Before Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrived in Washington Tuesday evening, the U.S. and Turkish press exchanged a number of accusations bound to make his visit awkward. The American media warned of Erdogan’s growing authoritarianism, citing his attacks on critical journalists, academics and parliamentarians. Turkish media claimed that these domestic critics were terrorists engaged in a American-backed coup plot against Erdogan.
— Mike Madden (@MikeMadden) March 31, 2016
The accusations are not unrelated. In recent years, the Turkish government has used widespread fears over coups and terrorism to justify ever more brazen efforts to silence legitimate opposition. To do so, it has widened the definition of both terms, to the point where government rhetoric increasingly depends on the threat of coups without soldiers and terrorists without guns.
Erdogan is hardly unique among aspiring authoritarians in seeing elaborate foreign and domestic conspiracies as justification for undemocratic actions. But by weaving together fact and fantasy, by drawing on Turkey’s long history of coups and its very real terrorist threat, he has won widespread popular support for his authoritarian measures.