#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!