“The End of America”: Feminist Social Critic Naomi Wolf Warns Warns U.S. in Slow Descent into Fascism
Wednesday, November 28th, 2007
In her new book, “The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot”,
Naomi Wolf says the United States is on the road to becoming a fascist society,
right under our very noses. Wolf outlines what she sees as the ten steps to shut
down a democratic society and argues that the Bush administration has already
implemented many of these steps. Wolf is the author of several books including
the 1990s feminist classic, “The Beauty Myth.” [includes rush transcript]
The United States is on the road to becoming a fascist society, right under our
very noses. That’s the premise of a new book by feminist social critic Naomi
Wolf. It’s called "The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot" and
is already on the New York Times bestseller list.
Naomi Wolf outlines what she sees as the ten steps to shut down a democratic
society and argues that the Bush administration has already implemented many of
these steps. Wolf is the author of several books including the 1990s 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 too late. Naomi Wolf joins me now in the firehouse studio.
- Naomi Wolf. Social critic, feminist, and author of "The Beauty Myth.”
Her latest book is called “The End of America: A Letter of Warning to a Young
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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 bestseller
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 too late.
Naomi Wolf joins us in our firehouse studio. Welcome to Democracy Now!
NAOMI WOLF: Thank you, Amy.
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 war with.
AMY GOODMAN: You also talk about the language, like the Department of
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
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 Accomplished.”
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 secret prisons.
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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.
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