The Growing Threat of Fascism in the United States

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Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election were unprecedented in U.S. history. When his Big Lie about widespread voter fraud, more than 60 lawsuits, and pressure on state officials failed to change the results, he incited the January 6 attack on Congress which led to 5 deaths and about 140 injuries. The insurrection failed to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s victory but disrupted the peaceful transfer of power for the first time since the Civil War. Members of the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, Three Percenters, QAnon, and other far right groups were a minority of participants. Trump banners and U.S. flags were far more prominent than Confederate flags and neo-Nazi apparel. But as Robert Pape and Keven Ruby have explained, the fact that “more ‘normal’ Trump supporters -middle-class and, in many cases, middle-aged people without obvious ties to the far right-joined with extremists in an attempt to overturn a presidential election” may portend “a new kind of violent mass movement.”

There is a name for mass movements which aim to create a dictatorship, restore a mythical past, and protect capitalism by violently suppressing the left, unions, racial and religious minorities, and dissidents. That name is fascism, and the threat is growing in our country. Trump was the most openly racist and sexist president in modern history, but the Republican party has been mobilizing white voters opposed to the empowerment of people of color and women for half a century. Over time, many of these voters have grown more anxious because of declining economic opportunity and what some analysts have called “the browning of America.” When the Republican establishment could not reverse these trends, these voters embraced an outsider who pledged to “make America great again.” Trump did not create a new political party, command private militias, or advocate dictatorship. But even if he is best understood as a political opportunist who flirts with the far-right for personal gain, the stench of fascism is in the air.

The Grand Old Party has become what Richard North Patterson has called “American democracy’s most dangerous enemy.” Many Republicans applauded or remained silent as Trump made brazen public expression of bigotry socially acceptable again. It is no coincidence that hate crimes increased by almost twenty percent in the past five years. White supremacists killed eleven people at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, twenty-two people at a Walmart in El Paso, and dozens of other people from San Diego to New York. Trump insisted that the racists and anti-Semites who marched in Charlottesville included “some very fine people” and downplayed the extremist plot to kidnap Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer. He refused to condemn the Proud Boys, urging them instead to “stand back and stand by.” Signally, Trump has claimed that political violence “is not a right-wing problem” and other Republicans have joined him in depicting the Black Lives Matter movement, antifascists, and the left as the real danger.

Even after the January 6 insurrection, most Congressional Republicans voted against the certification of Biden’s victory. As Timothy Snyder has emphasized, “An elected institution that opposes elections is inviting its own overthrow.” Most Republican Senators also voted to acquit Trump after he was impeached for inciting the attack on Congress. Many of his supporters continue to promote the Big Lie. A new Reuters-Ipsos poll found that 60% of Republicans believe the election “was stolen” and almost 50% believe the insurrection was nonviolent or staged by leftists. Now Republican-led state legislators are enacting new laws to suppress Black and Latino votes, end anti-racism and anti-sexism initiatives in public education, restrict the rights of transgender people, and criminalize peaceful protests. U.S. Representatives Paul Gossar, Andy Biggs, Matt Gaetz, Marjorie Taylor Greene, and Lauren Boebert are among the prominent Republicans with ties to right-wing paramilitary groups. Ominously, a recent American Enterprise Institute survey found that 56% of Republicans support the use of force to stop the decline of “the traditional American way of life.”

As their demographic base shrinks and their electoral prospects erode, the Republican party will likely welcome more armed extremists into their ranks. And some prominent right-wing commentators are already publicly contemplating the need for fascism. Glenn Elmers of the Claremont Institute has written that only the minority of people who adhere to the country’s longstanding “principles, traditions, and ideals” should be considered Americans. He has insisted that conservatism “is no longer enough” and called for “a sort of counter-revolution” to overturn the existing constitutional order. In a recent interview on Fox News, radio host Jesse Kelly predicted that “the right is going to pick a fascist within 10 to 20 years” and blamed it on the Black Lives Matter movement, antifascists, and Hunter Biden scandals. Tucker Carlson agreed, claiming that “we are moving toward actual extremism” because of those groups “undermining the system.” At present, far-right groups lack the numbers, organizational unity, and capitalist support that would be required to come to power. But as popular movements for economic, racial, gender, and environmental justice grow in the coming years, so too will the threat of fascism.

David Michael Smith, Ph.D., is a member of Houston United Front against Fascism and a former professor of government at College of the Mainland. His writings have been published in Peace Review, International Encyclopedia of Revolution and Protest, Journal for the Study of Peace and Conflict, Socialism and Democracy, Vanguard Dossier, and other publications. Email: [email protected]



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