Now that Trump’s presidency is starting, we can soon settle bets about whether he’ll unleash a fascist apocalypse. In the meantime, it’s ironic that Hillary Clinton managed to create a neo-Cold War hysteria without getting elected. It’s not like the alternative to Trump was somehow not reckless and bad.
The country’s mood seems perfectly described by Umberto Eco’s Ur-Fascism (1995), sent to me by my therapist. After reading it through, I was reminded of Naomi Wolf’s 2007 article Fascist America, in 10 easy steps. The last paragraph of Eco’s article:
We must keep alert, so that the sense of these words will not be forgotten again. Ur-Fascism is still around us, sometimes in plainclothes. It would be so much easier, for us, if there appeared on the world scene somebody saying, “I want to reopen Auschwitz, I want the Black Shirts to parade again in the Italian squares.” Life is not that simple. Ur-Fascism can come back under the most innocent of disguises. Our duty is to uncover it and to point our finger at any of its new instances—every day, in every part of the world. Franklin Roosevelt’s words of November 4, 1938, are worth recalling: “I venture the challenging statement that if American democracy ceases to move forward as a living force, seeking day and night by peaceful means to better the lot of our citizens, fascism will grow in strength in our land.” Freedom and liberation are an unending task.
Wolf was trying to stay on top of things. It was 10 years ago, and Wolf called out the things that everybody is about to act like Trump invented. Obviously, her call went unheeded.
I searched for Wolf’s article to refresh my memory, and the second search result turned out to be more interesting. It seems I’ve uncovered a Russian agent responsible for helping to elect Trump. We know the Russians think long-term, so it’s perfectly plausible that they knew Trump would be the Republican nominee in 2013, when an article by Mark Nuckols appeared in The Atlantic. The Atlantic is like the official journal of thinking inside the box and what The Establishment wants you to think, so it’s instructive to see what they publish. In this case, No, Naomi Wolf, America Is Not Becoming a Fascist State. This is how Russia convinced mainstream journalism that Trump can’t happen here. Nuckols convinced the editors at The Atlantic, and they told all their friends at cocktail parties. We know Nuckols is a Russian agent because of his author bio: “Mark Nuckols teaches at the Lomonosov Moscow State University Business School and at the Russian Academy of National Economy and Public Administration.”
The photo of Naomi Wolf they used has Cornel West in the background. I don’t know why.
The Saker confirms that giving Russian liberals a media platform is an important part of Russia’s information warfare strategy:
I suspect that the fantastically incompetent ways in which the 5th Main Directorate of the KGB worked to try to deal with anti-Soviet feelings has left a deep mark on younger generation of state security officers who have learned from these mistakes and have taken a diametrically opposite course: instead of trying to silence the western propaganda – they actually actively promote it!
Yup, that’s right. The Kremlin and the clearly pro-Putin journalists go out of their way to give as much air time to the most rabid anti-Kremlin critiques as possible, especially on Russian TV talkshows.
The most popular Russian TV talk shows (Evening with Vladimir Soloviev, Time will Show with Petr Tolstoi, Right to Know with Dmitrii Kulikov, Politics with Petr Tolstoi and Alexander Gordon, Special Correspondent with Evgenii Popov, News.doc with Olga Skabeeva, Duel with Vladimir Soloviev) all make sure that the following groups get as much airtime as possible:
- Russian liberals
- Russian-speaking American journalists
- Russian-speaking Polish officials and journalists
- Ukrainian nationalists
These four groups are literally the “bread and butter” of these talkshows were they provide a constant stream of very entertaining political debates. Why? Because they utter the exact same nonsense which they are used to proclaim in their own countries and if the western audience does not really know what to make of this propaganda, it sounds so outlandish to the Russian audience that these guests always get completely eviscerated (verbally, of course) by the Russian guests invited to the same talk show.
And just to make sure that every person in Russia ‘gets the message’, the main weekly news shows (News of the Week with Dmitri Kiselev, Postscriptum with Alexei Pushkov) always feature long excerpts from western propaganda reports and the most rabidly anti-Russian statements from western politicians.
This is how the gaslighting begins:
Naomi Wolf has for many years now been claiming that a fascist coup in America is imminent. Most recently in The Guardian she alleged, with no substantiation, that the U.S. government and big American banks are conspiring to impose a “totally integrated corporate-state repression of dissent.” Many of her arguments rely on what she styles as rigorous historical research and analysis of current events. But if you compare her characterizations of the historical sources and current news accounts that she cites with the sources themselves, it is possible to discern a pattern of serious misstatements and errors in her political writing.
In the original page at The Atlantic, the string “she alleged” is also a link to a 2012 Wolf article about the FBI crackdown on the Occupy movement. What you can see if you follow that link is that, from the first paragraph, Nuckols is accusing Wolf of doing what he’s doing himself. This is what he calls “with no substantiation” (he’s trusting the reader not to follow the links!):
It was more sophisticated than we had imagined: new documents show that the violent crackdown on Occupy last fall – so mystifying at the time – was not just coordinated at the level of the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, and local police. The crackdown, which involved, as you may recall, violent arrests, group disruption, canister missiles to the skulls of protesters, people held in handcuffs so tight they were injured, people held in bondage till they were forced to wet or soil themselves –was coordinated with the big banks themselves.
The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, in a groundbreaking scoop that should once more shame major US media outlets (why are nonprofits now some of the only entities in America left breaking major civil liberties news?), filed this request. The document – reproduced here in an easily searchable format – shows a terrifying network of coordinated DHS, FBI, police, regional fusion center, and private-sector activity so completely merged into one another that the monstrous whole is, in fact, one entity: in some cases, bearing a single name, the Domestic Security Alliance Council. And it reveals this merged entity to have one centrally planned, locally executed mission. The documents, in short, show the cops and DHS working for and with banks to target, arrest, and politically disable peaceful American citizens.
The documents, released after long delay in the week between Christmas and New Year, show a nationwide meta-plot unfolding in city after city in an Orwellian world: six American universities are sites where campus police funneled information about students involved with OWS to the FBI, with the administrations’ knowledge (p51); banks sat down with FBI officials to pool information about OWS protesters harvested by private security; plans to crush Occupy events, planned for a month down the road, were made by the FBI – and offered to the representatives of the same organizations that the protests would target; and even threats of the assassination of OWS leaders by sniper fire – by whom? Where? – now remain redacted and undisclosed to those American citizens in danger, contrary to standard FBI practice to inform the person concerned when there is a threat against a political leader (p61).
Wolf links to documentary evidence of collaboration between banks, universities, local police, the FBI, and the Department of Homeland Security, and Nuckols says that’s not enough to be “totally integrated corporate-state repression of dissent.” I’d call that a “serious misstatement and error in his political writing.”
I have no stake in whether Vagina: A New Biography is a good book or whether Wolf’s scholarship was up to par in 1991. Nuckols talks about those thing, maybe to pad the length of his article? No, he uses an entire paragraph to set things up for this move:
Many of her biggest distortions have gone mostly unnoticed as she has worked to segue from feminist analyst to left-wing political Cassandra in the international conversation.
Her uterus makes her too hysterical to talk serious business with us.
The real content of the article is that he quibbles with a few historical analogies. The first example is representative:
She proceeds to argue that such a “shift” is underway in America, and builds her thesis on a lengthy list of analogies between the history of fascist and totalitarian regimes and events in contemporary America.
For example, she reports a 2002 incident where a woman boarding a flight at JFK International Airport was “forced” to drink her own breast milk from three bottles. According to Wolf, “a state agent — some agents are armed — forcing a citizen to ingest a liquid is a new scene in America.” She then compares this seemingly odd event to an episode where Nazi S.S. storm troopers “forced Wilhelm Sollman, a Social Democratic leader, to drink castor oil and urine.”
According to Richard Evans’ The Coming of the Third Reich, the source Wolf cites for that incident, the opposition leader was indeed forced to drink castor oil and urine, though only after he was first tortured for two hours. And this was merely a small part of the orgy of violence unleashed by the Nazis after the March 1933 elections, in which political opponents were beaten and even murdered in the streets. According to the USA Today story Wolf cites, the woman at JFK was asked to sample the milk if she wanted to carry the bottles onboard, not “forced” involuntarily to drink it. And immediately afterwards, the TSA changed its guidelines to explicitly forbid security employees from asking a passenger to drink anything they wanted to bring on board.
He also points out that, under real fascism, organized protests were met with icy water. This is totally unlike subsequent events at the Standing Rock Protests…
It’s true that nobody died when a woman was forced to drink her own breast milk as a condition of domestic travel. It’s just that that didn’t used to seem normal, and it doesn’t seem like a good direction for us to go in. Maybe we should change direction before Trump is elected president. Oh wait…
He’s saying that no coercion was involved because the woman could’ve thrown out the breast milk and let the baby go hungry the whole flight. He doesn’t even see that there’s a hungry infant in the situation.
His conclusion is to be offended on behalf of Hitler and Stalin’s victim while making it clear he would not hit it:
In her various books, articles, and public speeches, Wolf has demonstrated recurring disregard for the historical record and consistently mutilated the truth with selective and ultimately deceptive use of her sources. All of this might have little real-world import when she writes about her orgasms or her weight problems. But when she distorts facts to advance her political agenda, she dishonors the victims of history and poisons present-day public discourse about issues of vital importance to a free society.
Note that Wolf is making an argument that it could get worse in the future, not that we’re currently in WWII, so he’s completely missing the point. The Naomi Wolf and Umberto Eco essays were about finding abstract features and psychological tendencies associated with fascism, that can be identified in less intense forms.
There’s a spectrum of fascism like there’s a spectrum of autism.
The Russians and the Trump campaign were using misogyny to win before they were even running!