More on Dr. Naomi Wolf’s Ten Steps to Fascism?

More on Dr. Naomi Wolf’s Ten Steps to Fascism?

 I post a lot of stuff from what called “the Right” where I think it is important.  Here is an article from the Left, written by someone that I have some respect for.

What is left out here is the inevitability of the outcome due to the rapid collapse of the United States.

What are the Ten Steps to 

Fascism? How did we Get 


Naomi Wolf

Dr. Naomi Wolf,

22 September, 2020

I’m updating The End of America and the Ten Steps to Fascism to let you know how we got to be at Step Ten: Suspend the Rule of Law. 

The playbook of fascism, I must stress, is nonpartisan, and President Trump did not invent what we are living through now. He merely built upon it. The Ten Steps of Fascism were around long before he was. But turning the Covid-19 pandemic into an opportunity for authoritarianism isn’t just an idea, it’s happening as I laid out in part 1 of this series here.

During the administration of President Obama, I (and several others) warned that Democrats were taking the authoritarian structures built up by George W. Bush, and adding news levels of oppression on the foundation already laid. President Obama was the one who took the unprecedented step of droning to death an American citizen, Anwar Al-Awlaki  and his teenage son It was Obama who promised to close Guantanamo as part of his campaign agenda, then built it up a mere six months later, an expansion that I witnessed as a journalist; Obama, again, whose lawyers argued for the right to imprison journalist Chris Hedges without charge or trial, under the 2012 NDAA, a shocking piece of legislation that allows the President to detain anyone indefinitely without due process. It was he who presided over the violent, co-ordinated 2011 crackdown by DHS against the Occupy Wall Street movement, which could have been a dress rehearsal for today’s even more escalated violence against protesters.      

The war on whistleblowers intensified under President Obama’s Department of Justice: He subpoenaed reporters such as James Risen. He advanced the prosecution of Chelsea Manning. President Obama went after more people under the Espionage Act than had any previous President, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Examples of his push to build up further the structures of fascism he inherited, could go on and on. 

But since he was a telegenic President with an uplifting rhetorical style, not to mention the otherwise inspiring fact that he was our first President of color, these abuses of democratic processes went disregarded by the left and by most mainstream media. 

The problem with Fascistic processes and institutions being built up, though, is that then they are there for the next President, the one you don’t like, to use and to abuse. And here we are.

Step Ten of the Ten Steps of Fascism

Obviously, we are in an endgame, a catastrophic slide to lasting authoritarianism, as I documented here.

We have very little time before we reach a point of no return.

As I’ve often pointed out, democracies don’t close arithmetically but geometrically – that is, there is a slow slide during which citizens can indeed turn events in another direction, using democracy itself; but then, in the playbook of fascism, there will be a sudden coordinated shock, after which no return is possible; history shows it’s extraordinarily difficult for a nation or people to retrieve a collapsed democratic civil society that recently had a rule of law. Even then, bloodshed, arrests, suppression and anguish are the future, often for years or generations.

So in the interest of avoiding that at all costs, I am saying what the playbook holds so that we might avoid that desperate future still. I’ll also explain how the very real COVID crisis is being used to move things rapidly along.

Obviously President Trump is familiar with fascism’s playbook and has moved briskly to execute it in three years. He’s not, as the left likes to state, a terrible President. He is a terrible President in a democratic context; he is fantastically effective at turning a democracy into a tyranny and has moved with tremendous skill, speed and strategy to put in place all the elements of a totalitarian society. (I use the terms “fascist” and “totalitarian” interchangeably to stress how much the authoritarian execution of right and left, are identical in techniques and outcomes, though they differ in symbolism).

At the same time as President Trump is moving swiftly through the fascist’s traditional playbook, the left is also seeking authoritarian control, if less efficiently, in mirroring ways. 

The Ten Steps to Fascism in the moment of now

President Trump did not have to “Invoke a terrifying internal and external enemy,” Step One, as we go down each of the ten steps to Fascism.

When he took office, ISIS was the real and terrifying threat that also was invoked to justify the erasure of our liberties. But since March 2020, the COVID pandemic has served in that useful role for both left and right and, you may notice, has thoroughly eclipsed ISIS fears. 

Neither Trump nor Biden needs to create secret violent prisons (Step Two), as Guantanamo is still open; but Trump has turned ICE into a steward of prisons without accountability which even members of Congress cannot enter, and has made a spectacle of separating families, losing children, and leaving people to sleep on hard floors with aluminum blankets – none of which would pass International Red Cross inspection. Bill Moyers noted that agents of Custom and Border Patrol, wearing military uniforms, were deployed violently to constrain protest in Portland and Chicago: ‘Trump is turning the officers of the executive branch into the president’s private army.”

This militarization of domestic police forces and the brutality of incarceration – which started with George W Bush but also escalated under Barack Obama – means that the violent arrest and unaccountable prison experience has come home to our shores.

Step Three involves the use of militias. President Trump has spoken positively of violence and tweeted others’ threats of “civil war.” Indeed at a 2017 rally in Charlotte, North Carolina, a white nationalist killed a woman and injured 35 other people. President Trump spoke of “very fine people, on both sides.”

Mehdi Hassan of The Intercept lists some of his invitations to violence: If you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of ‘em, would you? Seriously. [Crowd cheers.]”

     “I’d like to punch him in the face, I’ll tell you.”

     “Maybe he should’ve been roughed up, because it was absolutely disgusting, what he was doing.” 

     “Try not to hurt ’em. If you do, I’ll defend you in court. Don’t worry about it.” 

After armed neofascist groups stormed state capitals to protest the lockdown —  “the anti-government militia group Oath Keepers  openly threatened any police officers who enforce stay-at-home orders, or try and prevent anti-lockdown rallies” – the President praised as “responsible people” and “very good people.” 

Hassan warns: “is this a preview of what’s going to happen in November? Are these right-wing militias — these domestic terrorists — with their guns, and their masks, and their combat gear, and with the encouragement not just of Alex Jones-types on Infowars or Judge Jeanines on Fox News, but also with the encouragement of the man in the White House, will they take to the streets to dispute the presidential election results? Will they riot on behalf of a defeated Trump?”

The left-wing Antifa movement is also extraordinarily violent for an American protest movement, so these violent militias, replete with confirmed infiltrators and provocateurs, exist now on both “sides” of the political divide. But this bilateral violence is also good for would-be tyrants. In a closing society, instability and provocation are both useful to autocrats: these create an excuse for the declaration of a state of emergency and consequent suspension of the rule of law. 

Step Four of the ten steps to fascism is to set up an internal surveillance system. The COVID pandemic allows for this with “track and trace”, a development we will address in the second essay.

Step Five, “infiltrate and harass citizens’ groups,” really isn’t necessary any longer, as people gathering in groups can’t be effective now in any long term way. The COVID lockdown has basically suspended citizens’ groups. People can wear masks briefly to gather and protest, but the ban on gatherings of groups of more than six, or more than ten, depending on where you are, pretty much takes care of any effective confidential citizen activism. 

Step six is: Engage in arbitrary detention and release. In Portland, “[p]ersonal accounts and multiple videos posted online show the officers driving up to people, detaining individuals with no explanation about why they are being arrested, and driving off.”

Step seven is to target key individuals. Again this step is no longer as necessary, as COVID restrictions really keep new leaders from arising to move populations and keep new ideas from activating groups in any sustained way. But established influencers on the left of center in the UK and the US have been targeted by Cambridge Analytica-type reputational attacks from the right for about a decade. These are multifaceted and include calls to workplaces, legal actions, bots and troll farm attacks and other reputational assaults. Climate scientist Michael Mann describes such rightwing harassment in The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars, and Jane Mayer describes it in her book Dirty Money 

The Trump administration goes further, though, and targets individuals in its own government: it targets those who serve in government oversight bodies:

President Trump targets citizens who challenge him: he singled out a Twitter employee who dared to fact-check a tweet of his: He targets individual reports: he used Twitter to imply that TV host Joe Scarborough had murdered a Congressional aide in 2001, which is false.

Fear of retribution for speech chills leadership and dissent in a closing society. But COVID-19 lockdown intensifies this weakening of democracy because new ideas and leaders are constrained from reaching audiences by being dependent on digital algorithms. If the “lockdown” lasts indefinitely, and existing leaders are attacked and undermined, the people will have no one to whom to turn when the final would-be shock, takes place. 

Step Eight is to control the press. Pres. Trump has called the press an “enemy of the people” – notably, a Stalinist term, used against Nikolai Bukharin in the 1938 show trial that led to his execution.

President Trump, as we know, assails news outlets as “Fake News” and attains control by such distortions of fact that the press cannot do its traditional job effectively at all, as readers can no longer tell truth from fiction; this is a methodology used by Soviet and now Russian propagandists as well to invalidate the news media.

Step Nine casts criticism as “espionage” and dissent as “treason.” President Trump has charged “a dozen people and entities of treason,” according to The Washington Post, though a total of 30 people has been charged with that capital crime in all of American history. He stated that the Democrats pursuing impeachment hearing should be charged with “treason” and arrested.

Step Ten is: Subvert the rule of law, and replace it with martial or military law. 

We are here. This is the last step, the endgame of every bid for authoritarian power. I will tell you in this series of essays, just what we can expect for the next two months and ten days, and after that. 

And I will explain how the COVID-19 pandemic hastens this closing of democracy, and helps the autocrats.

Part one is here

Updating the “Ten Steps to 

Fascism:” Authoritarianism in 

a Pandemic

Editors note: This essay, “Authoritarianism in a Pandemic,” is the first of a three-part series on Fascism in America (also a three-part Facebook live series that you can see posted on the video page here. As this essay reveals, the tenets I laid out in The End of America, published in 2007, remain even more salient today. Subscribe to my newsletter to receive the other parts of this easy and to get updates about current events. 

By Dr. Naomi Wolf Is the all-too-real COVID-19 crisis being exploited in certain ways as cover for those who wish to erode democracies worldwide, and to grab other kinds of power – such as economic power, power to control and track populations’ movements, and powers to invade privacy? Is authoritarianism in a pandemic running rampant? I’ll argue here that it is and explain what President Trump is likely to do in the next two months based on the playbook that all tyrants use to suspend democracies. 

The all-too-real COVID-19 emergency  — and I repeat that phrasing so as not to be taken out of context — is indeed being used exploitatively, as we will see, by would-be authoritarians and would-be oligarchs, to generate rationales and cover, to execute power grabs on many levels, that a noncrisis situation would not permit. 

Before we go on: I believe in science and medicine. I wear a mask in public and think others should do so in a pandemic. I believe in sane public health policy. This essay is not purporting to recommend policy based on medicine. It is asking us to look deeply at how the pandemic’s demands are being presented in ways unprecedented in free societies – in ways that previous infectious public health emergencies never attempted —  in formats that result in restrictions of liberties; and to warn that we really need to understand exactly what liberties are at stake right now. 

The pandemic will be over some day; and we need to know that we are returning to a context of freedom; that the “new normal,” a phrase that appeared alarmingly early in the pandemic, and one that never bodes well, is not a future in which one crisis has passed, but has stripped us of liberties and economic rights forever.

Many have asked me to update my 2007 Guardian essay, “Fascist America in Ten Easy Steps.”

I’ll do so now. 

Authoritarianism in a Pandemic: Exploting Misfortune for Control

Authoritarian Trump is making the kind of use of the pandemic crisis that is predictable if you understand how democracies are killed off and how control-hungry leaders manipulate, even now, even in America, to elevate authoritarianism in a pandemic.  

That essay was the basis for the bestselling 2008 book about the destruction of democracy, The End of America. The book spelled out how the administration of George W Bush set in motion a series of steps that authoritarian leaders on both the left and on the right have always taken, that reliably close an open society. 

Seeing how the system of eroding democracy actually works, in times and places as diverse as Mussolini’s Italy in the 1920s, National Socialist Germany and the Communist Soviet Union in the 1930s, Argentina under Auguste Pinochet in the 1970s, and Marxist China in the 1980s, gave these readers a blueprint with which to recognize the playbook of closing democracy and track key benchmarks.

I offered a brief review of this recently, but here we can take more deeply these ten steps (the guidebook to Fascism) and see how they are being applied now as our rules seek to elevate authoritarianism in pandemic.

These are the Ten Steps that I identified:

  1. Invoke a terrifying internal and external enemy.
  2. Create secret prisons where torture takes place.
  3. Develop a thug caste or paramilitary force not answerable to citizens.
  4. Set up an internal surveillance system.
  5. Infiltrate and harass citizens’ groups
  6. Engage in arbitrary detention and release.
  7. Target key individuals.
  8. Control the press.
  9. Cast criticism as “espionage” and dissent as “treason.”
  10. Subvert the rule of law. 

Briefly, I am sorry to say that we are now at Step Ten. Based on the playbook of fascism and totalitarianism, here is what you can expect to experience or witness in the next two-plus months. 

I hope and pray I am wrong but this is how history says event may well unfold:

  1. There will be more and more sharply escalating “clashes” between Antifa, no doubt amplified by provocateurs and infiltrators, and their opponents, also no doubt amplified by provocateurs and infiltrators. People will continue to die. The violence will be more and more spectacular and shocking. It will also become the center of the Presidential campaigns messaging on both sides, as Trump will base the core of his appeal to voters on the mayhem in the streets and the Democrats will too-slowly react and too-weakly respond. This will prevent Democrats from showcasing their kitchen table issues,  and will force them to appear aligned with increasingly brutal and destructive looters and rogue elements. They will fall into the trap, and will not repudiate the protesters/rioters. 
  2. There will be a nationwide deployment of Federal troops, or DHS specifically, or ICE, to a dozen cities at once. Portland was a test. The rollout of Federal troops will be sudden and shocking, and will be explained as a response to the violence of “leftist rioters.” People will be so stunned that it will be difficult for them to process what is happening. Be aware that at this point in a closing society, authoritarian leaders seeking to stage a coup, essentially, escalate shock and spectacle; the goal is to traumatize and disorient a population.
  3.  Increasingly, Republican lawmakers will make statements endorsing violence: Louisiana Representative Clay Higgins, for instance, stated on Facebook on Sept 2, 2020:  “Look, fair warning. If this shows up [a black militia] we’ll consider the armed presence a real threat. We being, We, the people of Louisiana […] I wouldn’t even spill my beer. I’d drop any 10 of you where you stand. Because some of we, like me…We, are SWAT. Nothing personal. We just eliminate the threat.” Expect a shower of such statements, then a torrent, till the airwaves are so thick with them that the atmosphere of threat becomes overwhelming.
  4. President Trump threatened to send Federal troops to the polls. Expect that either there will be no physical polling places, with COVID-19 being the rationale, or that there will be, but that there will be an intimidating armed Federal presence at the polls. Mussolini used Blackshirts at the polls at a comparable point in history and you should expect that people will be beaten, pushed or threatened at polling places. 
  5. Expect energy blackouts, food supply disruptions, checkpoints, travel disruptions, mail disruptions, internet disruptions. Jared Kushner, as Vanity Fair reported, allowed the COVID-19 pandemic to ravage blue states to get a political advantage. This disruption and harming of the population, formerly unthinkable, is happening already. While there will be narratives to explain all of these disruptions, events that disrupt “business as usual” and create chaos and instability will be maximized, and will be far more frequent than they have been. The goal in military terms is to “tenderize” a population – to exhaust and confuse them, leaving them so worried about basic day to day wellbeing that they can’t organize against or even absorb what is happening to them. The homelessness and hunger that the pandemic has brought about, will play into the hands of would-be authoritarians, as it did in Germany in the 1920s. 
  6. You won’t see much of this, but public figures for the next two months will be quietly threatened. The threats will be of public exposure or professional ruin, but threats of violence won’t be unheard-of. Examples are the way Tucker Carlson played a clip of Chris Cuomo, secretly recorded at the gym, talking to Michael Cohen, his putative friend, about being involved in possible sexual harassment cases; and Carlson noting that there are “many more such recordings.” Fox News host Jeanine Pirro, more ominously in regard to threats of physical harm, said on television that “something is going to happen” to Joe Biden before Election Day. People should understand that such commentators don’t freelance with statements such as these; they are acting, most likely, as what campaigns call “surrogates”- mouthpieces. More and more public figures, politicians and even journalists will become timid or go silent altogether after being on the receiving end of quiet or public threats. 
  7. The election will be rife with machines not working, electronic systems malfunctioning, records being hacked, impossible waits at polling places, absentee ballots uncounted, public humiliations of voters. Voters will be continually challenged at polling places. Once the votes are in, Republican lawyers will challenge every vote and Democrats’ lawyers will challenge the challenges. There won’t be a President on Nov 5. The vote count will drag on and on, for weeks and then for months. Lawsuits will fly back and forth, dragging out the process. People will become numb, awaiting an outcome. 
  8. Meanwhile, the instability and violence will continue to ramp up. There will be several really shocking, traumatic scenes of carnage or a spectacular rampage that leaves everyone stunned. Fires will break out, or arson will be on display, as in the early 1930s in Germany. The chaos will give President Trump the excuse to say that events are too unstable to count the vote safely and that for the safety of everyone, he must declare a state of emergency. At that point, troops (including perhaps contractors or mercenaries, an army answerable to him and not to the Constitution) will appear in many places at once in US cities. “Lockdown” will be invoked again, this time not due to medical crisis, but nominally for public safety. Sadly, we will have become inured to “lockdown” and we will comply. Guns will be confiscated. 
  9. The White House, which has been steadily becoming an armed fortress with fortifications added by President Trump, will be completely militarized. Journalists will no longer be allowed in; press briefings will be suspended for “public safety.” Trump simply won’t leave. What recourse will his opposition have at that point? None at all. The “state of emergency” will extend and extend, and six months in, there will be a “night of the long knives” when all at once, opposition leaders, journalists, editors, union leaders and clergy get arrested on inflated charges. The protesters kidnapped in unmarked vans in Portland is a preamble to this. 
  10. After that, there is nothing more to be done. Again I hope and pray I am wrong. 
  11. I wasn’t wrong in any of the predictions in The End of America.

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