CORRECTION: Soon after publishing this fact-check on May 12, 2015, with a rating of Mostly True, Lowry pointed us to an interview given by Wolf in 2008. Wolf's comments from that interview are now included in this fact-check and we have changed the rating to True based on the new information.
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There’s a theory going around that the federal government is using a massive military training exercise as a foundation to take over parts of the West, including Texas. The military has said, no, that’s not the case.
But the air remained sufficiently thick with rumors on May 10, 2015, that ABC’s This Week took a few minutes to discuss the matter.
Pundits Greta Van Susteren, Rich Lowry, Gwen Ifill and Jamelle Bouie all seemed to brush the talk off as conspiratorial hogwash.
"Federal control of Texas is something that was pretty much established in the mid-19th century by President (James) Polk," Lowry said. "So, the idea that the federal government is going to go in and retake over Texas is just nonsense." (Polk was president when Texas became a state.)
Lowry wanted to make clear, however, that conspiracies are not only for conservatives.
"We've always seen distrust, and it's on both sides," Lowry said.
"I don't see liberals worried about military takeovers," said Bouie, a writer for Slate.
"Well, look at the left," Lowry said. "They have the anti-vaxxers. They have unscientific fears about nuclear power and GMO foods. During the Bush administration, you actually had a prominent liberal write a book about how Bush was preparing for a fascist takeover of this country."
We were curious about Lowry’s point, and honed in on the claim about George W. Bush. Lowry said what he had in mind was a 2007 book by Naomi Wolf called The End of America: Letter of warning to a young patriot.
Wolf, a feminist and activist, cast the book as a dire warning about the trajectory of the country. In it, Wolf lists 10 changes that she said typically mark a country’s descent into totalitarianism. Her case studies included the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, China, Italy under Benito Mussolini, and Chile under Augusto Pinochet.
"There are 10 steps that would-be dictators always take when they are seeking to close down an open society," Wolf said in a 2007 interview on Comedy Central’s Colbert Report.
Wolf’s thesis, which she also shared in a newspaper opinion piece titled "Fascist America in 10 easy steps," is that the United States had taken the 10 steps during the George W. Bush administration.
"It is my argument that, beneath our very noses, George Bush and his administration are using time-tested tactics to close down an open society," Wolf wrote.
Here’s Wolf’s list, and how Wolf alleges that Bush aligned himself with despots. (We’re simply re-posting her arguments, which obviously are controversial.)
1. Invoke a terrifying internal and external enemy: The war on terror with its warning of a global caliphate that threatens civilization.
2. Create a gulag: The Guantanamo Bay prison and the CIA "black-sites."
3. Develop a thug caste: Private security guards, such as the Blackwater contractors.
4. Set up an internal surveillance system: Government tracking of phone calls, emails and banking transactions, as reported in 2005 and 2006.
5. Harass citizens' groups: Government tracking of anti-war organizations and their activities.
6. Engage in arbitrary detention and release: An airport security list that flags people like Wolf for extra scrutiny.
7. Target key individuals: The outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame after her husband publicly challenged the Bush administration assertion that Iraq had acquired yellow cake uranium from Niger.
8. Control the press: The distribution of false information, such as the yellowcake uranium claim.
9. Dissent equals treason: Bush administration assertion of the power to label an American citizen as an "enemy combatant."
10. Suspend the rule of law: Increased presidential authority to deploy the National Guard.
Wolf never actually claimed Bush had a plan to convert the nation into a totalitarian state in the book. Wolf argued that what she saw laid the groundwork for a fundamental loss of liberty. Wolf said "our experiment in democracy could be closed down by a process of erosion."
However, Wolf was much more matter-of-fact in an October 2008 interview on KEXP 90.3 FM Seattle. Wolf was there to discuss her follow-up book, Give Me Liberty: A Handbook for American Revolutionaries.
In the interview, Wolf warned that Bush may declare martial law if Congress failed to pass the 2008 financial bailout bill. In that scenario, Wolf mused that Bush would stop the 2008 election.
"There is not going to be an election, as usual, if he can declare on Oct. 3 that he’s going to engage in martial law if people don’t do what he wants," Wolf said. "Why on Earth would he hand over the power to Barack Obama?"
In another part of the interview, Wolf said a coup was already underway.
"We have to wake up," Wolf said. "On Oct. 1, the First Brigade of the Third Infantry Division was deployed in the United States of America for the first time since 1807 when a bright line was placed preventing the military from policing American streets. A military brigade -- that's 3/4,000 soldiers -- has been brought in to police our streets."
Wolf goes on to say that "the president now has an army."
"The coup is here rather than looming," said Wolf, who went on to tell listeners she would be posting instructions on how to arrest the president on a website.
Lowry said that a leading liberal had written a book about how Bush was preparing for a fascist takeover of this country.
The book Lowry cited does not allege a specific plot. Rather it uses events during the Bush administration and compares them to events that happened in the build-up of totalitarian regimes around the world. But in an interview in the run-up to the 2008 presidential election, Wolf said a coup was underway and that Bush may declare martial law and prevent the 2008 election.
Lowry’s claim rates True.