Naomi Wolf and the Search for American Fascism
Every generation gets the Naomi Wolf it deserves. I'm 33, so I first became aware of the feminist author in 1999, when reading media clips about her work for Al Gore and (less famously) Bill Clinton. "She coached each to emphasize his manly strengths, relying on hoary, tired gender stereotypes," reported Jodi Kantor at the time. Wolf didn't play a huge role in post-Gore Democratic politics, but to my surprise, I met her in 2008 when she spoke at a shambolic, mid-July, brutally hot Ron Paul march in Washington. Wolf had published a treatise called The End of America, which argued that the United States was becoming a fascist state.
No exaggeration there. Wolf opened the book by running through some recent actions of the Bush administration, comparing them to what the Nazis did.
"When the United States invaded Iraq, Vice President Dick Cheney promised that we would be 'greeted as liberators.' (When the Germany army occupied the Rhineland, Nazi propaganda asserted that the troops would be welcomed as liberators.)
... The Bush administration unloads coffins of dead American soldiers from planes at night and has forgobidden photographers to take pictures of the coffins. (National Socialists unloaded the coffins of the German war dead at night.)
And so on. Wolf's book felt like the most feverish tremor of the Bush backlash, before optimism about the Barack Obama campaign calmed down the left. As the 2008 campaign ended, even Wolf sounded more optimistic, telling HuffPost readers that she would vote for Obama because Gitmo lawyers were endorsing him. But Wolf, like a lot of people whose primary political obsession was personal liberty, cooled on Obama. Earlier this year, she seemed to be back in the Paul camp.
All of this is preamble to Wolf's current obsession, which is coming as a surprise to the people who remembered her from the Clinton years or the Gore campaign. Over the weekend, Wolf took to Facebook to ask why the media was reporting on ISIS's beheadings of prisoners without asking whether the acts were hoaxed. "It takes five people to stage an event like this," Wolf wrote at one point. "Two to be 'parents' — two to pose for cameras ... one in a ninja outfit ... and one to contact the media."
That's actually six people, but it's hardly the main problem with Wolf's torrent of just-asking-questions updates. As Max Fisher captures at Vox, Wolf also asked 1) whether the Scottish referendum had been rigged, 2) whether American troops were being sent to Africa as a "vector" to bring Ebola home, 3) and whether Australia (run by a fairly new conservative government) was using the (possibly hoaxed!) ISIS threat to crush civil liberties.
Partisans no longer want Wolf on their side. On Twitter, the HuffPost Obama endorsement has been circulating to prove that Wolf's obsessions do not come from the right. True, they don't — they come from the fringe, which surrounds the right and left, and which is ready to believe that any crisis that spurs new military or government action may have been faked. The Sandy Hook shootings? Faked in order to justify new gun control laws. (That didn't work so well.) The 9/11 attacks? Faked to justify a war in Iraq. On the fringe, there are no coincidences — just exploding psychic octopi.
It's best to understand Wolf in that context. She's not the only person who sees the media hyperventilating about new threats and understands how that could build momentum for wars. She just chooses to fight this by tossing wild accusations and demanding that journalists debunk them. Wolf has been convinced, for at least seven years, that America is slipping into fascism. As an image consultant, she knows that reality can be manipulated to get a rise out of the electorate. She assumes the worst — and complicates the job of people who want to soberly assess the threats of ISIS and the American response.