America’s Headed Towards Fascism Without Much of a Fight. So Who Needs a War?
Right about now, the country’s abuzz: is America headed for another civil war? I have some good news, that’s not really good news, and some bad news, that’s even worse news. The good news is: no, America’s not headed for another civil war. The bad news is that’s because it’s already in one.
Let me explain what I mean by that seemingly paradoxical statement. This buzz has been lit by a former CIA “advisor” named Barbara Walter, who’s published a book on the topic. Ms Walter seems like an intelligent and charming person. Still, Americans don’t understand civil wars, because…well…they’ve been busy starting most of them. I’ll come back to that point shortly.
America’s likely future doesn’t involve a civil war, at least not the way most Americans think of it — a replay of the last one, or a full scale confrontation of opposing armies on bloody battlefields. It doesn’t even involve a civil war the way that Ms Walter is teaching American pundits to think of it — a protracted, intense guerrilla campaign like in Ireland or Islamic collapses. America’s future right about doesn’t involve a civil war — like those — because it doesn’t need to.
The fascists are taking over without a fight. So who needs a civil war? Think back to Nazi Germany. There was no civil war. Why? Because the Nazis just…took over. They were handed control of the country, after a series of coups. They had successfully intimidated their way into power. And when you can bully an entire nation into giving up on democracy…then who needs a civil war?
That is exactly where America is right now. The fascists — and yes, they’re real fascists — are taking over without a fight. So who needs a war? Nobody does. I say they’re real fascists because, for example, here’s a State Senator telling a teacher not to teach kids that the Nazis were bad. The State Senator wants to be “impartial” about…the Nazis.
That might seem like a minor example to pick up on, but it’s not. It’s a perfect representative of the kind of trend that obviates the need for a civil war. The fascists are winning without a fight. Yes, they’re real fascists. And yes, they’re winning.
Where else do we see that trend? Well, in the now ominous direction the GOP is heading in. It has a multi-prong strategy to unravel democracy and replace it with authoritarianism. The prongs of that strategy go like this: local offices that control America’s baroque electoral system are contested and won, courts are packed and appointees sat on benches who are explicitly sympathetic to the anti-democratic cause, the leadership espouses violence and supremacy and eschews democracy…in Congress…modelling and licensing for the base that those behaviours and attitudes are now overtly OK, and so the base goes out and sends death threats to everyone from local officials to mayors to teachers (like those who, presumably, aren’t “impartial” about the Nazis.)
Put all that together, and you have a situation very, very much like Nazi Germany. A nation is being intimidated into giving up on democracy. There doesn’t need to be a civil war. Precisely because nobody much is fighting back in the first place.
And yet all that only raises the question: isn’t all that just a kind of civil war, too?
This is the part where Ms Walter’s analysis fails. But that is unsurprising, because her analysis comes from using the tools the CIA employed to analyse civil wars around the world. Wars it had mostly started.
They didn’t become “wars” to the CIA when the CIA was busy destabilizing societies with just the methods above, intimidation, propaganda, funding hard-right movements, arming paramilitaries. At that point, to the CIA, what was to become “civil war,” in CIA-speak…was just noble and righteous freedom seeking.
See the problem in the analysis? If you don’t, read the above carefully. Because there is a much truer and more intelligent way to think about civil wars. Of course if you are the one starting civil wars, installing dictators, funding paramilitaries, flooding societies with propaganda, destabilising democracies — like the CIA did from Nicaragua to Iraq — then you’re not going to think of that part as “civil war.” You’ll only think of it as civil war when the machine guns are fired.
But the truth is that civil war is a continuum. It goes from small scale civil conflict, on the one end, to outright large-scale “warfighting” — as the American military call it — on the other.
And you don’t need need to go all the way down that continuum — to large-scale warfighting — to win a civil war.
In fact, if you win a civil war without large-scale warfighting — battlefields and tanks and so forth — then so much the better.
That is exactly where America is now.
If we think about it for just a second, America is already way, way down the spectrum of civil conflict.
No, it isn’t to the point of outright opposing armies warfighting each other with tanks and guns like in the last civil war. But, and I’m going to say it again, to stress the point — you don’t need to win a civil war that way.
This time, just like Nazi Germany, America’s fascists are winning what is obviously a situation of profound, historic civil conflict — without even needing to resort to warfighting.
Does that make sense? Clarify things a little? If you can win a civil war without the warfighting, through mere mechanisms of civil conflict, intimidation, terror — why wouldn’t you?
Let me put that in context for you.
Where would we place America on this spectrum of civil war? Remember, at one end is the old style, opposing armies fighting wars. And on the other? Well, what’s happening to America right now is a whole lot like the other end of the spectrum.
Let’s go back to the Nazis, because eerily, they’re a very good guide to what’s happening in America today. Nazis used to roam the streets and beat people. Today in America, “paramilitaries” — mobs of white supremacists — do. Cities from Portland to Charlottesville have been epicentres of this kind of civil conflict — which involves very real violence and death. Remember Heather Heyer? She was mowed down with a car by a Nazi.
I’d bet not one in ten Americans knows her name. That is how ubiquitous this kind of civil conflict has become.
What else did the Nazis do? Long before they passed their infamous race laws, which were not coincidentally modelled on studying and admiring America’s Jim Crow laws, neighbourhoods became epicentres of civil conflict. The Nazis — the budding Nazis then — would intimidate local officials. Teachers. Shops. They would go so far as policing people’s relationships. They’d keep tabs on what kids were being taught and who was being served and what was a space of tolerance. And then openly warn all those people — teachers, shopkeepers, neighbours — to get their act together, and act for the good of the master race, or else.
This campaign of intimidation was central to the Nazis seizing power. Because this kind of civil conflict — harassment, threats, abuse — slowly tore apart the fabric of civil society. And in just a few years, well, nobody wanted to cross a Nazi.
Meanwhile, the Nazis were mounting infamous coup attempts. In 1923, there was what is known as the “Beer Hall Putsch.” A few thousand Nazis “marched on” a famous monument, with the aim of violently overthrowing the government. They were “inspired by” Mussolini’s “march on” Rome — the coup through which he seized power. It’s called the Beer Hall Putsch precisely because it was plotted and hatched in bars — and began in one. The putsch failed because the vague paramilitary rabble was too disorganised to really carry it through.
Sound a lot like Jan 6th? It should. It’s eerily almost exactly like Jan 6th. A rabble, informal planning, with plenty of help from the inside. It set a precedent for Germany. It established the Nazis as a force to fear. It made overt the promise of violence and upturned norms and standards of decent, peaceful public behaviour. After that, it was fair game for your local fascist — not even a full-blown Nazi — to intimidate and harass shops serving Jews, or send death threats to teachers. Sound familiar? If it doesn’t you’re not paying attention.
One decade later, the Reichstag would burn down. The Nazis would blame the fire on “communists” and used it to bully a weak and infamous President named Hindenburg to give them emergency powers. The act for “The Protection of the People and the State” was the Nazis rise to formal power. But that arc began with the Beer Hall Putsch.
Let’s connect a few of those dots. Violent street confrontations. Between two “sides” equated in the public sphere, even though one wanted to violently annihilate Jews not to mention most of the world, and the other…didn’t. Coup attempts. Violent and bloody ones, centred on famous national political sites. Harassment, abuse, and intimidation by everyday people, towards others simply carrying out the basic functions of civil society.
If you look, America right now looks almost exactly like Weimar Germany just becoming Nazi Germany did then.
And there is a profound set of lessons there. You do not need to go all the way down the spectrum of civil conflict to full-blown war fighting to win a civil war. We don’t think of what happened in Nazi Germany as a civil war precisely because there wasn’t one. The Nazis won it with civil conflict. How did they do that?
They made civil conflict a norm: think of all those good Germans intimidating shops and teachers and local officials like it was their duty to send death threats to “race traitors.” They made civic violence an everyday event: think of endless streetfights between Nazis and antifascists. They made civil conflict a political aspiration: they didn’t want to govern a democracy, they explicitly wanted an authoritarian state, and so they didn’t even pretend to be interested in compromise. They made terrorism an acceptable tool of sociopolitical practice — see the Beer Hall Putsch, for one.
All of those things are exactly what is happening in America today. The very same forms of civic conflict are being employed by the fanatical right, in the same quest to have a fascist-authoritarian not just state, but society.
And because the very same forms of civic conflict which happened in Germany-about-to-go-Nazi are what are happening in America today, the very same thing that happened to Germany then is, too. The fascists are winning, without much of a fight. So who needs a full-blown two-sides warfighting-it-out-on-battlefields style conflict?
That is why America’s probably not going to have a civil war. There doesn’t need to be one. America’s fascists are cruising comfortably towards power, easily, Congress this year, the Presidency again in 2024 — without much of a fight.
America’s fanatical right is already winning control of society — the civic and public spheres, electoral mechanisms, the polity, culture — through forms of civil conflict like terrorism, intimidation, abuse, street violence, political intransigence, harassment, coup attempts, propaganda, disinformation, radicalization.
There doesn’t need to be a full-blown civil war made of armies warfighting, because America’s fanatical right is already winning lower-grade forms of civil conflict incredibly successfully, more than enough to win absolute control over politics, society, and culture.
Yet at the same time, we should be wise enough to recognise that all this is not not a civil war, and it’s also not a cold civil war. It’s just not a civil war in the CIA’s terms — but that’s, LOL, because the CIA was doing everything on the list I just made for you — funding and arming terrorism, intimidation, propaganda, abuse, street violence — to start what it would later call “civil wars.” When it was doing that stuff, though, I guess they just called it “their job.”
You don’t need to worry about a second civil war starting in America. That’s because it’s already having one. It’s just not explained to you very well. But it is indeed a civil war — a lethally serious civil conflict, with historic consequences, over the nature and future of a society. America’s already in a civil war.
And no, it’s not a particularly cold one. How many died because of Jan 6th? Not just during, but of suicide after the fact, as well? The death threats and intimidation and so on aren’t cold, they’re pretty hot. A war isn’t only hot when platoons hit the shores. Think about terrorism rising on the right as a viable mechanism of sociopolitical action, like the actions of gunmen simply mowing people down in the streets.
America’s already in a civil war. The question is: who’s going to win? So far, the answer’s a grim one. This war isn’t one made of armies warfighting because it doesn’t have to be. The fascists are winning it with low-level mechanisms of civil conflict which do the job of seizing power just as well, with far less work.