There is a playbook that fascists use to take and maintain power—think Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Vladimir Putin, Viktor Orbán (and more than two dozen plus authoritarian countries around the globe).
The playbook is always the same:
- Draw up an enemies list—either you are with us or you are against us. Govern for the party in power, not for all the people. Intimidate, bully, marginalize and crush any opposition.
- Systematically demonize the press—a free press is the enemy of the people; truth is fake news. Either delegitimize the press or control and use it as a propaganda tool.
- Lie, lie, lie—the bigger the lie the better, because people believe that the most outrageous and improbable lie must be true, or else no one would say it in the first place. Deny truth and create alternate facts, fiction, or fantasy. Deny science and substitute religion. Propagandize with false information and conspiracy theories.
- Weaponize religious ideology to support the regime’s agenda.
- Control the courts; bully, delegitimize and politicize the judiciary. Control judicial elections and appointments so only those loyal to the party line become judges; take control of the judicial branch and eliminate constitutional separation of powers and checks and balances.
- Destroy the Rule of Law–use laws to reward supporters and punish opponents; ignore laws not in accord with the party line; ignore court orders, disrespect civil authority. Knowingly enact unconstitutional laws; then blame “activist” judges when those laws are challenged and overturned.
- Politicize the civil service, military and domestic security.
- Involve government in surveilling the press, reporters, political opponents and those on the enemies list.
- Fearmonger and demonize minorities, LGBTQ+communities, transgender resident, the disabled, immigrants, and the powerless; make them the scapegoats for societies’ social and economic ills. Weaponize and inflame racial and social prejudices.
- Trash civil rights and liberties in favor of partisan and religious ideology.
- Marginalize and bully women; trash their gender-specific rights and needs; empower government to control their reproductive functions; keep them submissive to the patriarchy.
- Disenfranchise voters. Promote spurious conspiracy theories and lies claiming election fraud, stolen elections and voting irregularities. Demand recounts and audits of elections held and certified in accordance with governing laws. Sue on false claims without evidentiary support. Suppress the vote and make it harder and more inconvenient to vote. Subvert election results. Gerrymander and do everything possible to rig the system so that only the party faithful are elected. Empower the legislature to ignore the popular vote and change the results of elections. Hold on to power at all costs and with any tactics.
In short, the goal of all fascists is to control all branches and functions of government, and to make those and the minds of people conform to the party line and ideology. People do not count; the Constitution does not count.
The Rule of Law becomes the Rule of Lie.
It has been said that “when fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.” And John Maynard Keynes observed that, “Perhaps it is historically true that no order of society ever perishes save by its own hand.”
Sadly, history has shown both to be true, time and time again.
The fascist playbook ensures that democracy will die from within, not from without.
And, if you think “it can’t happen here,” you are wrong. Look where our state and our nation are headed; check off the boxes.
It is already here.
By James C. Nelson
James C. Nelson is a retired lawyer and former Montana Supreme Court Justice. He lives in Helena.
Originally published in the Daily Montanan. Republished here under Creative Commons license 4.0