Could Rhetoric in the USA Lead to Genocide?

“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:

1. CLASSIFICATION:

“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.”

2. SYMBOLIZATION:

“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 …”

3. DISCRIMINATION:

“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 …”

4. DEHUMANIZATION:

“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.”

5. ORGANIZATION:

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.”

6. POLARIZATION:

“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.”

7.  PREPARATION:

“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.”

8. PERSECUTION:

“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.”

9. EXTERMINATION:

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 …”

10. DENIAL:

“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.”

______________________________________________________________________

  1. from the Genocide Education Process
  2. from “The Ten Stages of Genocide.

(Note this essay was originally published on this blog on September 11, 2017.)

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2 thoughts on “Could Rhetoric in the USA Lead to Genocide?

  1. I believe that this 10 stages of genocide was written for the 20th century and is out of date. Let me explain: the 20th century was the period of strong, top-down nation states. The 21st Century is, by contrast, the period of weak nation states, strong oligarchies with PRIVATE MERCENARY military corps, and strong non-state actors. ISIS in Syria, Al Qaeda in Iraq and Al Qaeda in Libya are examples. Non-state militias even become international, setting up franchises in nation after nation. The Alt Right in Poland, the Alt Right in Canada, ISIS in Egypt, Boko Haram in _____. FARC in ____. We are in the era of MANAGED ANARCHY, where the “state” acts more as an arbiter, and tableau upon which private enterprises war game. The movie: “The Purge” also illustrates this phenomenon.

    Genocide in the USA is going to be a totally new kind of thing and commentators in its aftermath will have to find new words to describe it. Perhaps, Atomized, Individual, Random Gun genocide. AIRG. A black person bumps into a white woman at a Walmart. White woman pulls gun, shoots him/her. Random Blacks then target random Whites in revenge, and then Whites in turn randomly gun down Blacks in revenge, and the cycle continues, escalating. Or Blacks and Whites both splinter and start shooting at each other within their own ethnic groups. Or everybody just atomizes and pretty soon everybody has a gun out of fear and everybody is just shooting at each other. Meanwhile the rich fortify themselves behind armored gated communities or possibly quarantine entire sections of towns where its legal for people to shoot at each other. Instead of the strong state rounding up people and putting them in ghettos or concentration camps, the “concentration camp” of the 21st Century is an area were police are withdrawn, and then people are given free reign to shoot and kill each other. Then the State comes in afterward to “clean up” (bury bodies, restore order, extract “important people” and so on. Or, more ominously, controlled “anarcho-tyranny” creates whole sections where the government harvests the toughest and meanest of people to indoctrinate and train in military or private security forces. To be used to fortify the weak state. A state whose main function is to secure the rich behind their castles while the working classes remain divided and kill each other. Genocides like this could go on for year after year, even into decades, and possibly even become a PERMANENT FIXTURE OF LIFE, accepted and taken for granted among the population. Because this is a kind of genocide that no one can point to for blame. Blame is distributed. Instead of one big Hitler there are a thousand little Hitlers.

  2. Doc,

    I recognize that today we cloak genocide with terms that make it more palatable for the public. Though poorly hidden, it appears evident that any of “those people” can be marginalized by divisiveness—as is well apparent in the media. With concurrent execution of the ten steps listed, we have experienced the slow genocide of many marginalized groups throughout our Nation’s history. We do not function with the efficiency of Hitler and the Nazi party, but have done a fine job via racism, oppression, and prejudice. But at the end of the day, which is more humane, gassing someone in a prison, or the slow and methodical use of laws that foster generational poverty, high incarceration, brutal policing tactics, excessive drug use, suppression of medical care, broken families, and an overall sense of hopelessness in communities of color. This is abhorrent. These torturous activities have been experienced by some groups not for days, weeks, or months, but for multiple generations—without fail.
    Many of us try to collect our facts from multiple sources: BBC, CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, Al Jazira, among others. This coupled with personal observation and some objective reasoning skills allows some to develop a reasonable understanding of the gaps between ethnicities, cultures, and in some cases sexual orientation. I hate to paint any one figure as the “boogeyman” but as of late our administration has partnered with Fox News to develop an unhealthy symbiotic relationship that is swaying the ideology of a large percentage of our populous down the path of todays genocidal patterns. I am in constant awe when I hear pundits unapologetically spew racist rhetoric that riles and empowers one-third of our country. Whether it be African American, Latinos, homosexuals, Muslims, or any other group that aren’t WASPs, our Nation has allowed us to form the “us vs. them” attitude. This visceral message is what allowed for the development of Nazi extermination camps and let us not forget the interment camps when we corralled the Japanese in after WWI right here on American soil. I can’t say for a fact, but if we had Trump and Fox News at that time, we might have had our own holocaust right here in our own backyard. And today we have police officers purging protesters with force and a failure of an administration that has allowed over 130,000 Americans to die due to their inability to lead.
    Conservatives lead the fight. Their ideology is clearly that change is “bad”, and thus wish to keep the status quo of yesteryear. Liberals alternatively are continually pushing for the rights of the many groups listed above, thus the contention ensues—as I suspect it will for perpetuity. This polarization can easily set the stage for genocide. But perhaps those protesting will find themselves at the polls in November and we will find ourselves taking a step back and realizing that we all have more in common than that which separates us. But as long as we have a public that is willing to engage in bigoted behavior or willing to look the other way when atrocities are being committed, then we are always at great risk for genocide.

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