In an authoritarian state, there are few figures more feared and despised than informers. Ordinary people are paid by the government to monitor their compatriots and report on dissident speech or behavior at work, sports stadiums, grocery stories, bars and buses, and in classrooms. The anonymity of informers is key to their success in helping the state to break bonds of solidarity and trust among people and create a climate of suspicion, fear, and hostility. Not knowing who the informers are means that anyone could be monitoring you at any time.
Excellent article. It reminds me of my growing-up years in the 1950s, when my teachers told us that the Communist state in Russia encouraged children to rat out their parents when they wavered from the official line. It sent shivers up my spine, and still does today!
Brilliant writing, professor! I had no idea so much of the playbook of Euro-fascists from the 20th Cent is now being adopted by our GOP. There is far too much silence from our liberal elected officials and other leaders on this trajectory.
The total lack of a cohesive, liberal frame (vision) for America allows for this void to be filled by the dominant paradigm in America today, known as the "Culture War." We have NO left-of-center frame that promotes a caring and collaborative world view. Liberals are rooted in policy proposals and governmental programs. I feel pained, from this realization ... that there is NO emotional, heart and soul as the basis for our beliefs. AND, we do indeed have a values system ...
Seventy years ago, the Civil Rights movement was led by a theological call for "Liberty and Justice for All." This IS the social justice core, of the teachings of Jesus: this is the basis of liberals' values, spirituality and inspiration.
Let us renew this clarion call, for this ties together all of our disparate, special interests. Lady Liberty beckons!
You have shown so clearly the path MAGA followers are marching on. My belief is that every organization like the DNC and Democratically focused PAC should spend the majority of their marketing budgets on FOX News, FB and other right wing media outlets vividly showing the eventual loss of freedom, we ALL will lose, if our country heads on the MAGA path.
Congratulations on your badge of achievement. I hold those badges in highest esteem. Important to remember that social media, Twitter, can collect information on people very easily. For those of us who are active in the fight against fascism, the need to guard one’s personal information is essential. Although more exposure equals increased likelihood of threat, I have found out the community, in which one lives, is more than willing to provide information on whom they deem as dissident. As the political vitriol rises, so will the attacks. It’s comes with the territory. Above all, safety first. Thanks Ruth.
Speaking of loyalty oaths and authoritarian purging of political dissent from institutions, educational and otherwise, Trump just last week promised during a speech that if he is elected (God forbid) he will require all government employees in the civil service to sign loyalty oaths. Make no mistake, no institution public or private would be spared Trump's wrath. Informers and spies would be all over the place. Though there would be resistance, a chilling effect would settle upon the country. Its long tradition of free expression of ideas would choke under assault.
Trump's sadistic and narcissistic demand for loyalty would rival if not exceed any dictator or strongman. And the consequences for disloyalty to the autocrat would often be cruel and devastating. Threats ,intimidation, investigations, violence and jail time would be meted out on a regular basis. Paranoia and suspicion would be everywhere in Trump's fascist America.
O dear Ruth, thank you for sharing in detail the relation between your being on the Professor WatchList and the Republican, read Fascist, emergence we are seeing today. Vote people, vote. All are created equal. This ideal we must cherish. There is so much to do to change where we are at as a country. Let the indictments and convictions of Trump and Fox show who lies and what the truth is. Stay strong and courageous, Ruth, your voice is so important!
Very well said Professor! Thank you for writing this and publishing it. I have been thinking about contacting some of my favorite teachers to thank them for all they taught me and to let them know that they have had a lifelong impact on me. After reading this I now wonder if any of them were also treated so egregiously! And I find myself wondering even more what was up with the students that often interrupted our classes with their faith based takes on the subject at hand. Ultimately I think I will still thank them for what they did for me and leave the disruptors to live with their own consciences' =]
The ideal MAGA state appears to be a hybrid of East Germany (c. 1950s - 1980s), Margaret Atwood's Gilead, Taliban Afghanistan and Salem, MA (c. 1692).
"...the Koch-funded Turning Point organization..."
Charles Koch has long been a believer in authoritarianism, because he feels that democracy interfers with capitalism. He wants a corporate state, which is totally contrary to the Constitution. It's hard to believe that so many Americans have sided with this radical Libertarian stance and given up on democracy. Trump was selling something very similar to what Charles Koch envisioned. It's interesting to note that both men are sociopaths. Those who view themselves as demigods love the authoritarian structure. They don't tolerate dissent, so learning institutions are a threat to their power.
The war on public education has been stimulated by the right wing evangelical movement which seeks power and influence, not freedom to learn! Trump was elected in 2016 on their backs!
Another poignant piece. Thank you.
The parallels are truly horrifying. But also, we have a Bill of Rights, mixed public/private education system and computer networking tech that makes publishing easier today. Our institutions and tech are better situated than they were in Il Duce's Italy. Thank goodness. And maybe more critical, we have this history/memory that Prof. Ben-Ghiat reminds us. Thats why we can say "Never again"
"assault on educators in America who expose students to ideals of peace, equality, justice, and compassion...a calculated plan to erode democratic models of education and reward authoritarian models of social relations"
Spot on. Fighting back against these goons means staying true to those ideals of peace, equality, justice, compassion and propagating them. Decency. In that light, Joseph Campbell mind blowing ideas work in comparative mythology is, imo, the perfect antidote for fascism - I wrote about it a few months ago in my free blog:
What a coincidence! A Chinese Police Station located in Chinatown NYC and run by the Chinese govt was just busted for its spying and intimidating activities on American and foreign citizens. The ‘policemen’ were American citizens! Ruth’s article was spot on!
Calculated, that’s what the Republican MAGA cult is charged to do in congress. It is the assisted cultivation of American society to usher in a fascists platform. Technocrats and oligarchs are invested in MAGA and AI to assist in the sustainability of this model of power and control. For these plutocrats it is imperative to eliminate a constitutional democracy of principles dependent upon We the People, of the People, For the People. AI cannot perform its purpose with free thinking people standing in its way.
US government agencies like the FBI have used the informer methodology to sow chaos in legal organizations that have the temerity to disagree with federal policy and expose corruption going back to the 1960s.
I am thinking of COINTELPRO, specifically, -a division of the FBI established in the 1960s to infiltrate student and minority legal organizations and NGOs. They used the device of "bad jacketing" with particular effectiveness and efficiency.
Take the case of Anna Mae Aquash,(MicMac) a member of the American Indian Movement (AIM) who worked with the Lakota traditional people on Pine Ridge Reservation, SD, to oppose the illegal reign of terror perpetrated by Richard Wilson with the backup of the FBI and US Marshals and encroachment of companies poisoning their local water supply with uranium spills (sound familiar?). The FBI colluded with an agent (Douglas Durrham) secretly embedded within SD AIM and working in concert with FBI Special Agent David Price to convinced AIM leadership that she was an FBI informant.
In January 1975, her body was found in a remote location on the reservation with a bullet wound to the back of her head, execution style. The FBI further covered up their crime by cutting off her hands to prevent her identification and having their coroner claim she, "died of exposure". It was only after her family suspecting the worst exhumed her body (listed as Jane Doe) to have their own medical examiner discover the truth. Many years later two AIM members were convicted of her murder but no investigation was ever done of Durrham's or the FBI's role in her execution.
Signature COINTELPRO tactics such as this one are commonplace today in Indian Country and among Black activist organizations despite the FBI claiming to have disbanded the division on the order of the Church Commission in 1977. We can expect to see a lot more of this if the fascists take the presidency and Congress in 2024.
My comment on COINTELPRO and the murder of Anna Mae Aquash is best described in Peter Matthiessen's excellent document of what happened in the 1970s in Indian Country entitled, "In the Spirit of Crazy Horse." The FBI managed to block its publication for several years until it won on the basis of the First Amendment rights of the author being upheld in court in 1983. It has since been updated by the author to further document the suppression of Native rights and the ongoing reign of terror into the 1990s.
If you want to purchase a copy, may I recommend going to the International Leonard Peltier Defense Committee (ILPDC) website and get it there. You will be funding the efforts of an organization that has been trying to secure the freedom of Leonard Peltier, a Native activist who was railroaded by the FBI for the death of two of their agents in 1975. He is in his 48th year of incarceration for a crime that even those responsible for convicting him now say he didn't commit. html://whoisleonardpeltier.com