Cornelius Fudge - Death Eater or Dimwit?
An original editorial by Alexandra LoSurdo
A lot of people have been speculating over Fudge's true loyalties, ever since he refused to believe Voldemort had returned at the end of GoF. There is plenty of support for Fudge being a Death Eater, and Fudge being merely plain stupid. I am going to attempt to analyze both sides of the argument.
Fudge as a Death Eater
Fudge certainly stuffs up the Order of the Phoenix's work in any way he can. Despite the fact there is hard evidence that Voldemort is back in action (I would have thought the mass breakout from Azkaban would have changed his tune), he absolutely refuses to do anything about it. Perhaps he is lending Voldemort a bit of time? It takes a full year for Fudge to finally admit he is back, despite the fact he knows he is.
When Fudge enters the Ministry and sees Dumbledore dueling with Voldy and Bella, he is surrounded by Aurors. The next day the Daily Prophet reports on Voldemort's return. A question we have to ask is, would Fudge have reported it if there hadn't been other witnesses? If he had walked in on his own, would he have said something ridiculous like Dumbledore had conjured up a Boggart to resemble Voldemort or something?
Fudge is also a good friend with Lucius Malfoy. Malfoy is a known Death Eater, and it makes sense that he would network with other Death Eaters and those involved in Dark Magic. We see in CoS he seems to know the shopkeeper in Knockturn Alley which suggests he is a friend with other Dark wizards. Perhaps Fudge and Malfoy attend Death Eater meetings then go out for a Firewhiskey afterwards? Even if Fudge isn't deliberately evil, it is more than possible Malfoy has placed the Imperius curse on him during one of their meetings at the Ministry.
Another thing to consider is Willy Windershins being let off the exploding toilet charge. Fudge is ready to lock Harry up for self-defense, while someone who is deliberately baiting Muggles is not locked up. Is there one rule for Order members and associates, and one for the people who AREN'T trying to stop Voldemort? What really made me think of Willy's case though is that he was baiting Muggles. The Death Eaters are famous for Muggle torture. Letting Muggle baiting crimes go without punishment screams of Death Eater.
Fudge as a mere idiot.
In GoF, Fudge weakens for a moment and says "he can't be back Dumbledore... he just can't". This line is written as a desperate plea, as though Fudge simply cannot bear the thought of Voldemort being back, that the thought is too terrible to contemplate.
At the end of Order of the Phoenix, Fudge admits to Voldemort's return and the Daily Prophet prints Harry's story as if he is the darling of their universe and they've believed him all along. It also says that Ministry written guides on self-defense will be delivered to all wizarding homes over the next month. This suggests that the Ministry is really taking action. To write up a guide for all wizards on what to do in case of future Death Eater attacks means that they must truly believe that the wizarding community is in danger from Voldemort.
Personally, I believe that Fudge is being hoodwinked by Death Eaters during the story, and somehow (and I don't know how, so don't ask), seeing Voldemort in person allows him to shake himself from the clutches of the spell. Being controlled by the Imperius Curse into not believing Voldemort is back doesn't prevent you from seeing things with your eyes as you normally would. The sight would have made Fudge's logical mind overpower the grip that the curse had on him.
While I believe Fudge, IF he was working for the Dark Side, was essentially innocent and was being controlled (it is more than likely, who better to have control over than the Minister of Magic himself?) I think Umbridge was acting of her own accord. She seemed so malicious against anyone who was an anti-Voldemort supporter, and made life as sweet as possible for the Slytherins, the house associated with the Dark Side. She was also prepared to use the Cruciatus curse on Harry. To be able to perform 'Crucio', you have to have had a fair bit of experience at Dark Magic. Experience you might garner from, oh, I dont know, maybe being a Death Eater?
So there you have it. Fudge acted like a complete moron and totally sabotaged any possible early win for the good side, but I do not think he intentionally supported the Dark Side.