THE STEPS TO AUTOCRACY . . . and, btw, also genocide

#1. Promote yourself as the savior, often by glitter and large buildings, who will return your nation or culture to greatness and lift “your” people out of humiliation and make them safe by eliminating “dangerous elements.”

The steps to become a dictator, an all-authoritarian ruler, are the same as the ones required to achieve genocide. While I do not believe, by any stretch, that the United States is headed towards genocide, I recognize that the actions by our president are aligned with the actions necessary for genocide. It is a question only of degree and goals.

My study of strongmen gaining control of governments and, ultimately, achieving genocide began in 2003 when I co-directed and produced the documentary film Peace by Peace: Women on the Frontlines. The film showed the work of women rebuilding their nations after massive devastation, including in Burundi and Bosnia.

It was ten years after the genocide in Burundi, concurrent with the genocide in Rwanda, by Hutus of Tutsis and moderate Hutus, and seven years since the end of the four-year siege of Sarajevo by Bosnia Serbs.

The documentary, which debuted at the United Nations and was aired by PBS television, shows women in Burundi using reconciliation radio programs and face-to-face interactions to build peace and connections across the land. In those verdant hills a civil war continued to simmer. One day after filming our local handlers told us as we were driving away that guerrillas had come to that village the day before and they had killed people.

In Bosnia, we filmed women in Sarajevo and across the countryside rebuilding the economy through small businesses and micro-loans. A tepid peace was maintained by the presence of United Nations peace keepers.

To understand the causes and effects of genocide I observed and researched, among other things, the strategies of strongmen in Bosnia and Burundi and other nations, including Germany. What steps are required to achieve the power of an autocrat?

Below are my findings from that time, with a few updated side comments. They are more or less in sequence:

1. Promote yourself as the savior, often by glitter and large buildings, who will return your nation or culture to greatness and lift “your” people out of humiliation and make them safe by eliminating “dangerous elements.”

2. Instill fear in the hearts and minds of your citizens. Fear in the majority of the minorities so the majority align with you for protection. Fear in the minorities of you and the majority so they stay silent and weakened.

3. Gain control of the media by silencing, weakening, and defaming legitimate media and setting up false media to carry your messages of fear, hate, and alternative “truths,” i.e. propaganda. This is key.

4. Begin and maintain a steady drumbeat through media and every way possible of demeaning and debasing one or more minorities. Nothing you say is too extreme and there is no need for it to be truthful. They are killers, rapists, dirty, and, eventually, “cockroaches.”

5. Gain control of the military by degrading the leaders who would oppose you and replacing them with those who will do what you say – usually for their own gain.

6. Do the same with the judiciary system.

5. Attack and weaken educational institutions, scientists, and professional leaders. Condemn and weaken the “effete intellectuals.” They are your enemy. They must be silenced. They are infiltrators who do not like you and have their own agendas.

6. Set up paramilitary groups across the land with arms to patrol, intimidate, and harm “the other.” If you don’t have guns, machetes will do.

7. Restrict the selected scapegoat minorities, saying it is for the safety of the majority. Restrict their travel, opportunities, access to education and professions and places to live. Tighten restrictions over time with systematically applied “rules” about what they can and cannot do. If possible, build a wall to isolate them.

8. If you wish to enact a genocide, look for, or create, an event to use as a catalyst, as a spark to the tinder you have prepared, to launch slaughter, randomly or orderly depending on your preference and what is possible. Watch the fire burn.

Our president, his staff, and appointees know he is striving for personal power beyond “checks and balances,” but they probably don’t label it as turning our democracy into an autocracy. Trump certainly has no internal existence except “Trump First” and that does not allow for self-review of his actions and their consequences. It also means he does not have a clue of the nature of a democracy let alone know how to be president of one. He doesn’t have the equipment.

We, however, are becoming aware of the signs of an emerging autocracy and must continue to rise against it en masse – majority and minorities, women and men – to prevent immense damage to our democracy, our nation’s fiber, and our personal morals.

If looks like a duck, walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, the chances are it will behave like a duck because it IS a duck. It is what ducks know to do.

Donald, Duck-esque, only knows what he knows to do. It might work well in his personal fantasy land, but it does not work in our real world. En masse is the accumulation of concerned people. Rise up!


7 thoughts on “THE STEPS TO AUTOCRACY . . . and, btw, also genocide

  1. The power of your words simply take my breath away! You are a blessing in all our lives.

    • I hope my words make some contribution, Jo. It is difficult to know — but I know you are there, and that matters!

  2. Good, strong piece of analytical advice. For a mid West farm girl, you are very, very sharp.

    • What, Joe, you thought I only knew how to milk cows? …. well, I don’t … know how to milk cows that is, but I know how to get them out of the cornfield when they get loose. Stare ’em in the eyes, wave your arms over your head, yell at them, and walk towards them steadily — even when you’re only 9 years old.

  3. Patricia. i sit here stunned. and iagain feel fear creeping from my toes to my heart. You have laid out the master plan in terms i only thought could happen elsewhere.
    i joined the women’s march here in Tucson. I felt powerful and optimistic. and now, reading, nearly shattered. what has happened so far with respect to trump, with your succinct, chronological, proven points, i see are now being played out in actual time and the plan is in motion. Not conspiratorially, but in actual observable and documented fact.
    i believe i have been naive. that i have been operating within a belief system of checks and balances and right and wrong that is shattering. here is sit in my nice little house with nice hot showers and delicious food and friends and my social and spiritual life, bike riding by the river and creating vision boards – like life is just going to be normal and loving and fine. yes we will march and protest and he will see the light and respect the will of the people. but with latest travesties of vos and sessions….. and the backdrop of your article….. i am truly fearful. there is no respect – even after sitting at the presidential desk. i see i cant just sit here and send in my 50 bucks to this and that charity or cause….. or sign this or that petition. and i know 1000’s and 10000s of 1000s have visited offices to register complaints….. and still he keeps going…. and still the pipelines are approved…. and we are moving closer to a showdown with which i fear bloodshed could ensue.
    you have my attention at a new level. i will continue to do the above…. but now i am hungry for more. i must do my part in a stronger manner. like my life, my children, my grandchildren – all lives matter…. that we must wake from slumber and stupor before we go past the tipping point. good lord! i’m ready for the resistance.

    • Dear, we can do this, but we must find the way that suits each of us best. I don’t want you to burn yourself out. It will be a marathon. Care for yourself and place your lever of power smartly.


    Just TWENTY-FIVE (25) days ago today, the 45th President of the United States of America was inaugurated…

    In addition to Patricia’s significant findings and comments above, enclosed below are two links to somewhat rather intriguing comments by two distinguished scholars… The first discusses what the President of the United States of America has in common with China’s Mao; and the second discusses shocking similarities between our president and Hitler’s propaganda tactics…

    NOTE: In his first 25 days to date, our president has done or attempted to do precisely what he said he was going to do… The actions he’s taken, the people he’s appointed, nominated and/or surrounded himself with, and all the alarming things he’s tweeted about should not be surprising to anyone… Most everyone’s already commented on his personal pervasive traits and tiddlywinks, one way or another… Our president has also been prominently discussed and characterized as a dangerous demagogue with fascist tendencies…

    As the links below respectfully state, our president is NOT Mao, he is NOT Adolf, and to me, therein lies THE REALLY SCARY PART…

    Our president is NOT THEM, NOT JUST YET, but… Our president is just one little tantrum, one little frivolous comment, one little hand with trigger-happy fingers from detonating explosions instantaneously that in this nuclear age would result in the KILLING of millions upon millions if not billions of people, and most likely destroying all of humankind at the same time… Only know this to be true – and therein lies THE REALLY SCARY PART…


    NEW YORK, January 18, 2017 — Orville Schell, director of the Center on U.S.-China Relations at Asia Society, describes how Donald Trump and Mao Zedong share similar populist and “revolutionary” traits that helped propel them to power. (EXCERPT… 4 min., 23 sec.)


    HISTORY NEWS NETWORK, 12 October 2016 — Expert on Nazism explains shocking similarities between Trump and Hitler’s  propaganda  tactics. Nicholas O’Shaughnessy is Professor of Communication at Queen Mary, University of London and currently Visiting Professor at King’s College London.

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