American Fascism Is on the Rise
American Fascism Is on the Rise
By Stan Goff, Truthdig. Posted October 14, 2006.
The precursors of fascism -- militarization of culture, vigilantism, masculine fear of female power, xenophobia and economic destabilization -- are ascendant in America today.
When I was 18, before student tracking in the public schools had been formalized, an informal tracking system was nevertheless in place: the university track, the craft track, the poultry worker track, and the prison track. I was somewhere between the last two. Both my parents were working in a defense contractor factory, and I was left adrift in the factory-worker 'burbs to be trained by television and alcohol. Raised on a curriculum of McCarthyism, I did the most logical thing I could think of to avoid both the factory and eventual incarceration with the ne'er-do-wells with whom I was keeping company. I joined the Army, and volunteered to fight communists in Vietnam.
I tried to get out of the Army once, and it lasted for four years, whereupon I ended up doing piecework in a sweatshop outside Wilmar, Ark. Back on that public school track, I suppose, but given that the U.S. was no longer invading anyone's country, and that I was responsible for an infant now, I went back into the Army. One thing led to another, and as it turned out I was good at something called special operations, and I ended up making a career of it. By the time I signed out on terminal leave in December 1995, I had worked in eight places designated "armed conflict areas," where people who were brown and poor seemed to be the principle targets of these "special" operations. At some point toward the end, I had decided that plenty of people could look back and say they wished they'd lived differently; and I was just one of them; and that I might salvage something worthwhile from the whole experience by telling the people who had paid me -- people who pay taxes -- what their money was really being spent to do.
Among other activities, I started writing books.
The bad apple
There was nothing more inflammatory in my first book, about the 1994 invasion and occupation of Haiti, than my assertion that Special Operations was a hotbed of racism and reaction. "Hideous Dream - A Soldier's Memoir of the US Invasion of Haiti" was my personal account of that operation, and I was explicit not only about the significant number of white supremacists in Special Operations but how the attitudes of these extremists connected with the less explicit white male supremacy of white patriarchal American society and defined, in some respects, the attitude taken by U.S. occupation forces in Haiti toward the Haitian population.
The resistance to this allegation was particularly fierce, and not merely from those inside the Special Operations "community," whose outrage was more public-relations stagecraft than anything else. There was outrage from people who hadn't a moment of actual experience in the military at all. This is an affront to something sacred in the public imaginary of a thoroughly militarized United States: that we are an international beacon of civilized virtue, and that our military is the masculine epitome of that virtue standing between our suburban security and the dark chaos of the Outside. Questioning the mystique of the armed forces is tantamount to lunacy at best and treason at worst.
This is the reason bad-apple-ism has been the predominant meme of the media and the Pentagon when they are compelled to discuss the stories of torture, rape and murder in Iraq and Afghanistan. "A few bad apples" committed torture. "A few bad apples" raped prisoners, fellow female soldiers, and civilians in their homes. The massacre was not descriptive of the Marine Corps, but the work of "a few bad apples." Anyone who wants to be the skunk at this prevarication party need only ask, "How do these bad apples all seem to aggregate into the same units?"
One bad apple was dispensed with on June 11, 2001. That's when Timothy McVeigh was given a lethal injection at 7 a.m. in the death chamber of the U.S. federal penitentiary at Terre Haute, Ind.
Frugivorous analogies aside, McVeigh was not the product of a tree or poor storage, but of a culture. Raised in western New York by a devoutly Catholic father -- an autoworker -- after his parents divorced when he was 10, Tim McVeigh, like many other white youths who are socially awkward and living in times of economic insecurity, was already reading survivalist and white nationalist literature in his teens. The mythic-patriarchal absolutism of racial ideology mapped perfectly onto the consciousness of someone raised by a religiously devout male, and the fact that this ideology responded directly to the insecurities of economic and gender destabilization secured McVeigh as an early devotee.
Gore Vidal said that McVeigh "needed a self-consuming cause to define him[self]." Vidal's account, "The Meaning of Timothy McVeigh," ominously printed in Vanity Fair just days before the 9/11 attacks expressed another "self-consuming cause," noted that McVeigh took his cues from the very government he had worked for as a soldier. Before McVeigh's attack in Oklahoma City, the most recent attack by Americans against Americans outside of warfare was the FBI-BATF massacre of an obscure religious commune that was demonized for destruction at Waco, Texas -- which McVeigh memorialized by blowing up the Murrah Building on the Waco massacre's second anniversary.
When McVeigh was interviewed about the "collateral damage" in Oklahoma, he was asked if he felt remorse. He replied that Truman had never apologized for Hiroshima or Nagasaki. And the formative moment in Iraq for Tim McVeigh was the order by Major General Barry McCaffrey -- the sociopath appointed by Bill Clinton to be the nation's "drug czar" -- to slaughter a seven-mile line of retreating Iraqi soldiers and civilians after the cease-fire in Iraq ... now called the Turkey Shoot. As the old military motto says, "Trained by the best, kill like the rest."
Much has been made of McVeigh's affinity for "The Turner Diaries," a neo-Nazi novel about a white nationalist guerrilla war in the U.S., written under pseudonym by the late William Pierce. Less often noted was another formative cultural product for McVey, "Red Dawn," a silly film about American teenagers organizing an armed resistance to the Soviet occupation of the United States. While "silly" is a descriptive term for both these cultural products, we cannot assume they are irrelevant.
On April 19, 1995, a fan of these martial male fantasies detonated 7,000 pounds of explosives at a federal office building and killed 168 human beings, in what he described as a defense of the Constitution of the United States.
Before we judge his claim too harshly, we should take note that this "defense of the Constitution" is the core of the oath taken by every U.S. military member who is now "serving" in the bloody occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. It was the oath I took that led me to burn down the houses of Vietnamese, and the oath taken by Captain Medina and Lieutenant Calley before they ordered the massacre in My Lai, where the body count was three times that of Timothy McVeigh.
It's magic, this defense of a sacralized political document; it changes forms. And white male supremacy (we always leave out that second modifier, though it is just as consistently true as the first) is not simple; therefore it cannot be simply dismissed.
The reason I bring this up at all, this old news of white male terrorism in the U.S., is anything but academic. The U.S. military is inducting avowed white supremacists again after an alleged hiatus ... one begun in response to the discovery of Timothy McVeigh's ideological orientations, and the murder of a black couple in December that same year by neo-Nazis in the 82nd Airborne Division.
John Kifner, writing for the New York Times on July 7th:
A decade after the Pentagon declared a zero-tolerance policy for racist hate groups, recruiting shortfalls caused by the war in Iraq have allowed "large numbers of neo-Nazis and skinhead extremists" to infiltrate the military, according to a watchdog organization.
The Southern Poverty Law Center [SPLC], which tracks racist and right-wing militia groups, estimated that the numbers could run into the thousands, citing interviews with Defense Department investigators and reports and postings on racist Web sites and magazines.
"We've got Aryan Nations graffiti in Baghdad," the group quoted a Defense Department investigator... .
This, of course, is remarkable for its abnormality ... or so some might have us think.
These explicitly white supremacist groups, contrasted with the implicitly white supremacist Republican Party, for example, openly embrace a vision of fascism, and openly admire fascist leaders. And while I take issue with those who throw the F-word around as a mere epithet stripped of any operational meaning, the alarm sounded by the SPLC about fascists joining the military under less than perfect oversight to prevent their entry raises some very interesting issues about our entire political conjuncture.
I believe the case can be made that these young men joining the military, embodying a racial-purity version of military masculinity, are anything except ab-normal. They are hyper-normal.
A norm, after all, is defined as a standard or model or pattern regarded as typical.
We need to first see for how long white supremacy has been considered ab-normal in the United States; then we can see how ab-normal it is right now, and only then begin to focus more tightly on the question of fascism and fascists joining the military.
What is seldom examined in public discourse outside the universities and a handful of anti-racist political formations, is the question of what it means to be "white." Thinkers from Toni Morrison to Noel Ignatiev to bell hooks to Theodore Allen to Mab Segrest to David Roediger have studied whiteness extensively, in its economic, cultural and political dimensions, and conclude unanimously that there is no "objective" measure for what it means; but that it is a social construction linked absolutely to social power. The insistence on existence of a white race, by racists and non-racists alike, is symptomatic of a form of mystification that conceals the concrete relations of power behind a set of widely accepted abstractions.
White supremacy as a beliefhas evolved out of the practice of people in power, who defined themselves as white as a way of differentiating themselves from those over whom they wielded that power. Some very well-known American presidents who made openly white supremacist pronouncements were Woodrow Wilson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Richard Nixon. Of course, until the dismantling of Jim Crow in the South, white supremacy was a norm, and before the Civil War, slavery was a norm.
White supremacy was so normal in 1964 that after the defeat of Goldwater, the Republican Party adopted thinly veiled racist appeals to attract white voters who felt betrayed by the reluctant Democratic Party support for civil rights legislation. Openly racist public officials like Jesse Helms, Strom Thurmond and Trent Lott, even after their affiliations with white supremacist organizations were publicized, continued to be elected. The Republican appeals to white supremacy were cloaked as opposition to welfare, as "states rights," and as concern about "crime." As late as 1999 the Republican-controlled House of Representatives blocked a vote to condemn the Council of Conservative Citizens, a white supremacist organization with whom then-Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott had close ties.
How normed does something have to be before we can say it is normal?
Denial supports this "non-racist" racism. A poll by the Washington Post in 2001 showed that half of all white people believe blacks in the U.S. are just as economically well-off and secure as whites.
But economic and social distance between blacks and whites is far from closed, except in the minds of many white Americans.
Six in 10 whites—61 percent—say the average black has equal or better access to health care than the average white, according to the poll.
In fact, blacks are far more likely to be without health insurance than whites. In 2000, the U.S. Census Bureau's Current Population Survey found that blacks were nearly twice as likely as whites to be without health insurance.
The survey in fact notes that half of whites have convinced themselves that African-Americans and Euro-Americans are educated equally well in the U.S. The empirical evidence, of course, points to a contrary conclusion. This misperception by whites is based on two things: (1) the need to believe that race as an issue is "all in the past now" and (2) the association of middle-class whites with middle-class African-Americans, which lends anecdotal support to the idea of equality-achieved, by exclusive exposure to a non-representative sample of the black population. Half of all whites believe that African-Americans enjoy economic parity with whites, another staggeringly wrong impression (the poverty rate for blacks is double that for whites, as just one example).
Racial attitudes are constructed around existing material advantage. This is not nearly as newsworthy as a Klan rally. It is far more important, though, as a causative agent for our social antagonisms. And there is an element of white supremacy in the mainstream discourse about the Iraq war, for example. Both liberals and conservatives articulate the notion that the U.S. has to "stay in Iraq to prevent a catastrophe." There is no recognition here of the orientalism (a white supremacist meme) that assumes the superiority of Western tutelage and the deviance (violent irrationality) of Arabs and-or Muslims. Privilege naturalizes itself. It portrays itself as an outcome of nature; and we all know that the laws of nature remain out of critical reach. Alas, that's just how it is ... what a pity.
The new militarization of American society
You are what you do. -- Jean Paul Sartre
Fascism traditionally employs either a master-race or master-culture narrative. This narrative is reinforced for troops on the ground in Iraq by the circumstances. The role of occupier is the role of dominator, and as the Stanford Prison Experiment proved dramatically, this dominator role very quickly translates into the dehumanization and objectification of the dominated. On the ground, at the infantry level, wars of domination in every instance become race wars.
The dustup recently about a Marine singing a song (which was published on the Internet as a video), called "Hadji Girl," in which he humorously describes killing Iraqi children to the raucous applause of his fellow Marines, was hardly a blip in the corporate media.
In American society right now, with the immigration hysteria fueled by faux populists like CNN's execrable Lou Dobbs, there is a growing wave of xenophobia that has begun to legitimate vigilantism, like that of the Arizona Minutemen (supported even by the governor of California); and vigilantism is always a feature of fascism in periods before it decisively achieves state power. The lines between the comic-opera militias parked along the Arizona border, the "libertarian" militias in the Midwest and the Aryan militias in the Idaho foothills are not terribly clear. Timothy McVeigh could have easily related to all of them.
The social currents of racial/cultural supremacy are there. The vigilantism is forming. So two aspects of fascism are already falling into place.
Another aspect, and one that was formative of Timothy McVeigh, is economic destabilization. Fascism can be described as a "middle class" phenomenon. One can look at the emergence of the three most studied fascist governments, Mussolini's Italy, Franco's Spain and Hitler's Germany, and in every case there was a privileged stratum of the working class that had been the beneficiaries of metropolitan capitalist development (courtesy of peripheral colonies) that rubbed shoulders socially with the professional and managerial sectors. In times of instability, friction develops between fractions of this stratum. Insecurity among the lower middle-classes creates anxiety and anger that can easily be directed by populist-sounding demagogues (Mussolini and Hitler actually claimed to be socialist, even as they strengthened the ruling classes in their own societies during militarization). Those just above these fractious masses are caught between their anxiety at the turbulent resentments of the lower stratum and their fear that they themselves are only a paycheck away from joining them. Leftist scholars have documented and explained this class dimension of fascism at some length.
Columbia University's contribution to Answers-dot-com section on "fascism" notes:
While socialism (particularly Marxism) came into existence as a clearly formulated theory or program based on a specific interpretation of history, fascism introduced no systematic exposition of its ideology or purpose other than a negative reaction against socialist and democratic egalitarianism. The growth of democratic ideology and popular participation in politics in the 19th cent. was terrifying to some conservative elements in European society, and fascism grew out of the attempt to counter it by forming mass parties based largely on the middle classes and the petty bourgeoisie, exploiting their fear of political domination by the lower classes. [In the American South, this dread was aimed at blacks, and the bogeyman of black rule was repeatedly invoked, along with the black sexual satyr, to fuel anti-black pograms.—S.G.] Forerunners of fascism, such as Georges Boulanger in France and Adolf Stker and Karl Lueger in Germany and Austria, in their efforts to gain political power played on people's fears of revolution with its subsequent chaos, anarchy, and general insecurity. They appealed to nationalist sentiments and prejudices, exploited anti-Semitism, and portrayed themselves as champions of law, order, Christian morality, and the sanctity of private property.
In each of the European cases, the trigger bringing fascist demagogues to power was a profound economic crisis. This is a tendency buried within an ever-expanding regime of capital accumulation, because the "logic of capital" inevitably comes into conflict with the "territorial logic of power" (David Harvey, "The New Imperialism," Oxford Press, 2003). The mobility of capital eventually liquidates or abandons all spaces, including living space, and this throws middle classes into both economic and psychological disorder. They can break both ways: embracing a progressive path of "going through to the other side" of the crisis by creating new social models, or embracing the (often idealized and mythical) past.
Giovanni Arrighi, writing in "Hegemony Unravelling" (New Left Review, March-April 2005), made the point that "[a]s Karl Polanyi pointed out long ago, with special reference to the overaccumulation crisis of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, devastations of this kind inevitably call forth the 'self-protection of society' in both progressive and reactionary political form... ."
That hasn't happened in the United States ... yet. The anxiety has been building, along with an increasingly precarious social existence in the 'burbs, where car infrastructure is running into record oil prices, pension funds are being wiped out in strategic bankruptcies, and the household debt overhang is beginning to resemble a plank suspended over a canyon with a couple of nails. Not coincidentally, militarization has been one of the processes that has postponed the inevitable.
The militarization of American society has gone on for some time (ever since World War II, to be exact), but this militarization—an aspect of fascism as well—has taken on a different character since the Bush administration lucked into 9/11. Aside from the Straussian convictions about mythopoetic perception management (using cheap cinematic conventions), the practical result of the neocon core advisor group around this decaying-dynastic White House has been the accelerated militarization of economic, domestic and foreign policy. Perception management, after all, including cynical constructions of the nation as the bulwark of good against evil, has been in the armamentarium of most governments.
The American economy has been using the military contracting system during decades of "deindustrialization" (moving offshore to exploit cheap labor) to create a surrogate export market for key industries. The military has also long been used as a research and development subsidy vehicle for private corporations. What the Bush administration has done that is unique is to prioritize unilateral military action in foreign policy at the expense of diplomatic maneuvering and consensus-building among the core capitalist metropoles, and to centralize population control measures at home under a more militarized system ... though the with "tactical" units has been in progress for decades and the Clinton administration paved the way for the exponential expansion of the domestic prison population.
Another unique feature of the Bush administration's militarization program has been the private contracting of military and paramilitary operations to an alphabet soup of corporations, some led by ruling-caste veterans like Bill Perry and many led by the sketchiest characters crawling out of the rank and file of the military itself. In Iraq, mercenaries are now the third-largest armed contingent on the ground, behind only the American armed forces and the Kurdish peshmerga. There are roughly 25,000 of these "contractors" working in Iraq ... and they are almost completely immune from any law.
Last year, after a homemade video "escaped" (a la "Hadji Girl"... these folks seem to be proud of themselves) showing so-called security contractors in an SUV driving down an Iraqi highway with Elvis music blasting as they shot cars off the road for sport, the blogs began distributing it. In December, the Washington Post finally ran a story on it. Only then did the military even comment on the video, which they said they would investigate. Nothing has come of this alleged investigation. What did surface, however, once the media decided it was worth a closer look, is that this kind of colonial impunity is routinely exercised by contractors, who are little more than extremely well paid thugs, and is not covered by either Iraqi law or the U.S. Uniform Code of Military Justice.
Because the salaries of these contractors are routinely above $100,000 a year, with all expenses paid on site, the military itself, especially Special Operations, has had to steeply increase reenlistment bonuses ( some as high as $150,000 in a single lump sum), to partially stem the exodus of Special Ops troops into the lucrative world of corporate mercenaries.
This is a world unto itself, a culture obsessed with death, firearms and racial-purity doctrines. One need only page through the periodicals of this subculture, the most widely circulated being Soldier of Fortune magazine, to find these preoccupations between the articles and ads like a toxic salad. The glue holding them together is gun culture. Gun culture is not an obscure fringe, but a very mainstream, widely popular subculture that taps directly into another key component of fascism: martial masculinity.
Sex, Race, and Guns
Anson Rabinbach and Jessica Benjamin, writing in American Imago in 1995 ("In the Aftermath of Nazi Germany: Alexander Mitscherlich and Psychoanlaysis—Legend and Legacy"):
The crucial element of fascism is its explicit sexual language, what Theweleit calls "the conscious coding" or the "over-explicitness of the fascist language of symbol." This fascist symbolization creates a particular kind of psychic economy which places sexuality in the service of destruction. Despite its sexually charged politics, fascism is an anti-eros, "the core of all fascist propaganda is a battle against everything that constitutes enjoyment and pleasure." ... He shows that in this world of war the repudiation of one's own body, of femininity, becomes a psychic compulsion which associates masculinity with hardness, destruction, and self-denial.
Men who are threatened by women's decreased dependency and increased organization often adopt an individual strategy of " overconformity," compulsively acquiring "masculine" accoutrements, be they giant automobiles, guns or attack-breed dogs, and just as compulsively behave as if they are trying out for a role with the World Wrestling Foundation—affecting a kind of bright-eyed homicidal aggression as we are further socialized to equate fear with respect.
Divisions of "male" labor and divisions of "female" labor respond to changes in the economic and political terrain. Look at the more "respectable" masculinity that prioritizes responsibility to the family—which keeps men who are not in the ruling class working. Compare that to the fascistic masculinity displayed by the masculine over-conformers (described above), which merges easily with the idealization of military masculinity in times when warfare plays a more central role in society—for example, during crises of (economic and social) destabilization. War becomes necessary to "rescue" the nation. Gun culture is permeated with this thought, including its sense of embattlement, and its embrace of mythical frontier masculinity that sacrifices comfort to overcome dark forces from the Outside.
Economic destabilization is extremely disruptive of conventional masculinities that equate the male role with that of a provider (I am not endorsing "provider masculinity" or any expression of patriarchy, but comparing them); and create the conditions for overcompensation in the form of hyper-normal male identity ... as an armed actor.
The rise of fascistic masculinity prefigures systemic fascism, often in the form of vigilantism. Gun culture is steeped in vigilantism, which is steeped in military lore. Guns in this milieu transcend their practical uses and take on a powerful symbolic significance.
In the last decade, the National Rifle Association (NRA), which has always had close ties with the military, has been taken over from what are considered within the organization as "moderates," that is, those whose message emphasizes peaceful, law-abiding gun use, like hunting (which is not peaceful for the game animals, but that's another issue).
During my service with 3rd Special Forces Group in Haiti in 1994, members of the SFU initiated back-channel communications in support of the right-wing death squad network, FRAPH.
Two of the favored preoccupations of Barry, the SFU, Soldier of Fortune, and the NRA were Ruby Ridge, where Vicki Harris, the wife of an ex-Special Forces white supremacist (Randy Weaver), was killed by an FBI sniper with her baby in her arms, and the outrage at Waco against the Branch Davidians.
Let me say here, for the record, that the FBI actions in both these cases were criminal and inexcusable, and largely provoked by the FBI itself. But the fact that Weaver was one of the neo-fascists own, and that Koresh and his acolytes were white, combined with the stunning abuse of power by the federal government in both cases, turned these two cases into a twin cause celebre for the militia-right. I will also note that I own firearms; I have no problem with others owning them; and I think much liberal opposition to firearms is stupid and moralistic and drives many people into the arms of the lunatic right. I am an advocate of the right to self-defense. My critique of gun culture is a critique of those sectors for which guns have been combined with imaginary enemies and taken on a deeply symbolic value as tokens of a violent, reactionary masculinity that fantasizes about armed conflict as a means to actualize its paranoid male sexual identity.
The problem is that this reaction is far from ab-normal.
There is a kind of interlocking directorate between white nationalists, gun culture, right-wing politicians, mercenary culture (like Soldier of Fortune), vigilante and militia movements, and elements within both Special Forces and—now—the privatized mercenary forces. It is hyper-masculine, racialist, militaristic and networked.
If one simply pays attention to cultural production in the United States, especially film and video games, it is fairly easy to see that the very memes that are the cells within the body of white nationalist militarism are ubiquitous within our general cultural norms. The film genre that most closely corresponds to a fascist mind-set is the male revenge fantasy, wherein after some offense is given that signifies the breakdown of order (usually resulting in the death or mortal imperilment of idealized wives or children) in which Enlightenment social conventions prove inadequate, and the release of irrational male violence is required to set the world straight again. Any reader can list these fantasies without a cue. It is one of the most common film genres in American society.
R. W. Connell wrote in "Masculinities" (University of California Press, 1995):
In gender terms, fascism was the naked reassertion of male supremacy in societies that had been moving toward equality for women. To accomplish this, fascism promoted new images of hegemonic masculinity, glorifying irrationality ("the triumph of the will", thinking with "the blood") and the unrestrained violence of the frontline soldier.
Chaotic Dark Othering
It is in no way aberrant when the lionized Theodore Roosevelt can be quoted saying: "the timid man, the lazy man, the man who distrusts his country, the over-civilized man, [italics mine] who has lost the great fighting, masterful virtues, the ignorant man, and the man of dull mind, whose soul is incapable of feeling the mighty lift that thrills 'stern men with empires in their brains'—all these, of course, shrink from seeing the nation undertake its new duties; shrink from seeing us build a navy and army adequate to our needs; shrink from seeing us do our share of the world's work, by bringing order out of chaos in the great, fair tropic islands from which the valor of our soldiers and sailors has driven the Spanish flag."
Roosevelt was also a lifetime member of the NRA, itself founded by Civil War veterans who were dismayed by the poor marksmanship of soldiers and decided to prepare the next generation of boys and men for armed combat.
Roosevelt is often cited as a conservationist who admired the wilderness. What is less often noted is that "wilderness" was seen as a place where men could test themselves against "raw" nature, and that he referred to said wilderness as "lands we have won from the Indians." Karl Rove claims to be a major fan of Teddy Roosevelt biographies and quotes Roosevelt often.
The use of mythic male wartime figures is a common political ploy. Former Attorney General John Ashcroft frequently used Lincoln that way to justify his own attacks on civil liberties, implicitly comparing the phony war on terror to the American Civil War.
This is not news, but it does support my general thesis that some key elements of fascism are already norms for broad sections of American society.
This should give us a special sense of concern that the military—under pressure from a retention and recruitment crisis—has relaxed the screening process against white nationalists joining the military precisely to gain military training and combat experience. This not only allows more of these dangerous ideologues into the military, it gives them unprecedented access to other combat veterans, brutalized into the sociopathy of war and inured to white supremacy through the inevitable racialization of the occupied enemy.
What makes this particularly alarming is that another essential element for the emergence of fascism is a national enemy. It is not unremarkable that the very people who question the federal government as an extension of ZOG/Illuminati/World-Government have also accepted the narrative—constructed by that self-same U.S. government for its own martial purposes—of a highly organized, technologically advanced terrorist threat: Al Qaeda. This has replaced the vastly overstated threat of the World Communist Conspiracy that proved so useful for the post-WWII American security state. The fact that immigration is now routinely portrayed as a security issue (letting terrorists in), at the same time that anti-immigrant vigilantism is being supported by public figures like CNN's Lou Dobbs (arguable already a fascist) and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger , should give all of us pause ... not only because we are now training future McVeighs but because the immigration polemics are finding a receptive audience even among so-called moderates and liberals of the middle-class.
The generalized flexibility of the term "terrorist" makes it infinitely more useful as a political instrument than a specific nation or regime, and so invests the term with a long half-life. The fact that Al Qaeda is a fiction created by the U.S. government—a fact well documented by researchers like Jason Burke, author of "Al Qaeda: Casting a Shadow of Terror" (Penguin Books, 2004), and even the militarily connected Rand Corporation, which referred to Al Qaeda as "a notion."
In a stunning bit of linguistic legerdemain, the actual mass movement of political Islam has been recoded by the neocons as ... Islamo-fascism, and among the crypto-libertarians of the white right, fascist is an epithet reserved now for liberals.
With the same semantic abracadabra, the "notion" that is Al Qaeda is transformed by our cultural paranoia in such a way that every Arab, every Muslim, every immigrant, every dissident, every person of color, every (choose your enemy) is a threat; and the world is divided between Us and the Dark Other with no resolution except the agonal, and could—with economic dislocation as the catalyst—tumble us into a paroxysm of white nationalist hyper-masculinity as prelude to a new, uniquely American ... what?
My friend, Steve McClure, a former window dresser and feral scholar in the darker residential regions of Washington, D.C. —itself a study in colonization and social contrasts—notes:
I hate the word fascist. It has been bandied about so much and brings up images of Storm troopers in grainy newsreels that it seems devoid of meaning. Furthermore, classical fascism was possible only in a mass society, organized along industrial lines, with one-to-many communications. Classical fascism is a reactionary modernism, a response to class struggle. Both German and Italian variants came to power after the defeat of revolutionary upsurges.
I think our own situation is very different, and a better term needs to be found that captures the unique qualities of our reactionary postmodernism. "Military police state" doesn't quite cut it. Fascism implies policing of thought as well as bodies, today's reaction is selective, policing bodies but allowing private speech and the empty illusions of parliamentary democracy to stand.
The civilizing mission
This trend of ignoring the backgrounds of military inductees—driven by numerical necessity—is swelling the ranks of tomorrow's vigilantes of reaction. People have the mental habit of assuming that the powerful control their own outcomes. They don't. The militarization of police forces, white flight and urban abandonment, even the international system of dollar hegemony that the military backstops ... these all develop with multiple determinations, more akin to weather than strategy, with the larger system taking on a character independent of the agents within it. Changing outcomes is not the same as controlling them.
My greatest anxiety for my two grandchildren is not that they will be the victims of a plot but the inheritors of inertia and a society of "good Germans," while society dives into a long period of unanticipated macho warlordism ... and, oh by the way, ecocide.
We already have whole sections of America—in the former enclaves of a now deracinated working class—where hopelessness exists alongside police forces that function very like a military occupation force. Before the war, these occupation zones—filled with idled, angry, dark-skinned youths—were our middle-class nightmare, the Dark Chaos that inevitably leads us back to the patriarchal default, to militarized masculinity, and to the cultural celebration of bounty hunting and sexual revenge in feudal prisons.
Alas, the place-marker of a war on drugs—that created the largest national prison population on the planet—couldn't create the pretext for bases in Southwest Asia, so the war on terror will have to do. The recruitment crisis that has opened the door to neo-Nazi youths entering military service was anything but a plan. The term before the war that proponents used to describe its outcome was "cakewalk."
Now even putative liberals have copped to their own version of "white man's burden," saying (the rhetorical) we cannot "abandon Iraq," lest "we" leave behind a terrible state of disorder. And so "we" continue down that hoary, blood-drenched path of "civilizing missions."
The Bush administration never tires of telling us how war is necessary to protect "us" from disorder.
We need to ask ourselves, however, what sowing the winds of war abroad will reap at home. They are not Arabs who are painting Aryan Nations graffiti on the shattered walls of Baghdad.
Stan Goff is a retired veteran of the U.S. Army Special Forces. During an active-duty career that spanned 1970 to 1996, he served with the elite Delta Force and Rangers, and in Vietnam, Guatemala, Grenada, El Salvador, Colombia, Peru, Somalia and Haiti.
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