The Two Faces of Fascism

In the aftermath of Charlottesville, President Trump repeatedly asserted that the violence that had led to the death of Heather Heyer had come from “many sides.” Against the obstinate repetition of this lie, even Republicans finally seemed to abandon their champion in shock. For a moment, it seemed, the nation had found its collective voice in decrying the moral bankruptcy of this President, and his political inexperience in alienating his own Party. But what if President Trump’s insistence on violence from “many sides” was not the sign of his political naïveté, but the expression of fascist thinking that has been in plain view for months if not years, but that we have chosen to ignore? It is far easier to cry ‘fascist’ before the rallies, the roman salutes, the swastikas, and the violence of White supremacists and neo-Nazis. But there is a second face of fascism, which draws from the historical distinction between German Nazism and Italian Fascismo. Mussolini’s (Italian) Fascism did not explicitly espouse racist, anti-Semitic, or White supremacist theories, which were at the core of German Nazism. Nor does President Trump (explicitly). This has allowed him to denounce White supremacy without losing his base. But what characterized the Mussolinian face of Fascism, and President Trump’s declared admiration for it, is a certain style of rule based on bending the state apparatus to blind loyalty for a leader. But perhaps what Mr. Trump admires most is the ability of Mussolini to push the center of liberal politics so far to the right, as to make a gradual dictatorial turn acceptable to scores of well meaning liberals as the only way to restore order after violence on “many sides” erupts in civil society. The risk of not continuing to denounce Trump’s lie is that it can quickly frames the argument and becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. And this is happening right before our eyes. Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin has suggested classifying the so-called ‘antifa’ movement as a ‘gang’."After Bay Area violence, California debates classifying 'antifa' as a street gang." Los Angeles Times. Accessed on September 5, 2017. Available online at http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-antifa-gang-20170904-story.html. Confidential documents obtained by Politico.com have shown that the Department of Homeland Security has officially been referring to ‘antifa’ groups as “domestic terrorists” since early 2016.Meyer, Josh. "FBI, Homeland Security warn of more ‘antifa’ attacks." Politico. Accessed on September 5, 2017. Available online at http://www.politico.com/story/2017/09/01/antifa-charlottesville-violence-fbi-242235. The 2001 Patriot Act empowers the government to trump due process if someone is categorized as a domestic terrorist."How the USA Patriot Act Redefines 'Domestic Terrorism." ACLU. Accessed on September 5, 2017. Available online at https://www.aclu.org/other/how-usa-patriot-act-redefines-domestic-terrorism. The deck is stacked in favor of a fascist shift in American politics, but well-meaning liberals seem more interested in self-flagellation over the question of the Alt-Right’s right to “free speech.” This collective myopia refuses to see the prolonged, and organized incitement to hatred perpetrated in this country since the Bush era—in different forms and waves—from Fox News' assassination of “the news,” to the birther movement, to the indiscriminate shooting of Black males by police, to the “lock her up” chanting, by a right wing movement that has slowly shifted the barycenter of the American political system to the right and elected its champion to the White House. Antifascism used to be synonymous with what it meant to be an American. Today it risks becoming demonized and criminalized. But it is worth noting that the ‘antifa’ movement was nowhere to be found prior to this fanatical turn towards a right wing politics of hate. This volatile situation has been politically manufactured, and while no one on the left should hesitate to condemn violence by any ‘antifa’ affiliate, our more important political obligation is not to fall into the trap of the “many sides” violence narrative. One side has consistently incited hatred—of immigrants, of Muslims, of sexual minorities, of women, of leftists of all stripes—while the other has voted for Obama, has expressed itself in the “Occupy” movement, has reacted to racial hatred and the blatant disregard of law and human life, with dignity and restraint (Black Lives Matter), has believed in Bernie Sanders. And yes, a small fraction has also reacted with violence to absurd provocations like a “No to Marxism in America” rally which was called off at the last minute in Berkeley last Sunday! But do these examples of provoked violence deserve to be called ‘gang’ activity or even ‘domestic terrorism’? Of course we all need to condemn leftist violence when it occurs. But unless we want to fall pray to the narrative trap set up by Trump’s “many sidism,” we must have the firm resolve to say, and never grow tired of saying, that violence is sown by hatred; that hatred of all kinds has been the daily staple of the American right for the past fifteen years; and that, given the divisions in our country and the self-evidently fascist style of rule of our current president, antifascist violence is therefore likely to occur. The personal and legal responsibility for this violence will be on the perpetrators, of course; but the political responsibility for the rise of a politics of hatred rests squarely with President Trump and his loose coalition of right-wing fanatics.

 

Claudio Fogu is Associate Professor of French and Italian Studies at University of California, Santa Barbara. His book The Historic Imaginary explores "how Italian Fascism sought to institutionalize a modernist culture of history."