Two weekends ago, Trump loyalists gathered in Washington for the "Justice for J6" rally, a supposed show of solidarity with the "political prisoners" arrested for their alleged (or confessed) participation in the Jan. 6 Capitol attack.
Trump's Republican-fascists and their propagandists have elevated these hooligans, vandals and (in many cases) terrorists to the status of martyrs and patriots as a way of legitimizing their anti-democratic movement, creating sympathy among Trump's faithful that can be exploited for fundraising and, of course, recruiting and encouraging more extremists to the cause.
Despite warnings from the Capitol Police, DHS and other authorities that more violence was possible, the rally on Sept. 18 was a tame and peaceful affair. No more than a few hundred Trump cultists attended, greatly outnumbered by law enforcement and the news media. This low turnout was widely mocked among the chattering class, liberals and progressives of the "resistance" and others who oppose Trump and his movement.
As I have argued before, such reactions are shortsighted and ill-advised — another example among many of the way America's political class, news media and the public at large still does not understand the nature of the threat they face from the Republican-fascist movement and the larger white right.
Experts on domestic terrorism have repeatedly warned that in the aftermath of Jan. 6 many militant Trumpists and other neofascists are operating more covertly, perhaps by breaking up into small cells that are difficult for law enforcement to track and apprehend. Right-wing militants and terrorists are more likely to attack "soft targets" as opposed to widely publicized events and locations where law enforcement is sure to be present.
As seen in Michigan and elsewhere, right-wing militants are likely to focus their attention at the state and local level where law enforcement assets are more porous and likely targets are, in general, more vulnerable to attack.
But in fact the real power of Jan. 6 and its aftermath is difficult to measure by such standards. Those events, and Republican efforts to rewrite the history of that day, have increasingly normalized right-wing political violence — if not in fact made it a preferred and desired way of obtaining and keeping political power.
In keeping with Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels' "Big Lie" strategy, a large majority of Republican and Trump voters actually believe that the 2020 presidential election was "stolen" from Donald Trump — and, in effect, from them as well. Public opinion polls also show that a significant percentage of Republicans believe that the violence and coup attempt on Jan. 6 was a "patriotic" or at least understandable action that was necessary to "defend" democracy and Trump's presidency.
On a daily basis, neofascist white supremacist opinion leaders and other propagandists on Fox News and across the right-wing propaganda echo chamber are radicalizing millions of white Americans. Most will not personally commit acts of violence against nonwhites, Muslims, "radical socialist Democrats" and others designated to be the enemy. But they are ever more likely to tolerate or condone such crimes.
Ultimately, fascism is a type of political and social poison which manifests as violence and other antisocial and anti-human behavior. New research by Robert Pape and the University of Chicago Project on Security and Threats demonstrates how far that poison has spread among the American people.
In a new essay at The Conversation, Pape summarizes these findings, beginning with the most startling result:
We have found that 47 million American adults – nearly 1 in 5 – agree with the statement that "the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump and Joe Biden is an illegitimate president." Of those, 21 million also agree that "use of force is justified to restore Donald J. Trump to the presidency."
Our survey found that many of these 21 million people with insurrectionist sentiments have the capacity for violent mobilization. At least 7 million of them already own a gun, and at least 3 million have served in the U.S. military and so have lethal skills. Of those 21 million, 6 million said they supported right-wing militias and extremist groups, and 1 million said they are themselves or personally know a member of such a group, including the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys.
Only a small percentage of people who hold extremist views ever actually commit acts of violence, but our findings reveal how many Americans hold views that could turn them toward insurrection.
Pape's polling found that 9% of American adults agreed that "Use of force is justified to restore Donald J. Trump to the presidency, while 25% agreed that "The 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump and Joe Biden is an illegitimate president."
Pape reports a margin of error of 4 percentage points, meaning that the proportion of American adults who hold both those views is somewhere between 4% and 12%. "The best single figure," he writes, "is the middle of that range, 21 million." He continues:
People who said force is justified to restore Trump were consistent in their insurrectionist sentiments: Of them, 90% also see Biden as illegitimate, and 68% also think force may be needed to preserve America's traditional way of life.
In an interview with the CBS News podcast "Intelligence Matters," Pape further explained what this new research reveals about the relationship between the white supremacist "great replacement" theory, the QAnon cult and right-wing violence:
Sixty-three percent of the 21 million adamant insurrectionists in the country believe in the "Great Replacement," the idea that the rights of whites will be overtaken by the rights of Blacks and Hispanics. The second most important driver was a QAnon belief, where 53 percent of the 21 million believed that our government is run and controlled by a satanic cult of pedophiles. Those are the two radical beliefs that are really ... the key drivers of the insurrectionist sentiments in the country today.
Pape also sounded the alarm about the prospects for right-wing political violence and terrorism in the months leading up to the 2022 midterm elections:
This is about, what are the prospects for other instances of collective violence, especially related to elections going forward? ... I think that we need to be aware that we are moving into already a politically tumultuous 2022 election season just in the last month with the events in Afghanistan, which has created tremendous amount of anger in many of our military circles, military communities; with the new mandates for COVID, which President Biden has just announced, which are already generating tremendous pushback against the federal government. ... We need to understand the risks that that could break out into violence.
For all of these escalating warnings about the potential for serious right-wing political violence, America's political class remains largely unwilling to properly respond to the clear and present danger. Such an outcome is in part explained by the very language that is most often used in these discussions.
For example, "right-wing terrorism" or "right-wing extremism" is often presented in a race-neutral fashion.
A more accurate description would be to say "white right-wing terrorism" or "white supremacist violence." Similarly, the events of Jan. 6 could be described as a "white insurrection" or "white riot," which more clearly captures the role of race and racism in the violence of both that day and the Age of Trump as a whole.
To be clear, there are Black and brown people who belong to Trump's cult. Some are among his most militant supporters. Regardless of their skin color, such people are loyal to Whiteness as a social and political force. As such, Black and brown Trumpists and other neofascists want to access white power and white privilege for themselves. For them, the end goal is to somehow "earn" a type of transactional honorary whiteness.
Trumpism and other forms of American neofascism and racial authoritarianism are an extreme personal and existential problem for nonwhite people and others who are marginalized as the Other. They are also a problem spawned by and of White America.
Until that distinction is internalized by America's elites, and widely accepted as common sense by the American people, neofascism will continue to gain momentum and the country's democracy crisis will continue to escalate toward full-on disaster, from which no return to "normal" will be possible. America's past and America's present (again) runs along and through the color line.