3. Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause
The people are rallied into a unifying patriotic frenzy over the need to eliminate a perceived common threat or foe: racial , ethnic or religious minorities; liberals; communists; socialists, terrorists, etc.
This is the third of Lawrence Britt’s 14 characteristics of fascism (not to be confused with Eco’s 14 features of fascism), and a common warning given to those who might be sympathetic or apathetic towards a rising fascist movement. They’re going after trans people now, but once they feel they’ve won that battle, they’ll turn to someone else. First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out because I was not a communist. This may actually be the most famous warning about fascists – that they are so utterly dependent on scapegoating as a unifying force and a way to maintain the pretense of might, that they will find and oppress a scapegoat, even if they have to create a group of people that never existed in order to do it. Working with them will not protect you from them.
When we hear about this, we generally think of cultural and political persecution. What’s being done to the trans community right now is the first genocidal project of a fascist movement, and if they are allowed to succeed, their focus will turn to other groups. I think it’s absolutely correct for that to be the first thing that comes to mind, but I have one complaint about it, and that is the implication that fascists are disciplined enough to go about this in a methodical, systematic manner, and to hide their hand until the time comes to switch groups.
There’s a sequence of focus, maybe, but the actual practice is utter chaos. Rather than inching forward in a line, like a Nazi worm, they move like a Nazi amoeba. They move in every direction at once, and then shift towards whichever pseudopod finds good fodder for their hatred. The predictability in the path they end up taking has everything to do with the environment in which the fascist movement develops – where their hatred can latch on and motivate people. As has been remarked many times, there are similarities between the United States and Weimar Germany, and those similarities play a big role in the way this fascist movement seems to mirror that one. Transphobia was already present and powerful, and so the trans community proved to be a good early scapegoat then, as now.
But it’s not like they’re hiding their racism, or their antisemitism, or their hatred of communists, and the myth of fascist efficiency and competence remains just that – a myth. This is where the amoeba analogy breaks down, because when an amoeba finds a piece of food, it will generally concentrate on that until it’s dealt with before resuming its pseudopodous journey. It is also a single organism, at relative peace with itself. Not so, fascists.
Maybe it’s something about the kinds of people who’re drawn to fascism, or maybe it’s the result of an ideology obsessed with domination and competition, but they also fight each other, constantly. Attacking is their only response to failure, or the perception of weakness. If they fail, the blame must always be put onto someone else, because they are Strong, and the Strong do not fail.
The current example, which sent me down this particular line of thought, is the way the right wing of the Republican Party is blaming its own chaos and incompetence on a succession of Republican leaders. Kevin McCarthy was the big recent example, but since getting rid of him didn’t solve anything, they’ve aimed some blame at McCarthy’s replacement, Mike Johnson, but also at Mitch McConnell. They don’t always get their way – their attacks on Johnson haven’t really gone anywhere, and McConnell seems committed to clinging to power until he rots – but they don’t need to always get their way. All they need is for one attack to work, one pseudopod to find something tasty, and that becomes their new way to show off their power, even if they still can’t get anything done.
It’s possible that this is level of chaos is unique to modern fascism, but I suspect that as with the Autobahn myth, this appearance of competence and efficiency came from a combination of this amoebic approach, the Nazis’ unceasing proclamations of their own superiority, and the degree to which their devout belief in white supremacy was also embraced by the Western societies that opposed them. I’m no scholar of the rise of fascism, but from what little I do know, paranoia, infighting, and a sort of chronic chaos seem to play a big role in fascist movements throughout history.
More that that, however, it highlights the degree to which there should be no excuse, at this stage, for anyone being ignorant of the fact that they will keep coming for different groups for as long as they have the power to do so. They’re making no secret of it, or of their desperate need to blame others for everything they do, all while preaching personal responsibility as a feeble disguise. Any time a new problem arises, they will immediately seek out a new scapegoat, even if it’s someone, like Mitch McConnell, who has dedicated their life to creating that very fascist movement. We don’t actually need to learn from past fascist movements to know where this one is headed – they’re making it perfectly clear with everything they say and do.