If you had any doubts that the Republican Party had a full-blown white nationalist faction ready and willing to let their freak flags fly, the last few weeks have to have disabused you of them. From Fox News' highest rated prime time host Tucker Carlson endorsing the far-right "great replacement" theory on national television to Kevin Williamson of the National Review, following in the tradition of its founder William F. Buckley, theorizing that we need "fewer — but better — voters," it seems as if right-wing extremism is getting a whole lot of airtime.
Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene put the white icing on Republican's racist cake last week when she floated the idea of the new Trump-supporting American First Caucus, which caused even House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy to issue a mild rebuke for its obvious references to white power. Among those who said they were part of the project were far-right Reps. Paul Gosar of Arizona, Matt Gaetz of Florida and Louis Gohmert of Texas. The rock has been turned over and all the white supremacists are crawling out, eyes squinting, ready to seize their rightful place in the Republican Party.
Greene's plan was reported by Punchbowl News last Friday as a new group dedicated to following in "President Trump's footsteps, and potentially step on some toes and sacrifice sacred cows for the good of the American nation." This is defined as preserving "Anglo-Saxon political traditions" with a goal of limiting legal immigration "to those that can contribute not only economically, but have demonstrated respect for this nation's culture and rule of law." It's unclear exactly how such "respect" can be demonstrated but it's not too hard to imagine. Being a huge Trump supporter certainly wouldn't hurt. It's also interesting that they have moved on from the "Judeo-Christian ethic" trope they used for the last few decades to this weird colonial throwback term "Anglo-Saxon culture," but it's no mystery as to why they would have done that, is it?
One aspect of the agenda that got a lot of attention was its support for infrastructure "that reflects the architectural, engineering and aesthetic value that befits the progeny of European architecture." There were plenty of chuckles over that one, imagining what Greene and Gohmert would consider appropriate architecture. After wondering for a bit who they would consider to be their Albert Speer, I realized it was right in front of our nose: the great builder and designer of ostentatious, gold-plated kitsch himself: Donald Trump.
But really, it's less hilarious than it sounds. Anyone who knows anything about the history of the Third Reich knows how much importance they attached to the "classical aesthetic" and in recent years there has been a movement among various alt-right types, including Neo-Nazis and Identity Evropa, to take up a new aesthetic as the perfect expression of white culture. Hettie O'Brien of The New Statesman wrote about the trend in 2018:
While the Nazis thought neoclassical architecture an authentic expression of German identity, today's far right updates this doctrine for the social media age. As Stephan Trüby, an architectural historian at the University of Stuttgart, told me, right-wing populists have begun to sharpen their focus on architecture. In Germany, the Alternative für Deutschland party has spawned a revivalist movement of far-right isolationists who revere folk mythology and Saxon castles. Trüby writes that, "Filled with disgust at any kind of metropolitan multicultural way of life," these settlers retreat to rural Germany to rehearse the "preservation of the German Volk". [...]
As Trüby noted, in Germany certain terms camouflage far-right identity politics. "Words like 'tradition' and 'beauty' are used to establish ideas of a unified people and nation, which excludes migrants and many parts of the population." Beauty is infused with connotations of blood, soil and a Volk.
It's not just a European thing. You may recall the marchers in Charlottesville in 2017 were chanting "blood and soil."
Within 24 hours, Greene and Gosar had backtracked on their caucus plan, suddenly claiming that it wasn't really their thing and that a staffer was responsible for an early draft they hadn't approved of. Greene went hysterical on Twitter over the controversy:
Greene's spokesman, Nick Dyer, had issued a statement on Friday saying to "be on the look out for the release of the America First Caucus platform when it's announced to the public very soon." By Saturday he was saying Greene would not be launching anything. In the interim, some members of the most far-right caucus in the House, the Freedom Caucus, which counts Greene and the others as members, had publicly expressed their disapproval.
It's tempting to see that as a sign they were truly appalled by Greene's overt white nationalism. But that's unlikely. This is actually an old strategy by right-wingers that inexorably mainstreams their beliefs in a way that allows many of them to escape responsibility. They do it every few years. Some rump right-wing group organizes itself within the party, attracts some attention for its extremism and then ends up being the tail that wags the dog — at least until another even more right-wing rump group organizes itself and does the same thing, moving the previous group into the mainstream. They usually tend to gain steam when the Democrats are in power.
This goes way back but, as with so much else, it has accelerated since the early 1990s when Newt Gingrich and his backbench wrecking crew took over the GOP after rabble-rousing through the previous decade. They were once the loudmouthed extremists and then suddenly were the mainstream and elected their rabble-rousing leader to be the Speaker of the House. (Listening to former Speaker John Boehner bemoan the rightward surge of the GOP is laughable. He was among those original Gingrich revolutionaries.) Later came the Freedom Caucus, a group known for its obstructionism and "burn the house" down purity. Trump raised them up into the corridors of real power, spawning such GOP superstars as Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, Devin Nunes, R-CA, Jim Jordan, R-OH, and Matt Gaetz, R-FL all of whom are current or former Freedom Caucus members.
With the help of Fox News, Marjorie Taylor Greene is taking that same strategy to the next level. It works out well for all concerned. By parroting the emergent white nationalist rhetoric being mainstreamed by Tucker Carlson, she manages to raise a lot of money. And by delicately distancing themselves from her, the Freedom Caucus get to appear to be safe to establishment Republicans (just like John Boehner was when he became speaker) who can in turn appeal to the suburban voters who abandoned the party.
I think you can see the problem here.
This latest iteration of far-right wingnuttia is going in a very dangerous direction. I don't think we'll see Marjorie Taylor Greene elected speaker of the House but there's every chance that at some point someone with her toxic ideology will be seen as such a mainstream Republican that he or she is a perfectly viable candidate. Trump already came very close. I honestly don't know how much lower they can go from there.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story inaccurately quoted from a recent column by Kevin Williamson for National Review, mentioned in the first paragraph. The citation has been corrected.