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Saturday, November 21, 2015

SEND In the STORM TROOPERS (Part II)

In my last post, I discussed the broad strategies of the Nazi Party of the 1930’s related to the takeover of a small town in central Germany; the town of Northeim, as told in the book, “The Nazi Seizure of Power” by William Sheridan Allen.   Author Allen told us about some of the strategies used, and I summarized them under four large headings: 1) Use Outside Threat(s), 2) Use False Hope, 3) Send in the Storm Troopers, and 4) Seize Complete Control.  In today’s post, it is important to explore the tactics used by the Nazis at the grass-roots level, in order to bring that town, and all of Germany, within its complete control. 

It is of great importance in our current circumstances to illuminate the one weapon used most effectively by the Nazis, and that is the engendering of reactions that further their cause.  The point cannot be over-blown that what ISIS counts on in terms of their strategies and tactics is the reaction of those who are on the receiving end of their threats.  They must be overjoyed by what they have seen, particularly in the United States.  In France and Europe, they are witnessing a growing concern to restrict air travel, to tighten entry surveillance, to ramp up all kinds of additional surveillance, and to lessen the restrictions on search and seizure.  It is quite similar to the reactions of the Bush administration after 9/11.  The more reactions they provoke that instill fear and restriction of freedom, the closer they are to their goal of total control.

More to the point, ISIS must be absolutely exuberant over the Xenophobia exhibited by most of the Republican presidential candidates (along with a majority of Governors and a huge majority of the House Representatives who pushed legislation to keep Syrian refugees out of the country for now).  The candidates and their followers have issued all kinds of warnings and actions regarding keeping Syrians from crossing our borders for fear that some of them may be Jihadist terrorists. Calling for substantial boots on the ground in Syria, as well as taking restrictive and prejudicial actions against Muslims, are additional actions and attitudes that serve the Jihadists’ cause.  Take just the one example of about eight Syrian refugees (including four children) who presented themselves at the Mexican-US border in Texas.  That circumstance was immediately used by Donald Trump (and others) as a foregone conclusion that they could be terrorists.  Turns out, they were families with children who presented themselves to authorities rather than crossing undetected (i.e. illegally).

One point:  those who react with threats of war and threats of more surveillance and repressive actions that reduce individual rights are playing right into the hands of the terrorists, as the citizens of Germany did with the Nazis of long ago. 

The over-reactors like Trump and Carson are cultivating the possibility of new members for the very terrorist cells that they want to destroy.  They lay the groundwork for recruitment of new Jihadist members by lumping all Muslims into the terrorist camp, and especially referring to refugees as "rabid dogs."  Those outcomes are exactly what the Nazis wanted, and are a tremendous help to the Jihadi terrorists in preparing the groundwork for attitudes upon which they can build.  Let us, then, not support those who unwittingly support the terrorists by their words and actions.  Creating fear, suspicion, xenophobia and repression is not helpful, and the radical Republicans fail miserably in understanding that their reactions are helping to build the ISIS movement. 

In addition, we have to point out the obvious: the problem is not with Syrian refugees. There were no Syrian refugees involved in the latest attacks in Paris.   And, of the 2,000 Syrian refugees accepted into our country since 2011, NONE have been arrested or deported for terrorism!  The real problem is the fertile ground in which home-grown terrorists are being cultivated (recruited and trained) by ISIS for terrorist activity.  And that problem is exacerbated by xenophobic congressmen and women, and Republican presidential candidates (and others) who scapegoat innocent refugees (75% of whom are women and children).  The engendering of fear, hatred and scapegoating is a betrayal of our core American values.  It is also a classic tactic utilized by radical rightists in their quest for absolute power.  We should have learned this long ago.

With some editorial comment from me, I hope this posting will enable you to detect the parallel actions of radical Right Republicans and of Jihadi terrorists as compared with Nazis of the 1930’s.  Most recent events and past atrocities have indicated the fascist tendencies of ISIS and reactions to some of those events and their consequences have also shown more clearly what stripes are being carried by the Right-wing radicals of the Republican Party.  Here are a few of the Nazi tactics that deserve your scrutiny and understanding in relation to our own national circumstances.

  • Incessant propaganda – Republican radicals are particularly adept at this with unified themes and emphasis right down to the synchronized wording used by local operatives.  Not only do they make use of propaganda to convince an unthinking public of their beliefs and policies, they use lies and manufactured crises and threats to put fear in voters’ lives and misconceptions into their heads.  Just like Jihadi Terrorists, radical Republicans use this tactic to recruit new members as well. 
  • Keep records – of all kinds: who attends meetings; topics that work; numbers in the audiences, etc.  Donald Trump’s suggestion for a database to track Syrian refugees (and other Middle Easterners) fits exactly into this tactic, as do special ID cards suggested by others.
  • Adapt message to audience – adapt to public interests and what works.  Pandering to their ultra-conservative base is something most right-wing Republicans do best.
  • Castigate the opposition and keep doing it; use violence when necessary or expedient.  One mechanism that worked well in Northeim was a weekly Nazi newsletter that contained furious attacks on the communists and the city council.  Jihadists tend to use electronic means and Republicans tend to use TV, especially Fox News, but are now using electronic social media and databases at a more effective level.  There are many examples of this from Republicans, but none as graphic and hate-filled as their acknowledged excoriation of President Obama at every opportunity. 
  • Project an image of fervent patriotism and avid militarism.  Radical Republicans use this tactic whenever possible because Americans are generally receptive to it, as it is an integral part of the American experience.  Donald Trump may be the epitome of tough talk that spurs nationalistic fervor, but John McCain has always been the stirrer of the pot when it comes to war-talk.  This last week, Republicans took advantage of two circumstances that presented themselves: the terrorist bombings in Paris and the rejection of Syrian refugees in some 31 states, culminating in the House passage of restrictive legislation pertinent to Syrian refugees.  Such reactions were nothing more than bluster as most military solutions proposed by the Republicans for battling the terrorists have already been implemented by President Obama.  State restrictions on refugees are nothing more than symbols of toughness because Governors have no say over federal law that governs what happens with those seeking asylum or protection in this country. Nonetheless, they serve to promote nationalism and militarism.
  • Send in the Stormtroopers – demonstrations of strength and violence are intimidating to most, and attractive to some.  Terrorism works to impress certain groups which is why the Troopers attended most Nazi rallies in their brown-shirt uniforms. 
Radical Republicans don’t support gun violence just because they support the 2nd amendment right to own firearms.  They also support secret and not-so-secret militias; unrestricted carry and self-defense laws, and guns for children.  They vigorously support the idea that the more people carrying guns, the better prepared they are to fight off an out-of-control central government.  Their main objective is not a second amendment right to own a gun, but having the ability and power to take over a government that challenges their views, their politics and their way of life.
  • Support and infiltrate local governments and offices – important to Nazi takeover and to radical Republican takeover (they have already made gains in municipal areas by running for school boards, councils and legislatures).
  • Pick on an enemy (or scapegoat) – choose one that others will also identify as a problem –like Jews in Europe, illegal immigrants in America, and Christians or Israelis in the Middle East.  Just recently, Republicans chose to make the Syrian refugees the target of their villainous Xenophobia, potentially denying thousands of young families the ability to seek the safety and protection of this land.  At least twenty-eight Republican governors actually have led the fight to exclude those refugees from their states, in defiance of federal law, and 50 Democrat Representatives in the House just supported Republican passage of a bill that will do just that, but the President has vowed to veto.
  • Join local organizations and movements and then promote and proclaim one’s own philosophy and cause(s) at every opportunity.  Ever been to a school board meeting or a coalition of churches where right-wingers are in abundance and are attempting to impose their beliefs on everyone present?  It’s not pretty.
  • Use religion as a pawn—the Nazis warned the faithful to beware of fundamentally anti-church socialists and communists who were atheists.  They also excoriated the Weimar Republic which they said leaned toward communism and therefore would damage the Christian (Lutheran) church.  Sound familiar?  Republicans constantly warn their Evangelical friends to be wary of the anti-Christian and socialist leanings of the national government. 
Voter restrictions to combat voter fraud, walling off borders, abortion and same-sex marriage have been lead subjects for Republicans – why?  Because they know this is the way to garner solid support from middle class church-goers for what is essentially an immoral approach to denying homosexuals, African-Americans and Hispanic Americans (particularly Mexicans who cross our border illegally) as well as poor women and children certain benefits and rights to which they are entitled. The Republican support for the county clerk in Kentucky who refused to issue marriage licenses to gay couples on religious grounds is the epitome of this kind of manipulation of religion. For Ultra-Rightists, Religion is a means to an end: a very useful pawn in their battle for control of people’s lives and their votes.
  • Organize to assist workers and others down on their luck – when the depression got worse, the Nazis organized a soup kitchen to feed the unemployed but went even further to provide bed and shelter for those in need of a place to stay.  This tactic is well-known to both Radical Republicans and to Jihadists who have done similar “good works” in their respective areas.  It is a tactic and not charity, for they expect to recruit new members from such activities, much like the evangelical missionaries of a by-gone day and certain faith communities today.  The pandering of Republican presidential candidates to the pressing needs of the working class is another example of this. What they plan to do when in office is quite different, for they plan to destroy the programs and policies that aid the “unwashed” and the “unworthy” (read their budgets!).
  • Emphasize youth membership and give them very visible things to accomplish – by keeping its activities as much social and adventurous as political, the Hitler Youth groups for boys and for girls made a lasting impression on its members and on the community.  Republicans are paying special attention to religion-affiliated colleges where more right-wing students can be found to join the Young Republicans. 
  • Destroy trust in government and its leaders – the Nazis attacked and vilified a particular senator in the Civic Association of Northeim.  They did it for a reason that explains why Republican radicals vilify and downgrade government and prominent office-holders every chance they get. It’s also why they themselves act in a seemingly raucous and mean-spirited manner.  It is clear that radical Republican debasing of the political process and of the leadership of that process (including the President, the Majority Leader of the Senate and the former Speaker of the House) has produced a repugnance among the citizenry for the whole process of governing.   This attitude exists to the extent that a majority of Republican voters now favor outsiders (non-politicians) as their candidates for President in 2016.  The chief effect of the blockages, disharmony, disarray; the partisan bickering and the relentless attacks on President Obama is not to turn people away from a particular Party necessarily, but to undermine the People’s trust and respect for government itself and for its leaders.  Why? Because that very distrust and disgust can be used by a radical group to worm its way into power with a promise to make everything right through a strong authoritarian leader (Hitler, by the way, was a definite outsider and so were many of the local Nazi leaders!).
  • Use and abuse the election process to win offices and to gain control.  This must be a never-ending pursuit and the Nazis did so over decades until elections were no longer needed.  Gerrymandered districts, Super-PACs, attacks on voter registration and ability to vote, plus attempts to manipulate the actual returns and voting processes are all ways that Republican radicals have used and abused the election process.  The fact that the Supreme Court has joined in this strategy by approving legal bribery in their Citizens United decision is abominable.
Although there may be other tactics used, the point of this exercise was mainly to point out that when we citizens see such tactics and strategies in isolation from one another, we think little of it as a movement or conspiracy.  That misperception turned out to cause major problems for the residents of Northeim.  We cannot close our eyes to a collection of tactics that are now extant, now being used by ISIS, and more especially by the radical Right-wing of the Republican Party (abetted by more moderate Republicans who do not speak out when they should).   The author of “The Nazi Seizure of Power” presents some compelling conclusions for our consideration, as he asks the question: "what is to be learned from Northeim’s experiences?”  More on that next time.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Send In the Storm Troopers (Part I)

The story begins in a small town in Germany in the 1920’s.  It was not, in many ways, an average German town.  It was mostly middle class and more rural than industrial.  It was overwhelmingly Lutheran, and surprisingly, it turned to Nazism earlier and more strongly than the rest of Germany.  Nonetheless, it had some representative characteristics:  sociological strengths and weaknesses of the Social Democrats; nationalistic attitudes of the local middle class; the growth of partisan activity and violence.  In other ways, it emulated small towns the world over, with its gossip, lack of privacy and the mostly benign social interactions of daily life.

The setting is the town of Northeim, located in the center of prewar Germany, a town in the former Kingdom of Hanover.  In the days of the Weimar Republic, it was still a small town with a population of about 10,000.  About one of every seven Germans lived in such towns.  In 1930, Northeim was the “kind of town that English tourists were fond of discovering: provincial and off the beaten track, semi-medieval.  It was nestled against one of the many low, wooded foothills that frame the valley of the Leine River.  It gave the town a sense of being snug, enclosed, protected from the outer world, symbolized by walls around part of the town, enclosing a medieval core of Northeim.  

Within an oval about six hundred yards long was a neat but imprecise jumble of half-timbered houses with steep red-tiled roofs along winding cobble-stone streets.  Along this main commercial avenue (Broad Street) were shops in about every house.  In the middle of the town was a wide square used for the weekly produce market and for open-air meetings.  Other open spaces included one in front of town hall, another in front of the large sixteenth-century Lutheran Church.  There were over five hundred houses in this old section for almost half of the townspeople lived there.  Emanating from that inner core were three areas where the town had expanded up the hill and toward each of the two rivers, one district for the rich, two others for the lower classes.  The center and essence of the town was that old medieval city surrounded by slowly crumbling walls.

As in much of Germany, World War I brought significant change, including a revolution led by the working class that overthrew the Kaiser and established a democratic Republic.  It created divisions and affiliations that had not previously been as pronounced.  Many Northeimers refused to accept the new state of affairs and became a relatively strong center for a far rightist organization, and nationalistic farmers.  On the other side were Socialists of whom many were students.  An indication of those divisions comes from the results of voting in the 1925 Presidential election: 
Socialist-Catholic candidate – 2.080 votes; 
Rightists – 3,375 votes; 
Communist – 19 votes.  
In addition, there were class lines between workers and bourgeois; occupational lines between the stable and the insecure; areas of segregation between the relative newcomers and the old families, and there were religious and social divisions.  There were also, of course, areas of common interest and cohesion such as local government, schools, clubs and interest groups.  They were somewhat united by religion as 86% of the townspeople were Lutheran.

The whole area where Northeim was situated had a reputation for being stubborn and reserved, as New Englanders were often said to be.  One man who came to Northeim in 1930 found that it “took him two years to get to know anyone well and to be accepted in social circles, even though he was fairly extroverted and held a job of high prestige.”

One final set of numbers reveals the class structure of the town in which there was certainly a petite bourgeoisie: the raw material from which Hitler forged his movement. 
            Lower class – 37% (unskilled and semi-skilled workers)
            Lower middle class – 32% (skilled workers, white-collar workers, farmers, pensioners)
            Upper middle class – 27% (craft-masters, civil servants, businessmen)
            Upper class – 4% (businessmen, self-employed, professionals)

The book is titled “The Nazi Seizure of Power” by William Sheridan Allen.  The author’s intention was to “understand one of the central political and moral problems of the twentieth century:  "how a civilized democracy could be plunged into a nihilistic dictatorship.”  This posting today is a lesser attempt to shine a little light on two groups who, in my estimation, mirror too many of the activities and beliefs of that nihilistic, ultra-nationalistic movement. 

It is impossible in this limited space and time, to present this thesis in great detail.  However, even an outline of the similarities between the beliefs and activities of the Nazi movement of the early twentieth century and those of Radical Right Republicans and the radical Jihadist terrorists of ISIS (or ISIL) is chilling enough to lead us to conclude that vigilance is a necessity. Sometimes Americans are led to pay far too much attention to the authoritarian and extremist views of the far Left (communism; socialism) and far too little to the nihilistic and destructive terrorism and authoritarianism of the extremists of the far Right (is that a 'tactic' in itself?).   

Let us return to the book to begin our research for this outline of similarities.  It is difficult to evoke or maintain a stable democracy in the midst of mass extremism, intolerance, a desperate desire for radical (or regressive) change, and a moral passivity.  All those factors and more were present in Germany then and in our nation now as the fertile “breeding grounds” for right-wing extremists.  Let us briefly explore the strategies the Nazis of Northeim used to reap the harvest of control.

1)  Use Outside Threat(s).  In 1930, “it was the depression or more accurately, the fear of its continued effects that contributed most heavily to the radicalization of Northeim’s people.”  Said one keen observer: “Most of those who joined the Nazis did so because they wanted a radical answer to the economic problem.  Then too, the people wanted a hard, sharp, clear leadership – they were disgusted with the eternal political strife of party politics.”

There can be little doubt that the “Great Recession” of 2008 and beyond has been the breeding ground for radicalization in our time.  Economic uncertainty is the same for Tea Partiers as it is for Jihadists.  It not only is a major contributor to their extremist views, but it is also a major impetus for their takeover of the entire political structure.  However, that is not the only threat upon which the radicals have seized.  Republican radicals have promoted threats of all kinds:

socialism as personified in the Affordable Care Act;
potential terrorist attacks from Al Qaeda and ISIS,
an invasive national government,
potential loss of Social Security and Medicare because of insolvency,
the foreign-born President with Marxist background,
threat of invasion by foreign forces,
threat to Christianity from Jihadists and from sharia law,
threats to our capitalist free enterprise system from regulators,
threats to our Christian heritage and ethical underpinnings from abortionists, homosexuals,             and Islam;
threats to our national security from cyber-hackers
threats to our personal privacy and security from our own government as in monitoring of                   emails and phone calls
Disguised as threats to jobs or property values or law itself is the threat of illegal immigration             which radical Republicans cannot refrain from stressing for it is at its base, an unspoken threat              to white control and power which they cannot abide losing
Jihadist terrorists are not much better, but encapsulate it all in the threat from America, the Great Satan.

It is not just the enumeration of threats that is important here: it is the engendering of fear(s) (at the core of their strategy and tactics) that can only be eliminated, it is declared, by the takeover of the rough and tough Jihadists and Tea Partiers.    

      2)      Use False Hope of a better future by returning to past Glory, Prosperity or Security.
This often involves not only a regression to a “better time” but a re-vitalization of fundamental religious tenets and practices and an urgent appeal to nationalism or national pride.

The radical Republicans want us to return to either the Reagan era, the 1920's and the Gilded Age, or perhaps even the 1890's when a much smaller national government was in existence  and several large American industries like GE and IBM were being founded and others flourishing under capitalist innovators and entrepreneurs with few restrictions on their monopolistic operations.  It was a time of merriment and optimism in spite of a severe recession in 1893.

The radical Jihadists are intent on establishing an Islamic Caliphate that is in some sense equivalent to the Third Reich, but with much greater emphasis on religious tenets.  The Caliphate is a parallel entity to the concept of The Third Reich meant to cover several countries and to unite Germanic peoples from different lands under one regime.  The Caliphate is meant to do the same by uniting a religious community across borders.  Here is what Wikipedia has to say about this modern attempt to establish a Caliphate:

“The group Al Qaeda in Iraq formed as an affiliate of the al Qaeda network of Islamist militants during the Iraq War. The group eventually expanded into Syria and rose to prominence as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) during the Syrian Civil War. In the summer of 2014, the group launched an offensive in northern Iraq, seizing the city of Mosul and most recently taking control of large swathes of territory in Syria (which for a prolonged period of time comprised over 50% of that country and Iraq). The group declared itself a Caliphate under Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who took the name and title of Caliph Ibrahim, and renamed itself as the "Islamic State."  ISIS's claim to be the highest authority of Muslims has not been widely recognized beyond the territory it controls with 10 million people.”

3)     Offer the  Strong Man.  It cannot be under-stated that one of the most attractive pieces of Nazi philosophy to the German locals was that of Social Darwinism: the myth that a strong man in charge will make all things right again, and contribute to the strength of the Aryan race at the same time.  It was epitomized in Hitler, but emulated down the line even by local Nazi operatives and the local officials they put in office.  It is also important to recognize the place of intimidation and violence in the myth of the strong man.  The existence of the SS and more especially the “Sturmmabteilung” or Stormtroopers was a key element in the intimidation of the middle class. 

Perhaps the most important aspect of the concept was the honor, veracity and competence associated with the strong man who could get anything done for the cause and for the People.  In Northeim, this was a key to their strategy of takeover – the Nazis ran things to perfection, whether it was a parade, a meeting, a demonstration or a soup kitchen or employment office.  They made sure that their strength showed in their competence, their timeliness and in the results.

Need I mention the obvious – “the Donald.”  You are listening carefully to him aren’t you?  Be careful of your assessment.  There were many who considered Hitler a clown and a showman.  The words are those of a Social Darwinist; of someone who believes that might makes right or will win the day.  When that strong man theme is echoed by every other Republican candidate, including Carly Fiorina, it is time to pay attention! We are talking about authoritarianism – the principle of subjection to authority as opposed to a principle of individual freedom.  We’re talking about the actions of a potentially peremptory, dictatorial strong man (or woman). 

ISIS followers thrive on this – on being the strong man able to kill children, rape women, behead men – without a thought or pang of conscience whatsoever.  These Jihadists celebrate their cruelty and their horrific acts of shooting down airplanes leaving  no survivors; or killing innocent people all over the streets and by-ways of Paris.  They believe they were sent to do this work in order to establish and maintain the Islamic Caliphate.  They are murderers and abdominal representatives of their religion. Like their religion-less precursors of decades ago (who still exist in too many forms), they must be marked for destruction.  How that should be done is a question for another time.

4)  Gain Total Control.  If you do not understand that phrase, then you do not understand the ultimate objectives of the Nazis, the Jihadists or the radical Republicans.
It involves a purge of leadership, then of the middle management and finally of the rank and file workers.
 Then comes the dismantling of the mechanisms of democracy itself – the vote, the rights, the freedoms, along with much of bureaucracy, liberal judges, ‘socialist’ leaders, and programs (sound familiar?)
Then comes retribution and punishment as opposition leaders and even rank and file are imprisoned or lose their jobs and property. 
 Meanwhile new mechanisms are put in place to allow the flow of top-down decisions from the President (“Fuhrer”) to the local operatives. 
Nationalism becomes the religion and schools, organizations, agencies, even churches become propaganda machinery.
Power, brutality and immediate justice often without trial become the norm.
Oppression, repression and terrorism are used as weapons to keep order and to ensure loyalty to the regime
Rumors, lies, distortions, neighborhood spies and press reports are used to inject more fear into the populace
Social life is cut to a minimum and political parties outlawed to prevent people from meeting and planning together
Resignation and futility take hold of the citizenry as complete control is achieved.
Just in case you haven't noticed, the Republican radicals are adept at twisting all of this around to make it look as though it is the Opposition that engages in these activities.  Often, instead of reference to President Obama as a socialist, some lackey of the Right-wing will accuse him of being a Nazi or a fascist.  It's difficult, to say the least, to have it both ways.  It is simply a diversionary tactic to draw citizen attention away from the horrific activities of  Radical Right-wing Republicans.  

Let us end this piece today with the above list of strategies that took advantage of the breeding grounds for the Nazi takeover of Northeim and of Germany.  Next time we shall explore the kinds of tactics used by the Nazis to win over the people of towns like Northeim, and the conclusions of the author as to what can be learned from that experience.  With some editorial comment from me, I hope my next posting will enable you to detect the parallel actions of radical Right Republicans and of Jihadi terrorists who simply share the goal of total political, economic and social control of their respective societies.