Fact Check

Did Frank Zappa Say Biggest Threat to US Democracy Is Fascist Theocracy?

He was speaking on CNN in 1986 in a debate about censorship.

Published Feb 27, 2023

 (Fotopersbureau De Boer/Wikimedia Commons)
Image Via Fotopersbureau De Boer/Wikimedia Commons
Claim:
Rock musician Frank Zappa once said, “The biggest threat to America today is not communism, it’s moving America toward a fascist theocracy, and everything that’s happened during the Regan administration is steering us right down that pipe.”

Rock musician Frank Zappa was known for his outspoken and unconventional takes on politics, in addition to being a popular musician. In the 1980s, he often opposed then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan's policies, particularly on display when he testified against censorship at the Parents' Music Resource Center (PMRC) senate hearings in 1985 in Washington, D.C. 

The hearings were convened after Tipper Gore, wife of U.S. Sen. Al Gore, and other prominent women petitioned to have warning labels put on records and singles that referenced drugs, violence, and/or sex. Zappa labeled these efforts as censorship and as trampling on First Amendment rights. 

But one particular quote attributed to him caught the internet's attention. Numerous posts claimed Zappa said in 1986, "The biggest threat to America today is not communism. It's moving America toward a fascist theocracy."

Zappa did indeed say this. In 1986, during an appearance on the CNN show "Crossfire," Zappa debated censorship with conservative commentators Robert Novak and John Lofton. 

His full comments:

The biggest threat to America today is not communism, it's moving America toward a fascist theocracy, and everything that's happened during the Regan administration is steering us right down that pipe. [...] When you have a government that prefers a certain moral code derived from a certain religion and that moral code turns into legislation to suit one certain religious point of view, and if that code happens to be very very right wing, almost toward Attila the Hun.

They can be heard at the 10:10 mark in the video below:

The Reagan administration, like prior governments, subscribed to the belief that communism was a destructive ideology, and that the Soviet Union was bent on spreading it around the world. 

Zappa was speaking specifically about the censoring of lyrics considered too explicit. Earlier in the interview, Zappa argued with the other commentators, who asked him if there was any "filth" or "pornography" that qualified for suppression. Zappa said, "We are talking about words, and I don't believe that there is any word that needs to be suppressed." 

Right before Zappa made the above statement, Lofton argued that the government had a right to carry out forms of censorship to protect families from objectionable material. 

Lofton added that he considered this an issue of national defense: "Our families are under attack because of people like you," he said, pointing at Zappa. Zappa replied, "Can I make a statement about national defense?" and launched into his argument about communism and fascism. 

The full interview is also saved on the Internet Archive

Zappa was a capitalist and a businessman, however, and even looked for opportunities in the Soviet Union for non-music-related ventures.

A "theocracy" is a country or government that is ruled by religious leaders, while "fascism," according to the Cambridge Dictionary, is "a political system based on a very powerful leader, state control, and being extremely proud of country and race, and in which political opposition is not allowed."

We rate this claim as a "Correct Attribution."  

Sources

"Fascism." Cambridge Dictionary. 22 Feb. 2023, https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/fascism.  Accessed 23 Feb. 2023.

"Frank Zappa | Biography, Albums, Songs, & Facts." Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Frank-Zappa. Accessed 23 Feb. 2023.

"Frank Zappa, Capitalist Rocker : Entrepreneurship: Zappa Got Title to His Master Recordings by Suing His Record Company. Now He's Making Non-Music Deals with the Soviets." Los Angeles Times, 19 Dec. 1989, https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1989-12-19-fi-721-story.html.  Accessed 23 Feb. 2023.

"Frank Zappa On Crossfire, 1986-03-28." 1986. Internet Archive, http://archive.org/details/FrankZappaOnCrossfire.  Accessed 23 Feb. 2023.

Reesman, Bryan. "25 Years After Tipper Gore's PMRC Hearings, the Opposing Sides Aren't So Far Apart." Vulture, 20 Sept. 2010, https://www.vulture.com/2010/09/pmrc_25_anniversary.html.  Accessed 23 Feb. 2023.

"Ronald Reagan: Foreign Affairs." Miller Center. 4 Oct. 2016, https://millercenter.org/president/reagan/foreign-affairs.  Accessed 23 Feb. 2023.

"Theocracy." Cambridge Dictionary, 22 Feb. 2023, https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/theocracy.  Accessed 23 Feb. 2023.

Nur Nasreen Ibrahim is a reporter with experience working in television, international news coverage, fact checking, and creative writing.