Six months ago, January 6, 2021, the United States government was toppled in a coup d’etat. It was led by President Donald Trump in which thousands of protesters at the “Stop the Steal” rally stormed the capitol. It was a medieval siege. The insurgent mob – waving American flags, Trump flags, Confederate flags, Gadsden flags (“Dont Tread on Me”), Vietnamese flags, Arizona flags – were armed with bats, hockey sticks, tear gas, bear spray, hand guns, knives, hatchets, hammers etc. They were intent on overturning the election of President Joe Biden and retaining Donald Trump as president.
To describe the uprising as anything but a coup is a serious mistake. It was a four-hour attack in which the Capitol of the United States was overrun by hundreds of right-wing militias. Thousands were outside watching and waiting. The insurrectionists took control of the House and Senate, and in so doing, the United States government. Members of Congress were evacuated (rescued) by capitol police. Offices and conference rooms were breached and sacked; they were tracking down members of Congress. One of their goals was to assassinate Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Vice President Mike Pence, and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, John Roberts. Liberals and democrats were no doubt prime targets, especially young Congresswoman, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. And their task once breaching the Capitol was to place their “heads on pikes.”
After several hours, Capitol Police and the DC National Guard cleared the Capitol and restored order.
But make no mistake about it, the government of the United States was overthrown on January 6th. A total and complete coup would have involved a military junta which did not materialize. Perhaps because Trump lost his nerve in calling for martial law or those instigators of the coup backed off. Whatever the case, under those circumstances Trump would have been well within the “lawful” rights of his executive power to invoke the Insurrection Act. The Patriot Act and the National Defense Authorization Act also contain provisions in the event of insurrection and martial law.
As described by counter terrorism expert Malcolm Nance, the insurrection served as a “false flag” operation which would justify the “legitimate” use of force, transforming the United States into a police state. The national guard and armed forces could then have taken over the country answerable only to Trump. Congress could have been suspended, and members of Congress arrested, or worse. Under martial law, anyone, for any reason, or no reason at all, could be arrested, jailed, or disappeared. Military who dissented from the coup could have been arrested and shot on sight. Federal courts would be helpless in the event of martial law. The rule of law, in effect, would cease to exist and the democratic institutions of the United States could have been suspended indefinitely.
Yet in spite of the chaos, congress resumed later that evening, and amazingly, a majority of Republicans voted to nevertheless decertify the democratically elected president of the United States, Joe Biden. Of course, the insurrectionists, with no proof, claim that the election was stolen from Trump and themselves vicariously. Sixty challenges to this fabrication were dismissed in federal courts and recounts in Georgia and Arizona have been futile. Nevertheless, the Stop the Steal insurrection went ahead.
This tragedy, according to conservative strategist David Frum, is that the insurrection can be described in no other terms than fascism.
Fascism and America First
According to Jason Stanley, in How Fascism Works (2018), twentieth and twenty-first century fascism in the United States is rooted in racism. Starting in 1619, as argued in The 1619 Project, racism in the United States, was, and continues to be an integral part of law, society and culture. The 1619 Project argues, however, that racism was not eradicated with the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863. Then after the Civil War freed slaves still faced racial injustice. The Reconstruction Era reforms resulted in little gains for African Americans.
Then in the early part of the twentieth century, sanction of the Jim Crow Era was legitimized by the highest office in the land. This can be traced back to the evening of March 21, 1915, in which President Woodrow Wilson attended a screening of The Birth of a Nation. The “blockbuster” film was based on The Clansman, a novel written by Wilson’s good friend Thomas Dixon. As in the novel, the film was set during the post-Civil War Reconstruction Era. The film presented a resurgent view of the South and its glorification depicted by the Ku Klux Klan. Depicted as white hooded and white robed night riders, the Klan sought to protect innocent women from freed slaves who were unable to control their sexual appetites. Cross burnings in the middle of the night was a warning to African Americans that they faced torture and death, in particular lynching. At the end of the evening Wilson endorsed the film wholeheartedly. This in turn legitimized the existence of the Klan who then adopted the slogan “America First.”
The America First ideology is not only about the primacy of white America and Western white hegemony, it is about a white Anglo-Saxon identity, a “God and Guns” separatist mentality. The America First have always lived in fear that their world is being overrun by a multicultural postmodern world. It is becoming increasingly secular in that Christianity, traditional values and mores are no longer viewed as preeminent. The unquestioned dogma of capitalism is now openly challenged with anti-capitalist and pro socialist alternatives. Reasons for such dissent are often cited in the Great Recession (2008) and the increased distances, over the past forty years, between the rich, middle class and poor.
For centuries the America First understood themselves as a culture of White Anglo-Saxon Protestants (WASP). They constitute the authentic American identity. At its roots are the Calvinist “elect,” whose preordained salvation is manifested in the accumulation of wealth and property. As Max Weber argues, in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1905), the accumulation of wealth can never be enough according to the Protestant work ethic, since this accumulation manifests one’s salvation. Economic exploitation of others has little theological significance since it is the divine will that legitimizes a capitalist accumulation. But even this tradition is questioned and even dissented from by multiculturalist and postmodernist.
The America First resistance is also emboldened through right-wing Christianity. It subscribes to an apocalyptic end times depicted in the Book of Revelations. In this account Jesus will return to earth waging a war between good and evil, right-wing Christians as good and multicultural postmodern secularists as evil. Right-wing Christians believe that God has ordained America, and the America First, to carry out Gods plan of salvation which is victory over the secularists, multiculturalists, and postmodernists.
The Make America Great Again (MAGA) meaning deserves attention. Almost one hundred years ago, Germany went through a precipitous decline in its world status. As a consequence of losing World War I, Germany was forced to pay reparations to France, England and the United States. The Treaty of Versailles imposed draconian measures on a country that was once, prosperous economically, but now relegated to the status of medieval poverty. As a result, the domestic well-being of Germany, and its post war humiliation, made it vulnerable to demagoguery at the hands of opportunistic provocateurs.
One of these opportunists was Adolph Hitler, the Nazi Party and the Third Reich, and their revolutionary quest to “Make Germany Great Again.” Hitler, and Goebbels, took the Make America Great Again theme straight from the Klan, and translated it into Make Germany Great Again. The Nazi propaganda machine thus used the MGGA theme and further incorporated the Klan’s America First slogan into a Germany First slogan.
In fact, the MGGA and Germany First slogans have re-emerged in Germany over the past two decades. It has become a catchall phrase for a loose group of extreme right-wing individuals and organizations who promote the fascist values of white nationalism and supremacy. These groups tend to exhibit at least three of the following five features of a fascist movement: nationalism, racism, xenophobia, anti-democracy and a white nationalist-supremacist state. The insistence is placed upon white Western European domination.
In a study by Anne Applebaum, Peter Pomerantsev, Melanie Smith and Chloe Colliver, “Make Germany Great Again: Kremlin, Alt-Right and International Influences in the 2017 German Elections,” Institute for Strategic Dialogue (2017), the authors note that the MGGA theme was developed in Hitler’s Mein Kampf and used as a “calling card” for fascist doctrines. In this context MGGA, and its fascist principles, seeks to define and defend a “true” German national identity from elements deemed to be corrupting of that identity.
For example, during the Third Reich’s campaign in the 1930s, the corrupting influences identified by the Nazis and Third Reich were Jews, communists, socialists, gypsies, dissident priests and ministers, union leaders and trade unionists, and those persons opposed to authoritarianism. This included supporters of a pluralistic liberal democracy. Today this appeal has reemerged in dominant white European countries such as Germany. Yet it has spread to countries such as Russia, Ukraine, Hungary, France, Italy and several other Western and Northern European countries. This would also include the United States.
The resurgence clearly has deeper roots in authoritarian and fascist traditions as argued in Theodor Adorno’s The Authoritarian Personality, 1950. During and after World War II, Adorno examined the psychological causes of the development of European fascism. Adorno concluded that there was a distinct personality associated with prejudice and intolerance. He describes this as the “authoritarian personality” which is fundamentally one that is inflexible, rigid, and intolerant of uncertainty. Such an orientation rejects unconventional behavior as “immature,” “inferior,” “degenerate,” or even “deviant.” This includes political dissent.
Adorno concludes that authoritarians identify with fascist ideas because of the power that accompanies such positions. Threats to this unseating an authoritarian from positions of power, or any real or perceived anti-authoritarian behavior. The consequence of the “neurotic” authoritarian mindset is a resistance to dissenting ideas and lifestyles. It seeks to suppress these “deviant views,” and the people that possess them, through propaganda, public policies, legal restraints, and even force. Any outward expression of these differences as in customs, language, religion, political beliefs, is reminiscent of Nietzsche’s nihilism, a direct “existential threat” to civilization itself and to the existence of humanity, that is, fascist humanity.
The Growth of Fascism
The fascist roots of America reach back to the 1920’s – 30’s. Sinclair Lewis’, It Can’t Happen Here, describes a fictitious 1930s America where a deceptively polite group of individuals, marketing the concept of Americanism, takes over the country. The novel parallels 1930s Nazi Germany in which a thriving Nazi Party was alive and well in the United States. Footage of a Nazi Party convention at Madison Square Garden, February 20, 1939, with 20,000 members in attendance, reveals a shocking, and more precisely, frightening scene. It is the appearance of a well-disciplined, militarist crowd, gathered under the pretense of a pro-“Americanism” rally. The rally shows Nazis with swastika arm bands, saluting in “sieg heil” attention, a thirty-foot image of a George Washington portrait. Massive swastikas were visible on either side of Washington’s portrait.
These New York Nazis were known as the German American Bund, the pro-Hitler organization in the United States which promoted Nazi propaganda, combining Nazi imagery with American patriotic history. The Bund was active in a number of regions, but attracted support mainly from a minority of German Americans. Other Bund organizations at the time included the Teutonia Society and Friends of New Germany (also known as the Hitler Club). Alongside allied groups, such as the Christian Front, these organizations were virulently racist and antisemitic.
It is important to keep in mind, when Trump was in office, he never agreed to a peaceful transition if voted out of office. When it looked apparent that he would lose the 2020 election, Trump called out to the Proud Boys, and other alt-right groups, to “stand back and standby,” implying that their help might be needed, should the presidential certification not go his way. On October 8, 2020 the FBI announced the arrests of thirteen men suspected of orchestrating a domestic terror plot to kidnap Gretchen Whitmer, the Governor of Michigan, and otherwise using violence to overthrow the state government. The suspects were tied to a paramilitary militia group that called themselves the Wolverine Watchmen, which was founded by two of the suspects. Six of the suspects were charged in federal court, while the other seven were charged with state crimes. A week later, a fourteenth suspect was arrested and charged in state court.
Various media outlets and activist groups have documented the rise of alt-right white nationalist groups. The PBS News Hour, as reported by Kenya Downs (October 21, 2016), identified the growing attraction to rightist groups. The Southern Poverty Law Center compiled a report, “White Nationalist,” (https://www.splcenter.org/7-15-20/), in which they report that the MAGA have attracted the alt-right such as neo-Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan, Proud Boys, Boogaloo Bois, neo-Confederates, Racist-Skinheads, Christian Identity. The weirdest and most dangerous, arguably, appear to be the QAnon. They allege that a cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles running a global child sex-trafficking ring is plotting against President Trump. They warn that a “day of reckoning” is at hand involving the mass arrest of journalists and politicians. In no uncertain terms, QAnon’s “day of reckoning” is aimed at liberals the Left, code for socialists, anarchists, antifa, and communists.
None of these rightest groups have foresworn the use of violence or vigilante tactics, nor have they ruled out the use of violence against local and federal government. The Boogaloo Bois and their movement have even called for a “Second Civil War” and the “Order of the Nine Angels,” a Satanic neo-Nazi group in England and the United States, “deifies” Adolf Hitler as the head of their Order. What has proven to be most disturbing is that hate groups have increased 55% since Trump’s campaign and presidency, noted by Jason Wilson of The Guardian, March 18, 2020.
And this is what fascist America wants: adherence to a political philosophy based on fanatical nationalism, dominance of the white race and its European traditions, autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, market capitalism, elimination of the liberal welfare state, and forcible suppression of opposition, including prison and the executions for dissidents.
Linking Past to Present
Timothy Snyder, On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, 2017, argues that the eroding of human rights and civil liberties in the United States have, in effect, has transformed the United States into a quasi-fascist state, trending ever rightward. They cite policies and law such as the Patriot Act, 2001; National Defense Authorization Act, 2012, in which federal government agencies can spy and detain indefinitely suspects without signed judicial warrants or even probable cause. All of this rationalized as a result of the 9-11 event.
Expanding on their theses, Snyder describe fascist movements, and society’s attraction to them, based on the following: economic fears, immigrant xenophobia, the need for social stability and status quo, and above all the primacy of white Western European hegemony. Change with respect to diversity, pluralism, and collectivist economic arrangements frightens some people and thus creates forms of neurosis and paranoia to which fascist politics thrives. Examples of fascism include, but are not limited to, the absolute nature of the State, a militarist charismatic leader, and the eradication of diversity and multiculturalism. This has tremendous appeal to those who become emotionally destabilized by what postmodernists describe as the other.” Moreover, a powerful dictatorial leader whose followers are drawn toward authoritarianism, is in essence the heart and soul of fascism itself.
Others such as Hannah Arendt in The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951) argue that fascism in Germany was based on an attraction to a mesmerizing leader who convinces followers that civil liberties and human rights have become excessive and therefore undermines social cohesion needed for the well-being if not survival of the state. The implication is that liberal democracy undermines the common good and that a constriction on democratic rights is thus justified. Arendt concludes that there is no guarantee that democracies will uphold human rights and civil liberties and that vigilance to these threats must be a permanent feature of any democratic government. Tragically, Germany’s democratic Weimar Republic, 1918 – 1933, lost sight of this vigilance. Hitler and likeminded fascists lacking any real opposition, quickly weakened the democratic institutions in Germany which then cleared the way for the Nazi Third Reich.
The rapid decline of German democracy and the Nazi assault on the democratic foundations of the Weimar Republic, then focused on Jews, Left-wing politics (labor unionists, socialists, communists, and Marxists) and various “social deviants” as the enemies of the Third Reich and Aryan race. The mastermind behind this propaganda assault was Joseph Goebbels, the Reich Minister of Propaganda for the Third Reich. Sensing the disposition of the German people, Goebbels took advantage of Germany’s humiliating loss of World War I, and Germany’s economic collapse after the Wall Street Crash of 1929 further intensified their collective humiliation.
Germany was already compensating the Axis powers for WWI and with its dependence on American loans from 1924 onwards German, once a proud and wealthy country of Western Europe found itself in a psychotic downspin. Then as the loans were recalled by the United States, the economy in Germany sunk into an even deeper depression. Investment in business was reduced or eliminated completely. Wages fell by 39% from 1929 to 1932 and people once employed full-time, fell from twenty million in 1929, to over eleven million in 1933. In the same period, over 10,000 businesses closed every year and poverty increased dramatically.
Hitler and Goebbels were able to capitalize on the vulnerability of the German psyche. With the Great Depression, which affected Germany and the rest of the world, Goebbels was highly successful in associating the economic failure of the Great Depression with the Weimar democracy. When combined with the resulting political instability within Germany, Hitler and Goebbels’ vitriolic propaganda pushed Germans to become further disillusioned and even hostile to the Weimar Republic. Hitler was to be the unquestioned leader of the German people and purge the Aryan Nation of “parasites” such as Jews (appealing to German anti-Semitism and blaming Jews for Germany’s problems), political rivals such as Bolsheviks, communists, socialists, and the eradication of genetic aberrations form the German Aryan race. Goebbels and Hitler thus sought to repait the wounded psyche of Germans by reviving a once proud Teutonic exaltation of “Blood and Soil.” Using this form of jingoism set the stage for blind obedience to the Third Reich. The Fuhrer made them feel great again about themselves, even to the point of “kickin ass” on internal enemies responsible for Germany’s demise. The external enemies were soon to follow.
The Sturmtruppen Will Return
In Hitler’s biography, Mein Kampf (1925), Hitler develops the “Jewish Doctrine of Marxism.” Hitler argued that the survival of Germany was threatened by Marxist intellectuals who were predominantly Jewish. Goebbels, seeing an opening for further promoting the cause of Nazism, gave a speech February 1926 titled “Lenin or Hitler?” in which he asserted that communism or Marxism could not save the German people and would only usher in Bolshevik tyranny such as that of Russia. In 1926, Goebbels published a pamphlet titled “Nazi-Sozi” which attempted to explain how National Socialism differed from Marxist socialism and economic collectivism. National Socialism would rejuvenate the German economy, not Marxist socialism which happened to be a popular alternative to the horrendous effects of the German depression. Goebbels envisioned a national socialism that included government funded contracts to businesses that would support a military-industrial complex. This ended Germany’s economic depression.
In order to convince Germans of their superior status as a race, Goebbels insisted that Hitler promote himself as an “ubermench” or superman in his 1935 Triumph of the Will. Goebbels argued that Hitler must promote his own cause as the Fuhrerprinzip or Fuhrer (prince leader) and demonstrate the “evils” of the democratic Weimar Republic. The film would serve to denounce the legitimacy of the Weimar Republic, call for a resurgence of the German will to power, ignite passions of German patriotism and thus set the stage for a Nazi coup d’etat. The timing was perfect. With the death of President Paul von Hindenburg, Hitler as Chancellor, would step in and abolish the Office of the President and declare himself “Fuhrer.” Finally, the call to National Socialism is contrasted with propagandized “subhuman” Bolsheviks, who because of Stalinist collectivism, suffer as a nation. Marxism is therefore dismissed comically as a viable economic option. Competing collectivist economic arrangements urged by labor unionists, socialists, anarchists and Marxists would be dismissed in patronizing theatrics. With this the Weimar Republic and its democratic foundations were destroyed.
The recent creation of a “bipartisan” commission to investigate the causes of the coup and the participants, will hopefully shed light on this tragic event. Should Republicans choose not to cooperate, the Democrats must move ahead aggressively. Democracy is at risk. The proof is not only the coup, but the thousands gathered on January 6 who have self-identified as the Make America Great Again (MAGA) nation and their motto, “America First.” They believed Donald Trump’s lie that he was cheated out of the presidency. The lie was then perpetuated by his political mercenaries, congressional members, and propaganda machines, such as FOX News, NewsMax, OneAmerica, etc. The country is now paying a heavy price for this.
Of all the Nazis Goebbels knew best how the power of communication and the effectiveness of the media in the dissemination of propaganda was critical in manipulating symbolic expressions and the impact this has as a soothing effect on the psyche, like heroine, was the key for Goebbels.
The verisimilitude of Nazi Germany and the rise of fascism in 1930s Europe, is impossible to ignore, none of which has been lost on military leaders such as the Head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, who referred to the insurrection, not as an attempted coup, but as a successful coup in which Trump “brownshirt” supporters would have a “Reichstag moment.” The January 6th uprising was fascist coup. It was Third Reich in nature and Nazi to the core. The country has not come to grips with this. And this is why America is in trouble.
There is little doubt that during his campaign and presidency, Trump identified fascists as true patriots, and by implication, legitimizing the existence of such groups. When asked to denounce David Duke, Grand Wizard of the Klan, Trump refused and on several occasions. Nevertheless, the future of fascism in the United States, I argue, is to make stronger inroads to the Republican Party and refortify international support from European Fascism.
Fascism in Europe has also been generating greater attention and popularity. The America First movement and fascist militias are well aware of their European soul mates. According to the fascist French Populist Party (PPF), multicultural and postmodern beliefs promote the French “genocide.” Such ideas seek the inclusion of non-white persons and immigrants into full citizenship which are beginning to outnumber the French. In Italy, Matteo Salvini’s far-right League Party and the Five Star Movement have, for the same reasons as the French, actually justified racism. The Dutch Freedom Party (PVV) of Geert Wilders and Nigel Farage, former leader of the UK’s anti-EU party Ukip, have argued aggressively for similar justifications. The Alternative for Germany Party (AfD), co-chairman Alexander Gauland openly focuses on Islam and migration, seeing Islam as alien to German society. Some of the party’s rhetoric has been tinged with Nazi slogans such as “blood and soil” and “Make Germany Great Again.” The AfD has actually called for the end of non-white German citizenship. They see themselves as the defenders of white German identity and defenders of Western Civilization. When confronted with Western white Christian traditions, the fascist reaction is to dismiss such traditions as irrelevant to the complexity of the existential demise of the white race.
This ominous situation must be addressed. Another more successful coup, fascist in nature, is conceivable.