Once upon a time (before history ended) there was a movement called Fascism. It's a complicated thing to understand because at its core it is a collection of irrational beliefs, mysticism and appeals to emotion. One of the forgotten conflicts of the 20th century was the Spanish Civil War, and it was there where Fascism triumphed. While Mussolini and Hitler both rose and fell, their ally Franciso Franco hung on for decades, in part because he kept Spain from more than token action on the axis side in World War II, in larger part because he was a rabid foe of communism.
One of the phrases that came out of the Spanish Civil War was the "Fifth Column". From Wikipedia:
The term originated with a 1936 radio address by Emilio Mola, a Nationalist General during the 1936–39 Spanish Civil War. As his army approached Madrid, a message was broadcast that the four columns of his forces outside the city would be supported by a "fifth column" of his supporters inside the city, intent on undermining the Republican government from within (see Siege of Madrid). The term was used as the title of Ernest Hemingway's only play, which he wrote while the city was being bombarded; the play was published in 1938 in his book The Fifth Column and the First Forty-Nine Stories.see original for active links.
Franco's regime was an authoritarian hard right wing dictatorship. Again from Wikipedia, here's a capsule description. (Sound like any political movements in this country?)
After the end of World War II, Franco maintained his control in Spain through the implementation of austere measures: the systematic suppression of dissident views through censorship and coercion, the imprisonment of ideologically opposed enemies in concentration camps throughout the country (such as Los Merinales in Seville, San Marcos in León, Castuera in Extremadura, and Miranda de Ebro), the implementation of forced labor in prisons, and the use of the death penalty and heavy prison sentences as deterrents for his ideological enemies.While Franco's path to power was through the military, it would not have been possible without strong support from those opposed to rising left wing militancy fueled by the economic disruptions of the time, and other strains within Spanish civil society along religious, cultural, and ethnic lines. Communism was seen as a very real threat, in the face of the economic disaster uncontrolled capitalism had inflicted on the world in the 1930s, and that fear was met by the rise of corresponding movements on the right. Fascism is the name often given to the right wing movements that arose in reaction to communism, coming from the Italian movement's adoption of the Fasces as their symbol.
Now sorting through what Fascism is, is a task full of controversy and deliberate misinformation. Jump over the Orange Omnilepticon to take a deeper look, the better to appreciate the modern Fifth Column at work in America today.
The Unmentionable Among Us
Fascism has come to be a loaded term; beyond consensus that it's a bad thing, there is strong disagreement over whether it's based on right wing or left wing ideology. (The former is a matter of facts and history; the latter part of that Fifth Column's efforts to control the narrative, more of which shortly.) In either case, it's authoritarian in nature, and it should be noted that while the right in theory opposes the left (and vice versa) the authoritarians in Berlin were happy to cooperate with the authoritarians in Moscow over Poland caught in the middle. At least for a while... It's not about principles - it's always about power. But enough of that.
David Neiwert has done a yeoman's job dissecting Fascism; pdf files Rush, Newspeak and Fascism: An Exegesis and The Rise of Pseudo Fascism are two thought provoking essays that should be mandatory reading for progressives everywhere - download them and put them in your Kindle or other e-reader. Know the enemy. (There's a lot of additional excellent work archived at Neiwert's old blog, Orcinus too.)
The two essays Neiwert wrote come from several years ago, at the height of the Bush era, but the trends he describes in them have if anything accelerated. His efforts to understand the nature of Fascism deserve a wider audience. In his 2005 essay, he describes what he calls Pseudo-Fascism in the Conservative Movement.
It is not genuine fascism, even though it bears many of the basic traits of that movement. It lacks certain key elements that would make it genuinely so:It should be noted that at the time Neiwert wrote these words, the global economy had not yet suffered the Great Recession, nor was there a black man sitting in the oval office - or the Occupy movement in the streets. The trends Neiwert describes have all accelerated as the Conservative Movement reacts to them by moving even closer to classic Fascism. And the primary tool in their arsenal is the modern Fifth Column they've been building for decades.
• Its agenda, under the guise of representing mainstream conservatism, is not openly revolutionary.
• It is not yet a dictatorship.
• It does not yet rely on physical violence and campaigns of gross intimidation to obtain
power and suppress opposition.
• American democracy has not yet reached the genuine stage of crisis required for full-blown fascism to take root.
Without these facets, the current phenomenon cannot properly be labeled “fascism.” But what is so deeply disturbing about the current state of the conservative movement is that it has otherwise plainly adopted not only many of the cosmetic traits of fascism, its larger architecture – derived from its core impulses – now almost exactly replicates that by which fascists came to power in Italy and Germany in the 1920s and ’30s.
It is in this sense that I call it Pseudo Fascism. Unlike the genuine article, it presents itself under a normative, rather than a revolutionary, guise; and rather than openly exulting in violence, it pays lip service to law and order. Moreover, even in the areas where it resembles real fascism, the similarities are often more familial than exact. It is, in essence, less virulent and less violent, and thus more likely to gain broad acceptance within a longtime stable democratic system like that of the United States.
And even in the key areas of difference, it is not difficult to discern that those dissimilarities are gradually shrinking, and in danger of disappearing.
That this is happening should not be a great surprise. After all, as I’ve already explored in great detail in “Rush, Newspeak and Fascism”, the mainstream conservative movement has increasingly had contact with the genuine American proto-fascists of the extremist right over the past decade or more, particularly in the trafficking of ideas, agendas and the memes that propel them.
As I warned then, the danger was one of a kind of political gravitational pull: The more extremist ideology crept into the mainstream, the more it would transform the nature of the mainstream. The model of this effect is the Southern Strategy; initially deployed by Richard Nixon in 1968 and 1972, its long-term effect was to transform the GOP from the Party of Lincoln to the Party of Strom Thurmond, from a bastion of progressivity on race to the home of neo-Confederates who argue for modern secession and a return to white supremacism.
The New and Improved Fifth Column
The whole idea of the Fifth Column is that it bores from within. The most obvious element is FOX NEWS and the Right Wing Scream Radio. (Talk Radio really doesn't describe it any more.) The media machine has been made possible by the deregulation of the broadcast and print media allowing consolidation into the hands of a few, destruction of the equal time provision, and so on. This does two things:
• Promotes the Conservative view of the world, interpreting everything through that ideological lens on a 24/7 basis.
• Drowns out, distorts and otherwise discredits any countervailing views through intimidation, repetition (Zombie Lies) and sheer volume.
Here's an example of the Fifth Column at work in the N.Y.Times:
The protests date to 1992 when the United Nations passed a sweeping, but nonbinding, 100-plus-page resolution called Agenda 21 that was designed to encourage nations to use fewer resources and conserve open land by steering development to already dense areas. They have gained momentum in the past two years because of the emergence of the Tea Party movement, harnessing its suspicion about government power and belief that man-made global warming is a hoax.The Insidious Infrastructure
Fox News has also helped spread the message. In June, after President Obama signed an executive order creating a White House Rural Council to “enhance federal engagement with rural communities,” Fox programs linked the order to Agenda 21. A Fox commentator, Eric Bolling, said the council sounded “eerily similar to a U.N. plan called Agenda 21, where a centralized planning agency would be responsible for oversight into all areas of our lives. A one world order.”
There is a long established network of Conservative think tanks, institutions and other means whose mission is promoting and infiltrating their followers into positions of power and influence while promoting their views. Here's one example of it at work in Wisconsin:
BUT.... there's a bit more in the Cap Times story that may be relevant to fully understanding the qualifications that led to her selection for a job that potentially could be of vital importance to millions of Wisconsinites:Take this one example, and multiply it by orders of magnitude. The American Legislative Exchange Council is hard at work spreading the corporate gospel while riding the tide of pseudo fascism. For a look at how extensive their efforts are, look here at ALEC Exposed. Boring from within, subverting the legislative process from behind closed doors in "quiet rooms".... WePartyPatriots diaried a rather blatant example just the other day.
What McKeown does have in addition to her nursing background is something she shares with her new boss, Secretary Smith -- experience as a fellow with the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. Just last month, Heritage published a 19-page paper by McKeown titled: "Empowering Patients as Key Decision Makers in the Face of Rising Health Care Costs," an article that Robert Kraig of Citizen Action of Wisconsin called a "weird mix" of conservative ideology and McKeown's own observations about work on the front lines of palliative care. (McKeown's piece argues "American values of limited government and individual liberty and responsibility" demand that patients and not "an unaccountable government body" control health care decisions.)
Follow the Money
It's almost impossible to understand just how extensive and well-funded this is - but Rob Stein did the work back in 2004-2005. From Neiwert again:
The presentation itself, a collection of about 40 slides titled “The Conservative Message Machine’s Money Matrix,” essentially makes the case that a handful of families – Scaife, Bradley, Olin, Coors and others – laid the foundation for a $300 million network of policy centers, advocacy groups and media outlets that now wield great influence over the national agenda. The network, as Stein diagrams it, includes scores of powerful organizations – most of them with bland names like the State Policy Network and the Leadership Institute – that he says train young leaders and lawmakers and promote policy ideas on the national and local level. These groups are, in turn, linked to a massive message apparatus, into which Stein lumps every- thing from Fox News and the Wall Street Journal op-ed page to Pat Robertson’s “700 Club.” And all of this, he contends, is underwritten by some 200 “anchor donors.” “This is perhaps the most potent, independent institutionalized apparatus ever assembled in a democracy to promote one belief system,” he said.Alas, Stein's work was done before Citizens United opened the floodgates, and now billions of dollars are at play, largely from the right. It's orders of magnitude worse now. Who needs weapons or invading armies when you can simply buy control of the country? Over at Mother Jones, Adam Serwer has a chart that lays it out.
With the Federal Election Commission filings in, it's clear that conservatives are decisively winning the 2012 super-PAC race—at least so far. Republican-leaning super-PACs focused on the presidential race or backing a particular candidate raised more than seven times what Democratic-leaning super-PAC's raised, more than $60 million to the Democrats’ $8 million.Ever Closer To The Edge
Of the two Neiwert essays linked above, Rush, Newspeak and Fascism: An Exegesis spends a lot of time trying to define just what Fascism is. Communism is traced to some critical documents while Fascism is a more nebulous collection of traits and beliefs, coming in several varieties. "The Rise of Pseudo Fascism": An essay builds on that to look at how the modern Conservative Movement is getting ever closer to the brink. I'm going to take one last long quote from Neiwert in the essay about Rush, Newspeak and Fascism which I think sounds a cautionary note for where we are right now. Again, remember that this was written during the last Bush administration around 2005 and then look at what's happening now. It's not good:
To the far right, Clinton embodied the totalitarian threat of the New World Order, a slimy leader in the conspiracy to enslave all mankind. To conservatives, he was simply an unanswerable political threat for whom no level of invective could be too vicious. Moreover, he was the last barrier to their complete control of every branch of the federal government. These interests coalesced as the far right became an echo chamber for attacks on Clinton that would then migrate into the mainstream, ultimately reaching their apex in Clinton’s impeachment.There's a lot to digest in all of this. Because the Right - as yet - hasn't openly sent armed followers out to seize power doesn't mean it's not happening. Imagine though what could happen if the Conservative Movement found someone with the appeal of Ronald Reagan combined with ambition and intelligence, someone who could be a real "El Supremo" leader. Look at where we are now: wiretaps without warrants, military tribunals, indefinite detention, assassination by drone, indiscriminate tasing by police, an incredible economic disparity - and a Fifth Column just waiting and ready for the Right - or Wrong - hand on the levers to really put it to work.
Ideas and agendas began floating from one sector to the other in increasing volume around 1994. I noticed it first in the amazing amount of crossover between militia types and the anti-Clinton vitriol out of D.C. that eventually built into the impeachment fiasco. In fact, it was clear that what I was seeing was that the far right was being used as an echo chamber to test out various right-wing issues and find out which ones resonated (this was especially the case with Clinton conspiracies). Then if it stuck, the issue would find its way out into the mainstream.
This crossover is facilitated by figures I call “transmitters” — ostensibly mainstream conservatives who seem to cull ideas that often have their origins on the far right, strip them of any obviously pernicious content, and present them as “conservative” arguments. These transmitters work across a variety of fields. In religion, Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell are the best-known examples, though many others belong in the same category. In politics, the classic example is Patrick Buchanan, while his counterpart in the field of conservative activism is Paul Weyrich of the Free Congress Foundation.
In the media, Rush Limbaugh is the most prominent instance, and Michael Savage is a close second, but there are others who have joined the parade noticeably in the past few years: Andrew Sullivan, for instance, and of course Le Coulter. On the Internet, the largest single transmitter of right-wing extremism is FreeRepublic.com, whose followers — known as “Freepers” — have engaged in some of the more outrageous acts of thuggery against their liberal targets.
And finally, there’s Fox News, which bills itself as “balanced,” but which in fact is a virtual data center for transmitting extremist material into the mainstream. One of the most egregious examples of this was Fox’s broadcasts, on several occasions in 2000-2001, of an anti-tax protester named Bob Schulz. Schulz operated a snake-oil outfit called We The People Congress which operated on the old Posse Comitatus theory that the 16th Amendment — the one approving the income tax — was never properly approved. The same theory was also the main serving of a number of Patriot outfits.
However, the really interesting — and equally enigmatic — meeting-ground between the far right and the apparent mainstream comes in the field of money. Namely, the funding of the far right tends to be relatively mysterious, since many of them work under the aegis of a religious organization and are thus exempt from reporting the identities of contributors. But it was interesting to see the money flowing from ostensibly mainstream rightist organizations into several neo-Patriot outfits who specialized in spreading numerous conspiracy theories that were clearly Patriot in origin. Most noteworthy of these was the Western Journalism Center and WorldNetDaily, originally financed by Scaife. Moreover, there was a lot of Scaife money underwriting publication of the anti-Clinton material I saw distributed at militia meetings.
There's a lot of dismissive talk about the 60's and the importance of punching hippies. Maybe there should be a good, hard look at the lessons of the 30's instead. Meanwhile, here's some relevant music from 1967. Skip the ad, and take in words that could have been written last week. (Take a look at the short news clips buried in the video - they could easily be replaced with Occupy footage. The more things change...)
3:54 PM PT: UPDATE: Digby points to an interview over at Salon with Arthur Goldwag, author of the new book “The New Hate: A History of Fear and Loathing on the Populist Right.” It ties right in with Neiwert's discussion of Fascism and the role of the Far Right in the Mainstream today.