Dispatches from the Creation Wars

American Brownshirts?

On May 16th, Lori Haigh, the owner of an art gallery in San Francisco displayed this painting by Guy Colwell, depicting the abuse of Iraqis at the Abu Ghraib prison:

(If picture does not show up, go here to see it)

Within 2 days, someone threw eggs at the gallery window, dumped trash on her doorstep, and began leaving death threats on her answering machine. Here’s what happened next:

So she decided to remove the painting, but still things got worse.

One day, someone walked into the gallery and spit in her face.

And then on May 27, someone “knocked on the door of the gallery, then punched Haigh in the face, knocking her out, breaking her nose, and causing a concussion,” AP said. Two days later, she still had a bad black right eye, with purple on the cheek next to the eye, one bandage over the nose, and another over her right eyebrow…

“This isn’t art-politics central here at all,” Haigh told AP. “I’m not here to make a stand. I never set out to be a crusader or a political activist.”

On Saturday, May 29, artists, poets, and other defenders of the First Amendment rallied in support of Haigh, her gallery, Colwell, and free expression.

“In effect, the attackers, instead of writing ‘Jew’ on the window, wrote ‘Artist’ on the window,” poet Jack Hirschman, who spoke at the rally, tells me. “The attack was really something out of the Brown Shirts.”

His historical parallel is exactly on point. Never let anyone tell you that fascism can’t happen in America. As Bertram Gross pointed out in his seminal book Friendly Fascism over 20 years ago, all of the relevant conditions for fascism to manifest itself are present in the United States, and if his book was updated today he would undoubtedly note that those conditions are more ripe now than when he wrote it.

Comments

  1. #1 bear, the (one each)
    June 19, 2004

    “His historical parallel is exactly on point. Never let anyone tell you that fascism can’t happen in America”.

    Been aware of that for a long time; the picket signs at “liberal” SF State that say “Hitler Should Have Finished the Job just re-enforce that awareness.

  2. #2 Aaron Pohle
    June 21, 2004

    I certainly condemn the actions described, but I fail to see how you can point to them as a sign of coming facism. They are the actions of thugs, not government officials.

    Are the people who did it facists? Perhaps, but the fact that facists break the law and do horrible things in the US says nothing about the US either approving of or accepting facism. Just as the fact that some terrorists rammed planes into buildings does not indicate that the US is becoming more terrorist.

  3. #3 Ed Brayton
    June 21, 2004

    I certainly condemn the actions described, but I fail to see how you can point to them as a sign of coming facism. They are the actions of thugs, not government officials.

    You missed my point. My point was not that this action in and of itself means we have a fascist government, but that the conditions for fascism exist in the US and this is one piece of evidence for it among many. Such actions do not take place in a vacuum, they are a natural result of the kind of rhetoric we are hearing these days from political leaders (“You’re either with us or against us”), from demagogues with large followings (“We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity”), and from many other places. When you combine ignorance, group hatred and the mob mentality, you have fertile soil for these kinds of actions.

    Let me make clear that I’m not saying that Bush is a fascist or that he is trying to lead toward that. There are obvious differences and the historical parallel I was drawing was between mobs of people fueled by hatred. I think Bush has gone out of his way, and rightfully so, to separate the enemies and terrorists from the average Arab. He has said explicitly that this is not a war against Arabs in general, and that Arabic and Muslim people are by and large peaceful just like any other group. I’m not aiming this that specifically. But I think we have a deeply ingrained sense of national machismo in the US that really is fertile ground for fascist movements.

    Can you think of another country that so regularly feels the need to boldly pronounce itself the Greatest Nation on Earth, to ourselves and to others? If an individual behaved in that manner, regularly and repeatedly proclaiming himself the greatest person on earth, a psychologist would have a field day diagnosing his mental illness. The same holds true for nations, I think. Our national chauvanism, our shallow notions of patriotism, our worship of symbols like the flag, our sense that we alone are entitled and destined to rule the world – all of these traits were part and parcel of the zeitgeist of Nazi Germany. There is far more to be said on this subject, of course. I highly recommend Bertram Gross’s book Friendly Fascism.

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