I’m sitting in my home office working on the next morning’s Daily Rant when I hear what sounded like a man in my driveway yelling, at the top of his voice, “You f*cking c*nt!” and other female-specific obscenities. Walking to the window, I saw a guy in his 40s, red-faced, giving my wife the finger with both hands and cursing her out as he climbed into his car and squealed out of the driveway.
Louise, it turns out, had invited a local contractor to give us a bid on some repairs and she’d (very nicely) asked him, before letting him into the house, if he was vaccinated. He exploded and marched back to his car screaming curses at her.
In all her years on this planet, including as CEO of three different companies, that was the first time in her life a man had behaved like such an ass toward her.
In Tennessee a high school student testifies to a school board meeting that his grandmother has just died of Covid and he begs his school to mandate masks so his other grandmother isn’t next; he’s shouted down, laughed at and heckled by smirking, unmasked adults.
On Jet Blue what’s become a new rite of passage for flight attendants blows into life as a man screams obscenities when asked to leave the plane because he refused to properly wear his mask.
In Tacoma, Washington a group of thugs goes looking for a fight when “antifa” fails to show up for the brawl the “Boys” had advertised. Undeterred, they march around town with clubs, flags, and baseball bats looking for people to pick fights with until a local (not-antifa) man, apparently disgusted and feeling threatened by their behavior, finally pulls out a gun and shoots one of them in the foot (the story is still evolving; it’s possible the guy shot himself in the foot).
In Ft. Collins Colorado a man harasses a group of women suntanning on the beach for wearing “pornographic” bathing suits, refusing to leave when they ask him to go away because, he says, “This is America!”
Across the nation, hundreds of poll workers and election officials endure daily death threats and violent harassment just for doing their civic duty. And school boards are under daily assault in a similar fashion.
And these are just the stories from the past week.
This continuous and increasing use of violence and threats of violence has become an epidemic across America since 2016 and it’s not because of frustration with the pandemic.
This is what happens in every country when it begins making the transition from being a democratic and generally polite and respectful culture into one that embraces authoritarianism or fascism.
And it always starts from the top down: leadership sets the initial tone in countries, just like in companies and families.
In our case, these people are imitating Donald Trump; our best hope is that President Biden‘s reasonable and compassionate example can help the nation turn against it, although Trump-imitating governors and other elected officials are making it very difficult.
The Republican leadership of Texas, for example, just legally embraced vigilantism against women, and a dozen GOP-controlled states are planning to follow suit this month. This is how it starts.
In Hungary, roaming bands of thugs with torches threatened to burn the homes of Roma people as Viktor Orbán rose to power a bit over a decade ago.
In The Philippines, President “Little Donald Trump” Duterte praised vigilantes roaming the streets with clubs and guns looking to beat or kill people “linked to drugs” including “more than 150 judges, mayors, lawmakers, police, and military personnel” he viewed as political opponents. Duterte told his followers: “Please feel free to call us, the police, or do it yourself if you have the gun – you have my support.”
In Russia roaming bands attack and kill suspected-LGBTQ people as the government’s leadership ramps up otherizing language against its own citizens. Across former Soviet states advocates for democracy or gay rights are routinely hunted, beaten, and often killed.
As Mussolini came to power in Italy in the early 1920s his civilian vigilantes, known as Blackshirts for their garb of that color, took to the streets regularly. Historian Michael R. Ebner writes: “Thus, life for labor leaders became terror-filled, especially because Fascists did not limit their attacks to the public sphere. Nowhere was safe. Late at night, 10, 30, or even 100 Blackshirts, as these squad members became known, sometimes traveling from neighboring towns, might surround a home, inviting a Socialist, anarchist, or Communist outside to talk. If they refused, the Fascists would enter forcibly or threaten to harm the entire family by lighting the house on fire.”
In Germany in 1921 Hitler organized a volunteer, unpaid civilian militia he called the Sturmabteilung (Storm Unit) who roamed across Germany looking for labor leaders, gays, and Jews to beat up.
In Brazil today roaming bands of thugs called “militias” beat and kill people they believe are political enemies of strongman and Trump imitator President Jair Bolsonaro. According to reporting in The Intercept and The Guardian, they’re led by Bolsonaro’s eldest son Flávio.
In every case, around the world and throughout history, regular citizens were first surprised, then shocked, then intimidated, and finally dominated by the emerging authoritarian or neofascist movements led or encouraged by ambitious politicians in their nation.
In every case, everyday interactions like traveling on a train, bus or airplane, hiring a contractor, or just walking through town became a minefield filled with unpredictable eruptions of threat, intimidation, and violence.
As Chicago reporter Milton Mayer wrote after returning from Germany just after World War II: “If I – and my countrymen – ever succumbed to that concatenation of conditions, no Constitution, no laws, no police, and certainly no army would be able to protect us from harm.”
We are witnessing today in America the symptoms of a culture going through the early stages of transition from pluralistic democracy to violent oligarchy, as I lay out in far more detail in The Hidden History of American Oligarchy.
It quite literally starts with “average people” randomly exploding and behaving like asses while political demagogues promote self-styled militias, lawlessness, and vigilantism.
We ignore or minimize them at our own peril.
This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.