Archives for category: Fascism

Trump and Barr have warned about the dangers of a group called “Antifa.” I had never heard of them and don’t know anyone who belongs to this group. I did a small amount of digging and learned that Antifa means “anti-fascist.”

That confused me. How can it be wrong to be anti-fascism?

Hitler and Mussolini were fascists.

We fought a world war from 1941-1945 to save the world from fascism.

During World War II, there were pro-fascist people in America.

The current American fascists are the Ku Klux Klan, white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and armed militias like those that stormed the Michigan State Capitol to protest public health measures to protect against the spread of the coronavirus. Fascists threaten their fellow citizens with military-type assault weapons. Fascists use extra-legal means to subvert the rule of law and to intimidate people of color and those who oppose them. Fascists want to make America a white a Christian nation where none is welcome who is either white nor Christian.

I oppose fascism. I support the efforts to suppress fascism.

I support the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. I believe in democracy and the rule of law. I believe in equal justice under law for all. I believe in pursuing the goal of equality of educational opportunity. I know we are far from our ideals and values. I believe in pursuing them, not abandoning them.

I am a proud anti-fascist.

Are you?

Our regular commenter Bob Shepherd writes about the familiarity of the spectacle at the Trump National Convention:

The Style of the Trump Fascist Spectacle (Known in Previous Years as the Republican National Convention)

Did Albert Speer design this convention? Where was Leni Riefenstahl to film this Triumph of the Trumpian Will?

Flags and marble, shot from below to make them as imposing as possible. The First Lady delivering her address in what looked like a Russian military uniform.

Our wannabe Stalin made very clear in this spectacle who he is and what he stands for. Here, a few of the parallels between the RNC remade by Trump and other spectacles put on by dictators like Stalin:

1. Ultranationalism. Military bands playing jingoistic patriotic tunes, flags, flags, flags.

2. Pretend kindness from Great Leader. Staged events showing He Who Shines More Orange than the Sun deigning to extend mercy to ordinary persons, representative “citizens.” Fall in line, and you, too, can benefit from Great Leader’s largess!

3. Nepotism. A parade of Great Leader’s vile spawn. Dictators can’t trust anyone except family, so, of course, this. The apple doesn’t fall far.

4. Cult of personality. All Trump, all the time. Trump’s name in fireworks above the Washington Monument.

5. Baldfaced lying. Telling lies that are completely blatant because those around him don’t dare contradict him. This always gives autocrats a big thrill. President: Grass is pink. Yes, Mr. President, very pink.

6. The myth of the return to the golden age. All this make America great again bs. Right out of Hitler’s playbook–hearkening back to a glorious Aryan past that only he can restore.

7. Appropriation of national symbols to the leader.

8. Fascist imagery, architecture, and design. Lots and lots of “from below” shots to make the setting seem even more grand, more monumental, more fascist. The new stark and very white Rose Garden, Trump’s pointing to the now Whiter House during his speech and saying, “Great house. Not a house but a home. [e.g., MY HOME] I’m here, and they aren’t. And what color is it?”

9. Great Leader as the sole platform, the sole font of policy. For the first time in its history, the Republican National Convention put forward no new campaign platform. Appropriate, of course, because under Trump, the Party platform is whatever Great Leader happens to have said six seconds ago, even if it’s exactly the opposite of what he said seven seconds ago. (Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia.)

10. The impassioned speech by Great Leader about the enemy within and the necessity of crushing that enemy in order to achieve a return to greatness. Biden the Socialist (LOL), the terrorists in the streets.

We’ve seen this film before.

Portland, Oregon, is the scene of the most frightening series of events in the nation today. Governors may call upon the National Guard. The President, under extraordinary circumstances, may send in troops to enforce the law, as when President Eisenhower sent troops to Little Rock to enforce a decision of the U.S. Supreme Court.

The armed personnel in Portland were not called in by the governor. They are not there to enforce the law or a court decision. They are there to harass and bully American citizens who are exercising their Constitutional right to assemble peaceably. They are there by order of Trump and Barr to help raise the “law and order” issue for the fall election. Trump has announced that he intends to send his personal federal police force into other cities, to “pacify” them.

We cannot normalize what is happening. It is highly irregular and probably illegal. It is wrong. Trump will stop at nothing to improve his poll numbers. He has no regard for law or the Constitution. He is ignorant of both. We are moving in uncharted waters. Step by step, we are sinking into authoritarianism, fascism.

Dana Milbank wrote today in the Washington Post:

In Portland, Ore., federal police use batons, tear gas and rubber bullets on moms in bicycle helmets.

Unidentified federal officers, defying duly elected state and city leaders, throw civil rights demonstrators into unmarked vans without charges. President Trump’s acting homeland security secretary, Chad Wolf, says his agents “go out and proactively arrest individuals.”

That’s so much easier than waiting for people to do something illegal before you lock them up!

The administration justifies the extraordinary disregard of constitutional protections by calling the demonstrators “violent anarchists” who have made “efforts to start fires at the Hatfield Federal Courthouse.” Trump says that the demonstrators “hate our country” and that “we must protect Federal property.”

Anarchists in Oregon who hate their country are trying to set fires and destroy federal property? Hmmm.

Steven and Dwight Hammond, also from Oregon, were convicted of arson for a fire that burned 139 acres of federal property in the state. A witness testified that Steven Hammond handed out matches with instructions to “light up the whole country” after his hunting party illegally slaughtered animals on federal land. Their imprisonment sparked an armed takeover of federal property in Oregon for 41 days in 2016 by dozens of militia-affiliated gunmen.

And what did Trump think of these arsonists who destroyed federal property and wanted to burn down America? Why, he pardoned them in 2018, calling them “devoted family men” and “respected contributors to their local community” for whom “justice is overdue.”

We have seen this pattern over and over.

In Washington’s Lafayette Square, across the street from the White House, federal police operating under the administration’s command fired gas and projectiles at peaceful demonstrators to clear the way for a presidential photo op outside a church. But when armed militants poured into the state Capitol in Michigan, brandishing their weapons in the legislative chamber to intimidate lawmakers (some of whom felt the need to don bulletproof vests) over public health restrictions, Trump declared that the gunman were “very good people” and that the state’s Democratic governor should “make a deal” with them.

Now Trump is decrying a supposed absence of law and order in Chicago and other cities run by Democrats (“worse than Afghanistan,” he said) and is threatening to overpower those cities, too, with armed federal agents. But when a Missouri couple came out of their home shouting at nonviolent racial justice demonstrators, pointing a pistol and brandishing a rifle at them, Trump called it “a disgrace” that they might face charges. Never mind that it’s a felony in Missouri to exhibit “any weapon readily capable of lethal use in an angry or threatening manner.”

In Trump’s America, it seems, the First Amendment applies only to those exercising the Second Amendment. Unarmed demonstrators pose a threat to “law and order.” But if you’re carrying a gun, you should feel free to threaten your elected representatives, menace civil rights demonstrators or do what you like to federal property.
Trump’s pretext for overriding state and local leaders with federal firepower is the racial justice demonstrators’ supposed violence. Though the majority of protesters have been peaceful, a few are indeed violent — you can view them on Fox News — and they deserve condemnation. But Trump is fomenting violence in the service of fueling a culture war he hopes will salvage his reelection. “It’s a choice between the law and order and patriotism and prosperity, safety offered by our movement, and the anarchy and chaos and crime,” he declared at a telerally this past week.

Or so he would like it to be.

Oregon’s Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat, said Trump’s “dictatorship”-style use of “secret police” was “adding gasoline to a fire” that had been dying. “The situation had been improving over the past several weeks,” she told NPR, and “their presence here substantially escalated the situation.”

But escalation is clearly Trump’s aim when he threatens to send federal police into more American cities. He needs to frighten Americans into embracing federal police taking up arms against American citizens — and Americans taking up arms against each other.

On Tuesday, for example, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany described Mark and Patricia McCloskey, the Missouri couple who threatened demonstrators with guns, as being menaced by “violent” protesters who “trespassed,” threatened to kill them and “burn down the house,” but not before moving into the house and “taking a shower.” Video of the affair shows peaceful marchers on the sidewalk, walking past the agitated and gun-toting McCloskeys, on their way to demonstrate outside the mayor’s nearby house.

“The prosecutor apparently thinks her job isn’t to keep us safe from criminals, but to keep the criminals safe from us,” Mark McCloskey told Fox News on Monday.

What a perfect distillation of Trumpian justice! Nonviolent civil rights demonstrators are the “criminals” — and the people who threaten them with guns are the victims.

Quinta Jurecic and Benjamin Wittes of the Lawfare blog wrote in The Atlantic about federal police in Portland. Their presence cannot be justified, they wrote.

Thousands of protesters turned out last night in Portland, peaceably rejecting the presence of armed federal agents in their city.

The men in camouflage apparently cone from the Border Patrol and ICE. The authors say they are not trained in crowd control, and a confrontation could easily escalate into violence. Kent State?

They write:

There will be time to sort out the legalities of the federal government’s actions. The attorney general of Oregon has filed suit against various federal agencies and officers involved in one arrest, arguing, “Ordinarily, a person … who is confronted by anonymous men in military-type fatigues and ordered into an unmarked van can reasonably assume that he is being kidnapped and is the victim of a crime.” The American Civil Liberties Union has also sued the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Marshals Service. The chairs of three House committees have requested an internal DHS investigation of the matter. Between these varied proceedings, the Trump administration will have to answer legal questions like whether it’s really okay for unidentified federal officers and agents to patrol streets, and whether an agency whose mission is to patrol the border is properly used without training for crowd control. The administration will also have to justify the propriety of the individual arrests both in any prosecutions of those detained and in any civil suits filed.

But let’s leave the legalities aside for now. Because whether the Trump administration has the technical legal authority to deploy this show of force in this particular matter does not answer the question of whether it should do so. The use of federal officers in this manner is corrosive of democratic culture, it makes for bad and ineffective law enforcement, and it’s likely physically dangerous both for the law-enforcement officers and for the protesters in question.

Meanwhile the thousands of peaceful protesters sitting in the streets of Portland, bracketed by a cordon of Moms wearing helmets, are prepared to stare down the federal police.

And Trump is ready to send similar armed contingents to Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit, and New York, whose mayors have denounced his threat.

Most see it as a desperate attempt to revive his flagging poll numbers among white suburbanites. Some see it as unconstitutional and an act suggesting a fascist mindset.

To those who think that Donald Trump represents a new phenomenon in American politics, Sarah Churchwell’s essay in The New York Review of Books is a necessary antidote. Open the link to see the alarming photographs that accomparticle. Yes, it happened here. Yes, you should describe to the New York Review of Books.

She writes:

As militarized police in riot gear and armored vehicles barreled into peaceful protesters in cities across America, and its president emerged from a bunker to have citizens tear-gassed on his way to a church he’d never attended, holding a Bible he’d never read, many people recalled a famous saying often misattributed to Sinclair Lewis’s 1935 novel It Can’t Happen Here: “When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.” Because Lewis’s novel is the best remembered of the many warnings against American fascism in the interwar years, he has latterly been credited with the admonition, but they are not Lewis’s words.

The adage probably originated instead with James Waterman Wise, son of the eminent American rabbi Stephen Wise and one of the many voices at the time urging Americans to recognize fascism as a serious domestic threat. “The America of power and wealth,” Wise cautioned, is “an America which needs fascism.” American fascism might emerge from “patriotic orders, such as the American Legion and the Daughters of the American Revolution… and it may come to us wrapped in the American flag or a Hearst newspaper.” In another talk that year, he put it slightly differently: American fascism would likely come “wrapped up in the American flag and heralded as a plea for liberty and preservation of the constitution.”

An American fascism would, by definition, deploy American symbols and American slogans. “Do not look for them to raise aloft the swastika,” Wise warned, “or to employ any of the popular forms of Fascism” from Europe. Fascism’s ultra-nationalism means that it works by normalizing itself, drawing on familiar national customs to insist it is merely conducting political business as usual. As José Antonio Primo de Rivera, the leader of Spain’s proto-fascist Falange party, proclaimed in 1934, all fascisms ought to be local and indigenous:

Italy and Germany… turned back towards their own authenticity, and if we do so ourselves, the authenticity which we find will also be our own: it will not be that of Germany or Italy, and therefore, by reproducing the achievement of the Italians or Germans we will become more Spanish than we have ever been… In fascism as in movements of all ages, underneath the local characteristics there are to be found certain constants… What is needed is a total feeling of what is required: a total feeling for the Fatherland, for life, for History.

Samuel Moyn recently argued in these pages against comparing Trump’s policies to fascism, because his administration is “pursuing causes with roots deep in American history. No analogy to Hitler or fascism is needed to explain these results.” But this presumes that fascism does not have its own deep roots in American history. It is arguable—not to say, exceptionalist—to presuppose that anything indigenously American cannot be fascist; this begs the question of American fascism rather than disputing it. Experts on fascism such as Robert O. Paxton, Roger Griffin, and Stanley G. Payne have long argued that fascism can never seem alien to its followers; its claims to speak for “the people” and to restore national greatness mean that each version of fascism must have its own local identity. To believe that a nationalist movement isn’t fascist because it’s native is to miss the point entirely.

Historically, fascist movements were also marked by opportunism, a willingness to say almost anything to get into power, rendering definitions even murkier. Trying to identify its core, the unsplittable fascist atom, has proved impossible; we are left with what Umberto Eco called fascism’s “fuzziness,” others its “hazy and synthetic doctrines.” There are good arguments against attempting through taxonomies to establish what’s become known as a “fascist minimum,” as if a checklist could qualitatively differentiate fascism from other authoritarian dictatorships. Some think anti-Semitism is a litmus test; others genocide. Does colonialism count? Aimé Césaire, C.L.R. James, and Hannah Arendt, among many other notable thinkers who lived through the first fascisms, certainly thought it did, arguing that European fascism visited upon white bodies what colonial and slave systems had perfected in visiting upon black and brown bodies.

Paxton has argued influentially that fascism is as fascism does. But conspicuous features are recognizably shared, including: nostalgia for a purer, mythic, often rural past; cults of tradition and cultural regeneration; paramilitary groups; the delegitimizing of political opponents and demonization of critics; the universalizing of some groups as authentically national, while dehumanizing all other groups; hostility to intellectualism and attacks on a free press; anti-modernism; fetishized patriarchal masculinity; and a distressed sense of victimhood and collective grievance. Fascist mythologies often incorporate a notion of cleansing, an exclusionary defense against racial or cultural contamination, and related eugenicist preferences for certain “bloodlines” over others. Fascism weaponizes identity, validating the herrenvolk and invalidating all the other folk.

Americans of the interwar period, though they could not predict what was to come in Europe, were nonetheless perfectly clear about one fact we have lost sight of today: all fascism is indigenous, by definition. “Fascism must be home grown,” admonished an American lecturer in 1937, “repeating the words of Benito Mussolini, that fascism cannot be imported,” but must be “particularly suited to our national life.” Logically, therefore, “the anti-Negro program” would provide “a very plausible rallying cry for American fascists,” just as anti-Semitism had for Germans. Others recognized that the deep roots of anti-Semitic evangelical Christianity provided equally plausible rallying cries for an American fascism. Wartime patriotism and the Allied triumph soon gave Americans permission to regard fascism as an alien and uniquely European pathology, but “the man on horseback,” the despot who could ride reactionary populist energies to power, had been a specter in American politics since at least as early as the presidency of Andrew Jackson in the 1830s.

One of the last, and most horrific, public lynchings in America took place in October 1934, in the Florida Panhandle, where a crowd of as many as 5,000 gathered to watch what had been advertised hours earlier in the local press. Claude Neal was burned and castrated, had his genitals stuffed into his mouth, and was forced to tell his torturers that he enjoyed their taste. After he was finally dragged to his death behind a car, his mutilated corpse was urinated upon by the crowds, and then hung from the Marianna Courthouse. The German press, quick to capitalize on reports of American lynching, circulated photographs of Neal, whose horrific death they described with “sharp editorial comments to the effect that America should clean its own house” before it censured other governments’ treatment of their citizens. “Stop Lynching Negroes is Nazi Retort to American Critics,” read the Pittsburgh Courier headline reporting German accounts of American racial violence.

The Courier was one of many African-American papers that not only saw affinities between Nazi Germany and Jim Crow America, but also traced causal connections. “Hitler Learns from America,” the Courier had declared as early as 1933, reporting that German universities under the new regime of the Third Reich were explaining that they drew their ideas from “the American pathfinders Madison Grant and Lothrop Stoddard,” and that “racial insanities” in America provided Nazi Germany with “a model for oppressing and persecuting its own minorities.” The African-American New York Age similarly wondered if Hitler had studied “under the tutelage” of Klan leaders, perhaps as “a subordinate Kleagle or something of the sort.”

The Nazis themselves saw a clear kinship. Recent histories have demonstrated that Hitler systematically relied upon American race laws in designing the Nuremberg laws, while the Third Reich also actively sought supporters in the Jim Crow South, although the political leadership of the white South largely did not return the favor. But the correspondence between the two systems was perfectly evident at the time, on both sides of the Atlantic. A Nazi consul general in California even tried to purchase the Klan, with the idea of plotting an American putsch. His price was too low—the Klan was nothing if not mercenary—but, as journalists remarked after the story came to light in 1939, the Klan could not afford to seem foreign; “to be effective,” its nativist agenda had to be pursued “in the name of Americanism.”

In 1935, African Americans organized around the country in mass protests against Mussolini’s slaughter of Ethiopians across the sea. “American Fascism Already Has Negroes,” declared the Jamaican-American journalist and historian Joel Augustus Rogers. Langston Hughes agreed: “Give Franco a hood and he would be a member of the Ku Klux Klan, a Kleagle. Fascism is what the Ku Klux Klan will be when it combines with the Liberty League and starts using machine guns and airplanes instead of a few yards of rope.” “We Negroes in America Negroes do not have to be told what fascism is in action,” Hughes told another audience. “We know.”

At the same time, in 1935, W.E.B. Du Bois published Black Reconstruction in America. This foundational work of African-American revisionist historiography appeared amid the tumult of the Scottsboro Nine’s persecution and as Jesse Owens’s medal haul at the Berlin Olympics was seen as both a joke against Hitler and a rebuke to Jim Crow America. In no way coincidentally, then, Du Bois implies in his study more than once that the white supremacism of Jim Crow America could indeed be regarded as “fascism.” Sixty years later, in a neglected but remarkable essay, Amiri Baraka made Du Bois’s notion explicit, arguing that the end of Reconstruction “heaved Afro America into fascism. There is no other term for it. The overthrow of democratically elected governments and the rule by direct terror, by the most reactionary sector of finance capital… Carried out with murder, intimidation and robbery, by the first storm troopers, again the Hitlerian prototype, the Ku Klux Klan, directly financed by northern capital.” It would take another twenty years for white American historiography to absorb the argument, when, in 2004, Paxton observed in The Anatomy of Fascism that a strong argument could be made for the first Ku Klux Klan in the Reconstruction South being the world’s earliest fascist movement:

[The first Klan was] an alternative civic authority, parallel to the legal state, which, in the eyes of the Klan’s founders, no longer defended their community’s legitimate interests. By adopting a uniform (white robe and hood), as well as by their techniques of intimidation and their conviction that violence was justified in the cause of their group’s destiny, the first version of the Klan in the defeated American South was arguably a remarkable preview of the way fascist movements were to function in interwar Europe.

After the KKK was resurrected in 1915, the second Klan claimed as many as five million members by the mid-1920s, a degree of proliferation in American society that represented one out of every three or four white Protestant American men. When Mussolini burst onto the world stage in 1921, many Americans across the country instantly recognized his project, as newspapers from Montana to Florida explained to their readers that “the ‘Fascisti’ might be known as the Ku Klux Klan,” and “the klan… is the Fascisti of America.” Comparisons between the homegrown Klan and Italian fascism soon became ubiquitous in the American press; the resemblance was not superficial.

The second Klan disintegrated in the late 1920s under the taint of corruption and sex scandals, but some of its erstwhile leaders soon began cutting their bloodstained cloth to fit new political fashions. The majority of the American fascist groups of the interwar period, more than one of which self-identified as fascist, began not as branches of Nazism, but as offshoots of the Klan. Their Christian nationalism was inextricable from their anti-Semitism, although it also led to a sectarianism that may have kept them from forging stronger alliances.

Many of these groups shared the fondness of their European counterparts for dressing up in “colored shirt” uniforms, to suggest organized force and militaristic might, to intimidate and exclude, including Atlanta’s Order of Black Shirts; the White Shirts, militant “Crusaders for Economic Liberty,” founded by George W. Christians, who cultivated a toothbrush mustache and Hitlerian lock of flopping hair; the Gray Shirts, officially “The Pioneer Home Protective Association,” founded in upstate New York; the Khaki Shirts (also “US Fascists”); the Silver Shirts, which William Dudley Pelley modeled on Hitler’s “elite Nazi corps,” and the Dress Shirts. By the end of 1934, American journalists were mocking the growing list. “Gray Shirts Make America No. 1 Among Shirt-Nations,” read one sarcastic headline, noting that unless other countries began cheating by combining colors, “it will be impossible to out-shirt us.”

But others took the threat more seriously. As James Waterman Wise repeatedly explained, “the various colored shirt orders—the whole haberdashery brigade who play upon sectional prejudice,” were “sowing the seeds of Fascism” in the United States. The Black Legion was an offshoot of the Klan that flourished in the Midwest, whose leader spoke of seizing Washington in a revolutionary coup, called the New Deal a Jewish plot “to starve the Gentiles out,” and espoused the extermination of American Jews by means of poison gas dispensers in synagogues on Yom Kippur. Anyone wondering “what fascism would be like in this country” should look to the Black Legion, with its “odor of Hitlerism,” its “anti-Catholic, anti-Jewish, anti-Negro, anti-labor platform, its whips, clubs and guns, its brazen defiance of law and order and the due processes of democracy,” warned a widely syndicated 1936 editorial. “These are the attitudes and equipment of fascism.”

The short-lived “Friends of the Hitler Movement” soon transformed into the more acceptable “Friends of New Germany” in 1933, before becoming the Bund. It held several large rallies in Madison Square Garden, including its 1939 “Mass Demonstration for True Americanism,” where a giant banner featuring George Washington was flanked by swastikas, and twelve hundred “storm troopers” stood in the aisles delivering the Nazi salute; footage from the rally was restored in 2019 as the short film “A Night at the Garden.” By 1940, the Bund claimed membership of 100,000 and had established summer camps in upstate New York, New Jersey, and Long Island where it trained American Nazi youth. The Bund’s propagandist, Gerhard Kunze, reported at the time that “the swastika is not foreign but one hundred per cent American. The Indians always used it,” while the emblem of another group, “The American National-Socialist Party,” was “an American Indian, arm outstretched in salute, poised against a black swastika.” They admitted to working to naturalize Nazism, seeking consanguinities with American symbolism.

Then, too, there was Father Coughlin. “I take the road of Fascism,” he said in 1936, before forming the Christian Front,” whose members referred to themselves as “brown shirts.” His virulently anti-Semitic radio program, regularly transmitting claims from the fabricated Protocols of the Elders of Zion, reached almost 30 million Americans at its height—the largest radio audience in the world at the time. Those listeners tuned in at the end of 1938 as Coughlin was justifying the violence of Kristallnacht, arguing that it was “reprisal” against Jews who had supposedly murdered more than twenty million Christians and stolen billions of dollars in “Christian property”; Nazism, he said, was a natural “defense mechanism” against the communism financed by Jewish bankers. Coughlin’s weekly newspaper, Social Justice, which had an estimated circulation of 200,000 at its height, was described by Life magazine at the time as probably the most widely read voice of “Nazi propaganda in America.”

But the American leader most often accused of fascist tendencies was Huey Long. As Louisiana governor (and senator), Long imposed local martial law, censored the newspapers, forbade public assemblies, packed the courts and legislatures with his cronies, and installed his twenty-four-year-old lover as secretary of state. Long was a racketeer, but his “Share Our Wealth” program did improve local conditions, building roads and bridges, investing in hospitals and schools, and abolishing the poll tax. His economic populism was also not predicated on furthering racial, ethnic, or religious divisions; he subordinated his white supremacism to his redistributionist political message. “We just lynch an occasional nigger,” he breezily declared when dismissing anti-lynching laws, though he also recognized “you can’t help poor white people without helping Negroes,” and so was prepared for his rising tide to lift all boats. When Long set his sights on the 1936 presidential election, Franklin D. Roosevelt was sufficiently alarmed to inform his ambassador to Germany: “Long plans to be a candidate of the Hitler type for the presidency,” predicting that by 1940 Long would try to install himself as a dictator.

Roosevelt was hardly alone in fearing that Long sought to be an “American Fuehrer”; Long’s political career gave plenty of reason for doubting his democratic bona fides. He inspired Sinclair Lewis’s Buzz Windrip in It Can’t Happen Here, the president-dictator who promises Americans $5,000 a year if they vote for him, as Long had done. But the name Windrip also suggests Rev. Gerald B. Winrod, the “Kansas Hitler” who led the “Defenders of the Christian Faith” and had been touring the nation lecturing on the millenarian role of Hitler, Stalin, and Mussolini in Biblical prophecy since the late 1920s. That Lewis also viewed the Klan as a fascist movement is clear from an extended denunciation that opens the novel, in which Lewis rips through a genealogy of American proto-fascist tendencies, including anti-Semitism, political corruption, war hysteria, conspiracy theories, and evangelical Christianity, before ending on the “Kentucky night-riders,” the “trainloads of people [who] have to gone to enjoy lynchings.” “Not happen here?… Where in all history has there ever been a people so ripe for a dictatorship as ours!”

President Windrip himself is “vulgar, almost illiterate, a public liar easily detected, and in his ‘ideas’ almost idiotic.” His fascist regime, driven by Christian nationalism and a desire for ethnic homogeneity, turns both African Americans and Jews into enemies of the state, decreeing that all bankers are Jewish. It Can’t Happen Here suggests that in America, fascism’s most dangerous supporters would be those “who disowned the word ‘Fascism’ and preached enslavement to Capitalism under the style of Constitutional and Traditional Native American Liberty.” It would be “government of the profits, by the profits, for the profits.” Fascism’s cancerous version of nationalism means that an American fascism will always graft American pieties about individual liberty onto realities of systemic greed, printing “liberate” on flags waved by a huckster.

Dorothy Thompson, the celebrated journalist and anti-fascist campaigner and Sinclair Lewis’s wife at the time, similarly earned the sobriquet of “Cassandra” for prophesying that fascism in the US would look all too familiarly American when it arrived. (Thompson enjoyed the riposte that Cassandra was always proven right in the end.) “When Americans think of dictators they always think of some foreign model,” she said, but an American dictator would be “one of the boys, and he will stand for everything traditionally American.” And the American people, Thompson added, “will greet him with one great big, universal, democratic, sheeplike bleat of ‘O.K., Chief! Fix it like you wanna, Chief!’” A year later, a Yale professor named Halford Luccock was also widely cited in the press when he told an audience: “When and if fascism comes to America it will not be labeled ‘made in Germany’; it will not be marked with a swastika; it will not even be called fascism; it will be called, of course, ‘Americanism.’” And Luccock went on: “The high-sounding phrase ‘the American way’ will be used by interested groups, intent on profit, to cover a multitude of sins against the American and Christian tradition, such sins as lawless violence, tear gas and shotguns, denial of civil liberties.”

A few years later, Thompson wrote again in similar terms, saying she was reminded of what Huey Long himself had once explained to her: “American Fascism would never emerge as a Fascist but as a 100 percent American movement; it would not duplicate the German method of coming to power but would only have to get the right President and Cabinet.” FDR’s vice president, Henry Wallace, issued his own warning. “American fascism will not be really dangerous,” he wrote in The New York Times in 1944, “until there is a purposeful coalition among the cartelists, the deliberate poisoners of public information, and those who stand for the K.K.K. type of demagoguery.”

Wallace’s warning came amid the Roosevelt administration’s misguided prosecution on sedition charges of many of these figures, including Winrod, Pelley, Elizabeth Dilling (of the so-called Mothers’ Movement), and James True (who founded a group called “America First Inc.” and called for an American pogrom). This constellation had orbited around the America First Committee of 1940–1941 and its figurehead Charles Lindbergh, the celebrated aviator who, for a time, lent their conspiratorial anti-Semitism a veneer of legitimacy until he met with disgrace in September 1941 for a speech widely condemned as anti-Semitic and “un-American.” As the United States entered World War II, the meaning of “America First” underwent an abrupt volte-face from patriotic to seditious, becoming a byword for anti-Semitic Nazi sympathies.

That did not stop Huey Long’s former deputy, the Rev. Gerald L.K. Smith—who had built his own political career on denunciations of presumptively Jewish “international bankers”—from running for president in 1944 on a promise to fix the nation’s “Jewish problem.” Smith’s party was called America First.

Now, in 2020, we find ourselves with an America First president. Arguments that Donald Trump can only be understood in relation to the modern conservative movement in America, best framed by the turn to the right under Barry Goldwater or Lee Atwater’s famous Southern Strategy, assume a rupture with American politics of the interwar period that was not necessarily evident at the time. To give just one example, Goldwater was described more than once during his presidential run in 1964, by both his supporters and his critics, as an “America First” politician.

Nor is it only Trump’s critics who see fascist tendencies in his administration’s rhetoric glorifying violence and disregarding the rule of law, democratic processes, and civil liberties; the president and his supporters regularly embrace traditions of American fascism themselves. “America First” was initially the favorite slogan of American xenophobic nativist movements and politics from 1915 to 1941, starting with Woodrow Wilson’s loyalty test, demanding that immigrant “hyphenate Americans” prove they were for “America First,” followed by its use as a rallying cry to keep America out of the League of Nations and from ratifying the Treaty of Versailles. Warren G. Harding also ran on an America First campaign in 1920, even as the slogan was being appropriated by the second Klan, which regularly marched with the legend on banners and used it in recruitment ads. It was invoked on the floor of Congress by supporters of the nativist and eugenicist Immigration Act of 1924. Then it was assimilated by self-styled American fascist groups of the 1930s, including the German-American Bund and the virulently anti-Semitic “America First, Inc.,” before it was adopted by the America First Committee of 1940–1941, when Lindbergh used it to convince Americans that “Jewish interests” were seeking to manipulate the United States into taking part in a European war.

Trump himself has echoed the “Nordicist” rhetoric of interwar Klansmen and American fascists when he said he would prefer more immigrants from Norway and fewer from “shithole” places like Haiti and Africa. He has praised the “bloodlines” of Henry Ford, who circulated the series of articles titled “The International Jew,” which promulgated the Protocols of the Elders of Zion across America during the 1920s. In that same decade, Fred Trump, then a young man (later, father of Donald), was arrested after a brawl involving Klansmen broke out at a Memorial Day Parade in Queens. Donald Trump was reported to own the speeches of Hitler during the 1990s; he denied ever reading them—but then he is also incapable of telling the truth.

And lately, in response to the killing of George Floyd in the spring of 2020 and the Black Lives Matter protests that swept the nation and then the world, Donald Trump announced that he would hold a rally for his supporters in Tulsa—one year short of the centenary of the worst anti-black pogrom in American history, which left as many as 300 African Americans dead, 8,000 homeless, and the city’s black community destroyed. Trump’s rally was to have taken place on June 19, a day known as “Juneteenth” that has come to be celebrated as an anniversary marking the end of slavery in the US and the emancipation of African Americans. For complex historical reasons, the deferral of liberty and the franchise, the belatedness of free and full citizenship under the law, the active suppression of black rights, all resonate in the Juneteenth celebration. (After widespread outrage at the clear provocation, Trump’s rally was postponed a day, to June 20, still in Tulsa. Trump proceeded to take credit for educating the country about Juneteenth.)

Trump is no student of history, but someone around him clearly is. But it is also true that Trump’s thundering ignorance does not mean he doesn’t understand the racist and fascist rhetoric he deploys. We need not argue that he is a mastermind plotting a fascist coup to recognize that Trump has a demonstrable sense of how white supremacism works in America, without ever having troubled to organize his thoughts, such as he has, about it.

And this, too, was how fascism always operated in practice: it was nothing if not opportunistic. What Paxton calls its “mobilizing passions” catalyze fascism, which is propelled, as he notes, more by feelings than by thought. Only “the historic destiny of the group,” matters to fascists, he adds: “their only moral yardstick is the prowess of the race, of the nation, of the community. They claim legitimacy by no universal standard except a Darwinian triumph of the strongest community.” Its “hazy and synthetic doctrines,” combined with its ultra-nationalism and anti-intellectualism, mean that fascism is never a coherent set of ideological doctrines. Force takes the place of ideology, as the fascist strong man performs for his followers their sense of rightful dominance and rage that other groups, in embracing equality, reject their entitlements.

American fascist energies today are different from 1930s European fascism, but that doesn’t mean they’re not fascist, it means they’re not European and it’s not the 1930s. They remain organized around classic fascist tropes of nostalgic regeneration, fantasies of racial purity, celebration of an authentic folk and nullification of others, scapegoating groups for economic instability or inequality, rejecting the legitimacy of political opponents, the demonization of critics, attacks on a free press, and claims that the will of the people justifies violent imposition of military force. Vestiges of interwar fascism have been dredged up, dressed up, and repurposed for modern times. Colored shirts might not sell anymore, but colored hats are doing great.

Reading about the inchoate American fascist movements of the 1930s during the Trump administration feels less prophetic than proleptic, a time-lapse montage of a para-fascist order slowly willing itself into existence over the course of nearly a century. It certainly seems less surprising that recognizably fascistic violence is erupting in the United States under Trump, as his attorney general sends troops to the national capital to act as a private army, armed paramilitary groups occupy state capitols, laws are passed to deny the citizenship and rights of specific groups, and birthright citizenship as guaranteed under the Fourteenth Amendment is attacked. When the president declares voting an “honor” rather than a right and “jokes” about becoming president for life, when the government makes efforts to add new categories of ethnic identity to the decennial census for the first time in the nation’s history, and when nationwide protests in response to racial injustice become the pretext for mooting martial law, we are watching an American fascist order pulling itself together.

Trump is neither aberrant nor original. Nativist reactionary populism is nothing new in America, it just never made it to the White House before. In the end, it matters very little whether Trump is a fascist in his heart if he’s fascist in his actions. As one of Lewis’s characters notes of the dictator in It Can’t Happen Here: “Buzz isn’t important—it’s the sickness that made us throw him up that we’ve got to attend to.”

G.F. Brandenburg reposts an essay by Talia Levin about how she infiltrated various far-right extremist groups by join8ngbthem under an alias and joined their website.

She describes how she created Facebook pages with false identities to insinuate herself into far-right networks.

She writes:

I use a fake Facebook account, which I’ve used dozens of times for this and similar purposes. The name is false, and the profile is built out with an array of far-right groups, “patriotic” interests, and dog-whistle posts designed to maintain plausibility. I’ve made so many accounts on so many apps over the past few years that I have to take care not to lose track of my pseudonyms. Although it kicked into high gear during research for my book on the online far right, infiltrating hate groups isn’t just a strange hobby or a journalistic endeavor; it’s antifascism.

She reminds me that we should all be “anti-fascist.” We fought a war in the early 1940s to rid the world of fascism.

Shouldn’t we all be anti-fascist?”

Why is Trump so terrified of a group called Antifa?

The full statement by General James Mattis, who was Trump’s Secretary of Defense.

James Mattis full statement

In Union There Is Strength

I have watched this week’s unfolding events, angry and appalled. The words “Equal Justice Under Law” are carved in the pediment of the United States Supreme Court. This is precisely what protesters are rightly demanding. It is a wholesome and unifying demand—one that all of us should be able to get behind. We must not be distracted by a small number of lawbreakers. The protests are defined by tens of thousands of people of conscience who are insisting that we live up to our values—our values as people and our values as a nation.

When I joined the military, some 50 years ago, I swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution. Never did I dream that troops taking that same oath would be ordered under any circumstance to violate the Constitutional rights of their fellow citizens—much less to provide a bizarre photo op for the elected commander-in-chief, with military leadership standing alongside.

We must reject any thinking of our cities as a “battlespace” that our uniformed military is called upon to “dominate.” At home, we should use our military only when requested to do so, on very rare occasions, by state governors. Militarizing our response, as we witnessed in Washington, D.C., sets up a conflict—a false conflict— between the military and civilian society. It erodes the moral ground that ensures a trusted bond between men and women in uniform and the society they are sworn to protect, and of which they themselves are a part.

Keeping public order rests with civilian state and local leaders who best understand their communities and are answerable to them.

James Madison wrote in Federalist 14 that “America united with a handful of troops, or without a single soldier, exhibits a more
forbidding posture to foreign ambition than America disunited, with a hundred thousand veterans ready for combat.” We do not need to militarize our response to protests. We need to unite around a common purpose. And it starts by guaranteeing that all of us are equal before the law.

Instructions given by the military departments to our troops before the Normandy invasion reminded soldiers that “The Nazi slogan for destroying us…was ‘Divide and Conquer.’ Our American answer is ‘In Union there is Strength.'” We must summon that unity to surmount this crisis—confident that we are better than our politics.

Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people—does not even pretend to try. Instead he tries to divide us. We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership. We can unite without him, drawing on the strengths inherent in our civil society. This will not be easy, as the past few days have shown, but we owe it to our fellow citizens; to past generations that bled to defend our promise; and to our children.

We can come through this trying time stronger, and with a renewed sense of purpose and respect for one another. The pandemic has shown us that it is not only our troops who are willing to offer the ultimate sacrifice for the safety of the community. Americans in hospitals, grocery stores, post offices, and elsewhere have put their lives on the line in order to serve their fellow citizens and their country. We know that we are better than the abuse of executive authority that we witnessed in Lafayette Square. We must reject and hold accountable those in office who would make a mockery of our Constitution. At the same time, we must remember Lincoln’s “better angels,” and listen to them, as we work to unite.

Only by adopting a new path—which means, in truth, returning to the original path of our founding ideals—will we again be a country admired and respected at home and abroad.
James Mattis

Robert Shepherd writes comments on the blog frequently, and he also writes his own blog. He is a recently retired teacher in Florida who spent decades as a writer, editor, and developer of curriculum and assessments in the education publishing industry.

Since he has often expresssed his views of the current occupant of the White House, I invited him to assemble a Trump glossary.

He did.

Some people respond to crises with focused, quiet intensity. Not our 73-year-old President in the orange clown makeup. He can’t stop tweeting and blabbering randomly and profusely. And what does he tweet and blab about? Well, he suggests holding events at his resorts, he attacks perceived enemies, and he praises himself. And then on Memorial Day, while others are laying a wreath on the grave of Uncle Javier who died in Vietnam, Trump accuses a journalist of murder and goes golfing.

This demonstrated lack of concern for others (for victims and survivors of natural disasters and war and disease, for example) shows that Donald Trump doesn’t give a microbe on a nit on a rat’s tushy about anything but Donald Trump. Obviously, he cares only about money (sorry, Evangelicals, his only God is Mammon) and about himself.

But hey, Trump’s a romantic figure, a man in love. This must be his appeal. And when he speaks, in his toddler English, about the love of his life, Donald Trump, you can be certain that he will use terms like “a winner,” “the greatest,” “the best,” and so on. He will tell you about his “great genes” and his uncle who was “a super genius [which is a lot better than an ordinary genius] at MIT.”

OK, over the years, I’ve had my disagreements with the man to whom I variously refer as Moscow’s Asset Governing America (MAGA); Don the Con; IQ 45; The Don, Cheeto “Little Fingers” Trumpbalone; Vlad’s Agent Orange; the Iota; our Child-Man in the Promised Land; our Vandal in Chief; Dog-Whistle Don; The Man with No Plan and the Tan in the Can; President Pinocchio; Trump on the Stump with His Chumps; Jabba the Trump; Don the Demented; King Con; Donnie DoLittle; the Stabul Jenius; Scrotus Potus; The Mornavirus trumpinski orangii; Ethelorange the Unready; our First Part-time President, now become, in his nonresponse to the pandemic, Donnie Death. However, I do agree with him that in descriptions of Trump, SUPERLATIVES ARE IN ORDER.

The British writer Nate White wisely observed, in a post that Diane Ravitch shared on her indispensable blog, that Donald Trump’s “faults are fractal: even his flaws have flaws.” Trump is a one-person compendium of human vices and failings. In this respect, truly, HE HAS NO EQUAL. And so I offer here an ABECEDARIUM of adjectives, each of which demonstrably describes the occupant of the now Offal Office in the now Whiter House, the fellow who has shamed us before the world, made us a laughing stock, and led the now Repugnican Party in an unprecedented Limbo Dance (“how low, how low, how low can we go?).

Trump is. . . .

abhorrent, amoral, anti-democratic, arrogant, authoritarian, autocratic, avaricious, backward, base, benighted, bloated, blubbering, blundering, bogus, bombastic, boorish, bullying, bungling, cheap, childish, clownish, clueless, common, confused, conniving, corrupt, cowardly, crass, creepy, cretinous, criminal, crowing, crude, cruel, dangerous, delusional, demagogic, depraved, devious, dim, disgraceful, dishonest, disloyal, disreputable, dissembling, dog-whistling, doltish, dull, elitist, embarrassing, erratic, fascist, foolish, gauche, gluttonous, greedy, grudging, hate-filled, hateful, haughty, heedless, homophobic, humorless, hypocritical, idiotic, ignoble, ignominious, ignorant, immature, inarticulate, indolent, inept, inferior, insane, intemperate, irresponsible, kakistocratic, kleptocratic, laughable, loathsome, loud-mouthed, low-life, lying, mendacious, meretricious, monstrous, moronic, narcissistic, needy, oafish, odious, orange, outrageous, pampered, pandering, perverse, petty, predatory, puffed-up, racist, repulsive, rude, sanctimonious, semi-literate, senile, senseless, sexist, shady, shameless, sheltered, slimy, sluglike, sniveling, squeamish, stupid, swaggering, tacky, thick, thin-skinned, thuggish, toadying, transphobic, trashy, treasonous, twisted, ugly, unappealing, uncultured, uninformed, unprincipled, unread, unrefined, vain, venal, vicious, vile, and vulgar.

Aside from those peccadilloes (we all have our faults, don’t we?), I have no problem with the guy.

Progressive activist Norman Solomon was a Sanders delegate to the Democratic convention in 2016. He now is national director of RootsAction. In this article in LA Progressive, he warns that Trump is a neofascist and that his re-election will end all hope for progressive change.

He quotes Noam Chomsky:

But here’s a key point: People who deny or downplay the real threat of neo-fascism consolidating itself via Trump’s re-election are, in effect, serving as enablers for the forces of the virulent extreme right that already controls so much of the U.S. government.

“It’s important to remember that right now, the issue of greatest urgency is to get rid of the malignancy in the White House,” Noam Chomsky said in an interview last week. “If we don’t do that, everything else pales into insignificance. To keep this for another four years means racing to the abyss on global warming, possibly reaching irreversible tipping points, sharply increasing the threat of nuclear war, stuffing the judiciary with young, ultra-right, mostly unqualified lawyers who will guarantee that anything to the left of Attila the Hun can’t survive for a generation, and on and on. This is top priority.”

In that video interview with The Intercept, Chomsky added: “There’s a thing called arithmetic. You can debate a lot of things, but not arithmetic. Failure to vote for Biden in this election in a swing state amounts to voting for Trump. Takes one vote away from the opposition, same as adding one vote to Trump. So, if you decide you want to vote for the destruction of organized human life on Earth. . . then do it openly. . . . But that’s the meaning of ‘Never Biden.’”

Veterans of the political struggles of the 1960s explain in this open letter published in The Nation why they will vote for Joe Biden. In my view, anyone who opposes racism, fascism, and the dominance of the fanatical religious right should vote for Biden.

The letter begins:

On April 13, 2020, Senator Bernie Sanders urged his supporters to vote for the presumptive Democratic nominee, former vice president Joe Biden. Writing as founders and veterans of the leading New Left organization of the 1960s, Students for a Democratic Society, we welcome Bernie’s wise choice—but we are gravely concerned that some of his supporters, including the leadership of Democratic Socialists of America, refuse to support Biden, whom they see as a representative of Wall Street capital. Some of us are DSA members, but do not believe their position is consistent with a long-range vision of democracy, justice, and human survival.

Now it is time for all those who yearn for a more equal and just social order to face facts. All of us have charged for years that Trump is the leader of an authoritarian party that aims for absolute power; rejects climate science; embraces racism, sexism, homophobia, and violence; holds the democratic process in contempt; bids to take over the entire federal judiciary; represses voting rights; and violates plain human decency on many fronts. These are the grounds for our solemn determination: A common effort to unseat him is our high moral and political responsibility.

In our time, we fought—for a time successfully—against the sectarian politics of the Cold War. We were mindful then of the cataclysm that befell German democracy when socialists and communists fought each other—to death—as Hitler snuck by and then murdered them all.

Now we fear that some on the left cannot see the difference between a capitalist democrat and a protofascist. We hope none of us learn this difference from jail cells.

We have dedicated much of our lives to the fight to extend democracy to more people, more institutions, more places. We continue this work in diverse ways motivated now as then by a spirit of community and solidarity. But now the very existence of American democracy is in jeopardy.

Some of us think “endorsing” Joe Biden is a step too far; but we who now write this open letter all know that we must work hard to elect him. This is an all-hands-on-deck moment.

Open the link and read the rest of the letter.

I note that my good friend Mike Klonsky, who was National Secretary of SDS in 1968, decided not to sign the letter. You can read his reasons here, but he too will vote for Biden, because, as he writes:

In my view, Trump and Trumpism represent the most reactionary political force in the world today and the most immediate and serious threat to peace and human freedom in the post-WWII era.

Tactically, I’m taking my cues mainly from leading progressives like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders who, to one degree or another, are supporting Biden’s election as a way of defeating Trump and pushing forward our progressive agenda.