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Authoritarian-Minded Populism in the United States Essay

The evaluation of particular historical events always depends upon the historians’ perspective and their ideological beliefs. In that regard, any war can be defined as antihuman or patriotic and heroic, depending upon the chosen angle for viewing it.

After Thycydides justified the Peloponnesian War as an epochal event for the whole mankind, similar strategies have been implemented by numerous historians, politicians and ruling elites for supporting their claims and finding apologia for their decisions. At present, labeling terror laws as counterterrorism measures, the United States developed torture expertise aimed at creating an authoritarian-minded populism in the country and utilizing the terrorism industry for achieving their political goals.

Mechanisms of controlling the masses

In the frames of authoritarian-minded populism, the ruling classes of the modern era do everything possible for obscuring communication so that to take the advantages of opacity and limit liberty of population. The mass incarceration, state control, wars and terror are used by the US elites for controlling not only the masses within their country but also spreading their influence on the rest of the globe.

The technological and scientific progress cuts both ways, providing plenty of opportunities that can be used for achieving various goals, including those of controlling masses by means of terror. Ulrich Beck coined the term “risk society” for defining these social shifts in the world community, implying that the products of human activity have become the major sources of hazards as opposed to the past when main risks came from the natural world (Skoll 2010).

Testing of the atomic bombs first in desert near New Mexico and then in Hiroshima and Nagasaki and using the premise of noble goals of putting an end to the Word War indicated the beginning of a new era of using the nuclear weapon for threatening the world community and controlling it. Historically, Nazi Germania, Fascist Italia and Stalinist Soviet Union can be used as examples of authoritarian regimes which implemented terror for controlling the masses. The two main tactics are widely used by these states for the purpose of affecting the mass consciousness and achieving their goals.

The first of them presupposes terrifying the masses with the threat of both internal and external enemies for persuading the population that extraordinary power of the state is necessary for minimizing the associated risks. As it was cited in Skoll (2010), Altheide (2002) noted that “this tactic reveals itself as the promotion of the dual fears of crime and terrorism” (Skoll 2010, p. 12). The second tactic implies the use of the available state machinery by expanding the military force with the aim of direct physical control.

Along with expansion of the military force, the obscured communication causing opacity and promoting authoritarian-minded populism are used by the US elites of modern era as one of the most effective instruments for controlling the masses and spreading their influence on the rest of the humanity.

Western model of terrorism

For the purpose of controlling the masses, the US administration makes attempts to incept a patriotic model of terrorism into the public consciousness and promote the hidden authoritarian-minded populism. The basic western model of terrorism includes five main components.

First of all, it represents the West as an innocent victim and a mere target of the terrorist attacks. However, numerous interventions and military conflicts contradict the claims of the US administration that the only their objective is the peaceful settlement of conflicts by means of non-violent measures.

The second component implies that the West only is induced to respond to the use of force by other players. For instance, substituting the term ‘Argentine state policy’ with the word terrorism, the US government managed to justify the mass killings in Argentine between 1976 and 1983 (Herman and O’Sullivan, 1989, p. 38).

The third element contrasts the terrorists to Western peacemaking campaigns, claiming that the first never use the civilized conduct. The fourth element of this patriotic model is the statement that even if the West supports certain insurgents, it is done only on behalf of democracy and with the aim of subduing the repressive regimes.

The fifth element implies that the US democracy is hated by the world terrorist and is one of the main underlying causes for their attacks. Any attempts of expressing the protest and doubting the propriety of the state policies undergo not only government criticism but are immediately suppressed like in the case with Jeff Luers, who was imprisoned for ten years for his attempt to express his protest (Luers, interview).

Thus, it can be stated that distorting the facts, exaggerating the threats and playing on words, the Western model of terrorism can be used as a powerful instrument of promoting the hidden authoritarian-minded populism in the United States by affecting the public consciousness for justifying the implemented methods and reducing the risks of meeting opposition from the masses.

Terror laws

Along with obscured communication and the mass opacity which, however, would be insufficient for justifying the terror as a means of controlling the masses, counterterrorism laws are one of the strategies implemented for promoting the authoritarian-minded populism and controlling the masses.

Implementing the first of the tactics for terrifying the population with internal and external enemies, the United States elites have developed a large counterterrorism establishment. It was in the 1980s when the first anti-terrorism laws were adopted and allowed chasing the terrorists anywhere on earth though the definition of the term terrorist was rather obscure. It is noted that “the word ‘bandit’ was used loosely to designate anybody who stood in our way” (Herman and O’Sullivan, 1989, p. 5).

It means that the legal act allowed chasing enemies after calling them terrorists due to certain reasons. After the events of 9/11 the apparatus of mass terror and its legal basis were expanded by reorganizing the government agencies and creating additional apologia for military invasions.

As opposed to Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and Syria, which use authoritarian methods and even do not need the appropriate legal basis for using terror, the government of the United States required legal rationale for imposing their repressive measures. Taking into account the proclaimed dominance of democratic principles, it can be stated that the US laws are intended to protect the common population from the state power (Silke 2005).

However, it did not prevent the United States from using terror as an instrument for achieving the state objectives but rather required more sophisticated methods, including those of making the changes in legislation and confusing the masses by means of obscured communication and promotion of authoritarian-minded populism for affecting the mass consciousness for not only implementing terror but also justifying it in the eyes of the nation and the whole world community.

It is stated that “a new government agency took over many internal control functions by absorbing formerly independent agencies such as the Immigration and Naturalization Service, which became Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) under the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)” (Skoll, 2010, p. 13).

The role of these measures in promoting the authoritarian-minded populism and further expansion of the so-called counterterrorist legislation preconditioned the occurrence of the so-called conspiracy theories saying that the 9/11 attacks were planned with the assistance of particular members of the US government for the purpose of strengthening and expanding the terror apparatus (Laqueur, 2004, p. 155).

Though these conspiracy theories are frequently criticized, they emphasize the direct relationship between the 9/11 events and the following expansion of the terror apparatus and the legal rationale for it.

In general, it can be concluded that the US democratic principles induced the elites to find the ways for modifying the legislation for not only persuading the world community in the propriety of their actions but also ensuring proper legal rationale for it.

The terrorism industry

The term terrorism industry is used for describing the mechanisms implemented by both the US government and private sectors for the purpose of strengthening the hidden authoritarian-minded populism and controlling the masses.

The government and private sectors are intersected and interconnected, uniting their efforts for achieving the common goals. The government plays a major role in selecting, implementing and justifying their strategies to the community.

It is significant that since 1980s, a special division aimed at combating the world terrorism has been included into the US State Department. Another significant component of the government terror strategies is the military forces, which are built up specifically for the purpose of dealing with terrorism.

Thus, it can be logically assumed that the government sector has got all the necessary machinery that is required for controlling the masses by terrifying and confusing them. Spreading their influence upon the foreign governments and the intergovernmental organizations, the US elites expand the scope of their activity and try to meet the objective of controlling the rest of the humanity.

The private sector, including think tanks, lobbying organizations and institutes plays an important role in affecting the public consciousness as well.

It is noted that “by the mid- 1980s organizations like the Hoover Institution, American Enterprise Institute (AEI), the Georgetown Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and the Heritage Foundation each had annual budgets in excess of $ 10 million” (Herman and O’Sullivan, 1989, p. 72). It shows how influential these institutions are and the level of income of the involved sponsors interested in their success.

Operating in the spheres of intellectual activity and national policy implementation, these organizations can affect the public consciousness and perception of the government strategies significantly. It explains the exaggerated fear of another 9/11 attack among the American population (Kassimeris 2008). Complementing each other, both government and private sectors of terrorism industry are successful in affecting the public consciousness for controlling the masses.


In general, it can be concluded that promotion of the hidden authoritarian-minded populism is an effective strategy widely used by the US elites for not only controlling masses but also spreading their influence on an international level. Distorting the facts for affecting the public consciousness, persuading the masses in the propriety of the state terror strategies by incepting the Western terrorism model and providing the appropriate legislative rationale.

Reference List

Skoll, Geoffrey. Social Theory of Fear. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.

Herman, Edward and Gerry, O’Sullivan. The Terrorism Industry: The Experts and Institutions that Shape Our View of Terror. New York: Pantheon Books, 1989.

Kassimeris, George (ed.). Playing Politics with Terrorism: A User’s Guide. New York: Columbia University Press, 2008.

Laqueur, Walter. No End to War: Terrorism in the Twenty-First Century. New York: The Continuum International Publishing Group Inc., 2004.

Luers, Jeff. Environmental Activist Jeff “Free” Luers Speaks Out in First Interview After 9.5 Years Behind Bars. December 23, 2009.

Silke, Andrew (ed.). Research on Terrorism: Trends, Achievements and Failures. New York: Frank Cass, 2005.

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IvyPanda. (2020) 'Authoritarian-Minded Populism in the United States'. 9 January.

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