7 Ways We Can Fight Back Against the Rising Fascist Threat
By Sara Robinson, Campaign for America's Future.
Why the right-wing extremism must be stopped in its tracks or else we
face the threat of outright violence and goon rule.
WRITING ABOUT fascism for an American audience is always a fraught business.
Invariably, a third of the readers will dismiss the topic (and your
faithful blogger's basic sanity) out of hand. Either they've got their
own definition of fascism, and whatever's going on doesn't seem to fit
it; or else they're firm believers in a variant of Godwin's Law, which
says (with some justification) that anyone who invokes the F-word is a
de facto alarmist of questionable credibility.
I get letters, most of which say something to the effect of, "Calm
down. You're overreacting. We're nowhere near there yet."
Another third will pepper me with missives that are every bit as
dismissive -- for exactly the opposite reason. To them, anyone who's
been paying the barest amount of attention should realize that America
has been a fascist state since (choose one:) 1) 9/11; 2) Reagan; 3)
McCarthy; 4) the Civil War; 5) July 4, 1776.
For them, my careful analysis and worried warnings are dangerously
naive -- clear evidence that I'm simply not seeing the full horror of
America as it truly is, and always has been, at least since (insert
Given this general crankiness, I probably wouldn't bother with the
subject at all -- except for that final third who keep me going. From
them, I've gotten a blizzard of anecdotes, questions, meditations,
ideas, suggestions, manifestos and love letters (including lots of
The piece sparked a lot of conversation all across Left Blogistan
about what fascism is and what it ain't, and what we need to be
watching for. And that kind of thoughtful discussion is exactly what I
hoped for. I wanted people to start paying attention.
In the post about fascism, I pointed out that the most insidious part
of it is that by the time it's finally obvious to absolutely everyone
that these people are dangerously out of control, it's too late to do
anything about it.
Early warnings are even more valuable here than they are in most
domains. And since futurists are -- more than anything -- in the
business of early warnings, it falls to me to step up there and point
out that according to at least a few of the more reputable atlases in
the glove box, this looks a lot like the last turn into the parking
lot of downtown Fascist Hell.
The good news is we're not yet parked and locked, let alone committed
to entering the building. (Which is good, because the doors appear to
be all one way, just like in the "Hotel California.") We've still got
a few minutes to change our minds, back out of this and go spend our
future somewhere else.
But we are now actively in the process of choosing, whether we're
aware of it or not. There are things happening now that are setting us
on a course that may prove impossible to change.
How do we turn back? A few basic principles:
First: The teabaggers must not win this one. Back in elementary
school, most of us learned that when a bully learns that intimidation
and threats work, he'll will keep doing more of it. In fact, the
longer he goes without comeuppance, the bolder and badder he becomes,
and the harder it is to make him stop. Every success teaches him
something new about how to use terror for maximum effect and tempts
him to push the envelope and see what else he can get away with. Do
nothing, and he'll soon take over the whole playground.
And it happens like this for bullies in groups, too. Living in a
fascist regime is just living in a town dominated by the Mob, a street
gang, the KKK, or a corrupt sheriff.
It only takes a small handful of thugs to terrorize people into giving
up their civil rights, abandoning democracy and doing what they're
told, just so they can keep their jobs, windows and families intact.
The main imperative in life becomes staying off the goons' radar. All
the enforcers need to do is make an horrific example out of one or two
troublemakers every now and then -- and the resulting fear will keep
everybody else quietly in line.
Conservatives have tried to subdue other Americans this way for
centuries, so there's nothing new going on here. And this is the way
they've always done it: they used race (and yes, the birthers and
anti-health care rioters are, at root, all about race) and economic
calamity to whip up a posse of terrified, well-armed vigilantes, and
then turned them loose on society to "enforce order."
Given their colossal investment in organizing and indoctinating the
teabaggers, we'd be stupid to believe that this is all going to go
away when Congress returns to Washington in September. Having had a
taste of power and publicity, these newly empowered mobs are very
likely to stick around town and see what else they can do to keep the
muck stirred up.
Our choice now is stark: knock them back while they're still new,
small and not yet entrenched; or deal with them later, when they've
got some real power to fight back with, and the cost to all of us will
be so much higher.
Second: Think nationally, fight locally. The conservatives are running
this effort as a national campaign -- but that's not where the real
fight is. The terror that fuels fascism is always intensely,
intimately local in scale.
Fascist goon squads always recruit from the neighborhood -- they're
built on people you know. Since that's where they start, that's where
they have to be stopped.
This is why all the best tactics involve community-level action. The
high-level fight in Congress and the media is already under way, and
the Democratic leadership is fighting it with unusual elan. But
anybody who sits this one out because they assume that the folks in
D.C. have it all handled for them shouldn't be surprised when they
start getting "special treatment" from longtime neighbors, or discover
that they can't park their car downtown any more without having it
That's just the next baby step up from where we are now; and in some
places, it's already started to happen. Winning this means getting out
there and defending our community's standards and boundaries now,
while they're still there to be defended.
Third: Brush up on our nonviolent resistance -- but leave the heavy
lifting and rough enforcement to the cops. It's true that the only way
to stop a bully is to stand up to them. But there are ways to stand up
to them that don't involve getting down to the eye-for-an-eye level.
Back home, we had a saying: "Never mudwrestle a pig. You will lose,
and the pig enjoys it."
If we meet thuggery with thuggery, we will lose, because they're just
plain better at it. And make no mistake: they will enjoy it. Right
now, the right wing is looking -- hard -- to make the case that
they're the innocent victim and the left instigated this whole thing.
This quote from religious right organizer Gary Bauer is typical of the
My fear, given the stakes and emotions on both sides, is that union
thugs, ACORN activists and left-wing anarchists (who ransacked the
streets of Minneapolis and St. Paul during last year's Republican
National Convention) will turn violent, and innocent people will get
hurt. If that happens, the radical left will bear the responsibility
for demonizing free speech.
The Nazis used this kind of victim-blaming to tremendous effect as
they built up their party.
We must not -- must not -- give our proto-brownshirts any basis to
make the same kind of argument. (Of course, the absence of evidence
will only drive them to make up fake victims; but then we get to call
them out as whining liars with a big fat persecution complex, which is
always a fun way to spend a news cycle or two.)
It's about the moral high ground, people. Any choices we make must be
consistent with our own values, or we betray both ourselves and the
Standing up for health care reform is important; but before that, the
country needs to see us standing up for civil discourse and the right
to democratic free speech. Since we're defending the rule of law, our
best tactic is to use that law.
You have a right to attend a public meeting and speak your mind in a
civil, respectful manner. You do not have a right to be disruptive or
deprive other people of their right to be heard. And most
jurisdictions have laws about disturbing the peace and creating a
public nuisance -- laws, let's not forget, that the Bush regime didn't
hesitate to stretch until the elastic gave out against people who
merely showed up at meetings with the wrong bumper stickers or
Since we're not Bush goons, we can't go around arresting people who
haven't yet broken any laws. But when people -- from either side --
cross that line, it's time for the cops and prosecutors to make the
point for us: bullying people in a public meeting (or anywhere else)
is illegal and will not be tolerated in this county.
Fourth: We need to make absolutely sure that the media get the story
right. The teabaggers would run out of power with the flick of a
switch if the media would just turn off their cameras. But the cold
reality is that this kind of drama is a real ratings-booster.
It would be like telling lions to lay off that elephant carcass. Left
alone, the media (local news in particular) will turn these people
into cultural heroes. They couldn't turn their backs on this if the
republic depended on it.
Since we can't beat 'em, we'll have to join 'em. The best cure for bad
speech is always more speech. This means bringing cameras and
documenting everything, getting it up on YouTube, and blogging it.
It also means coordinating rapid-response letterwriting to the local
paper and keeping down-home reporters well-fed every single day with
some new theme that reinforces the idea of concerned nonpartisan
citizens trying to keep control over their democratic discourse in the
face of organized thugs. Since the media are watching, let's make sure
they see it all.
Fifth: Support legislators who don't show fear. The Democratic Party
seems to be playing this just right (so far). The leadership has made
it known that these noisy, scary people don't represent the 73 percent
of Americans who support health care reform. The GOP is running the
risk of being marginalized as not only the Party of No, but the Party
of Moonbat Crazy.
If you've never attended a public meeting in your life, August 2009 is
the month you need to start. Your congressperson's Web site probably
lists a schedule, or at least a number you can call to inquire.
But that's just a first step. Do more. Write. Call. Find out where
your local congressional office is, and just drop by when you're in
the neighborhood. Tell the staff how you feel -- about health care
reform, about the teabaggers, about your legislator's brave stance in
the face of this.
If they're showing stress, encourage them to stand firm. A constituent
in the office counts for thousands writing e-mails, so an in-person
visit is 15 minutes incredibly well spent.
One visit or call is good. More is better. Put it in your schedule to
contact your representatives at least once a week for the duration,
and make sure they're not buckling under the pressure.
Sixth: Shut down the hate talkers. In most parts of the country, the
teabaggers are coming straight out of right-wing talk-radio audiences.
For hours every day, they're mainlining raw emotion and toxic
They're going put your kids before "death panels!" They're going to
kill your granny! You're going to have to call the White House to get
a bone set! You'll be a Real American Hero if you get out there and
join the "resistance!"
Cutting off this endless torrent of lies, fearmongering and validation
will go a long way toward powering down the whole movement.
(Conversely, what happens when these kinds of radio instigators are
left to spin it all the way out to the end can be summed up in two
words: Radio Rwanda.)
The basic recipe: Record their shows. Take notes of anything they say
that is intimidating, threatening, or aimed at inciting violence
against a named target. And while you're at it, note every single
advertiser they have.
Then write a polite letter the CEOs of the sponsoring companies. Throw
them some choice quotes from these shows and ask them if this is the
kind of thing they want their product associated with. (Point out that
if their own employees said things like this at work, they'd be fired
on the spot.)
Often, the CEO has no clue that any of this is happening and will pull
the ads as soon as she finds out what's being done in her name. This
has worked extremely well -- and quickly -- at both the local and
Finally: Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. Even if we succeed
this time, let's not kid ourselves that this is over. The
conservatives are investing a lot of money and effort to build a mass
movement that is explicitly aimed at destroying a Democratic
government -- and if we learned anything from the Clinton years, it's
that they're not going to let up for a second as long as the Democrats
are in control.
This is our new reality -- and it comes straight out of Hitler's
playbook (check out Chapter 6 of Mein Kampf). Their intention is to
keep the outrage junkies high by giving them a never-ending supply of
new, made-up reasons to act out.
When the birth certificate fracas cools, they're standing by with
"death panels." When that one's run its course, there will be
something else -- over and over, every few weeks, for as long as the
Which means that even if we win this round, we can't stand down. We're
going to be pushing back against these bullies, over and over, for the
next three to seven years.
There are only two outcomes here. Either we get very good at spotting
and stopping these attempts at a brownshirt takeover the minute they
crop up; or they're going to get very good at public intimidation and
keep ratcheting it up further toward outright violence and goon rule.
That's how it's going to be for the rest of this administration. The
sooner we resign ourselves to the zero-sum nature of this fight, the
sooner we can get on with getting good at it.
Sara Robinson is a fellow at the Campaign for America's Future and a
consulting partner with the Cognitive Policy Works in Seattle.