There is a rising wave of far right ultra-nationalist movements around the world. We’ve found that America is just as vulnerable as any other nation. Yale philosopher Jason Stanley argues, “In its own history, the United States can find a legacy of the best of liberal democracy as well as the roots of fascist thought (indeed, Hitler was inspired by the Confederacy and Jim Crow Laws).”
In his new book How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them, Stanley talks about the tendency to gradually normalize fascist politics. He says, “What normalization does is transform the morally extraordinary into the ordinary. It makes us able to tolerate what was once intolerable by making it seem as if this is the way things have always been.”
In his countless rallies, Donald Trump puts journalists in a pen, calls them “the enemy of the people” and encourages the audience to taunt and boo them. He leads his fans in chants about putting his political opponents (not just Hillary now) in jail. He exhausts fact-checkers with his constant lies (which he repeats over and over after he has been debunked over and over). Susan Glasser of the New Yorker attended several rallies and was struck by the sheer viciousness: “It’s the hate, and the sense of actual menace (of Democrats) that the President is trying to convey to his supporters.”
The Republican Party has become steadily more Trumpified. Consider the Sept. 15 rally hosted by the far right social media podcast Major League Liberty on the west steps of the Capitol in Denver.
Erik Maulbetsch, a reporter for the Colorado Times-Recorder, attended the event and found that Colorado Republicans are now more comfortable hanging out with the far right. A Republican state representative helped produce the event, a number of Republican candidates for office spoke and GOP gubernatorial candidate Walker Stapleton’s Super PAC was there to hire people for his campaign.
Many attendees wore protective clothing, from tactical gloves with hard plastic knuckles to helmets and different types of arm padding. Colorado State Troopers set up a perimeter between attendees and protesters.
According to the Times-Recorder, the Proud Boys were “the largest single group of attendees” and that “Proud Boy James” led the audience in reciting the group’s slogan: “I am a proud Western chauvinist who refuses to apologize for creating the modern world.” That is the first step in joining the group.
The Proud Boys have a frat boy three-degree initiation. You publicly declare yourself a Proud Boy. Then you get beaten up until you cry out the names of five breakfast cereals. Finally you get a tattoo.
Recently they added a fourth degree: getting into a fight with anti-fascists. Christopher Mathis, a national reporter for HuffPost, has observed them at demonstrations and has said that in another country they would be described in the press as a violent, fascist street gang.
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) considers the Proud Boys to be a “hate group.” The SPLC describes the organization as “self-described ‘western chauvinists’ who adamantly deny any connection to the racist ‘alt-right,’ insisting they are simply a fraternal group spreading an ‘anti-political correctness’ and ‘anti-white guilt’ agenda. Their disavowals of bigotry are belied by their actions: rank-and-file Proud Boys and leaders regularly spout white nationalist memes and maintain affiliations with known extremists. They are known for anti-Muslim and misogynistic rhetoric.”
Two of the attendees at the Denver rally wore a popular Proud Boys T-shirt that reads “Pinochet did nothing wrong!” with the letters “RWDS” on the left sleeve. The acronym stands for “Right Wing Death Squad.” The back of the shirt, kept covered by both men during the rally, says “Make communists afraid of rotary aircraft again,” accompanied by a cartoon depicting people being tossed out of a helicopter.
The message of the T-shirt might be a mystery if you aren’t familiar with the glorious history of U.S. imperialism. On Sept. 11, 1973, General Augusto Pinochet came to power in Chile in a bloody military coup aided by extensive intervention by the CIA. He overthrew a democratically elected government led by socialist Salvador Allende.
Pinochet’s reign of terror lasted nearly 17 years with many grisly torture centers, extrajudicial executions and disappearances. Many people were taken up into helicopters and thrown into the ocean.
“Pinochet helicopter rides” is a popular meme in cyberspace for alt-right types. Many feature Bernie Sanders being tossed to his death by a smiling Pinochet. This meme morphed into Trump giving helicopter rides. Later Hillary became the victim.
Strangely enough, a dramatic photo of a gruesome political assassination in Japan has spawned quite a few alt-right memes. On Oct. 12 1960, a 17-year-old far right ultra-nationalist named Otoya Yamaguchi murdered Inejiro Asanuma, a leader of the Japanese Socialist Party, with a samurai sword during a political debate.
This Oct. 12, Gavin McInnes — founder of the Proud Boys — celebrated the anniversary of the assassination by “re-enacting this inspiring moment” with his own samurai sword at the oh-so-civil Metropolitan Republican Club in Manhattan. A Facebook event page described McInnes’ talk this way: “Banned from Twitter — this Godfather of the Hipster Movement has taken on and exposed the Deep State Socialists and stood up for Western Values.”
Following the speech, the boys went out on the town and apparently an anti-fascist stole one of their Make America Great Again hats. They proceeded to savagely beat and kick several individuals while yelling “faggot” and “cocksucker.” The violence was captured on video. McInnes has said, “fighting solves everything.”
The boys also chanted, “I like beer!” — referring to Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s testimony when he denied sexually assaulting Christine Blasey Ford.
Don’t you like beer? Maybe fascism can be fun.
This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.