In Russia on 27 May 1993, homosexual acts between consenting males were legalized. There were pride parades, LGBT rights movements, and a general feeling of moving forward there, much as there was here in the U.S. This was before Putin.
When Putin came to power, these small changes began to reverse. By 2005, there was more open hostility to the LGBT community, and in 2009, “homosexual propaganda” became illegal. It would rapidly become unsafe to be openly gay in Russia. Encouraged by the state, vigilante groups came about to target, entrap, and then beat gay men, while the police turned a blind eye.
A lot of Putin’s philosophies, if you want to be extremely generous, come from the ideas of Alexander Dugin, who believes in “traditional” values and gender roles, is virulently anti-gay and xenophobic, and advocates a return to a more rigid, state-centered “Eurasian” (Russian) and Orthodox Christian worldview. The extent to which his policies have influenced Putin is debatable, but what isn’t debatable is that Putin has found a “winning” combination to lock up his power and his country. Homophobia is no stranger to Russia, and the gays provided a ready scapegoat. In the name of “pedophilia,” with which homosexuality was equated, the state could ruin your life, if someone didn’t take it first.
Imagine being a dissident and having the state charge you (falsely) with pedophilia. This is a hard charge to get any sympathy for. Or imagine being a dissident, only to have the state impose ruinous “fines” ($10,000 USD or up to a million) for protesting “without a license.” This is death by bureaucracy; it happened in Russia, and it’s not hard to do.
Russia has been funding and aiding (with their army of trolls) far-right groups in Europe and countries like the U.S. because they share a fascist ideology. Many Americans assume that if Donald Trump colluded with Russia (it seems certain that members of his team did), it’s just because he wanted to win. That is true of the man, but if you look at his team, they are all like-minded ideologues with Putin. They share the same goals: a white, straight, Christian ethnostate, where the men have all the power. Of course they colluded.
Like most demagogues, I doubt Putin believes in anything but himself. Trump certainly doesn’t. But the cultivation has begun, and the corporate (and Russian) oligarchs are happy to reap the crop. Robert Mercer, the billionaire who funded Bannon and Breitbart and Cambridge Analytica, is actively pushing this ideology, probably not out of belief, but rather in the drive to secure his perch in the top one percent. While the mechanics of fascism is all about hate and division, that is merely the means. The ends are about consolidating power and keeping everything they can for themselves. Fundamentally, it is always a class war, and it has always been a class war. The fact that we no longer think in these terms is a measure of the oligarchs’ success.
It’s important not to discount Russia’s march back into authoritarianism as simply a “Russian thing.” It can not only happen here, but the mechanisms have already been put into place. We responded to the attacks of 9/11 by practically begging the government to put constraints on our liberties and to bully us at the airports. Border agents obey no constitutional dictates and can illegally invade your privacy and abuse you in any way they see fit. We are accustomed to metal detectors at public buildings and even schools. We freely walk around with an object in our pocket that shows where we’ve been, whom we’ve spoken to, and what we bought. There is no public space that is without a security camera. Laughingly, we consider ourselves to be “free.”
Meanwhile, the formerly Fascist Fringe is being mainstreamed not only by outliers like Breitbart and Alex Jones, but by FOX News. The NRA stokes this fire avidly — another example of corporate power wielded by the oligarchy. The hate on the right has only grown with Trump’s nomination and election. The left is outraged and #Resisting, but too few really think IT can happen here.
Meanwhile, the ethnic cleansing has certainly begun. Any call for forbearance or human empathy is gone, and the ICE Kraken has been unleashed. They lie in wait at courtrooms and schools, they illegally detain asylum seekers, and they separate parents from young children to inflict the maximum of harm. Hell, they even get companies like Motel 6 to report “suspicious names” to them.
While “normies,” or actual compassionate citizens are alarmed by this, many on the right crow with delight. They will do nothing when the next scapegoat is announced. Who will be next? The gays? Very likely. The Jews and Muslims? Happening now. Black people? That never stopped, but we can see it worsening. The majority of the police will serve the power elite, and whomever is targeted will be vulnerable.
There are many resisters out there who are furious and confounded, but not enough fully realize the serious dangers here because it sounds ludicrous to think that things can get this bad. That things maybe are this bad. Masha Gessen, author of The Future is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia, writes about how hard it was to believe that anti-LGBT persecution in Russia had gotten so bad. And yet, it did.
It wouldn’t take much. Imagine if Trump fires Mueller. Yes, there would be outrage on the left. And likely clashes with the right, who will defend their cult leader. Or some other outrage, or outbreak of war with Iran, or Syria, or North Korea. Any little excuse to declare a state of emergency or martial law. Or to target a scapegoated group, such as antifa, “the liberals,” the gays, the Muslims. So much of the state control apparatus is already in place. All they have to do is pull the trigger. And too many of our fellow citizens are ready to go along and turn a blind eye.
These are dangerous times.
Our government, our world system, is changing. Maybe it is falling. It is certainly failing most of the world, including the planet itself. The system as we know it can’t be reformed. But we can birth something new. Those of us who reject hate must stand for the new, whatever it is. We cannot go down the path of Death again.