Priming the Pump of War:

Toward a Post-Ethnic, Post-Racial Fascism

They first appeared in the summer of 2002. Driving across the major interstate highways (10 and 35) in San Antonio, large white billboards emerged. With a few words, and evocative graphics, they sell simple "prosocial" virtues. For example, one such billboard is composed of two main elements: The visual element is the evocative depiction of a young, blond, white girl of five or six. Her arms, head and eyes are extended upward, as if she is ready to take flight from her father's shoulders. At the top of the photo, extended from her right hand, colorful and vibrant as it ascends above a dark sea of brown heads, is a vivid and bright American flag. The second element, the text, is to the right of the picture. It proclaims: "What Makes Us Great -- UNITY -- Pass It On." Below all of this, in much smaller type reads: "The Foundation for a Better Life." [1]

Across from the Downtown campus of the University of Texas at San Antonio, another of the Foundation's billboards, in the same format, delivers a message that I found foreboding. On the left, the visual is taken from the ruins of the World Trade Center. Amidst the rubble, two ash-crusted New York firemen hoist up an American flag (again composed so it is at the top of the visual frame) in front of the collapsed vertebrae of one of the towers. The text to the right of the picture reads: "No Setback Will Set Us Back -- DETERMINATION -- Pass It On." And again, below all of this, in much smaller type is the sponsor of this message: "The Foundation For a Better Life."[2] With visual similitude to both the urban devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the flag raising at Iwo Jima, the terroristic tragedy of the WTC was deployed in imagery well suited to prepare a population for an imminent campaign of total war. [3]

These are just a miniscule sample of an ongoing and prominent multi-media campaign. Almost entirely ignored as an object deserving of media scrutiny, ten thousand of these billboards, bus placards and signs, all evocatively depicting "simple" virtues such as courage and perseverance, have been planted across the major highways and thoroughfares of the US in 2002. [4] The reach of the Foundation's televised ads is equally impressive. On their home page is the following claim about how frequently and widely they propagate their message into the mundane choreography of our lives, via their video spots:

(pass it on) The Values We Live By ARE WORTH MORE When We Pass Them On:

These award winning Public Service Announcements produced for television are being seen on average over 2 million times per day on seven networks and over 900 TV stations. They are also being shown in all United Artists, Regal and Edwards movie theaters totaling over 6,000 screens. [5]

The Foundation's video spots, billboards and web site are all clearly aimed, in the words of one famous propagandist, to "develop [a] crisp, clear idea into a system of thought that includes all human drives, wishes and actions [into a coherent] worldview."[6] The Foundation's website is clearly the repository, library and showcase for the varied messages, media and strategies employed in propagating a uniquely 21st Century, post-racial, post-ethnic Fascism. As such an artifact, it deserves a closer look.

The Foundation for a Better Life Website: A Critical Archeology

Patient Iteration of the Message

The Foundation's website ( contains several subpages linked off the home page. They are "Values," "Good News," "TV Spots," "Billboards" and "About FBL " (a generic mission statement). Clicking on "Values" brings up a page in which a facsimile of a continuous celluloid film strip (in frames) is exhibited; each miniature image frame (over a scroll bar) is captioned with a "value." (There are fifty-two "values," mirroring the number of cards in a typical deck). Typical value captions over the visuals are "Appreciation," "Class and Grace," "Compassion," "Cooperation," "Gratitude," "Hard Work," "Loyalty," "Right Choices," etc. When the web surfer clicks on a caption or its associated image, the graphic (Flash) opens into a new screen. The new screen displays a larger iconic image originally seen in the filmstrip frame. (Many of them are reminiscent of psychological projective test imagery). Then a short story on the selected "value" comes to the fore, such as the of the one below (graphically composed with an image of a son and father fishing on a small boat):


My fondest memory of my Dad occurred one summer day out in the middle of a mountain lake. "Don't jerk it. Just reel it in real slow," my father whispered. But it was so difficult. I hated to wait for anything. I usually took forever to decide what I really wanted, but once I decided, I wanted it right now. And right now I wanted to catch a fish.

My father seemed to sense my impatience. "The big ones didn't get that way by snapping the first thing to hit the water," he said quietly. "You'll soon find that anything big and worthwhile usually takes a lot of time." Then, with a smile that I will never forget, he added, "After all, I've already spent twelve years on you."

"The values we live by are worth more when we pass them on . . . [7]

The phrase, "pass it on" (as a linked icon) surrounds the story on three sides, as it does for almost all of the fifty-two parables of values on the site. This perpetually repeated suggestion to "pass it on" finds an echo in a famous 1928 essay on propaganda:

Winning people over to something that I have recognized as right, that is what we call propaganda. Propaganda stands between the idea and the worldview, between the worldview and the state . . . At the moment at which I recognize something is important and begin speaking about it . . . I begin making propaganda. At the same moment, I begin looking for other people to join me. Propaganda is nothing other than the forerunner to organization. Once it has done this, it is the forerunner to state control. It is always a means to an end.[8]

The narrative that surrounds this particular "virtue" of patience also unintentionally announces pieces of the methodology and tactics of the Foundation's campaign: These general tactics are patience, and repetition and iterative spread of the message ("pass it on"). This constant exhortation mirrors Goebbels' statement that such "clear" ideas "seek escape through the mouth." But the similarities between the FBL's campaign and Goebbels' ideas doesn't end with these general prescriptions:

Targeting the Message to Multiple Audiences

Propaganda adjusts itself to the prevailing conditions [and] is always flexible. That means that propaganda cannot be limited [because] it changes according to whom I am trying to reach. Propaganda should be popular, but not intellectually pleasing . . . The propagandist's speeches or posters that are aimed at farmers will be different than those aimed at employers, those aimed at doctors will be different than those aimed at patients. . The task of leaders and followers is to drive [our] knowledge ever deeper into the hearts of our shattered nation. [9]

This flexibility is mirrored by the diversity of deeply aestheticized and idealized racial, ethnic and class images, coupled to equally idealized narratives, targeted to different audiences on the Foundation's values sub page. As Guillermo Gomez-Pena notes, they clearly echo

a 'benevolent' form of multiculturalism [that] has been adopted by corporations and media conglomerates across borders, continents and virtual spaces. And our major cultural and educational institutions have followed suit. This global transculture artificially softens the otherwise sharp edges of cultural difference, fetishizing them in such a way as to render them desirable. [10]

And, as Gomez-Pena laments, the propagandists of this "new" capitalist multiculturalism have outsmarted "us" by so cleverly disguising the serious social contradictions and covert violence under the surfaces of these images and intended messages. It is equally obvious that the Foundation's hired and pro bono spin meisters have also learned from them. The Foundation appropriated, in the billboard portion of the campaign, some of the best recognized and diverse icons of 20th Century and contemporary millennial culture: Winston Churchill and Shaquille O'Neill; Mother Teresa and Whoopi Goldberg; Abraham Lincoln and Muhammad Ali; the 1989 photo of an anonymous Chinese student trying to halt a line of tanks into Tiananmen Square and hockey great Wayne Gretzky. In some of these, historical images of defiance to a repressive state apparatus (Tinanamen Square, Ali's refusal of the Vietnam-era draft, for example) are recoded as embodying consensual, conventional and "prosocial" values. The recoding of icons (the reframing, and often the inversion, of denotative and connotative meanings) is a constant, even a defining feature of the Foundation's website. But beneath the inscription of structural-functionalist themes onto postmodern life lies a genealogy of money, and power.

The Foundation for A Better Life: A Political Genealogy

Behind the anonymous narratives, images and video products (no direct claims of authorship can be found for any of the visual or textual products on the Foundation's website), there is a traceable and specific genealogy of money and power. Thanks to work done by a initial contributor named Rexella and followed up assiduously in greater detail by Jeremy David Stolen, for the Portland Independent Media Center (, the unique history around the Foundation is visible. According to these sources (and confirmed by my WHOIS search of registration databases), the Foundation's domain name,, is owned by the Anschutz Corporation. Their IRS-990 form shows that four of the six board members are from Anschutz's family. [11]. And the physical address of this non-profit Foundation is the address of the Museum of Western Art, a private collection of Anschutz-owned Western art. Who is Philip Anschutz? [12] For a number of distinctive reasons, Anschutz's personal and financial history, and the relationship of that history to the project that the Foundation represents is an intriguing study.

The Strange Attractor: Philip Anschutz -- Veteran Corporate Raider: Anschutz made his initial fortune in "old economy" enterprises such as oil exploration in the 1960s, gas in the 1970s and railways and agribusiness in the 1980s. In the 1990s and beyond, Anschutz has concentrated on "new economy" enterprises. These include the following: Anschutz is the majority shareholder in Qwest Communications. Qwest is currently under investigation by the U.S. Security and Exchange Commission for $1.4 billion in "accounting irregularities," similar to those of the recently bankrupt WorldCom. Because of these "irregularities," Qwest has been compelled to withdraw its original earnings reports between 1999 and mid-2002, as its stock plummeted to levels that triggered its delisting by the New York Stock Exchange.[13] With a debt load of $26 billion and restated assets of $2 billion, Qwest is a junk bond (according to Moody's) and, it may soon follow European corporate sister KPNQwest, WorldCom and Global Crossing into bankruptcy. [14]

Anschutz has also been sued by the New York Attorney General's Office as part of its probe of brokerage houses (Goldman Sachs and Salomon Smith Barney) who "rewarded" select clients with preferential early allocations of IP0s. Anschutz was one such elite client who profited handsomely and swiftly from these early IPO allocations. Spitzer is seeking to force Anschutz to return the enormous profits reaped from these preternaturally early IPO offerings. [15]

Anschutz's holdings are not limited to Qwest. He has the majority interest in the property firm that owns the Los Angeles Staples Center. He has a twenty-five percent ownership stake in the Los Angeles Lakers, and is a co-owner (with Rupert Murdoch) of the Los Angeles Kings. Anschutz is also the principal owner of the London Knights, and the future redeveloper of London's Millennial Dome. Besides the oil refineries, pipelines, seven professional soccer teams, metropolitan entertainment arenas, and prominent European sports arenas, Anschutz also owns 20,000 miles of railroad lines across the U.S. Fitted parallel to many of these freight and passenger rail lines are two newer transportation and delivery systems, spanning from coast to coast: The older delivery system consists of thousands of miles of Anschutz-installed oil pipelines. The newer parallel delivery system, for information and images, consists of fiber-optic cables.

According to a special BoxOffice Online report, "The Deal Maker of Denver" the Anschutz Corporation and a partner have been "acquiring controlling debt positions" of major theater chains across the U.S., such as United Artists, Regal and Edwards. [16] According to this article, when Anschutz has completed all of these acquisitions, he will have purchased control (at discounted prices) of 20 percent of all the commercial movie screens in the U.S. Not surprisingly, perhaps, Anschutz plans to use his fiber-optic lines for the digital delivery of movies to the 6,000 plus screen empire his corporation now controls. This imminent technological advance will allow centralized control of films, as it eliminates costs associated with freight and projector maintenance. The jobs of film splicer and projectionist will also disappear. [17]

As the Portland Independent Media Center article notes, the sum total of all this activity is that Anschutz is assembling a production, distribution and point-of-sale nexus that has all the economic characteristics of a vertical monopoly. And, the Foundation's claim that its messages play in more than 6,000 theaters every day can be taken at face value. After all, Anschutz owns both the message and the means.

Philip Anschutz: Private and Political Man

According to one source, Anschutz puts in twelve-hour workdays, six days a week, building and maintaining his financial empire. Now in his early 60s, he often rises at 4:30 a.m. for an early morning run as preparation for local marathons. He is a leader of his neighborhood Evangelical Presbyterian church.[18] Uncritical profiles, such as a 1999 Fortune article, describe him as "friendly and unpretentious." [19] According to two separate sources, he has never been heard to use a curse word.

Additionally, Anschutz has been a significant financial contributor to conservative Republican causes. Between his own personal donations and those of his corporation, Anschutz gave close to $180,000 to conservative Republican causes, including $10,000 to fund the anti-gay rights Proposition 2. The 2000 election cycle total is about half of what Anschutz gave to the Republican Party ($363,750) in the 1996 election cycle, when Bob Dole, Anschutz's personal friend, ran for President).


The PR firm Bonneville Communications, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, bought a five-year license to a corporate "values" campaign, reassembling images and transcripts for the FBL. [20] On their home page, Bonneville Communications struts its "stuff:"

[We have] designed public service messages for national nonprofit organizations such as the American Cancer Society, Boy Scouts, Junior Achievement, and the Salvation Army . . . We know that people remember what they felt long after forgetting what they heard. So Bonneville creates those unforgettable feelings. . .

Bonneville Communications is an advertising agency engaged in Communications for a Quality Life.® Driven by a belief in advertising as a powerful influence on the values and lives of its audiences, Bonneville emphasizes HeartSell ® -- strategic emotional advertising that stimulates response. [21]

And much of this Mormon PR recoding consists of, as Guillermo Gomez-Pena points out, recoding icons and social histories of conflict and difference into a structural-functionalist unity, as preparation for war.

Rewriting Icons, Reinscribing the Present

There are number of propagandistic TV spots available for viewing on the website. Available at, these are PSAs that run in all of Anschutz's theaters and on cable TV. Each "spot" exemplifies some "trait" or "value" by rewriting the meaning of conventional identities and icons. This rewriting always moves from the sharper edges of cultural difference and conflict toward some sort of improbable "unity." And, as the web surfer moves down the sequence of the dozen PSAs on the page, the message becomes more nationalistic and hawkish. For purposes of demonstrating the recoding of icons, a brief description of the initial PSA, "Biker," will suffice.

As an archetype, the idea and reality of "biker" subculture is an outgrowth of the immediate post-WWII period. The conventional iconography of "the Biker" has been of a mobile, and deviant "outsider" who was the inverse image of many of typical middle class values of mid-20th Century American Society. Over the last half-century, the symbolic import of bikers has been fused with a number of other elements, such aspects of the drug culture, or, more recently, as a boomer icon in the form of high-priced, fetishized Harley Davidson motorcycles. In "The Biker," all of this (and more) is recoded into a message of domestic unity:

Accompanying the opening strains of "Born to Be Wild" (a countercultural anthem of the late 1960s, prominently featured in 1969's "Easy Rider"), the video opens with typical MTV-style of quick, staccato cuts. We see first a longhaired biker, and then a series of bikers, from various angles, hopping on their motorcycles, in front of a 60s-style diner, to the opening lyrics of the song ("Head out on the highway, looking for adventure," etc.) A large, muscular biker, a skinhead who bears more than a passing resemblance to the wrestler "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, finds that his bike has stalled. Frustrated, he hops off the bike, gestures angrily at it, and galumphs to a pay phone, aggressively digging in his jeans for some non-existent change. Concurrently, on the left side of the screen, two small and elderly black women exit the diner and wobble on down the street. They approach the payphone as the lyrics tell the listener to "take the world in a love embrace." Just then, the biker turns to them, and peevishly announces that the "phone's taken," evidently fearing that these elderly black women are in the habit of using public phones. One of the elderly, bespectacled black women looks at him with obvious concern, and diagnosing the situation, offers up some coins, as her voice creaks out the question, "Will this help you?" To the strains of "we were born, born to be wild," the biker, a bit startled, examines the coins, and takes off his sunglasses. We see his face slope downward and soften. Softly he says "Hey, thanks." The two women smile, and as they wobble away, he says, "I appreciate it." As this biker puts the coins into the payphone, the graphics "Gratitude," and "Pass It On" appear on the screen with the Foundation's ID, just as the voiceover reiterates the words on the screen, and the name of the sponsor (The Foundation for a Better Life). Apart from the simplistic moral tale, a number of iconic reinscriptions have occurred here. First, both the denotations and connotations of the song, "Born to Be Wild," and its most famous setting (in Easy Rider) have been flipped on their "heads." "Easy Rider" chronicles the life and death of two "long-haired" bikers who take LSD with hookers while in a New Orleans graveyard. They also smoke a bit of marijuana, and as drug couriers, are essentially assassinated by rednecks in the segregationist U.S. southland. The main characters played by Peter Fonda (Wyatt "Captain America" Earp) and Dennis Hopper (Billy) function as iconic magnets for overt conflict over the implicit boundaries of "the American Dream" throughout the film, as they ride from Los Angeles to New Orleans, on their way to Mardi Gras. They are not symbols of unity and social harmony.

Likewise, the "biker's" skinhead appearance in the FBL's video gives him an "Aryan Nation" patina. As iconic skinhead, it seems very unlikely that elderly black ladies would approach such a figure. Given the decades of hostility between white supremacists and the black population of the U.S., a more realistic response would have been to quickly pass by the pay phone, saying nothing. Obviously, that's not what happens in the video. What occurs is a recoding of these icons and histories into a structural-functionalist consensus (over gratitude and all the other common and desirable virtues). In doing so, they well illustrate Gomez-Pena's claim about the shape of a corporatist multiculturalism that "artificially softens the otherwise sharp edges of cultural difference" [22]. But why? And, why now?


When Goebbels was pumping out pre-WWII propaganda, the product consisted of dual poles. One pole focused on creation and maintenance of the National Socialist Order, in line with state prescribed goals. Much of that propaganda was also relatively "positive" and "prosocial," extolling such virtues as motherhood, responsibility, cleanliness, honesty, and all the public virtues. The second pole consisted of the intense vilification and persistent dehumanization of Jews, Gypsies and others. These negative campaigns were justified by the Nazis in terms of mounting a social defense over "the purity of the race." Because of their intense focus on conflating their notion of a nation constituted by "blood" (Volk) with that of the state (Reich), Fascism became synonymous with racialization. But perhaps Fascism has morphed into a more subtle and socially acceptable form in the intervening decades. Revisiting Walter Benjamin's astute definition of Fascism, we find that there is no mention of racialization as its central defining characteristic:

Fascism attempts to organize the masses without affecting the property structure . . . Fascism sees its salvation in giving these masses not their right, but instead a chance to express themselves. The masses have a right to change property relations; Fascism seeks to give them an expression while preserving property. The logical result of Fascism is the introduction of aesthetics into political life . . . [via] an apparatus which is pressed into the production of ritual values. [23]

There's nothing in these prescient utterances about the necessity of tying any eugenic discourse to Fascism. The applicability of Benjamin's statement to contemporary social reality can be understood as follows: For an inherently heteroglot nation that is at the center of postmodern globalization, an overt notion of identity and "manifest destiny" based on racialization cannot work. Internally, it would not unify, but permanently divide the nation and the state. It's both ideologically and, in a very pragmatic and propagandistic sense, impossible to successfully and invisibly meld racialism with Fascism in 21st Century Los Angeles. But it was perhaps never really necessary either, in terms of creating a structural-functionalist consensus. The production of such a consensus is based not on biology, but on inscribing hegemonic attitudes, behaviors and values.

Roughly speaking, the FBL's campaign has a certain homology and resonance with the first pole of Goebbels' propaganda machine. It extols all the conformist mythologies and virtues, as it renders any sort of systemic analysis of risk or social inequities external to its frame. And it busily and repetitively attempts to inscribe a unified American Volk through the production of common social virtues and sensibilities, while it gestures to icons (such as the World Trade Center) as representative of a dangerous and evil world. And it does so, both in terms of its representational digital formats, and its substantive themes, as Benjamin claims, by aestheticizing technology and war:

War and war only can set a goal for mass movements on the largest scale while respecting the traditional property system. This is the political formula for the situation. The technological formula may be stated as follows: Only war makes it possible to mobilize all of today's technical resources while maintaining the property system . . . If the natural utilization of productive forces is impeded by the property system, the increase in technical devices, and speed, and in the sources of energy will press for an unnatural utilization, and this is found in war. [24]

The FBL's site, and its distribution network, is a significant cog in the propaganda machine that creates this priming of consensus, this priming for war. The fact that this site can be traced to one of the world's richest men, with far-flung interests in industrial, transportation, agribusiness, entertainment and telecommunications, just the makes the point unusually concrete. In this new century, at this place and time, we may be witnessing an nascent iteration of Fascism, one that has learned to leave the negative pole in the shadows, at least for the time being.


[1] A facsimile of the billboard can be seen at

[2] A facsimile of this billboard can be seen at

[3] The connection between this image and the Iwo Jima flag raising is made explicitly (through a fade between the two) in a video spot, The Spirit of America, on the website. Still photo facsimiles of the raising of the flag at Iwo Jima can be seen at

[4] "The Media Business: Advertising; A campaign promotes noble behavior and the adoption of better values by everyone." The New York Times, Section C; Page 12; Column 1; Business/Financial Desk, Stuart Elliott, byline: November 9, 2001.

[5] See the Foundation's Website's Home Page at

[6] See Joseph Goebbels' "Knowledge and Propaganda" (1928). The article is available at

[7] See the following page of the Foundation's web site:

[8] See Goebbels, ibid.

[9] See Goebbels, ibid.

[10] Gomez-Pena, Guillermo. "The New Global Culture: Somewhere Between Corporate Multiculturalism and the Mainstream Bizarre" (a border perspective). The Drama Review 45, 1, Spring 2001.

[11] An update on the "Portland Independent Media" site provides a direct link to a PDF copy of IRS-990 form, giving the relevant (1999) information on Anschutz's involvement with the FBL (as financial backer and Foundation chairman). Available at

[12] According to, Anschutz's net worth in 2002 is $18 billion, making him 54th on the World's Richest People for this year. It's quite a fall from his 2001 ranking of 16th. The change is most likely due to the accounting scandal around Qwest Communications. Available online at

[13] See the Portland Independent Media stories: "Foundation for a Better Life, more "by Jeremy David Stolen (02/20/02, modified 10/10/02), "Foundation for a Better Life, even more" (03/04/02, modified 08/29/02).

[14] "Tycoon cashed in on Qwest: New Dome chief made 1.5 billion dollars through share sales while firm overstated revenues." The Guardian, Guardian City Pages, pg 20, 07/31/02.

[15] "Goldman Denies Rigging IPOs to Reward Clients:" The Independent (London), Business, pg. 21, Rupert Cornwall, byline. 10/04/02.

[16] "The Deal Maker of Denver: Sports Franchise and Railroad Magnate Philip Anschutz Sets His Sights on Exhibition." BoxOffice Online Special Report, April 2001. Jon Alon Walz, byline. Available at

[17] According to the BoxOffice Online article, Anschutz will have more than double the number of screens of its closest rival, Loews Cineplex Entertainment. But Loews was recently bought by one of Anschutz's current partners, Oaktree Capital Management (in partnership with other investment firms).

[18] "The Lowdown: If Labour Gets Hung For the Dome, He'll Bring the Noose: Jason Nisse Checks Out Philip Anschutz, The Right-Wing Tycoon Coming to Greenwich." Independent On Sunday (London), Business, Pg. 7, 06/02/02. Jason Nisse, byline.

[19] Billionaire Next Door. Fortune Magazine, Vol 140 No 5, page 139, 09/06/99. Brian O'Reilly, byline. Available online at

[20] A Google search turned up this interesting item: "CUNA (Credit Union National Association) To Sell Rights to Old Values Campaign." Essentially, CUNA sold a licensing rights to the TV ads for its Values Campaign to Bonneville Communications on 09/16/99 for $150,000. According to the CUNA Press Release, Bonneville is said to use the visuals for a campaign it is producing for the Anschutz Foundation. Available at

[21] See Bonneville's home page at

[22] Gomez-Pena, ibid.

[23] Benjamin, Walter. 1969. "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction: Epilogue." Pg 246. In Illuminations: Essays and Reflections. Edited and with an Introduction by Hannah Arendt. New York: Schocken Books.

[24] Benjamin, Walter. ibid.

Dion Dennis is Visiting Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology/Sociology, Texas A&M University - Kingsville, System Center San Antonio.