THE BLOG
07/02/2006 08:36 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

The F-Word

We need to have a serious discussion about American fascism. It's a hard thing to talk about, because the word "fascist" gets thrown around so much that it often just seems like a mindless slur or a worthless bit of hyperbole. To utter it conjures dystopian visions of regimented thugs marching down Madison Avenue in star-spangled armbands, of dissidents rounded up and legislatures dissolved. The very fact that we can have an open discussion about fascism suggests that fascism is not a problem in this country. Whatever the depredations of the Bush kakistocracy, we are quite a ways (though not as far as we used to be) from a fascist dictatorship. But fascism isn't born in power; it starts off as a marginal social phenomenon that few people take seriously. Occasionally it advances and finds some public acceptance. Even when it gets to that stage, it's still far from taking over, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't be troubled by it.

In his book The Nature of Fascism, the historian Roger Griffin explains how fascism goes mainstream. "In its chrysalis stage fascism is but a publicistic and activistic (or 'agit-prop') phenomenon on the fringe of mainstream political culture and developments, condemned to lead a marginal existence in articles, pamphlets and books, often with negligible readerships and in the radicalism of ineffectual political factions," he writes. "Even the progression to the columns of large-circulation newspapers and well-attended public meetings represents a quantum leap for the diffusion of fascism which is still far removed from nation-wide mass rallies, extensive paramilitary violence and the 'seizure' of state power."

American fascism has made this quantum leap. Low characters with plenty of access to the columns of large-circulation newspapers -- not to mention TV talk shows -- have spent the last few days screaming for the heads of the journalists at the premier newspaper in America. Apropos of a lifestyle piece about the Maryland town where Cheney and Rumsfeld have vacation homes, they are spinning febrile conspiracy theories about traitorous messages embedded in the New York Times travel section. (Newsmax warns, "Beware of travel feature stories posing as invitations to terror.") As Glen Greenwald writes, the campaign is moving into outright intimidation:

UPDATE II: The outright derangement generated by this madness has now led one of the imbeciles who likely read Malkin and Powerline's blog to post the home address and telephone number of the Times photographers on his website.

UPDATE III: Another upstanding, patriotic blogger -- after linking to the blog which posted the address of the Times photographer -- has now posted this:

So, in the school of what's good for the goose is good for the gander, we are providing this link so YOU may help the blogosphere in locating the homes (perhaps with photos?) of the editors and reporters of the New York Times.

Let's start with the following New York Times reporters and editors: Arthur "Pinch" Sulzberger Jr., Bill Keller, Eric Lichtblau, and James Risen. Do you have an idea where they live?

Go hunt them down and do America a favor. Get their photo, street address, where their kids go to school, anything you can dig up, and send it to the link above. This is your chance to be famous -- grab for the golden ring.

He's urging people to find the names and addresses of New York Times editors and reporters in order to "hunt them down and do America a favor." And he said that right after he posted the link to the address of the Times photographer. And this is just the beginning of this syndrome, not the end.

I think Greenwald is right that we're going to see more of this kind of thing. In my book Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism I write that, while I certainly don't believe America is on the verge of religious totalitarianism, something dark is loose in this country, and it could get worse as the right's military triumphalism curdles in the wake of failure in Iraq:

"As of this writing, America's war in Iraq seems nearly certain to come to an ignominious end. The real victims of failure there will be Iraqi, but many Americans will feel embittered, humiliated, and sympathetic to the stab-in-the-back rhetoric peddled by the right to explain how Bush's venture has gone so horribly wrong...

Conservatives are already attempting to explain the unfolding nightmare in Iraq as the result of liberal treachery. According to the new dolchstosslegende, a disloyal, appeasement-seeking press has distorted the view of what is actually going on in Iraq in order to weaken the American people's morale and commitment. In April 2005, a month in which violence soared in Iraq, David Limbaugh, author of Persecution: How Liberals Are Waging War Against Christianity, wrote, "How can we but conclude that the media simply don't want to promote the good news out of Iraq? But why? Well, obviously, they suppress the good news because it vindicates their nemesis, President Bush, and incriminates them and their liberal comrades. If ideas like Limbaugh's gain momentum, we'll see escalating campaigns against the press, which the right has consistently attacked for undermining American solidarity and giving comfort to the nation's enemies."

I'm not claiming any kind of prescience here; this has all been obvious for a while. Dave Neiwert has been writing about it for years. But it's hard to grapple with it because we don't have a way to talk about the intermediate stages of populist right-wing authoritarianism. Mention fascism, and immediately people think you're comparing Bush to Hitler. (In fact, he's much more like the bastard spawn of Paris Hilton and Francisco Franco.) Yet while America remains long way from real fascism, fascism has come a long way in America.