I’m increasingly getting the sense that a great tragedy looms in America’s near future. This will be a tragedy where our government, scared of losing its power amid growing unrest, lashes out in an explosion of repressive violence.
All the warning signs of a coming fascistic crackdown are right in front of our faces. As President Trump has further militarized America’s police, he’s been repeatedly urging officers to engage in more violence. This March, his comments about police violence became less vague than the usual calls for them to not be “too nice;” in a Breitbart interview, he said: “I have the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of Bikers for Trump. I have the tough people, but they don’t play it tough until they go to a certain point, and then it would be very bad, very bad.”
This was unmistakably a threat to incite his supporters to violence if he becomes displeased by some undefined political setback. This setback could come in the form of impeachment, or in a loss for Trump in 2020. But the setback which I think is most likely to set off Trump’s plan for violence-and which will largely have the support of the ruling class-is a scenario where a mass protest movement breaks out in America in reaction to the country’s extreme inequality.
The creation of America’s surveillance state, the militarization of the police, the erosion of legal norms like due process, the recent project to have American police adopt the training methods of Israel’s notoriously violent security forces, and the authorization for the president to use the military as a domestic police force (which happened under Obama through the 2012 NDAA bill) have all been preparations for putting down an uprising against the ruling class. During the Yellow Vest protests this year, we saw how a government reacts to resistance even in a “liberal” Western country with a “centrist” president; French police blew people’s hands off, used rubber bullets to blow out people’s eyes, and perpetrated many casualties. Imagine how Trump and the American police apparatus would respond if such a protest movement happened here, and you’ll get an idea of the violence that we should anticipate.
The specter of a crackdown against dissent from the modern American government is so alarming because in this country, the violent instruments of the state have merged with the firepower of fascist vigilantes. With that comment in March, Trump was flexing the fact that law enforcement and military personnel are largely made up of people who are loyal to him and to his ethno-nationalist agenda. About 22 percent of service members who participated in a Military Times poll from last fall said that they’ve seen evidence of “white nationalism or racist ideology” within the armed forces, an aspect of the American military that’s paralleled by the epidemic of white supremacist infiltrators that exists within the country’s police departments.
At the same time, white nationalists and neo-Nazis are attempting to wield the military control over communities that the government itself has. A pro-Trump fascist militia group has recently been detaining undocumented people while policing the border; neo-Nazis are organizing secretive paramilitary training throughout the country; the grassroots fascist movement’s desire to function as a junta has also been demonstrated in the “Annual Ride for Homeland Security,” an event where groups like the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, Bikers for Trump, the Alt Knights, and a militia group called the III% gather in upstate New York to protest American society’s acceptance of Islam. Trump thinks that he can use all of these armed supporters of his to ensure there won’t be trouble for him, or for his political partners in Wall Street and corporate America.
The rise of these fascist paramilitary groups, and their efforts to emulate and tie themselves in with law enforcement and the military, are conducive to a scenario where America experiences a fascist takeover on the level of Nazi Germany or Mussolini’s Italy. When a capitalist ruling class doesn’t want to respond to popular discontent by implementing reforms to reduce inequality, it turns to fascism as the solution for maintaining its control. And the transition to fascism often involves the creation of militia groups that serve the goals of the aspiring tyrant, sometimes in ways that mirror what we’re seeing today. As historical analyst James Barnett has written, Hitler’s SA “made a name for itself early on through its members’ actions as self-styled border guards in Upper Silesia, a region that saw turmoil in the Weimar years as ethnic Poles agitated for inclusion into the newly founded Second Polish Republic next door. Many early acts of SA violence were perpetrated in Upper Silesia under the guise of defending Germany’s sovereignty from Polish ‘infiltrators’ and ‘traitors.’”
At its core, the fascist threat we face comes from a crisis of culture. The members of the fascist militias are gripped in a mutated form of the ideology of empire, which says that the homeland is perpetually under threat from inferior and dangerous ethnicities and that the country’s patriots must take up the fight to stamp out these evil forces.
The nature of their pathology is even hinted at in the fashion styles and symbolism that they take up. “It should be noted that many Afghan villagers have made distinctions between bearded and shaven American troops,” wrote the artist Nate Powell in a graphic from this year about the aesthetics of American fascists. “The bearded variety more likely to act out violence and abuse of power, according to civilian accounts. Beards, like sunglasses and headgear, can act to obscure personal recognition and minimize accountability. Back in the states, these aesthetic choices have trickled downstream through law enforcement and private security (often as post-active duty careers) into civilian life-doubling as an outward badge of honor for a historically unpopular war, a shield against pain and trauma.
“The subtle return of troops’ facial hair, banned for a century to accommodate airtight gas masks in an age of chemical warfare, has helped imply a circular relationship to history in which society’s conflicts are inescapable echoes of historical precedent and national myth alike. By seeing troops resemble their predecessors in the Civil War or Spanish-American war, roaming a similar arid landscape, it’s easier to conflate these campaigns as chapters in a mythical, centuries-old forever war.”
In other words, American fascists embrace a historical narrative where the country’s foundations of genocide, racism, and imperialist violence should never be reckoned with, and where patriots valiantly defend the holdings of white supremacy. “This eternity-narrative weaves together both old west revisionism and lost cause fantasies,” continues Powell, “asserting a narrative of eternal innocence, of nobility, to provide some meaning to years and lives destroyed fighting someone else’s wars. And with eternal innocence, now is then, steamrolling our capacity to process, learn, and grow from history.”
The fight against American fascism is partly a fight for curing the people of the hateful mentalities that have been instilled in them through a myopic and arrogant colonizing culture. To end our culture of hate, we must educate ourselves and others about how capitalism, imperialism and racism have worked together to inflict incalculable suffering onto our country’s oppressed people, and how the harm from this can be rectified through reparations, decolonization and the establishment of socialism. The first step is to encourage people to read about these subjects while insisting on having discussions about them. As the literary reviewer Sage Hyden has concluded: “An empathic and well-read population is the most terrifying thing imaginable to any fictional or real totalitarian regime.”
But we can’t pretend that the fascist zealots can simply be educated into becoming unthreatening members of society, or that the white supremacists in the armed forces and law enforcement can be won over. The police in particular are a class that’s protected by the system, and that has the greatest motive for continuing to enforce it. The police violence during the Yellow Vest protests has proven that the police are very much part of the 1%; as this widely hated faction of society frequently uses their power to bully people and carry out unprovoked violence, the police enjoy exalted social status, early retirement and good pensions, and lack of accountability for abuses.
Even the police officers who aren’t ideologically fascist or white supremacist have shown themselves to be willing enforcers of oppression, and thus can’t be trusted to defect towards fighting on the side of the oppressed. As the saying goes, all cops are bastards, because they’ve committed themselves to violently enforce the laws that oppress marginalized people. They’re class traitors who fight on the side of the 1% because of the perks that this gives them. And as American fascist lawmakers continue to expand laws that deprive women of abortion rights, subject LGBT people to violence and incarceration, separate and detain undocumented families, and put people of color in prison, the police and their allies in the fascist movement will keep using weapons to terrorize the oppressed into submission.
This is why the American anti-fascist movement is increasingly working to arm trans people, black people, women, and the other targets of the junta that Trump is threatening to mobilize. Organizations like the Socialist Rifle Association, the John Brown Club, and numerous local anti-fascist action groups can be sought out for guidance in how to responsibly use firearms to defend one’s community. The mission of these armed leftist groups is not to instigate violence, but to carry out the logical response to the growing threat of fascist attacks.
Their approach for combating fascism can be described as follows: fight right-wing extremism through ideas as much as you can, but when debate fails and the fascists move in for the attack, be ready to fight for your life.
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