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Crypto-fascism is the secret support for, or admiration of, fascism. The term is used to imply that an individual or group keeps this support or admiration hidden to avoid political persecution or political suicide. The common usage is "crypto-fascist", one who practices this support. In some circumstances, it may also be a cognate for "quasi-fascist" and refer to a person who is viewed as holding fascistic beliefs which stop short of conscious support for the ideology of fascism.
The Oxford English Dictionary cites several early uses, including The Guardian using the term more than once in the 1920s. In an ABC television debate during the chaos of the 1968 Democratic National Convention, Gore Vidal described William F. Buckley, Jr. as a "crypto-Nazi", later correcting himself as meaning to say "crypto-fascist". However, the term had appeared five years earlier in a German-language book by the sociologist Theodor W. Adorno, Der getreue Korrepetitor (The Faithful Répétiteur).
The term was famously used by German Nobel laureate Heinrich Böll in a 1972 essay (titled "Will Ulrike Gnade oder freies Geleit? ") that was sharply critical of the tabloid newspaper Bild's coverage of the Baader-Meinhof Gang left-wing terrorist organization. In the essay, Böll stated that what Bild does "isn’t cryptofascist anymore, not fascistoid, but naked fascism. Agitation, lies, dirt."
In colloquial use, crypto-fascism can sometimes describe the means through which cryptofascists engage in public discourse, using methods that would not explicitly reveal their nature, while still supporting their goals through dog-whistle politics or by attempting to engage in conversations that are critical to their beliefs. This is done with the intent to shift the focus away from criticism, often onto some minor detail or tangent.