by Kilian Melloy
Nov 26, 2008
Voter approval of a ballot initiative in California, Proposition 8, which rescinded the existing right of gay and lesbian families to marry, has sparked a massive, nation-wide resistance, with almost entirely peaceful demonstrations occurring in 300 cities around America, a new legal challenge to the amendment headed to the California Supreme Court, and a vow to fight, and repeal, the anti-gay measure unifying GLBT organizations.
But the response of gay and lesbian Americans fighting for their families has given far-right wing figures an opportunity to promote neoconservative causes, even at the dawn of the Obama administration and a Democratic White House.
Zeroing in on a few rare, isolated instances in which anti-Prop. 8 demonstrators crossed the line--instances, some say, in which that behavior was provoked by publicity-seeking Prop. 8 supporters--Fox News talk show host Bill O’Reilly and his recent guest, Newt Gingrich, launched a renewed assault against American gay and lesbian families by painting them as "fascists."
This is nothing new. The right--from social conservatives to far-fringe Christian Web outlets--routinely dismiss and demonize gay individuals, families, and organizations as "fascists."
Indeed, such Web outlets sometimes refer to gays as "fascists" and "anarchists" indiscriminately, despite the polar opposition of those political stances.
But Newt Gingrich’s re-emergence, and his embrace of the characterization of gays and lesbians as "fascists" has led to outrage, and to concern--and not just here at home.
In the UK newspaper The Guardian, a Nov. 25 article predicted that Gingrich might rise to power anew, much as he did in the early 1990s, when he exploited white male anger and ushered in an era of Republican Congressional control even as Democratic president Bill Clinton steered the country to a period of prosperity from the White House.
In the current financial meltdown, the aftermath of two terms of Republican president George W. Bush, the voters’ mood has proven volatile: Democratic President-elect Barack Obama has been elected to the White House as much on his mantra of "change" as his well-articulated strategies for economic recovery.
But foundational change will only come gradually, and two years from now, with the 2010 mid-term elections, another Republican sweep is not out of the question, should the American public grow impatient with the drab fact that economic recovery is likely to take years--perhaps decades--and that Obama cannot turn the situation around overnight.
Noted the Guardian article, "Today, [as in 1993] another Democrat is entering the White House with a governing majority in both Houses of Congress.
"And Newt is back, doing what he does best--laying the groundwork for a Republican comeback by preying on the fears of the populace.
"And, who knows, perhaps if he keeps the Democrats from winning an obstruction-proof majority in the Senate, he’s on the road back to real power.
The Guardian article points out that, "Barack Obama may have won the US presidency by a decisive margin, but the strength of his governing majority remains uncertain.
"In two states, Minnesota and Georgia, the results of Senate races have yet to be determined.
"Minnesota’s is headed for a recount and perhaps a court challenge. Georgia’s is headed for a runoff next week."
Notes the article, "Should the Democrats prevail in both contests, they will have the coveted 60-vote majority required for governing with ease.
"A vote shy of 60 on any piece of legislation allows the opposition to hold it up indefinitely by means of a filibuster--a privilege that Republicans wish dearly to retain."
Enter Gingrich, which the article speculates has brought his rhetoric about "fascism," and his targeting of gay and lesbian Americans, always a soft target, to the stage.
In his Nov. 14 appearance on O’Reilly’s program, Gingrich engaged the talk show host over the topic of the anti-Proposition 8 demonstrations.
O’Reilly did not address the overwhelmingly peaceful nature of the protests, but instead cherry-picked an incident in Palm Springs in which an elderly woman carrying a Styrofoam cross pushed her way into the thick of an anti-Prop. 8 candlelight vigil, apparently in an attempt to make her way to a film crew.
The same woman, Phyliss Burgess, had been filmed by that crew five days earlier when she carried a cross into a Gay Pride parade.
Several people in the crowd grew so angry that they snatched the cross from Burgess and stomped it to bits.
That episode of violence has proven a cause celebre for right-wing blogs, Web sites, and now, Bill O’Reilly and Fox news.
Using the highly unusual--and nearly unique--incident as an opportunity to blacken all America’s gays and lesbians, Gingrich declaimed that, "I think there is a gay and secular fascism in this country that wants to impose its will on the rest of us, is prepared to use violence, to use harassment."
Seeking to link the so-called gay "fascists" to the President-Elect, Gingrich continued, "I think it is prepared to use the government if it can get control of it."
Quoting from a familiar religious script used recently by prominent anti-gay figures such as Oklahoma state representative Sally Kern, who compared gays to terrorists and predicted the end of civilization because of the growing acceptance of gays and lesbians, Gingrich went on, "I think that it is a very dangerous threat to anybody who believes in traditional religion.
"And I think if you believe in historic Christianity, you have to confront the fact."
Gingrich’s attempt to link gays with fascism elicited a detailed history lesson from Patricia Nell Warren, who wrote an extensive article on the subject that appeared Nov. 26 at The Huffington Post.
Wrote Warren, "Good grief, Newt Gingrich is ’teaching’ history again.
"On the Bill O’Reilly show the other day, Gingrich came up with his biggest lie about history yet. He said, ’I think there is a gay and secular fascism in this country that wants to impose its will on the rest of us... it is a very dangerous threat to anybody who believes in traditional religion.’
"Wow," continued Warren. "And to think that the real fascists were neither gay nor secular. In fact, the real fascists supported--and were shamelessly supported by--ultra-traditional Christian religion.
"I’m talking mainly about Spain’s Franco, Germany’s Hitler and Italy’s Mussolini, who were the most powerful and destructive figures among European fascist rulers of the 20th century."
Noted Warren, "Hitler himself--who is the focus of American conservatives’ fascistophobia--was born and raised a Catholic, and never left the Catholic Church. Indeed, he encouraged his top leadership people to stay Catholic as well."
In the course of her detailed explanation of what constitutes fascism historically, Warren wrote, "Throughout the 20th century, a number of fascist regimes popped up like thunderheads along the Western horizon, all the way from north Europe to South America.
"They all had certain dark quirks in common. They were totalitarian, right-wing and military--fiercely nationalistic, often expansionist, and enjoyed strong support from wealthy aristocracy, industry and big business."
Warren also cited the Webster’s Dictionary definition of fascism, which, the reference book says, is "a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition."
"But the Webster’s definition carefully avoids mentioning religion," Warren adds. "Yet Europe’s fascist regimes had religious underpinnings.
"Much of Europe’s ultraconservative Christian leadership--notably the Vatican--supported and appeased those 20th-century fascist movements.
"In fact, the tie to conservative Christianity made fascism the sworn enemy of communism, which had stomped on the churches in every country it took over.
"The Christian tie also made fascism obsessively and moralistically controlling of the sexual, reproductive and family lives of its citizens."
Added Warren, "Last but not least, the ’forcible suppression’ of fascist regimes was directed at classes of people that conservative Protestants and Catholics had always hated and feared--notably Jews and homosexuals."
Warren went on to observe, "Americans who believe that Hitler was a ’secular’ and ’pagan’ figure have never bothered to read Mein Kampf.
"Today it’s one of the least-read among history-making books. Copies have been quietly removed from most public and school libraries, so the only place you can find it is online and used-book services.
"And no wonder it’s ignored," Warren added. "When I read it for the first time, I was amazed to see the many invocations of Almighty God, and the admiring mentions of the Holy Roman Empire.
"And comments like the following: ’I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord.’"
Warren went on to sketch out the friendly relations between the Catholic church and dictators Franco and Mussolini.
Wrote Warren, "Does my thumbnail portrait of three fascist rulers sound like anything that LGBT activists are standing for? I think not.
"In fact, everything for which our liberal, pluralist, democratic, individualist movement stands is exactly the kind of thing that the real fascists tried to stamp out.
"Now we come to the $64 question. How does a talking head like Newt Gingrich get away with such an appalling lie about history?"
Warren’s article examined the ways in which Hitler and other fascist figures are re-cast today as "Satanic" or anti-Christian, when they promoted themselves as acting in the interests of the Christian faith.
Warren addressed another element of modern revisionism, writing, "As a sideline, conservative media are developing a sub-myth that the Hitler movement itself was ’homosexual.’
"They point to the fact that stormtrooper chief Ernst Rohm’s homosexuality and that of a few of Rohm’s buddies was evidently known to Hitler during the early years.
"However, Hitler’s willingness to use people and institutions--including the Catholic and Lutheran Churches--explains his temporary forbearance in Rohm’s case.
"During the social violence attending the Nazi Party’s rise, Hitler needed Rohm’s muscle to establish and protect himself. Eventually, however, Hitler felt secure enough to get rid of Rohm. During the famous ’Night of the Long Knives,’ the Fuhrer had Rohm and his gay associates massacred."
Wrote Warren, "This event--and the fact that homosexuality was a capital crime under the Nazis, who sent an estimated 100,000 homosexuals, mostly gay men, to the death camps--sends its own clear message.
"The Nazis’ real views on sexual orientation were the same as those of ultra-traditional Christians in the U.S. who want to have all homosexuals put to death."
Warren pointed out that those movements from the mid-20th century have their analogues today: "...these ultra-traditional church activists say openly that they want to take over the United States, get rid of democracy and the Bill of Rights, establish a state religion, invade and occupy other countries, control everybody’s sex lives, and kill any factions that they don’t approve of.
"Some of them are even fiercely anti-Semitic. Indeed, their aims are laid out in their own writings, which can be found and read by anybody who really wants to know what they’re up to."
Gingrich’s half-sister, gay activist Candace Gingrich, published her own essay, in the form of a letter to her brother Newt, in a Nov. 22 article in the Huffington Post.
"Dear Newt," wrote Candace Gingrich, "I recently had the displeasure of watching you bash the protestors of the Prop 8 marriage ban to Bill O’Reilly on FOX News.
"I must say, after years of watching you build your career by stirring up the fears and prejudices of the far right, I feel compelled to use the words of your idol, Ronald Reagan, ’There you go, again.’"
Added Gingrich, "However, I realize that you may have been a little preoccupied lately with planning your resurrection as the savior of your party, so I thought I would fill you in on a few important developments you might have overlooked.
"The truth is that you’re living in a world that no longer exists. I, along with millions of Americans, clearly see the world the way it as--and we embrace what it can be.
"You, on the other hand, seem incapable of looking for new ideas or moving beyond what worked in the past.
"Welcome to the 21st century, big bro."
Gingrich continued, "I can understand why you’re so afraid of the energy that has been unleashed after gay and lesbian couples had their rights stripped away from them by a hateful campaign.
"I can see why you’re sounding the alarm against the activists who use all the latest tech tools to build these rallies from the ground up in cities across the country.
"This unstoppable progress has at its core a group we at HRC call Generation Equality," Gingrich wrote. "They are the most supportive of full LGBT equality than any American generation ever--and when it comes to the politics of division, well, they don’t roll that way."
Gingrich noted that voters between the ages of 18 and 24 voted for Barack Obama, and against Proposition 8, and asserted that, "the numbers of young progressive voters will only continue to grow."
Added Gingrich, "Even older Americans are turning their backs on the politics of fear and demagoguery that you and your cronies have perfected over the years."
Wrote Gingrich, "This is a movement of the people that you most fear. It’s a movement of progress--and your words on FOX News only show how truly desperate you are to maintain control of a world that is changing before your very eyes."
Added Gingrich, "Then again, we’ve seen these tactics before. We know how much the right likes to play political and cultural hardball, and then turn around and accuse us of lashing out first.
"You give a pass to a religious group--one that looks down upon minorities and women--when they use their money and membership roles to roll back the rights of others, and then you label us ’fascists’ when we fight back.
"You belittle the relationships of gay and lesbian couples, and yet somehow neglect to explain who anointed you the protector of ’traditional’ marriage.
"And, of course, you’ve also mastered taking the foolish actions of a few people and then indicting an entire population based on those mistakes."
Wrote Gingrich, "I fail to see how any of these patterns coincide with the values of ’historic Christianity’ you claim to champion."
Gingrich went on to write, "What really worries me is that you are always willing to use LGBT Americans as political weapons to further your ambitions.
"That’s really so ’90s, Newt. In this day and age, it’s embarrassing to watch you talk like that."
Added Gingrich, "In other words, stop being a hater, big bro."
Kilian Melloy reviews media, conducts interviews, and writes commentary for EDGEBoston, where he also serves as Assistant Arts Editor.