Spyhopping the Right.
David Neiwert is a freelance journalist based in Seattle. He is the author of Strawberry Days: How Internment Destroyed a Japanese American Community (Palgrave/St. Martin's Press, June 2005), as well as Death on the Fourth of July: The Story of a Killing, a Trial, and Hate Crime in America, (Palgrave/St. Martin's, 2004), and In God's Country: The Patriot Movement and the Pacific Northwest (1999, WSU Press). His reportage for MSNBC.com on domestic terrorism won the National Press Club Award for Distinguished Online Journalism in 2000. His freelance work can be found at Salon.com, the Washington Post, MSNBC and various other publications. He can be contacted at email@example.com.
Sara Robinson has worked as an editor or columnist for several national magazines, on beats as varied as sports, travel, and the Olympics; and has contributed to over 80 computer games for EA, Lucasfilm, Disney, and many other companies. A native of California's High Sierra, she spent 20 years in Silicon Valley before moving to Vancouver, BC in 2004. Her lifelong interest in the social effects of authoritarianism have most recently led her to pursue the MS in Futures Studies at the University of Houston. She's also a student member of the Association of Professional Futurists, and member of the Accelerated Studies Foundation advisory board on social and cultural issues. For fun, she raises kids and travels. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sara's recent series:
Cracks in the Wall: Parts I, II, and III.
Tunnels and Bridges: Parts I, II, III, and IV, plus a Short Detour.
Dave's recent series:
The March of the Minutemen
Intro: Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6.
Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6.
Other books by Dave [limited availability]:
"The Rise of Pseudo Fascism": An essay
Available in Adobe PDF format here
Support independent journalism:
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Original posts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, and Part 7.
"The Political and the Personal"
"Bush, the Nazis and America":
Parts 1, 2, 3, and 4.
Rush, Newspeak and Fascism: An Exegesis
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[In HTML: Parts I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X,, XI, XII, XIII, XIV and XV. See explanatory note.]
[Also available in HTML, and with art, at Cursor.]
Orcinus Principium No. 1
Orcinus Principium No. 2
The Conservative faith
Thursday, February 16, 2006
Much of the blogosphere, both left and right, has been abuzz over Glenn Greenwald's excellent post limning the cultic nature of the modern conservative movement. It created, as Greenwald observed in a followup post, a predictable response from right-wing circles.
Among the responses, incidentally, was a post pointing out that Greenwald had served as World Church of the Creator founder Matt Hale's lawyer in his attempts to obtain a law license. Now, I obviously hold no brief for Hale: I've been dogging him at this blog from my very first post. But I've also been around the block enough to know that civil libertarians take up these kinds of cases all the time as a matter of deep principle, and I've seen no indication Greenwald was any kind of exception. I may disagree with them, but I respect their reasons for doing so.
This is simply an ad hominem smear job. Which, as Greenwald points out, is precisely the response one would predict from a cultic mindset.
Some of Greenwald's commenters pointed out the similarities of his observations to some of mine. I suspect they were thinking of this:
- When trying to make sense of the seemingly inextricable political morass into which we've descended, one of the real keys to understanding our situation is realizing that conservatism and the "conservative movement" are in fact two entirely different things.
Conservatism, like liberalism, is not a dogmatic philosophy, but rather a style of thought, an approach to politics or life in general. It stresses the status quo and traditional values, and is typified by a resistance to change. Likewise, liberalism is not relegated to a discrete "movement" but rather describes a general politics that comprises many disparate concerns.
The "conservative movement," however, is a decidedly dogmatic political movement that demands obeisance to its main tenets (and exiles those who dissent) and a distinctly defined agenda. Movement followers proudly announce their membership. (In contrast, there is no "liberal movement" worth speaking of -- just a hodgepodge of loosely associated interests.) Importantly enough, their raison d'etre has transformed from the extenuation of their "conservative" impulses into the Machiavellian acquisition of power, usually through any means necessary.
... When movements like this take shape and gain real power -- and especially when they consolidate complete control of the reins power, as the conservative movement has done in the past four years -- they often take on a real life of their own, mutating into entirely separate entities that often bear little resemblance to their root values. In the process, they almost always become travesties of their original impulses.
Certainly, one only needs review the current state of affairs to recognize that the "conservative movement" -- especially as embodied by the Bush administration -- has wandered far astray from its original values. Just how "conservative" is it, after all, to run up record budget deficits? To make the nation bleed jobs? To invade another nation under false pretenses? To run roughshod over states' rights? To impose a radical unilateralist approach to foreign policy? To undermine privacy rights and the constitutional balance of power? To quantifiably worsen the environment, while ignoring the realities of global warming? To grotesquely mishandle the defense of our national borders?
I've also explored the way the movement has exploited Bush's religiosity in a way that elevates his presidency to near-divine status, and questioning him becomes tantamount not just to treason but blasphemy:
- It's clear that not only does Bush see himself as a man on a divine mission, but he actively cultivates this view of his importance among his staff. Moreover, the White House similarly promotes this image to the public, particularly among conservative Christians.
... The sum of all this identification of Bush with a Divine Agenda -- which has reached such heights that now conservative Christians are even organizing fasts for Bush -- is especially troubling in light of the presence of a proto-fascist element within the ranks of those who openly and avidly support him. While Bush himself may not be charismatic in any kind of classic sense, his adoption of this image may be an effective substitute for rallying a fanatical following -- one which is all too willing to discard of such niceties as free speech and constitutional rights in the name of homeland security -- in a time of war.
But as much as I agree with Greenwald, I think there is a difference between his argument and mine. Greenwald argues that this is a Bush-specific cult, and for good reason, but Atrios points to the important caveat in all this:
- The interesting paradox is, as I've written before, that they'll dump Bush and transfer the cult onto the next Daddy figure that comes along.
Along the same lines was Digby's take, in which he also identifies the conservative movement as an "authoritarian cult," but notes:
- So, it isn't precisely a cult of George W. Bush. It's a cult of Republican power. We know this because when a Democratic president last sat in the oval office, there was non-stop hysteria about presidential power and overreach. Every possible tool to emasculate the executive branch was brought to bear, including the nuclear option, impeachment. Now we are told that the "Presidency" is virtually infallible. The only difference between now and then is that a Republican is the executive instead of a Democrat.
(Be sure to read his followup post too.)
I wonder if there isn't another way of framing this that can help progressives get a handle on what we're dealing with. Particularly, I wonder if it wouldn't help to think of the discrete conservative movement as a political religion.
Here's the Wikepedia entry, which is actually rather accurate on the subject:
- In the terminology of some scholars working in sociology, a political religion is a political ideology with cultural and political power equivalent to those of a religion, and often having many sociological and ideological similarities with religion. Quintessential examples are Marxism and Nazism, but totalitarianism is not a requirement (for example neo-liberalism can be analysed as a political religion).
... The term political religion is a sociological one, drawing on the sociological aspects of religion which can be often be found in certain secular ideologies. A political religion occupies much the same psychological and sociological space as a theistic religion, and as a result it often displaces or coopts existing religious organisations and beliefs; this is described as a "sacralisation" of politics. However, although a political religion may coopt existing religious structures or symbolism, it does not itself have any independent spiritual or theocratic elements - it is essentially secular, using religion only for political purposes, if it does not reject religious faith outright.
Obviously, this movement embraces religious faith outright, which may give it certain advantages over more secular political religions, since it so readily taps into ordinary people's deeply held beliefs and exploits them.
Nonetheless, when we begin to run down the various aspects of political religions, the resemblance becomes even sharper:
- Key memetic qualities often (not all are always strongly present) shared by religion (particularly cults) and political religion include:
-- differentiation between self and other, and demonisation of other (in theistic religion, the differentiation usually depends on adherence to certain dogmas and social behaviours; in political religion, differentiation may be on grounds such as race, class, or nationality instead)
-- a charismatic figurehead, with messianic tendencies; if figurehead is deceased, powerful successors;
-- strong, hierarchical organisational structures
-- a desire to control education, in order to ensure the security of the system
-- a coherent belief system for imposing symbolic meaning on the external world, with an emphasis on security through purity;
-- an intolerance of other ideologies of the same type
-- a degree of utopianism and the aim of radically transforming society into an end-state (an end of history)
-- the belief that the ideology is in some way natural or obvious, so that (at least for certain groups of people) those who reject it are in some way "blind"
-- a genuine desire on the part of individuals to convert others to the cause
-- a willingness to place ends over means -- in particular, a willingness to use violence
-- fatalism -- a belief that the ideology will inevitably triumph in the end
Another significant resemblance is the religion's reliance on fear: "The state often helps maintain its power base by instilling fear of some kind in the population." It also consistently externalizes the blame for the nation's problems, either on Muslims, Hispanics, or just "unAmerican" liberals. And there is no shortage conservative propaganda to be found on the airwaves and in print.
Now, there are obvious differences between the current state of the conservative movement and the mature, state-based political religions described here. No one has mandated the construction of W statues. Loyalty oaths have not been prescribed, nor are there reeducation camps. There are no mandated leisure or cultural activities, and there is no secret police.
Not yet. And yet we can see hints even of these things: Why exactly, for example, does Bush want to create a uniformed Secret Service police, and empower them to arrest protesters under Patriot Act II?
Using this model to frame the discussion, I think what we can readily see is that -- as with pseudo-fascism -- the conservative movement is still in a somewhat nascent stage as a political religion. The examples of more mature religions provide us with a fairly clear picture of where it's headed, however.
And it won't necessarily be under the leadership of George W. Bush. The discrete conservative movement is structured such that it needs a "charismatic" figure at its head; it's essentially a psychological imperative for this kind of belief system.
So if the leader it elevates happens not, in fact, to actually be charismatic, as Bush really is not, then the movement will tailor its reality to make him so. True Believers -- having been steadily propagandized with Fox News and RNC talking points about Bush's superior character -- now really do see Bush as a charismatic figure, which leaves most non-believers shaking their heads.
But he is in essence disposable, an empty suit filled by the psychological needs of the movement he leads. He's sort of like a Fraternity President on steroids: Bush's presidency is all about popularity, not policy. He's a figurehead, a blank slate upon which the movement's followers can project their own notions of what a good president is about. And when his term is up, the movement will create a new "charismatic" leader.
Leaders like this, as True Believers themselves, usually have a symbiotic relationship with the movement they lead. Most of the time, his initiatives and policies are perfectly in synch with the rest of the movement, and they feed off the cues they give one another. But the movement itself will quickly reel in any leader who presumes that the movement is about him.
This explains, for instance, seeming anomalies (cited much by Greenwald's critics) like the uproar over Bush's attempts to place Harriet Myers on the Supreme Court. Bush consistently tried to sell her to conservatives on the basis that she was personally loyal to him; but she did not meet muster with the movement itself, and in the end was jettisoned for someone who did.
The reality I think we're all seeing is that genuine conservatism has been usurped by a political religion in metastasis that is no longer conservative but simply power-mad. Communicating that to the public is going to be an essential problem for progressives in the coming campaigns, especially given the deep emotional and psychological investment in the movement that so many followers have made.
But talking about it openly is a great place to start.
Wednesday, February 15, 2006
While Republicans fantasize about putting Democrats in reach of Dick Cheney's gun, the rest of the country is ducking for cover from the Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight.
What's become almost bizarre is the way it has brought out a naked victim-blaming response from the White House, though of course, that's just par for the course from the Party of Personal Responsibility. Cheney must have a sign on his desk reading, "The Buckshot Stops There."
But I don't think they've done it so publicly before, particularly not in a way that a large part of their base knows is just wrong. Those of us who were raised around guns and hunting and took NRA gun-safety courses from the time we were kids are perfectly aware that you are responsible for where the gun is pointing when you pull the trigger. Skeet and bird shooters especially have this drilled into them.
So does Mike Leggett, a Texas outdoors writer:
- Be a man. You shot a guy.
That would be my unsolicited advice for Vice President Dick Cheney.
You shot a guy. At least stay in town until he's out of the hospital.
You shot a guy. Don't blame the sun or the wind or the rotation of the Earth. And for goodness' sake, don't blame Harry Whittington.
He's the guy you shot, and unless he pulled the trigger himself, it wasn't his fault. Unless he was invisible, it wasn't his fault. And it wasn't his fault that he didn't "announce his presence," either. He was supposedly 30 yards behind you. His only fault was being a human being standing on two legs.
He's in the hospital. You're in Washington. And others are making excuses for you.
You shot the guy.
I've been hit with pellets, and it felt like a swarm of bees coming upside my head. I didn't spend several days in the hospital. I've picked shot out of other people sitting on the tailgate of a pickup, and they didn't even have to go to the doctor. They went back out hunting.
They got peppered. Whittington got shot. By you.
As Leggett points out, no one who's gone hunting will blame Cheney particularly for the accident, because they happen. We all know it.
But what's unforgiveable is Cheney's attempt to dodge responsibility and blame Whittington for the accident. Especially since he is a highly visible role model:
- All is not lost here, though. Cheney can use the opportunity to make a strong statement for hunting safety, for wearing hunter orange behind bird dogs, for honesty. It would mean a lot to youngsters, and to everyday guys who make the same mistake, that the vice president didn't try to shuffle the blame onto someone else.
I won't be holding my breath. It's not in his track record or his nature.
After all, being Republican means never having to say you're sorry.
UPDATE: Well, whaddya know: Hell froze over. Which no doubt means we'll be regaled with right-wing bloviations about what a Heckuva Guy that Cheney is, having stepped up and taken responsibility for it like a man.
Yeah, after four days of letting his staff blame Whittington.
Tuesday, February 14, 2006
Well, the General did indeed check out the fine folks at Combat For Christ. Go read it. Not only does he work in a Dick Cheney angle, he also dug up some noteworthy info about the compound's owner/operator:
- WDEF-TV News 12
Jun 15, 2005 5:04 PM EDT
An Ooltewah Minister faces domestic assault charges..
Police say he beat up his own daughter.
A family argument over whom the girl was dating led to the charge.
According to Bradley County Sheriff's reports, Community Baptist church Pastor Bryan Mowery spanked the girl with a belt first -- then threw her into a closet, kicked her and hit her in the face with his fist.
Mowery reportedly also got a nine millimeter handgun from his bedroom and fired it outside his Trewitt Road home.
... For now, Mowery is out of jail on his own recognizance.
Sound like my kind of role model!
General, we salute you.
Not My Fault
Monday, February 13, 2006
It's not my fault! cried the Republican.
It's not my fault that I shot one of my hunting partners, says Dick Cheney. It's his fault.
It's not my fault the invasion of Iraq is turning into a nightmare, says Donald Rumsfeld. It's those evildoers!
It's not my fault that we outed the identity of a valuable CIA operative involved in weapons of mass destruction proliferation, says Karl Rove. It was, um, um, um ... Lewis Libby! Yeah!
It's not my fault that FEMA so badly bungled the response to Hurricane Katrina, says Michael Brown. It's those local Democrats!
It's not my fault there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, says Condoleezza Rice. It's the CIA's fault!
It's not my fault we ignored official warnings and were asleep at the wheel on Sept. 11, says George W. Bush and the whole cabal. It's Bill Clinton's fault!
Ah yes. It's a refrain we've come to know so well: The Buck Stops There.
The Republicans currently running the United States have now polished the art of blaming others for their mistakes. I suppose it's a necessary skill when you have all the power and thus all the responsiblity, but you only want the credit for things that go right.
It being Not My Fault must be a requirement for doing a Heckuva Job.
One reason that pseudo-fascism is so harmful is that it creates an environment that positively encourages genuine fascists.
Thus, it is no mere accident that we've been seeing increasing signs of a genuinely emboldened white-supremacist far right, with recruitment rising among disaffected young people. It's no accident that they keep getting bolder and bolder and bolder.
This was driven home for me in a pointed way today when a little cluster of neo-Nazis -- representing a variety of groups, including the National Socialist Movement, the World Church of the Creator, and the National Alliance -- decided to hold a picket in my neighborhood, all of about two miles from my home.
Paul O'Connell, another Seattle resident, was in Fremont to check out the weekly Sunday Market there, and came across them. He snapped these pictures, reporting that there were only seven of them all told: six men and a woman. There were a number of police on hand too. They set up their protest directly across the street from a statue of Lenin that was salvaged from a Slovakian landfill.
O'Connell said there were more people confronting them than there were protesters. Some of these folks tried to engage them; others just insulted them. He also said the rally didn't appear to last very long; when he came by an hour later, they were gone.
It's hard to say what they were trying to accomplish. Fremont is one of the real arts centers of Seattle, and its politics are well to the left -- as the Lenin statue suggests. It's not likely they were looking for (at least hoping for) recruits. More likely is that they hoped to start some kind of confrontation. Evidently, they went away disappointed.
It seems to me that what these rallies are about is shoving their presence in our faces. For the past several decades, Nazis and white supremacists have been shoved so far back to the fringes that they scarcely ever would show their faces.
Now, they're feeling that the tide is turning in their favor. They're showing up in notably liberal venues not to recruit, but to make their presence known, and to send a message that they don't intend to hide anymore.
Who can blame them for being so bold? After all, we now have a national discourse in which one of the leading figures of the conservative movement can stand up and spew hatred about "ragheads." And the room will stand and applaud.
If I were a Nazi, I'd feel encouraged, too.
It's fund-raising week
Sunday, February 12, 2006
... here at Orcinus.
Click the PayPal button at the left to donate to the cause of independent journalism. Or read here for some thoughts on what it's all about.
UPDATE: So far, a very discouraging response ... which I suppose could be the blogosphere's version of a hint.
UPDATE 2: Thanks to everyone for the heartening response. And while I'm at it, here's my snail-mail address for those who can't use PayPal:
P.O. Box 17872
Seattle, WA 98107
UPDATE 3: After a slow start, things are rolling along nicely. I'm still only at half what I raised last year, but then, I don't have an essay to sell in PDF form this year, either. However, I have decided to put up links to my two most recent series by way of having something up there.
A special thanks to Crooks and Liars, Matt Stoller at MyDD, Pacific Views, Wulfgar, Live From Silver City, and OlyBlog. I'll provide a final tally in a few days.