Look Who’s Mocking Fascist Fear-Mongering Now

One of the arguments we’re hearing in the current debate about
gun control is what might be called the anti-anti-tyranny argument.
Coming from liberals, it’s a little rich.Some gun-rights supporters say the Second Amendment’s purpose is
not merely to protect the right to hunt or defend yourself, but to
guard against oppression. “The purpose of having citizens armed
with paramilitary weapons,” writes Kevin Williamson in National
Review, “is to allow them to engage in paramilitary actions.”
Fox News analyst Andrew Napolitano likewise argues that the Second
Amendment protects “your right to shoot tyrants if they take over
the government.”The history of the founding and the language of the rest of the
Bill of Rights suggests they have a point. (Though not the whole
point. One reason the founders wanted people to be armed is so they
could put down insurrections, not just start them.)But many progressives say this is just plain nuts. To Charles
Blow of The New York Times, the rise of “so-called patriot
groups” who think such things is evidence of “paranoia by people
who have lost their grip on the reins of power, and reality.” To
Josh Horwitz of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, it’s part of a
dangerously radical “insurrectionist” movement. To Eric Boehlert of
Media Matters, the idea that Americans might need weapons to fight
a “war with the government” is one of conservatives’ “paranoid
fantasies.”Paul Waldman of the American Prospect agrees. In a piece for CNN
on how “The NRA’s Paranoid Fantasy Flouts Democracy,” he says the
conservative media encourage listeners to view the Obama
administration as “the very definition of dictatorship. … [M]any
would say that their ‘right’ to own any and every kind of firearm
they please is the only thing that guarantees that tyranny won’t
come to the United States. Well, guess what: They’re wrong.”No doubt the gun-rights group has a fringe element, exemplified
by those who think the Sandy Hook massacre was orchestrated as part
of a plot to disarm America. But it’s worth pausing to ask: Is it
really so outrageous to believe the government of the United States
is capable of tyranny?Not to Naomi Wolf, it isn’t. Back in 2007, the author and
political activist wrote an essay on “Fascist America, in 10 Easy
Steps.” She noted that the leaders of a recent military coup in
Thailand had followed certain clear procedures—and she insisted the
Bush administration was following those very same procedures.
“Beneath our very noses, George Bush and his administration are
using time-tested tactics to close down an open society,” Wolf
warned. “It is time for us to be willing to think the
unthinkable.”The essay was widely circulated, and its popularity led Wolf to
expand it into a book, titled The End of America: Letter of
Warning to a Young Patriot. (That young patriot presumably is
the good kind of patriot—not the kind who joins “so-called patriot
groups.”)Wolf had lots of company. MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann dedicated a
“special comment” to calling Bush a fascist: “You’re a fascist!” he
bellowed in his usual understated style. “Get them to print you a
T-shirt with ‘fascist’ on it!”Not everyone was so emphatic. Robert Paxton, a history professor
at Columbia and the author of The Anatomy of Fascism,
conceded during Bush’s first term that “Obviously, the …
administration is not a fully fascist regime with a single party,
an end to elections and the setting aside of rule of law.” But, he
continued, “you can make up a list of similarities and
differences.” How very nuanced.This sort of talk continued even after Bush left office. In a
2009 piece for the Los Angeles Times, columnist Tim Rutten
called for a citizen commission to investigate the administration.
“Just how close to the brink of executive tyranny did the United
States come in the panic that swept George W. Bush’s administration
after 9/11?” he asked. “The answer, it now seems clear, is that we
came far closer than even staunch critics of the White House
believed.”These are not basement conspiracy theorists scribbling in the
dark corners of the Internet. They are famous and highly regarded
thinkers speaking from respected institutional platforms. And their
views were echoed by countless thousands of lesser-known liberals
sporting “Bushitler” protest signs and bumper stickers.All of which permits only two possible conclusions. The first is
that progressives knew even then, deep down, they were peddling
wildly implausible paranoid fantasies—just as they accuse
right-wing “insurrectionists” of doing now. If so, then they should
admit as much.The second possibility? Many progressives genuinely believed,
only a few years ago, that the United States really did stand in
the dusky shadow of a totalitarian nightmare. Yet now they insist
that Americans who want to arm against that eventuality are
paranoid nut jobs. That might be politically convenient—but it
doesn’t make much sense.

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Look Who’s Mocking Fascist Fear-Mongering Now

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