Essay by Tom Gregg April 1, 2008
Nails in Our Butter: Naomi Wolf's Fascist Fantasy
If you’ve ever been chased down the street by a crazed bag lady, you needn’t take the time to read Naomi Wolf’s The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot. Why bother to relive an unpleasant experience?
Ms. Wolf, last heard from as Al Gore’s election-year fashion consultant (“Earth tones, Al—earth tones!”), has slapped together this 176-page screed to warn unsuspecting Americans that the sinister George W. Bush and his nefarious neocon puppet masters are plotting a fascist takeover of America. I quote from her preface:
I wrote this book because I can no longer ignore the echoes between events in the past and forces at work today.
When I discussed these issues with a good friend who is the daughter of Holocaust survivors—and who teaches students about the American system of government as a kind of personal response to what happened to her family—she insisted that I present this argument.
I also wrote it because, in the midst of my research, I went to Christopher Le and Jennifer Gandin’s wedding.
Mr. Le is the “young patriot” to whom this extended letter in book form is addressed. Of him I can only say that he has my sympathy.
Now in branding George W. Bush and his supporters as fascists, Ms. Wolf is repeating an already shopworn insult. The wreckage of the Twin Towers was still smoking when that shout was first raised on the Left. Not only the President’s words in the days immediately following 9/11 but the mere display of the Stars and Stripes was enough to send progressives into frenzies of righteous indignation. From that day to this, the less restrained denizens of the Left have been jabbering about “Chimpy McBushitler.”
Even by the none-too-elevated standards of the progressive blogosphere, such name-calling seems embarrassingly crude. As long ago as 1946, George Orwell noted (in “Politics and the English Language”) that “The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies ‘something not desirable.’” A tour through the nether regions of the leftie netroots confirms the truth of Orwell’s observation. If George W. Bush is spotted wearing brown socks with a blue suit, that is sufficient proof for some that he’s a closet Nazi. Wolf obviously recognizes the infantile silliness of the “Bush-is-Hitler” trope—but she’s unwilling to it give up. Thus in an effort to provide the charge with a bit of intellectual heft, she has taken up her pen to prove that yes, by golly, Bush and his claque are actual, authentic fascists.
Coincidentally, I was rereading Robert Conquest’s magisterial history of the Stalinist purges, The Great Terror, at the time that I picked up Wolf’s book. Perhaps that's why the mental atmosphere of the latter struck a familiar, sinister note. Here, for example, is a snippet of testimony from the trial of the “Bloc of Rights and Trotskyites” (1938)—the dramatic climax of Stalin’s massive purge. The questioner is the lead prosecutor, the odious Vyshinsky:
Vyshinsky: Was there a case in 1936 when Moscow was left without eggs through your fault, through the fault not of you personally but of one of the active conspirators in this conspiratorial bloc?
Zelensky: There was.
Vyshinsky: Do you remember when this made itself most acutely felt?
Zelensky: I cannot recall the month just now, but I can mention the following fact. In 1936 fifty carloads of eggs were allowed to spoil, from wrecking motives.
Zelensky also described how he and his fellow “wreckers” had sought to undermine the popularity of the regime by throwing broken glass and nails into the masses’ butter. On the strength of such testimony, he and twenty-one others were convicted of treason, terrorism, espionage and sabotage, sentenced to death and shot. Needless to say, none were guilty of the crimes to which they confessed—not even of allowing Moscow’s eggs to rot on a railway siding.
Now for Wolf. There’s no doubt in my mind that State Prosecutor Vyshinsky would have commended her technique, but judge for yourself:
In 2002, the Bush Administration created and named the “Department of Homeland Security.” White House spokespeople started to refer to the United States, unprecedentedly, as “the homeland.” American presidents have before now referred to the United States as “the nation” or the “the republic,” and to the nation’s internal policies as “domestic.”
By 1930 Nazi propagandists referred to Germany not as “the Nation” or “the republic”—which it was—but rather as “the Heimat”—“the homeland.” Homeland is a word that memorialist Ernestine Bradley, who grew up in Nazi Germany, describes as saturated with nationalist power. . . . Deputy Fuhrer Rudolf Hess, introducing Hitler at a Nuremberg rally, said, “Thanks to your leadership, Germany will be attainable as the Homeland—homeland for all Germans in the world.” A Department of Domestic Security is simply a bureaucracy, capable of mistakes; a department protecting our “homeland” has a different authority.
How's that again? While I suppose it’s true that the Nazis occasionally referred to Germany as die Heimat, they didn’t invent the term any more than they coined the words Reich and Vaterland or composed Deutschland über Alles. Nor is it obvious what any of this has to do with the US Department of Homeland Security—which, incidentally, was forced on an initially reluctant Bush Administration by congressional Democrats. (And come to think of it, just who is the “memorialist” Ernestine Bradley, and why should we accept her as an authority on this subject?)
Like the testimony in Stalin’s show trials, Wolf’s evidence for a fascist plot against America is quite often incredible, in the literal sense of the word. When a terrorist plot to blow up US-bound flights originating in London was detected and foiled in 2006, an FBI agent commented that “If this plot had actually occurred, the world would have stood still.” Wolf sees something sinister in this. After all, she notes, “Of his plans in 1940, Hitler said, ‘The world will hold its breath.’” (Actually, Hitler spoke those words in 1941, not 1940; he was referring to the soon-to-be-launched German invasion of the Soviet Union.)
But while her paranoia is firing on all cylinders, Wolf’s grip on the facts is arthritic. At one point she refers to “Colonel Joachim Ribbentrop”—quite a demotion for the Foreign Minister of National Socialist Germany, a major war criminal who was hanged at Nuremburg. She describes Nikolai Bukharin as a “newspaper editor” who was executed by Stalin, neglecting to inform her readers that Bukharin was one of the leading figures of the murderous Bolshevik Party. (He was also the star defendant in the trial of the “Bloc of Rights and Trotskyites,” referred to above.) Though by Bolshevik standards something of a moderate, he had plenty of crimes on his conscience. One could be forgiven for reflecting that there was a measure of cosmic justice in Bukharin’s liquidation at the hands of his old comrade, Stalin. What goes around, comes around.
As for the details of Wolf’s conspiracy theory, she starts from the premise that there are ten steps to fascism. (I shall not list them all here; they may be found, however, both in the book and in this article, written for a British newspaper, the Guardian.) Having assembled the recipe for tyranny, she goes on to show how events in post-9/11 America are conspiring to impose a fascist regime on the nation.
A single example will suffice to demonstrate Wolf’s modus operandi. One of her ten steps to fascism is “Target Key Individuals.” The poster boy here is former University of Colorado professor of ethnic studies Ward Churchill. A typical product of radical academia, Churchill made himself notorious with a 2001 essay in which he described the 9/11 victims as “little Eichmanns”—a reference to SS officer and Holocaust architect Adolf Eichmann. (Wolf skates over this detail; she merely informs us that Churchill described the 9/11 victims as “metaphorically” guilty.)
Needless to say, Churchill drew considerable attention to himself with this “insensitive” (Wolf’s gentle word) characterization of the innocent Americans who were slain on 9/11. Questions began to be asked about his background, academic qualifications and scholarly output. Though he occupied one of the university’s plum positions—Chairman of the Ethnic Studies Department—he did not even possess a Ph.D. He was, however, a Native American—or so he claimed.
Unfortunately for Churchill, his fifteen minutes of fame proved professionally fatal. The professor's claim to Native American status was soon shown to be bogus, while a university investigation revealed serious problems with his scholarship. The investigating committee “agreed unanimously that Churchill had engaged in ‘serious research misconduct,’ including four counts of falsifying information, two counts of fabricating information, two counts of plagiarizing the works of others, improperly reporting the results of studies, and failing to ‘comply with established standards regarding author names on publications.’” He was subsequently fired by the university’s Board of Regents. In characterizing this academic grifter as a victim of Bush fascism, Wolf fails to inform her readers of these facts. Nor does she offer a particle of evidence that the President or anyone associated with him had a hand in Churchill’s downfall.
Such is the slippery dishonesty of Wolf’s technique. On and on it goes, with tears for the plight of the Dixie Chicks, a comparison of Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” media moment with Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will, alleged similarities between the Gulag and Guantanamo, heavy breathing over the term “axis of evil”—until you begin to wonder if The End of America is not, after all, an Onion parody.
It’s true that Wolf relates some genuine bureaucratic bumbles and abuses of power by various officials and agents of the US government. But it isn’t as if this sort of thing never happened prior to the passage of the USA Patriot Act. Early in Bill Clinton's first term, the FBI under the direction of Attorney General Janet Reno managed to incinerate 76 people, including 27 children, at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas—on its face a far more shocking abuse of government power than anything that George W. Bush has done. But while the Clinton Admistration’s carelessness and incompetence in this case certainly merit criticism, only a kook would cite it as evidence of some grand conspiracy to destroy democracy.
Of course, merely pointing out that The End of America is pure fantasy does nothing to deter the marching morons of progressivism. “Madison, Paine and Franklin would applaud Naomi Wolf,” gushes Mark Crispin Miller, whoever he is, on the back cover. “Vivid, urgent, mandatory,” blubbers Blanche Wiesen Cook—the author of a three-volume biography of Eleanor Roosevelt, no less. And “Naomi Wolf sounds the alarm,” shrills Wes Boyd, co-founder of—wait for it—MoveOn.org.
But perhaps we shouldn't judge them too harshly. This, after all, is a country in which large numbers of people believe, despite a complete absence of evidence, that President John F. Kennedy’s assassination was the result of a conspiracy involving multiple agencies of the US government—or was it the Mafia?—or was it Castro?—or was it LBJ? Millions of otherwise sane and reasonable folks believe that the US government unleashed AIDS or that the Jews control US foreign policy, or that the oil companies are conspiring to deny affordable energy to the struggling middle class. Americans dearly love their conspiracy theories, and Wolf's book taps into a rich vein of paranoia. It was no accident, she insists, that some obscure official of the Bush Administration happened to use a phrase that, by a torturous chain of reasoning, can be linked to something that Mussolini or Hitler said in 1926 or 1941. Therefore, Bush himself is a fascist. The audience nods. Quod erat demonstrandum.
As a matter of fact, I’ve been developing a conspiracy theory of my own. Naomi Wolf, you see, is actually a closet neocon on Halliburton's payroll. Her most recent assignment: to write a book so lame and preposterous that the entire progressive movement is held up to ridicule. The End of America should earn her a substantial bonus.
Copyright © 2008 by Thomas M. Gregg