“Ten Stages of Genocide” was a document developed by Dr. Gregory H. Stanton, a professor at the University of Mary Washington. Stanton has served as the President of the International Association of Genocide Scholars, and now leads Genocide Watch, a non-profit organization dedicated to the fight against genocide. (“Ten Stages of Genocide” was originally published in 1996 as the “Eight Stages of Genocide,” and revised in 2013.)
“Ten Stages of Genocide” is a formula for how a society can engage in genocide. Genocide cannot be committed by an individual or small group; rather, it takes the cooperation of a large number of people and the state. The genocidal process starts with prejudice that continues to grow. By knowing the stages of genocide, citizens are better equipped to identify the warning signs and stop the process from continuing.1
Stanton notes that:
Genocide is a process that develops in ten stages that are predictable but not inexorable. At each stage, preventive measures can stop it. The process is not linear. Stages may occur simultaneously. Logically, later stages must be preceded by earlier stages. But all stages continue to operate throughout the process.2
Reflections on Where We Stand in America Today
The USA has committed war crimes, engaged in unlawful torture, annihilated civilian populations, supported brutal dictators, and overthrown democratically elected governments. The USA certainly committed genocide on the Native Americans and came close to doing so to African-Americans. So there is no reason to think that won’t commit more genocide in the future. Let’s look at where we stand on each stage in America today regarding various groups.
1. Classification – The “us vs. them” mentality is everywhere–conservatives vs. liberals; evangelicals vs. secularists; rural vs urban; whites vs. African-Americans, Hispanics; Native Americans; Asian Americans; etc. SUCH CLASSIFICATION OCCURS IN THE USA, AND IS INCREASING WITH THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION.
2. Symbolization – Certain groups–especially African-Americans, Native Americans and Hispanics—are forced to identify themselves with papers to document residency, with identification to vote, etc. Conclusion – SUCH SYMBOLIZATION OCCURS IN THE USA, AND IS INCREASING WITH THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION.
3. Discrimination – Discrimination against certain groups is rampant—especially of the above ones plus the LGBTQ community. Conclusion – SUCH DISCRIMINATION OCCURS IN THE USA, AND IS INCREASING WITH THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION.
4. Dehumanization – This occurs regarding the above groups. Hate propaganda and hate speech is ubiquitous in the media consumed by millions. Conclusion – SUCH DEHUMANIZATION OCCURS IN THE USA AND IS INCREASING WITH THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION.
5. Organization – State-backed police brutality, and an increasingly biased Department of Justice, especially against the above groups, is well-known in the USA. Militias motivated by hate are on the rise. Conclusion – SUCH ORGANIZATION OCCURS IN THE USA, AND IS INCREASING WITH THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION.
6. Polarization – Right-wing media broadcasts anger, outrage, and hate. Conclusion – SUCH POLARIZATION OCCURS IN THE USA, AND IS INCREASING WITH THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION.
LAST FOUR STAGES HAVE NOT BEEN REACHED IN THE USA.
(** UPDATE – JULY 2019 ** – Stage 7 has begun at our southern border. Denial of asylum, children in cages, etc. All of which violates international law. The irony is that: 1) our country desperately needs young immigrants; and 2) conditions in Central America result in large part from American intervention there—especially related to the war on drugs.)
7. PREPARATION: Official action to remove/relocate people. Conclusion – SUCH PREPARATION OCCURS TO SOME EXTENT, MOSTLY REGARDING HISPANICS AND AFRICAN-AMERICANS, BUT IS INCREASING WITH THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION.
8. PERSECUTION: Murders, theft of property, segregation into ghettos. Conclusion – SUCH PERSECUTION OCCURS TO SOME EXTENT MOSTLY REGARDING HISPANICS AND AFRICAN-AMERICANS, BUT IS INCREASING WITH THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION.
9. EXTERMINATION: THIS STAGE HAS NOT BEEN REACHED.
10. DENIAL: THIS STAGE HAS NOT BEEN REACHED.
Reflections on Where We Are Going in the USA
I have written previously about the possibility of civil war in America today. As for the presence of hate speech directed toward certain groups—especially African-Americans, Hispanics; Native Americans; Asian-Americans; LGBTQ persons and women—the trends are ominous.
There is no way to predict where this will lead. Perhaps we are going through an especially ugly phase brought about by technology’s impact on employment, maybe we are just experiencing a particularly bad political moment, or maybe we haven’t learned how to be proper gatekeepers of the new media landscape which allows individuals to be manipulated in protective bubbles of disinformation and lies. Or perhaps the situation is just what you expect periodically from modified monkeys with brains formed in the Pleistocene.
But hate, anger, disinformation, conspiracy theories, and lies have gone mainstream, especially with the rise of right-wing media over the last twenty years, a situation exacerbated by the Trump administration. Let’s hope this is a passing phase, for it is a dangerous one. The anger, hatred, and division sown by right-wing fanatics, along with their attacks on expertise, science, education, tolerance, and the liberal values that help humans escape the Dark Ages, is taking its toll. And a society divorced from science and truth, from tolerance, justice, and fairness, is not a place where humans will flourish. In fact, in an increasingly complex world we need to have faith in experts more than ever.
For more detail on each stage, here are some quotes from Stanton’s document:
“All cultures have categories to distinguish people into “us and them” by ethnicity, race, religion, or nationality … The main preventive measure at this early stage is to develop universalistic institutions that transcend ethnic or racial divisions, that actively promote tolerance and understanding, and that promote classifications that transcend the divisions … This search for common ground is vital to early prevention of genocide.”
“We give names or other symbols to the classifications … and apply the symbols to members of groups … When combined with hatred, symbols may be forced upon unwilling members of pariah groups … To combat symbolization, hate symbols can be legally forbidden (swastikas) as can hate speech. Group marking … can be outlawed … The problem is that legal limitations will fail if unsupported by popular cultural enforcement …”
“A dominant group uses law, custom, and political power to deny the rights of other groups. The powerless group may not be accorded full civil rights or even citizenship … Prevention against discrimination means full political empowerment and citizenship rights for all groups in a society. Discrimination on the basis of nationality, ethnicity, race or religion should be outlawed …”
“One group denies the humanity of the other group. Members of it are equated with animals, vermin, insects or diseases. Dehumanization overcomes the normal human revulsion against murder. At this stage, hate propaganda in print and on hate radios is used to vilify the victim group … Local and international leaders should condemn the use of hate speech and make it culturally unacceptable … Hate radio stations should be shut down, and hate propaganda banned. Hate crimes and atrocities should be promptly punished.”
Genocide is always organized, usually by the state, often using militias to provide deniability of state responsibility … Sometimes organization is informal … or decentralized … Special army units or militias are often trained and armed. Plans are made for genocidal killings. To combat this stage, membership in these militias should be outlawed.”
“Extremists drive the groups apart. Hate groups broadcast polarizing propaganda … Extremist terrorism targets moderates, intimidating and silencing the center … Prevention may mean security protection for moderate leaders or assistance to human rights groups.”
“National or perpetrator group leaders plan the “Final Solution”… They often use euphemisms to cloak their intentions, such as referring to their goals as “ethnic cleansing,” “purification,” or “counter-terrorism.” They build armies, buy weapons and train their troops and militias. They indoctrinate the populace with fear of the victim group. Leaders often claim that “if we don’t kill them, they will kill us.”
“Victims are identified and separated out because of their ethnic or religious identity. Death lists are drawn up. In state-sponsored genocide, members of victim groups may be forced to wear identifying symbols. Their property is often expropriated. Sometimes they are even segregated into ghettos, deported into concentration camps, or confined to a famine-struck region and starved. Genocidal massacres begin.”
Extermination begins, and quickly becomes the mass killing legally called “genocide.” It is “extermination” to the killers because they do not believe their victims to be fully human. When it is sponsored by the state, the armed forces often work with militias to do the killing. Sometimes the genocide results in revenge killings by groups against each other, creating the downward whirlpool-like cycle of bilateral genocide …”
“is the final stage that lasts throughout and always follows a genocide. It is among the surest indicators of further genocidal massacres. The perpetrators of genocide dig up the mass graves, burn the bodies, try to cover up the evidence and intimidate the witnesses. They deny that they committed any crimes, and often blame what happened on the victims. They block investigations of the crimes, and continue to govern until driven from power by force, when they flee into exile. There they remain with impunity, like Pol Pot or Idi Amin, unless they are captured and a tribunal is established to try them.”
(Note this essay was originally published on this blog on September 11, 2017.)