"The End of America":
Naomi Wolf Warns U.S. in Slow Descent into Fascism
interview by Amy Goodman
Democracy Now, November 28, 2007
AMY GOODMAN: Today, we're joined by a
special guest who has just written a book. The United States is
on the road to becoming a fascist society, right under our very
noses. That's the premise of the new book by feminist social critic
Naomi Wolf. It's called The End of America: Letter of Warning
to a Young Patriot, and it's already on the New York Times
Naomi Wolf outlines what she sees as the
ten steps to shut down a democratic society. She argues the Bush
administration has already implemented many of these steps. Naomi
Wolf is the author of several books, including the '90s feminist
classic, The Beauty Myth.
Critics describe her latest book, The
End of America, as a wake-up call to Americans to heed the
lessons of history and fight to save their democracy before its
Naomi Wolf joins us in our firehouse studio.
Welcome to Democracy Now!
NAOMI WOLF: Thank
AMY GOODMAN: It's good to have you with
us. Start off with the stories that you tell in your book.
NAOMI WOLF: Well, they're the stories
of societies that were systematically closed down by would-be
despots, would-be dictators, whether they were on the left or
the right, who essentially developed a blueprint in the first
part of the twentieth century to crush democracies or to crush
democracy movements. So they're also individual stories of how
people react as a democracy is being closed down.
But I guess the book really began with
a very personal story, because I was forced to write it, even
though I didn't really want to, by a dear friend who is a Holocaust
survivor's daughter. And when we spoke about news events, she
kept saying, "They did this in Germany. They did this in
Germany." And I really didn't think that made sense. I thought
that was very extreme language. But finally she forced me to sit
down and start reading the histories, of course, not of the later
years, because she wasn't talking about German outcomes, '38,
'39; she was talking about the early years, 1930, '31, '32, when
Germany was a parliamentary democracy, and there was this systematic
assault using the rule of law to subvert the rule of law.
And once I saw how many parallels there
were, not just in strategy and tactics that we're seeing again
today, but actually in images and sound bites and language, then
I read other histories of Italy in the '20s, Russia in the '30s,
East Germany in the '50s, Czechoslovakia in the '60s, Pinochet's
coup in Chile in '73, the crushing of the democracy movement in
China at the end of the '80s. And I saw that there is a blueprint
that would-be dictators always do the same ten things, whether
they're on the left or the right, and that we are seeing these
ten steps taking place systematically right now in the United
AMY GOODMAN: Lay them out.
NAOMI WOLF: Well, they're not happy. The
first step is that all would-be dictators or would-be despots,
which is what the founders of our country who foresaw exactly
this kind of possibility would call them -- all would-be dictators
invoke a terrifying internal and external threat. And often it's
a real threat, which they will hype or manipulate. For instance,
Stalin spoke about sleeper cells, which is one of those phrases
that are being recirculated now by the Bush White House. And this
was an invention. He said there were capitalist secret agents
who were hiding among good Soviet citizens and who are going to
rise up at a signal and create terrorist mayhem -- fake story,
but it worked to frighten citizens.
Pinochet talked about a real threat: armed
insurgents. There were armed insurgents, but he hyped it using
fake documents. And we saw -- we see this a lot in the historical
blueprint, that a would-be dictator will fake documents. His were
called Plan Z. He claimed they were going to bomb infrastructure,
assassinate leaders. We saw fake documents used by the White House
to hype of a terror threat when they used the fake yellowcake
documents to claim that Iraq was trying to secure yellowcake uranium.
And remember the famous sound bite -- "We can't wait for
the smoking gun to come in the form of a mushroom cloud"
-- to drive us into an illegal war with a nation we were not at
AMY GOODMAN: You also talk about the language,
like the Department of Homeland Security.
NAOMI WOLF: That is where I, as a social
critic and a student of language, get really scared. It's scary
enough to see these ten steps, but what is terrifying to me personally
is how many actual phrases are being recycled, and tactics. "Homeland
security" -- "heimat" -- became popularized
by the National Socialists. Goebbels developed the practice of
embedding journalists. Leni von Riefenstahl was embedded, for
instance, in Poland. And we're seeing embedded --
AMY GOODMAN: She's the famous German filmmaker.
NAOMI WOLF: Filmmaker. If you look at
the sequence of, you know, Hitler descending in an airplane in
von Riefenstahl's famous Triumph of the Will and being
greeted by the uniformly armed paramilitary sort of surrounding
their leader and him saying, "Help us accomplish our mission,"
and then you look at other famous images from this administration
AMY GOODMAN: Like George Bush on "Mission
NAOMI WOLF: "Mission Accomplished,"
exactly right. You look at how, you know, Hitler said we have
to invade Czechoslovakia because they're a staging ground for
terrorists and they're abusing their ethnic minorities -- again,
a country that we're not at war with, when the WMD charge vanished,
the White House said we have to invade Iraq because they're a
staging ground for terrorists and they're abusing their ethnic
minorities. On and on and on.
I mean, this one scare's me to death.
You know, Mussolini developed -- again, a parliamentary democracy,
Italy was, in the teens and into 1920. He developed the Blackshirts,
which were these paramilitary thugs that beat up newspaper editors,
terrorized the population, and they intimidated people counting
the vote in Milan. And then Hitler studied Mussolini, so many
things were repeated by Hitler. Stalin studied Hitler, Hitler
studied Stalin. But Hitler developed the Brownshirts, the SA,
who intimidated people counting the vote in Austria. So 90% of
them voted for their own annexation, because they were the Brownshirts.
And you saw this scene of identically dressed Republican staffers
in Florida in 2000 intimidating people counting the vote.
So things like that are really chilling.
And they're more and more chilling as -- I think right now people
are kind of ramping up their awareness of these echoes, and what
you also see predictably, because the blueprint is predictive,
is that the White House is ramping up its implementation of some
of the scariest aspects of its crackdown.
AMY GOODMAN: You began with these stories
back in the summer of 2006 of headlines from a two-week period.
Give some of those examples.
NAOMI WOLF: Well, 2006 seems so long ago
and so innocent a time, considering how swiftly we've zoomed along
implementing this blueprint or we're suffering this implementation.
In 2006, a blogger was jailed in San Francisco. In 2006, people
in Alabama couldn't get a fair hearing for protecting voter rolls.
There was the beginning of the Military Commissions Act of 2006,
in which the state basically legalized torture, which is one of
these crucial turning points as an open society closes down.
AMY GOODMAN: You talk about Christine
Axsmith, the computer security expert working for the CIA, who,
what, wrote -- posted a message on a blog site on a top-secret
computer network, criticizing waterboarding --
NAOMI WOLF: Waterboarding.
AMY GOODMAN: -- saying waterboarding is
torture, and torture is wrong.
NAOMI WOLF: And then she lost her security
clearance. She's one of many, many whistleblowers, key individuals,
who have tried to take a stand against some of these positions
and who have faced -- again, in a closing society this is what
happens. This is step seven: target key individuals. They face
job loss, character assassination or worse. Valerie Plame's bolts
were taken away from her back deck, fifty feet off the ground.
She has two toddlers. People are being put on the watch list for
criticizing the government, for engaging in antiwar protest. Their
kids are being put on the watch list. But, yeah, back then, all
she said was it's wrong. And now we've just confirmed an attorney
general who pretends not to know what waterboarding is, because
if he acknowledged that it's against US and international law,
he'd be confirming the fact that there are criminals in the White
House right now who have already staged a coup.
AMY GOODMAN: You say step three is establishing
NAOMI WOLF: That's right. You establish
secret prisons, and what I mean by that is unaccountable prisons
where torture takes place. And often there will be a military
tribunal system set in place. Lenin pioneered that. Mussolini
developed the confino system. Hitler again studied Mussolini and
developed the People's Court.
And what starts to happen is -- and this
is what's so scary about Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib and these black
sites around the world -- apart from the moral issue -- and your
interview just now with the Palestinian representative brought
me to tears, because when he said it's not just the Palestinians
he's concerned about, it's the Israelis who lose their souls by
this kind of occupation -- it's not just the often-innocent prisoners
in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib and these black sites around the
world we should be concerned about, it's our own American souls
that are at stake. But just for purely personal reasons, we should
be afraid when the state starts to torture people that it sees
as at the margins or that citizens see at the margins: brown people
on an island in Guantanamo with Muslim names, whatever. That's
what they did in Germany in '31, '32: anarchists, communists,
Gypsies, Jews, whatever, homosexuals, whatever. You know, people
didn't care, because they were seen as at the margins. People
knew about the torture cellars in Germany.
But then, what always happens, always
-- you can't name a society in which this doesn't happen, Amy
-- is that there's a blurring of the line. And once the state
legalizes torture of people at the margins, inevitably it will
begin to direct state abuse at people at the heart of civil society,
and it's always the same cast of characters: journalists, editors,
opposition leaders, outspoken clergy and labor leaders. And when
that starts to happen, society can close down in a heartbeat,
because people start to sensor themselves.
AMY GOODMAN: It's interesting. During
the lead up to Nazi Germany, American reporters were fired by
their American editors, pulled back from Germany, because they
were sounding the warning. They were saying, "We're seeing
a fascist society build." And they were told that they were
biased, they were not understanding the circumstances in which
Hitler was rising up, people were concerned about their economy,
they had been devastated, and that they were being alarmist.
NAOMI WOLF: Interesting. That's really
interesting. I mean, I'm immediately thinking, as you say that,
which I actually hadn't known, that -- thinking of a lot of books
I've been reading lately about deep US involvement. Some corporations
were deeply involved in Nazi Germany, making millions, like IBM.
How did they round people up so quickly, you know, in Germany
when they were rounding up the Jews so fast? It's because IBM
had developed this prototype of a punch card system, and they
were secretly working with the Nazis. Prescott Bush, Bush's grandfather,
was making millions in consolidation with Krupp, Thyssen, and
it's very interesting to me, because in the Nuremberg trials they
went after these industrialists like Krupp, and so there was a
moment at which the Nuremberg trial was about to identify supporters
of these war crimes who were US collaborators.
AMY GOODMAN: But they didn't.
NAOMI WOLF: But they didn't. But I think
it's interesting that there is that historical memory in the family.
AMY GOODMAN: It's the question of who
controlled the trials, right? It's the question of who controlled
the trials and not wanting their own people to be involved.
NAOMI WOLF: I see.
AMY GOODMAN: You talk then -- four, developing
a paramilitary force and surveiling ordinary citizens. Those are
the fourth and fifth steps.
NAOMI WOLF: Yeah, that's another big one.
I just want to note about the blurring of the line why we're in
such a moment of danger right now. The President has said that
he can say, "Amy Goodman, you're an enemy combatant. Naomi
Wolf, you're an enemy combatant. This guy behind the camera, you're
an enemy combatant. A person walking down the street, enemy combatant.
can be anyone. A person walking down the street, enemy combatant."
And it doesn't matter that we're innocent US citizens. I mean,
we could be Republicans, we could be evangelicals. It doesn't
matter. He can take us, and if he says it's true, that makes it
true, because it's a status offense, and he can put us in a ten-by-twelve-foot
cell in a Navy brig in solitary confinement for three years, making
it difficult for us to see our families, to contact an attorney,
to get charges filed.
They can't torture us yet, though I was
chilled to learn that an adviser to the White House was reported
in a British newspaper yesterday as not ruling out waterboarding
against US citizens. However, psychologists know that prolonged
isolation makes sane people insane. That's what happened to Jose
Padilla. So, you know, when I say everyone's got their moment
at which they start to silence themselves, the day I read in the
New York Times that someone I identify with has been named
an enemy combatant and is sitting in a Navy brig in isolation,
that's when I'm going to stop talking in a context like this,
because that's when I will become too afraid.
AMY GOODMAN: We're talking to Naomi Wolf.
Her book is The End of America: A Letter of Warning to a Young
Patriot. Number six in these ten steps toward fascism: infiltrate
citizen groups. Seven: arbitrarily detain and release citizens.
Eight: target key individuals. Infiltrate citizens' groups, the
NAOMI WOLF: Well, the ACLU is suing many
agents of the state for illegally infiltrating citizens' groups.
It's not a new thing in the United States. COINTELPRO did it quite
a lot. But it is a hallmark -- it's an extension of a surveillance
society, and it's a hallmark. It's an extension of step number
four, which was the surveillance apparatus. Now, you can't close
down a democracy without a surveillance apparatus aimed at ordinary
citizens. And what many of us know is that there's been a heightening
of surveillance in the wake of 9/11.
But what we've got to understand is that
our country is unique right now in directing the crackdown on
civil liberties and surveillance at citizens. In countries like
England and Spain, experienced the same terror attacks, the same
kind of terror attacks by the same bad guys that we did, but they're
not using that as a pretext to strip citizens of civil liberties
in the same way. And what is so terrifying -- again, Italy had
a surveillance apparatus, people were informing on each other;
Germany, surveillance, the Stasi in East Germany. You couldn't
have a conversation with your neighbor without fearing that it
was going to go into your file.
You can't close down a society without
a paramilitary force. We skipped over that one. It's very important.
Blackwater, the Blackshirts, the Brownshirts, that's not answerable
to the people, and surveillance.
So why am I petrified, you know, when
I read about Blackwater and about surveillance? I was on the watch
list for a year and a half, Amy, which means that every time I
got on a plane, I got taken aside for extra searching, quadruple-S
high-risk Naomi, you know. And I was told, "You're on a list."
And I found out that many critics of the administration are on
the list: ACLU staffers, Ted Kennedy, antiwar activists, David
Altoon [phon.], a highly decorated Vietnam War veteran
who was critical of the Iraq war. Not only is he on the list,
but people who come to me in tears after my readings are more
upset that now their kids are on the list if they write a letter
critical of the Bush administration.
AMY GOODMAN: Have you been able to get
off the list?
NAOMI WOLF: Well, I was off the list 'til
this book came out, and now I'm back on the list. Why is this
more than a sort of irritation? Or, you know, in a strong society,
it's just like whatever, you know, it's a kind of compliment.
But in a closing society, it gets very frightening. In February,
the management of the list, which has swollen from 45,000 to 775,000
Americans -- they're adding 20,000 names a month, right? Where
are they getting those names? Remember when I said, how do they
round up people so quickly in a closing society? The management
of the lists is going to go from the airlines to the government.
And in February, unless we push back this regulation -- it's being
slipped in very quietly -- we are going to have to apply to the
state to get an airline ticket to cross a border, which moves
us from 1931 to about 1936.
AMY GOODMAN: Number nine and number ten
of your steps toward fascism: restrict the press; cast criticism
as espionage, dissent as treason. Subvert the rule of law is eleven.
What is the patriot's task, where you conclude?
NAOMI WOLF: Well, the patriot's task is,
first, wake up. I mean, all around the world, democracy activists
who are familiar with these same ten steps are sort of waving
their arms at us, going, "No! You know, recognize this."
You don't make it easier for the President to declare martial
law, as we just did with the 2007 Defense Authorization Act. You
don't make it easier for the President to lock up political opponents
in a cell or strip people of habeas corpus. No, you don't
make it easier for the President to have a paramilitary force
like Blackwater, composed of hand-selected torturers and murderers
from countries like Chile and Nigeria and El Salvador, where they're
trained to torture their own civilians. You know, you don't set
them loose in Illinois and Southern California and North Carolina.
No! Bad idea! So, first, you wake up. You see the blueprint.
AMY GOODMAN: We have ten seconds.
NAOMI WOLF: Finally, we have to -- we
started the americanfreedomcampaign.org. It's a democracy movement
to restore the rule of law. We're calling for lawyers across the
country and citizens to call for hearings, special prosecutor,
identify the crimes, impeach and prosecute, and save the country.
AMY GOODMAN: Naomi Wolf, I want to thank
you for being with us. Do you think Democratic candidates are
raising these issues, for president?
NAOMI WOLF: Not enough. This is a transpartisan
issue, and we all need to push them, hold their feet to the fire
across the board.
AMY GOODMAN: Naomi Wolf's book is The
End of America. Thank you for being with us