Fascism

Revenge of the Sith is mostly Revenge of the Sh… well… you get what we’re saying. However, there is something for which we should give them more credit. George Lucas’ prequels -made between 1999 and 2005- actually give us some surprising insights into our own times, here in the United States. No, we are not talking about the racists overtones of Jar Jar Binks, the rise of the American Order of Jedi, or the fact that Chris Christie is a Hutt. We are talking about the fact that prequels give us a surprisingly realistic insight into the rise of fascism… yeah, its going to be a long one.

…With Thunderous Applause
As Americans we have sort of a general lexiconal idea of Fascism. We banter it around enough that we think we understand what it is, but the truth is that we don’t… and that can be dangerous. The United States, much like the Galactic Republic at the beginning of the Clone Wars is already in the first stages of fascism. Many people will reject that statement, because they think they know what fascism is, and again… they are wrong. People think of Germany in 1940 and say that is fascism: the marching, the swastikas, the vilifying of the free press, the persecution of minorities, the shouting crazy man who holds rallies… hmm… Well, that is fascism too, but remember Germany did not turn into that over night. It was a process that transformed the Weimar Republic into the Third Reich. It was a process that transformed the Old Republic into the Galactic Empire, and if we aren’t careful it could transform us as well.

The word “fascism” comes from “fasces” or “fascio littorio.” That is a bunch of rods tied around an axe. In ancient Rome it was used to symbolize the authority of the magistrate, and was used for corporal and capital punishment. Mussolini and his compatriots in the early 20th century picked the symbol as a show of unity and strength, but the truth of fascism is that it is a movement that is typified not in unity, but in opposition. In Germany and Italy before World War II, it rose in opposition to Communism and Liberalism. That is important to remember, because even though it was called the “National Socialist German Workers’ Party” the Nazi’s were not socialists. It’s a purposely misleading name, like the “People’s Republic of China” or “Award Winning Director JJ Abrams.” Nazis despised the idea of socialism. Fascism is the opposite of socialism. It is about rationing resources for the select and worthy few, the “right” people.

At the start of A New Hope Palpatine disbands the Imperial Senate, ridding the Empire of the last vestige of liberal democracy. That is important, because fascism is a reaction against liberal democracy. The Emperor gives direct control over the systems to the governors and moffs, the strongmen of Imperial society. They were the wealthy, the connected, and the loyal. In essence they were the “right” sort of people. Fascism thrives in societies of strongman machismo and totalitarian one-party rule, but that doesn’t happen overnight. Military coups and juntas are quick and bloody, but electoral authoritarians come to power gradually. They chip away at democratic institutions until they are toothless or non-existent. Fascism isn’t an overnight event. Despite Padme’s on-the-nose proclamation at the announcement of the formation of the Galactic Empire, she did not suddenly wake up that morning and find herself in a totally new government. She had been living under fascism for a long time, but she never realized it.

The Prequels We Don’t Talk About
Robert Paxton, is one of the most acclaimed authorities on the study of fascism and authoritarianism. We giving you a very brief argument here, but if you are interested in learning more you should check out his writings. Paxton, claims that there are five stages of fascism, and they are worth talking about:

  1. Intellectual Exploration, where disillusionment with popular democracy manifests itself in discussions of lost national vigor;
  2. Rooting, where a fascist movement, aided by political deadlock and polarization, becomes a player on the national stage;
  3. Arrival to Power, where conservatives seeking to control rising leftist opposition invite the movement to share power;
  4. Exercise of Power, where the movement and its charismatic leader control the state in balance with state institutions such as the police and traditional elites; and
  5. Radicalization or Entropy, where the state either becomes increasingly radical, or slips into traditional authoritarian rule.

In Star Wars we see all of these five stages. Intellectual exploration happens in Episode I when Chancellor Valorum is ousted with a vote of no-confidence, after it is shown that the Galactic Republic has no way to enforce laws in regards to the Trade Federation’s blockade of Naboo, a core world. This also shows stage two, Rooting, where deadlock and polarization in the senate give rise to Palpatine, a strongman leader who becomes a player on the galactic political stage. Arrival to Power happens when the Clone Wars begin. Palpatine uses the existential threat for the Separatists to rally the senate and the people. The other politicians -Jar Jar Binks- invite Palpatine to have emergency powers in order to control the rising threat and benefit themselves. The fourth stage, Exercise of Power happens throughout the three-year conflict of the Clone Wars. Palpatine rules in balance with the existing laws, while slowly chipping away at them in the name of security. He uses the fear of the people to reduce their rights and make the Galactic Republic into a more militaristic society. We even see the Jedi transform from peace loving monks into battle-hardened generals.

The final stage, Radicalization or Entropy is what Padme remarks on that day in the Senate. Palpatine has successfully won the Clone Wars. He has convinced the people of the evils of the Jedi and the justification for their eradication. He has scapegoated them, and in that zeal of victory he makes the people fear the all-powerful menace of the Jedi. So, with a promise of a greater future, greater protections, and the rebirth of the galaxy, he proclaims the formation of the Galactic Empire. Yet, that Empire had been growing all along. Radicalization comes when the populace fully accept the myth of the fascist state. The Galactic Empire radicalized many of its citizens, but it also forced many more into complacent acceptance of the new status quo. Palpatine accomplished this through a slow series of changes that resulted in a larger radical shift in galactic politics. It was done through cunning, patience, but also fear.

Fear will Keep the System Inline
This brings us to the second part of fascism. It is about excluding people, and scapegoating others for your troubles. In Germany those troubles were heavy economic woes brought about by the Great Depression and the harsh penalties inflicted on the German people after WWI. Jews were the easy target for blame and resentment. They were culturally apart, but they also tended to be fairly affluent. In a way they were like the Jedi, different and enviable. Palpatine blamed the Jedi at the formation of the Galactic Empire and used them as another threat to help unify the people’s hatred. He also “dehumanized” non-humans -such as wookiees- who became slave laborers and second-class citizens. The human population of the Empire was given a place of high regard. They were special, the “right” type of people. This is a page from the fascist playbook.

The Nazis also blamed the international community. Hitler and his ilk isolated Germany from the world, and transformed it into a militaristic society.  At its core, a fascism state is a cult of personality, often centered around a populist nationalism that embraces a rebirth myth. Fascism feeds on people’s fears, but also on their anger. Fascists often walk an odd line between playing the victim and being the bully. It is a philosophy meant to convince the people that they have been unfairly treated by their enemies, and only the strongman, the great leader, is the one who is capable of saving them. As such that means the people can trust no one else, but him. This is often an appealing lie that removes blame and shifts responsibility.

People were drawn to the Nazi cause, because it offered the German people an alternate explanation to their woes. It wasn’t their fault they were poor. It was an international Jewish conspiracy that kept down the German people. In reality, the German people were the master race, the “right” people. Hitler gave them an attractive myth to latch on to. The Third Reich wasn’t conquering the world, they were retaking it and placing the Aryan race back on top where it belonged. Hitler was making Germany Great Again.

That is the appeal of fascism. It is seen as a return to some imagined past, or some fictional right of heritage. We like to think that we -in the United States- are somehow immune to this phenomena. We look around us and say, “We’re not in danger of becoming a fascist country, because no one is out there hanging swastikas and iron crosses. No one is talking about rounding up the Jewish people. No one is goose-stepping or doing the Hitler salute in the streets…” but that’s not fascism, that’s Nazism. Italian fascism had its own trappings, which were different than those of their German counterparts. The most effective symbols of fascism in any country are the familiar ones, the ones that can be twisted to mean something new. These new symbols will resonate with the people of the country. In this country our fascist symbols could take the form of an ultra-obsession with the flag, or a near-fanatical devotion to the National Anthem. They could be symbols as simple as a red hat, or polo shirts, or monuments to slavery… and that’s the point. If you think it cannot happen here, than you would be wrong, because it very nearly did once before.

Not So Long Ago in a Place Not So Far Far Away
The United States was never immune to the dark side of fascism. In July of 1942, a Gallup poll showed that 1 in 6 Americans thought Hitler was “doing the right thing” to the Jews, and a 1940 poll found that nearly 20% of Americans saw Jews as a national “menace,” which was more than any other group in the US, including Germans. One third of Americans believed that there would be “a widespread campaign against the Jews,” and 12% of Americans were willing to support it. The German-American Bund held a rally at Madison Square Garden in New York in 1939, to a crowd of 20,000. It was complete with swastikas, American flags, and goose-stepping. Their leader, attacked President Roosevelt, calling him “Frank D Rosenfeld” and referred to the New Deal the “Jew Deal.” Then there was also William Dudley Pelley, a radical journalist from Massachusetts.

He founded the Silver Legion of America, or the Silver Shirts. They were a truly American fascist movement that ticked off almost every single box of American fascism. He opposed Roosevelt, believed in isolationism, ran for president, and was ultimately arrested for treason and sedition. He also believed in UFO’s and the sort of spiritualism that let you travel to other plains of existence. In essence, he was a laughable figure that no one could take seriously… except that people did, and except that people said the same thing about Hitler right before he took power. Fascist movements hardly start as mainstream. They are fringe groups:,laughingstocks, failed painters, or even reality TV stars who are thrust into power and bolstered by conservatives as a quick way to gain power and/or oppose a rising liberalism.

In the 1940’s American fascism began to grow for a few main reasons, fear of communism, the economic depression, a distrust/fear of the Jews, and as a reaction to Roosevelt and his New Deal, which many perceived as dangerous socialism. So in 2018, is it so hard to believe that fascism can grow again? People don’t fear communism anymore, but they do fear the affects of globalism. Maybe there is no Great Depression, but you do have a lot of downtrodden people who feel forgotten by the government and the mega-wealthy of our time. Also, a modern day fascism is not going to target the Jewish people as their scapegoat. It will target more vulnerable people, like immigrants and Muslims. It is worth noting that Hitler was praised by Christians, like American pastor and Presidential advisor Frank Buchman who said in 1936, “I thank heaven for a man like Adolf Hitler… who built a front line of defense against the anti-Christ of communism.” Ultimately, modern day American fascism will be a reaction to progressive policies and politicians, such as Obama and policies like Obamacare. Yet, most importantly they will not call it fascism or Nazism. They will call it something new… like Trumpism.

Yes, American fascism is already here. We are not Germany in 1941, but what if we are Germany in 1928, or Germany in 1932? What if we are the Galactic Republic right before the Clone Wars? We have a misguided belief that our institutions, our checks and balances will save us, but according to Robert Paxton they have already failed us. The Third Reich didn’t spring up over night. Hitler came to power -without being popularly elected- because the Weimer Republic was plagued with corruption and ineffectiveness. Its institutions failed long before Hitler became chancellor. The Old Republic Senate was ineffective and no longer represented the will of the people, even as one of their own core worlds was being starved and occupied by an army. It failed, long before Palpatine came to power.

That’s No Moon… It’s a Dictator
If fascism is taking hold in America -and it is- than our systems have already failed us. We have an electorate where the overwhelming majority of people support issues like gun control, healthcare, and yet our politicians do not act or make laws in accordance with the majority of that electorate. Instead they act with lobbyists, and we all just take it for granted. We laugh it off and say “well you know politicians.” That’s the same complacency that has allowed fascist states to flourish both on this planet and others. Donald Trump was not popularly elected. He was a joke at first, but its not funny anymore. He has the full support of the American Nazi Party and the KKK. According to a recent study by George Washington University, over the last five years white nationalist and neo-fascist movements in the US have grown by 600% on Twitter, outperforming ISIS in number of followers and in number of tweets.

This is where we would usually end this article with some cutesy and corny Star Wars metaphor or bad joke, but we don’t want to. You may laugh off this article or the things we are warning. You may say we are being paranoid or hysterical, but remember this: The majority of German citizens in the 1930’s were not part of the Nazi party. They were just ordinary people who got swept up. They were as smart and as real as you are right now. The truth that if you -the person reading this- had lived during that time, there is a good chance you would have got swept up too, assuming you were the “white”… err “right” type of people. There is a good chance that you would have been sent off to die for the glory of Fatherland and the Aryan race, and truly believed it was justified. That is Stage 5 Fascism. That is Radicalization.  America is not there yet, but that also does not mean that we are not at one of those lower stages.

The real question is which one?

I watched the pigeons gather on the roof across the way, white, grey, black, brown, a rainbow of foul huddling on corrugated rooftop, flitting here and there. I often imagined them chatting, speaking as they hopped along on legs too thin to convey their bodies. Sometimes they would take flight, circle around the group as if to demonstrate they could, only to land moments later among the flock. Flight was always temporary, everyone had to come back down eventually.

The door to the main corridor opened and I turned from the tiny barred window to watch whatever entertainment was arriving. My cellmate was almost oblivious to the break in our monotony. Cray-zee sat as he always did, facing away from the bars, gazing into the white oblivion that was our perfectly polished walls. He lived in a world that no one else could see, never talked, never joked, but no one was fool enough to mess with him either. Some people claimed it was an act, but I had been shacked up with Zee for six months and I knew it was genuine. I knew because I was the only one in whole damn place who ever heard him talk, but I’ll get to that.

“Attention prison block 453D, prepare for a new arrival. Step back from your cells. Prepare for a new arrival.” The voice that played over the loud speak was computerized, not that you would know it. She had a soft and plain-spoken voice, the kind you would find in the girl next door. The inmates had nicknamed her the RILF. You know, Robot I’d Like to… well you get the idea. Some guys often fantasized about it, computer or no computer, the nights in a cell could get lonely, well figuratively speaking anyway.

All the inmates knew they were never truly alone, and as I stepped up to the bars to watch the show I kept a wary eye on the floating metal ball that hung above my own little piece of the world. A floating eyeball, never blinking, never ceasing. It monitored everything that went on, body temperature, heart rates, the integrity of the cell walls. It was more than just an eye, it was a judge, a jury, and even an executioner. It was God, and like the Almighty it was more than ready to strike down the wicked with an array of tasers, gas, and other nasty surprises.

The entire cage could even be electrocuted. So, I stayed as far away from the bars as I could, even as I tried to catch a glimpse of the new arrival. Zee, of course, never even glanced back.

It was the ominous heavy thuds of the tank-like prison droid that first drew my attention. Like a mix between a linebacker and a refrigerator it moved slowly, walking heavily in the wake of the prisoner it was herding. A thud both, loud and muffled, clanging like a heart beat as it methodically moved down the block. No one was going to mess with it, especially not the kid it was leading in.

I recognized him, of course. He was a repeater, most of them were. In the joint for a year or two, then back out on the street for six months only to be back in their cell before Christmas. Jackson was his name, but that’s not what everyone called him. He was skinny, with shifty eyes, skin as dark as night. He walked with a cocky swagger, like someone who thought they were tougher than they were. I knew he was wrong, and he was going to find out soon enough. The robots were good but the system had blind spots, and every prisoner knew the dark zones. They knew where business could be conducted away from the eyes of our digital overlords.

Some thought that those blind spots were intentional, part of some psychology game that the bots used to keep us inline. I don’t know anything about that kind of botshit, but I do know that if you were a man like Jackson, you made sure to avoid the dark zones at all costs.

“You’re dead, Twig,” said a familiar face from the cell across the way. “I still owe you from the last time.” The bold speaker had a swastika tattooed on his neck, marking his affiliation.

“Unlawful threat detected,” said the RILF. “This is your final warning.”

“He didn’t mean nuthin by it,” said his cellmate, some kid younger than the rest of us, with skin as black as Twig’s. Part of me almost felt sorry. He was new and had no idea what was in store for him, but he would learn quick enough.

“Initiate punishment protocols,” The air hummed, signing with electricity. The plates inside the walls of the prison cell exploded to life and both men screamed as the electricity pulsed through their body.

I had only experienced the shock once, years before. It kept me from being knifed by my cellmate, but it also burnt off most of my arm hairs and left me walking funny for a week. Humane was the word they called it, but really it all just seemed like a cruel joke.

The black kid was the first to rise, mistake number two. “Remain calm,” said the pleasant sounding female computer voice. The small floating eyeball opened up and fired off a dark projectile. It pierced the kid’s skin, and he dropped again, convulsing on the ground.

His roommate started laughing. I knew the man, he was a sick son of a bitch named Freddie. He was the kind of person who enjoyed causing pain in others.

“Alright,” said the black kid, “I’m calm.” He never moved, still it was a mistake.

“Remain calm, please.” More volts of electricity  and the kid flopped around like a fish out water. The big white man next to him only laughed that much harder.

I looked down at the swastika tattooed on my own wrist. I didn’t really hate the blacks or Hispanics, hell my own cellmate was a darkie, and Zee seemed like a nice enough guy. I mean at least he never bothered me. I joined the brotherhood for protection. Everyday there seemed like there were more of them than us. The damn prison was so filled with their kind that sometimes it felt like Africa in here.

When I returned my gaze to the scene beyond the bars, I met eyes with Twig. I never had a problem with the man. We even shared a cigarette on an occasion or two. He liked to talk, about his kids, his ex-wife, his mama, his homies, anything. He just liked the sound of his own voice, and I never hated the company. It was all that talking that did him in. He had said the wrong thing to the wrong person, and now the Brotherhood had a bullseye on his back.

We shared the briefest of looks, but in that moment I knew what he was planning. All the cocksure attitude was just swagger. We both knew he’d be dead before the end of the week. In his eyes I saw his decision, maybe even before he did.

He ran. The door to the cellblock was still open and he took off. He ran for his life, but not in the way you probably think.

“Prisoner 45-678, halt your forward progress.” That was the only warning Twig would get. He was gone from my sight, the walls of my cell blocking my view. Some people were yelling, egging him on or begging him to stop. Then there was more sounds, the pulse of electricity, burning flesh, and ionized ozone, as men convulsed on the floors, like the kid across the way. The world erupted in yells and screams, but it all stopped with the gunshot.

Even the cries of pain died away as the walls of our small block echoed with the thunder of that shot. Suicide by bot, they called it. I just called it dumb, and for a moment I was in another place and another time.

Hands bound above my head as two robot cops, RoPo, bound them tight. The contents of a cash register were sprawled out in front of me. It was barely a grand, hardly worth anything. It scattered in the rain after I had been dropped by the taser. My partner, Eddy, was just looking at me from where he lay on the ground, blood falling from a gash in his head. The scarlet streaked by rain drops ran down his face like paint on ebony. It was the same look as Twig. The same shared moment. It was his third offense.

I shook my head but he stood and reached inside his pocket. He had no weapon, neither of us did. Two idiot kids from the same block in Queens. We could barely afford beer let alone a gun. Two shots rang out that night. The RoPo were quick and precise. They never missed and their pre-programmed reflexes were faster than any human. I watched my best friend as he crumpled to the pavement, rain washing away the blood and again I met his eyes, this time they were dead and cold. Suicide by bot.

“It wasn’t supposed to be like this.” The voice was raspy and quiet. I didn’t even realize it was Zee till I turned around and found him looking at me. “It wasn’t supposed to be like this.”

“What was it supposed to be like, old man?” My eyes felt cloudy and I turned away.

“I designed them. I designed them all.” When I turned back in shock he was still staring at me with a look on his face I could no longer understand. “I designed the system.

“After all the riots, and the shootings, and the killings. We thought that if we took the human element out it would get better. People were racist. It is part of who we are, but not machines, not droids. They are cold and follow the facts, but it didn’t get better, at least not for people who look like me.” He examined his own hand as if seeing it for the time. He was lighter skinned but still darker than me.

“Yeah, so what the hell happened?” I knew he was right, it was hard not to see it. Nothing had changed from the time of flesh and blood prison guards and flesh and blood cops. The bots always seemed to go easier on guys that looked like me, less shocks, more warnings, and swifter punishment for anyone who messed with us. It was a sort of unwritten rule that not many people spoke about.

Zee was ranting, getting louder. “We were wrong. It wasn’t the people that were the problem. It was the system. We forgot. The bots are just machines. We forgot that they were not without prejudice, because we are not. They may be machines, but they are our machines, programmed by flawed creatures created in a system that began before you or I were ever born.”

“Remain calm,” said the RILF, her voice booming in our cell. “This is your final warning.”

Zee just nodded as if he expected it, but he continued anyway. “We thought that if we fixed the man we would fix the system, but you can’t change the man until you change the system. We forgot.”

“Initiate punishment protocols.”