From Iowa Nice to Iowa Nazi: a Report from the Friendly Fascist Heartland

Photograph Source: Gage Skidmore – CC BY-SA 3.0

The sloppy fascist Donald Trump may no longer reside in the White House but he’s back on the hate rally campaign trail selling his big Hitlerian Stolen Election Lie. Meanwhile, Trumpist white nationalism is booming in the “red states,” where Amerikaner Republicans hold the reins.

“Red” states like Iowa, home to former long-term Congressman Steve King, who praised the Dutch white nationalist Geert Wilders as follows in March of 2017: “Wilders understands that culture and demographics are our destiny. We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.”

Iowa, home to governor “Killer” Kim Reynolds who recently signed a bill making it a crime for teachers in public educational institutions to tell the true story of white systemic racism and sexism in American society past and present.  (Please sign up with CounterPunch+ to read my forthcoming essay [available this Sunday] showing how these and other state bills outlawing the teaching of “Critical Race Theory” are a perfect match for Yale philosophy professor Jason Stanley’s 10-point dissection of fascist politics more ideational components.)

This thoughtcrime measure is just the tip of the white nationalist iceberg in Iowa, where the governor and her comrades in the right-wing state legislature have this spring enacted:

+ An NRA-drafted bill letting people buy firearms and carry concealed handguns without first obtaining a state permit. The law rolls back background checks eliminates the firearms training that was previously required to obtain a gun permit. This measure was nicely timed with the maniacal upsurge of mass shootings this spring and summer.  How’s that for “Iowa Nice”? What could go wrong?

+ A voter suppression measure that rolls back voting rights by shortening the early voting period to 20 days from 29, requiring most mail-in ballots to be received by Election Day (instead of the previous practices of counting votes postmarked by Election Day that arrive by noon on the Monday following the election), closing voting sites at 8 p.m. rather than 9 p.m., and removing voters from active voter lists if they miss a single general election and don’t report a change in address or register as a voter again. This is the Iowa Amerikaner Republifascist Party’s (IARP’s) response to Donald Trump’s loss and Big Lie: making it harder for people to vote.  (Never mind that Trump won 90% white Iowa decisively in both 2016 and 2020.) Nice, Iowa!

+  A “Back the Blue” bill that that grants cops significantly enhanced immunity from prosecution, makes loosely defined “rioting” a felony instead of a misdemeanor, increases penalties for protesters who block streets and highways.  The bill provides immunity to motorists who run over protesters and, in a chilling and under-noticed clause, imposes “criminal eluding” charges for motorists who fail to pull over for plain-clothes officers in unmarked police cars. Frau Reynolds dropped her initial promise to include a ban on racial profiling. This is an IARP response to the thousands of Iowans who courageously faced repression from gendarmes to protest racial injustice during the George Floyd and Brionna Taylor Rebellion last year. Nice.

+ A nice Iowa measure that prohibits counties, cities, or school boards from imposing anti-Covid masking requirements stricter than those ordered by the state, which means not “strict” at all. The measure is consistent with Frau Reynolds’ longstanding pandemofascism, which has left Iowans particularly vulnerable to infection.  As the Delta variant of COVID-19 enters Iowa and every other US state and the efficacy of vaccines fade with time, what could go wrong?

The same day that Reynolds signed the bill outlawing teaching racial reality in Iowa public schools and universities, she nicely signed a measure granting an additional  $21 million for the state’s prison system, which has the nation’s third worst rate of disproportionately Black incarceration.

Consistent with her refusal to permit unemployment compensation for mostly LatinX meatpacking workers reluctant to resume toil in Covid-19-breeding animal slaughtering and processing plants last year, Frau Reynolds in May announced that Iowa would no longer provide jobless Iowans the $300 federal weekly supplemental unemployment benefit. Spouting the rhetoric of her right-wing business backers, she claimed without evidence that the additional federal unemployment money discouraged individuals from returning to work “at a time when Iowa has an urgent need for workers.” Untold thousands of Iowans whose jobs have disappeared and who cannot afford adequate childcare and health were suddenly expected to take shitty, low-wage jobs in the name of the holy work ethic. That wasn’t very nice.

The IARP will likely add a ban on abortion to the state’s constitution this or next year,

At the risk of stating the obvious, racist, and patriarchal white nationalism is not just a southern thing.  Look at Wisconsin and the Dakotas, Wyoming, Montana, Utah, and Idaho.  And look at Amerikaner Iowa, where the despicable fascist Trump “ran up wider margins against President Biden than he had against Hillary Clinton in most Iowa counties…The [Democrats],” the New York Times reports, “lost a Senate race, gave up two congressional seats and lost half a dozen seats in the state legislature” in 2020. “Many Democrats now believe that Iowa is all but lost to the party, and that it is time to let go.”

Iowa’s license plates have recently gone from cheerful white, blue, and yellow to dark black with the numbers and letters in white. It’s an appropriate change considering the state’s ever deepening descent into the black hole of Amerikaner fascism.

“Iowa Nice” has become “Iowa Nazi.”

Mention the dystopian drift to an Iowa City, Davenport, or Des Moines liberal and they shrug their shoulders and say, “oh well, what are you going to do?”  University of Iowa officials and professors are trying to figure out how to accommodate the new fascist educational measure (see my forthcoming CounterPunch+ essay) by finding ways to politely “factor in” race (a rather difficult topic to avoid when teaching about American history and society) while “staying under the radar screen” of the fascist thought police in Des Moines( the state capital). Some liberals and progressives talk about leaving the state as it slips further into the abyss of tribal white chauvinism. The dismal Dems are a badly broken centrist joke in Iowa as in other “red states” – in the nation at large, in all honesty.  They couldn’t even retain the Congressional district that includes the major liberal university town Iowa City and the Mississippi River urban zones of Muscatine and Davenport.  There’s an utterly feckless Facebook page calling for the impeachment of Reynolds “right now!,” but the notion of her being impeached by a state legislature whose two branches are completely dominated by the IARP is of course ludicrous.

There’s always recourse to direct action, increasingly perilous given the 2021 post-George Floyd legislation promising elevated criminal charges for protest and resistance, enhanced immunity for the fascist gendarmes (including a state police officer who told young George Floyd protesters in Iowa City last year that “we’re not scared to put you all in body bags”) and greenlighting the vehicular murder of marchers – no small matter[1].  To make matters worse, protest seems to require a lot of young people, and Iowa is a very old state.

Perhaps Iowans who have not given up completely should think like southern civil and voting rights activists and issue a call for a national and international boycott of the state. The call would be very straightforward: “Iowa is full-on white nationalist Amerikaner[2] territory now. It’s fascist. Don’t buy products grown and manufactured in Iowa.  Don’t do business with corporations headquartered in Iowa.  Don’t hold conventions in this state.  Don’t take vacations here. Make sure to fill up your gas tank in western Illinois before driving west through Iowa. Don’t use Iowa campgrounds. Don’t send research dollars or otherwise invest money in this fascist state.”

And don’t send your students and tuition dollars to this racist jurisdiction. If the Republifascists in Des Moines have their way, academic tenure (essentially free speech protection for professors) will be abolished (the IARP has been pushing legislation for this in the state legislature) and public universities will be forced to place morally and intellectually inadequate neofascist white nationalists in teaching and research positions.

It’s a shame what’s happened to Iowa, home to the highest per capita Union Army volunteer enlistment rate during the Civil War and to a progressive farmer tradition that produced the left 1948 presidential candidate Henry Wallace.  Iowa’s public schools were desegregated nearly one hundred years before the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954’s Brown vs. the Board of Education decision.  Iowa was the first state to admit women to the bar, in 1869 — three years before the Supreme Court decided states could deny women the right to practice law.

In 1868, Iowa’s own supreme court decided that 12-year-old Susan B. Clark could not be denied admission to Muscatine Grammar School No. 2 because she was Black. To refuse children an equal education because of their skin color, the justices wrote, “would be to sanction a plain violation of the spirit of our laws [and] tend to perpetuate the national differences of our people and stimulate a constant strife.” This decision came 28 years before the U.S. Supreme Court sanctioned racial segregation in public accommodations in the Plessy vs. Ferguson.

“The arc of the moral universe,” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once wrote, “is long, but it bends toward justice.” As a brilliant Bernie Sanders Caucuser told me on her Iowa City doorstep last January, “that’s a nice thing to believe, but I don’t.” In Iowa as across much of the country, the current bend is toward fascism.

And, yes, I need no emails telling me the dismal Democrats are partners in the rightward bend – this is one of the most consistent themes in my writing over the past two decades (see, most recently, this, but consider also this and this and this and this to mention just a handful among countless other examples). It is no less true in Iowa than it is in any other state. If Democrats now feel compelled to “let go” of the state, they have themselves to thank for it, to no small extent, having abandoned the state’s more progressive traditions for the corporate neoliberal Clinton-Obama religion long ago.

To say this is not, however, to fall for the idiots’ game of equating the two dominant parties, one of which is a depressing bourgeois neoliberal enabler and the other of which is a neofascist organization dedicated to the permanent white nationalist cancellation of what’s left of democracy and constitutionalism under the de facto class dictatorship of capital.


1) Talk about “fascism with American characteristics”! “In the wake of last year’s Black Lives Matter protests,” VOX’s Cameron Peters noted last April, “Republican lawmakers are advancing a number of new anti-protest measures at the state level – including multiple bills that specificallymake it easier for drivers to run down protesters… If the recent spate of anti-protest measures in Florida, Iowa, and Oklahoma is disturbing on its face, however, context does little to make it better. There is a specific history in the US of the far right using cars as weapons, and it’s not hard to see how bills like the one that is now law in Oklahoma might only make things worse…The most notable example is from August 2017: Heather Heyer, 32, was struck and killed and at least 19 others were injured when neo-Nazi James Alex Fields Jr. rammed a crowd of counter protesters in Charlottesville. Fields has since been sentenced to life in prison…But it’s more than that single incident. According to Ari Weil, the deputy research director for the Chicago Project on Security and Threats, there were at least 72 incidents of cars driving into protesters over a relatively short span in 2020, from May 27 through July 7…Examples aren’t hard to find. There’s even a Wikipedia page specifically dedicated to ‘vehicle-ramming incidents during George Floyd protests.’ And as Weil explained in an interview with Vox’s Alex Ward last year, ‘there’s an online environment that for years has been celebrating and encouraging these types of horrendous attacks’” (emphasis added).

2. As far as I am aware, I am the first writer to use the term “Amerikaner” in left political discourse.  It is a play on the name of the white Dutch-Anglo minority that imposed a savage regime of racial apartheid and white minority rule on South Africa during the 19th and 20th Centuries.  Like the Afrikaners, I maintain, the U.S. hard right Trump base and white nationalist movement is heir to an earlier history of genocidal and imperialist white un-“settlement.”  It is opposed to majority rule democracy and committed to the imposition of racial and ethnic separatism/apartheid, inequality, and disenfranchisement. White fears of coming white minority demographic status in the increasingly non-white United States are one aspect of the parallel, reflected in the adoption of the term by certain parts of the nation’s fascistic alt-right.

Paul Street’s latest book is This Happened Here: Amerikaners, Neoliberals, and the Trumping of America (London: Routledge, 2022).