnerable to a serious terrorist attack.

More to the point: At the very time when the press should have been raising public awareness of the terrorist threat, and educating the public on the broader implications of terrorism in an open society, it was instead spending night and day focused on blue dresses and blow jobs. No wonder we appeared to be such low-hanging fruit for al-Qaeda.

Of course, no one has yet conducted a serious examination of the role played by the media, and its preceding decade of crass irresponsibility, in bringing about 9/11. Given the press' recent record of failure in taking its job seriously, I'm not holding my breath.

Meanwhile, one wonders just how many of those same members of Congress who undercut Clinton's actions are faring when it comes to handling dissent from Bush's Iraq plans.

Just to take the two examples provided by Benjamin and Simon … from a recent Washington Post story, there's this snippet from Arlen Specter:
The president has enjoyed wide, though not exceptionally deep, support for his Iraq policy among most lawmakers and the American public. He has benefited, at least from a public relations perspective, from Congress's reluctance to renew House and Senate debates over the wisdom of going to war amid mounting international opposition.

"We think the president has the strongest hand" in international affairs "if we don't voice doubts," said Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.).

As for Dan Coats -- who was unceremoniously dumped from the Senate in 1998 -- he is now the American ambassador to Germany. His success in that role should be self-evident -- as is his position regarding dissent from Bush's war plans. [From a recent speech by Coats: "Unfortunately, on the issue of Iraq, we have recently experienced a breach in the German-American relationship. The strain as a result of the recent German election was damaging to our relationship, and no one should underestimate that damage, and its consequences. Just last week, during his visit to Berlin for meetings with German law enforcement officials, Congressman James Sensenbrenner noted that, 'The burden is on Germany to restore the trust lost as a result of the election campaign.' That sums up the current view in Washington pretty well."]

It might be similarly instructive to go down the list of all these Republicans busy bashing Daschle to see where they stood regarding the attacks on al-Shifa.

Rush, Newspeak and Fascism: A Postscript

[Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12.]

One of the great bylaws of the blogosphere is Godwin's Law:
"As a Usenet discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one." There is a tradition in many groups that, once this occurs, that thread is over, and whoever mentioned the Nazis has automatically lost whatever argument was in progress. Godwin's Law thus practically guarantees the existence of an upper bound on thread length in those groups. However there is also a widely recognized codicil that any intentional triggering of Godwin's Law in order to invoke its thread-ending effects will be unsuccessful.

Of course, a good deal of Usenet etiquette has become the standard for debate in the blogosphere as well, and that is particularly the case with Godwin's Law.

As Patrick Nielsen Hayden has suggested, virtually the entirety of the RN&F series has been in gross violation of Godwin's Law. It's pretty hard not to mention Nazis and Hitler, at least by implication, when one's focus is a clearer understanding of fascism and how its essence remains alive in American society.

However, I haven't been posting out of ignorance so much as impatience with these kinds of protocols. As someone whose reportage on many occasions has been on the subject of very real neo-Nazis, the idea that I'd lose an argument just by writing factually about the undercurrents they represent is nonsensical.

For that matter, I've always viewed Godwin's Law as symptomatic of the larger problem I hoped to confront with this series: Namely, an almost frightened refusal by most Americans to come to grips with the meaning of fascism, and how that blind spot renders us vulnerable to it.

When I first began seriously studying fascism some years back, one of the first things that struck me was how little I -- or anyone I knew -- actually understood what it meant, in spite of the fact that it, alongside Communism, was one of the two major political phenomena of the 20th century, both of them radical anti-democratic movements that the American system was forced to confront and defeat.

Virtually every educated person I know (and many less-educated people as well) has a relatively clear and at least semi-informed understanding of what Communism is, what its origins are, what comprises its ideology. Moreover, wariness of Communist influence is a virtual byword of the American worldview.

In contrast, hardly anyone I know understands just what fascism is. At best, they vaguely comprehend it as a kind of heinous totalitarianism, identified specifically with Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. There is a great deal of confusion about its ideological orientation, embodied in the now-common conservative canard that "Hitler was a socialist." Mostly it is just flung about -- mostly by leftists and thoughtless liberals, but in the past decade by conservatives too -- as a catch-all term for totalitarianism, or worse yet, as a substitute for "police state" (which is not the same as fascism).

Hardly anyone can identify any tenets of fascism; most of the time its manifestations are understood almost as extrinsic infestations of a virulent hatred and violence, brought on by such influences as propaganda and "brainwashing." As I discussed in Part 11, though, this model is faulty; what is now clear about totalitarianism of all stripes is that it arises when certain ideologies and movements interact with personalities configured by 'totalist' predispositions. That is to say, it cannot be imposed from without unless there is concession within; its audience is not a blank slate, but people who willingly join in.

In the case of fascism specifically, the lack of an ideological core or easily recognizable signifiers (beyond, of course, such images from fully developed fascism as goosestepping stormtroopers and mass rallies) is a large part of the reason it's so little understood. This amorphousness, as I discussed back in Part 2, also arises from the fact that although fascism only arose in the 20th century as a political force, it originates in political strains that have deep historic (perhaps even prehistoric) roots, and which very much continue to be with us.

And it is this fact -- that even though we think of fascism as a distant and unlikely threat, it sits at our elbows and dines at our tables even today -- which makes a realistic discussion of fascism such an uncomfortable thing. Some of the very threads that combine to make a fascist weave are part of the everyday fabric of our own lives. It's much easier to declare an argument over when the issue of fascism arises than to confront the possibility that it lives on, even in a democratic society that we have come fondly to think of as immune from such a disease.

At the same time, I actually rather approve of the sentiment that underlies Godwin's Law. In today's context, Nazism specifically and fascism generally are most often cited by partisans of both sides not with any reference to its actual content but merely as the essence of totalitarian evil itself. This is knee-jerk half-thought. Obviously, I don't agree that the mere reference to fascism, let alone a serious discussion of it, automatically renders a point moot. But a reflexive, ill-informed or inappropriate reference -- which describes the bulk of them -- should suffice to invalidate any argument.

Without question the worst offenders are those on the left. It began back in the 1960s, when antiwar radicals came to refer to anyone from the Establishment as "fascist," particularly if they were from the police. This bled over into the later view that identified fascism with a police state. The confusion is alive and well today with peace marchers who blithely identify Bush with Hitler and compare Republicans to Nazis. The purpose of these analogies is to shame conservatives, but they instead only give their accusers the appearance of shrill harpies willing to abuse the memory of the Holocaust for cheap political theater.

Most of all, such comparisons obscure the reality of what's taking place. The genuine proto-fascists -- namely, the anti-democratic extremists of the Patriot movement, and their thuggish cohorts among the 'Freeper' crowd -- are identified with mainstream conservatives instead of being distinguished from them. That in turn gives their coalescence a kind of cover instead of exposing it.

A strategically astute left would try to drive a wedge between the two factions by raising awareness of their growing intersection, particularly in the growing phenomenon of agitation against antiwar protests. Instead, we have a liberalism that thoughtlessly identifies the conservative movement of the early 21st century with mature fascism of the 1930s, thereby only revealing how little aware it is itself of the eternal and mutative nature of fascism, and how little it can recognize it in action today.

The mainstream left has been content to make jokes about the stupidity of militiamen instead of recognizing the actual threat they represent. There has been little recognition of the way the far right is able to insinuate its ideas and agendas into the mainstream; indeed, the left's dismissive attitude about right-wing extremists has only helped further their ability to penetrate broader society.

No doubt a large part of the reason for this is itself the degraded state of the word 'fascism,' applied willy-nilly to virtually anyone opposed to their agenda, in much the same way that the right has debased the idea of 'communism.' Fascism has become a black hole of a term instead of the red flag it should be. No one nowadays can recognize the genuine article when it sidles up alongside them.

Of course, liberals are hardly alone in abusing the term. It has become fashionable among conservatives over the past decade -- indeed, the Hitler/Nazi comparisons were particularly rampant in the identifiably proto-fascist elements of the far right during the 1990s, when they frequently compared Clinton to Hitler and government workers to Nazi stormtroopers. Likewise, the fascism comparisons have crept into mainstream conservative rhetoric -- particularly by the Rush Limbaugh and Freeper crowds -- as part of their attempt to paint liberal America as an oppressive police state.

As I observed at the outset, this kind of misuse of the term is decidedly in the mold of Newspeak, since it flatly contradicts the basic nature of its core meaning -- that is, while fascism is properly understood as essentially anti-liberal, Limbaugh and his cohorts identify it with liberalism. If the word's meaning was degraded before, this misuse has simply leveled it into meaninglessness.

The combined effect of this left-right punch renders Americans' understanding of the realities of right-wing extremism nil at a critical time when it needs to be acute. The undying forces of fascism have been creeping back into power from the ground level up, and only a clear understanding of the phenomenon will enable us to recognize how this is happening.

So these essays were written in the hopes of resurrecting a proper understanding of fascism -- what it really is, how it operates, why it is in fact very much alive and with us today. Part of my purpose, of course, was to persuade liberals to drop the inappropriate references to fascism, mostly by coming to grips with its real nature and not its imagined one.

My deeper purpose, though, was to sound a call to arms for Americans of every stripe who believe in democracy, because ultimately those are the institutions that are most endangered by fascism. Until the strands of far-right extremism that have insinuated themselves into the fabric of mainstream conservatism are properly identified and exposed, they will continue to wrap themselves around it and through it until its corruption is complete. And when that befalls us, it will probably be too late to stop it.


I mentioned earlier that I plan to compile "Rush, Newspeak and Fascism" into a PDF file that can be downloaded and read in a single piece. Before I do that, though, I'm planning to scribble out some supplementary posts that I hope will fill in some of the holes in what I intended to cover -- particularly the role of fundamentalism, as well as the nature of Newspeak itself. I'll be posting those sometime this week. Then I'll turn to making the entire essay more of a whole, which will entail some editing and redacting, as well as weaving in some of the related material from elsewhere on this blog. At that point, I'll zip it together, and readers should be able to access it all at once. Stay tuned!