When someone threatens to kill you, believe them. It is not a joke or hyperbole or just "heated words." It is not mere partisanship, symbolism or a game.
Earlier this month, Rep. Paul Gosar, a far-right Republican from Arizona, shared a clip from a Japanese anime video on social media that had been edited to show a version of him, first killing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and then attacking President Biden. This is part of a larger pattern of violence in which Republican elected officials (and their voters) threaten Democrats with physical harm, or incite others to do so.
On Nov. 17, the House of Representatives voted to censure Gosar and strip him of his committee assignments. All Democrats supported this resolution. Only two House Republicans voted in support of it. Predictably, Republicans are claiming that Gosar's death threats are a matter of "free speech" and therefore should not be "censored."
Republicans also claimed that Ocasio-Cortez and the Democrats in general are too "sensitive" in their response to Gosar's supposed attempt at humor. This is the logic of abusers and terrorizers: The victim is somehow always to blame.
Rep. Ted Lieu, a California Democrat, correctly summarized Gosar's dangerous behavior and the near-unanimous Republican support by saying, "In any workplace in America, if a coworker made an anime video killing another coworker, that person would be fired."
The Republican leadership has vowed to seek revenge against Democrats if (or rather when) they return to power after the 2022 midterms. Moreover, Kevin McCarthy, who would then become speaker of the House, has promised, at a minimum, to return Gosar to the committees from which he was removed.
Gosar, in an obvious act of defiance and contempt, retweeted his terror video after the censure vote. He has of course claimed that he is the victim of persecution and that the censure vote could somehow inspire terrorism and other acts of violence.
Addressing her colleagues and the American people the day before the House censure vote, Ocasio-Cortez gave an eloquent speech about democracy, violence, civility and the rule of law. Unfortunately, such oratory will not stop the Republican fascists and their campaign of terror, intimidation and violence against the Democrats and the American people.
In a recent essay for Daily Kos, investigative reporter David Neiwert, an expert on the right-wing extremist movement, observed that Gosar may primarily have intended the video "as a 'gotcha' that would 'trigger the libs.'" But its real significance goes deeper:
But the video itself, apparently created by his staff, was also a dog whistle signal to the white-nationalist audience that Gosar has been cultivating in the past year and longer.
The anime series and manga comic book that is the source for the video's scenes, Attack on Titan, is in fact one of the white-nationalist alt-right's favorite manga. That's because the series is ripe with fascist themes and ill-concealed antisemitism, particularly in its storyline about a nefarious race of overlords manipulating human conflict.
The scenes in Gosar's video show the series' chief protagonist — his face replaced by Gosar's — attacking the evil, mindless "titans" that are ravaging human civilization, their faces replaced by Ocasio-Cortez's and Biden's. The video is interspersed with news footage of immigrants at the U.S. border and Border Patrol officers engaging in various enforcement activities.
Attack on Titan has become a favorite of the white-nationalist crowd because, in addition to its extreme violence, its extended storyline is an unmistakable metaphor for classic antisemitic conspiracy theories, with an elite cabal called the Marleyans overseeing the genocide of a persecuted race of humans called the Eldians. In the world of the alt-right, where anime is a predominant form of entertainment, the response has been unabashedly enthusiastic….
This is another example of how the global right is engaging in a full-spectrum assault on pluralistic democracy. To that end, they are experts at weaponizing popular culture — especially in the digital space — to advance their fascist-authoritarian agenda. The American news media, for the most part, has failed to understand and explain this strategy to the public. Even more worrisome, the Democrats have also surrendered that space (and the larger "culture war" strategy) to the Republican fascists and the global right.
Gosar's terror video is one more example of how today's Republican Party is attempting to replace normal politics, in which disputes are resolved through deliberation and compromise, with a form of politics where violence is always an option — and at times may be the preferred means of obtaining and keeping power.
This is the core of fascism.
Within the worldview of today's Republican Party and the global right, fascist violence becomes moral, legitimate and even necessary because "Western civilization" (nearly always coded as white) is fighting a war for "survival" against an array of supposed enemies: Black and brown people, Jews and Muslims, LGBTQ people, feminists, socialists, "secularists" and "globalists" (essentially right-wing code words for Jewish people) and other bogeymen such as antifa, Black Lives Matter, "cancel culture", "political correctness" and so on.
In total, the Republican fascists are working to create an American version of what the pro-Nazi German legal theorist and philosopher Carl Schmitt described as a state of "exception," in which the Constitution and the rule of law no longer apply. Once that occurs, a fascist leader and his followers can act without restraint to impose their will on the larger society.
Fascist violence is a distinguishing feature of the Age of Trump and America's accelerating democracy crisis.
The most obvious example, of course, came last Jan. 6, when Trump and his followers attempted a coup intended to nullify or reverse the results of the 2020 presidential election.
During Trump's presidency, the U.S. experienced a large increase in hate crimes. White supremacists and other extremists have committed mass shootings, and other mass-casualty terror plots have been disrupted by law enforcement.
We also see an escalating nationwide pattern of violent threats by Republican fascists and their agents targeting prominent Democrats, local and state election officials, school board members, library staff and others seen as obstacles to the fascist agenda. The goal of these tactics is to disrupt democracy and civil society on the ground, as a way of preparing the political battlefield for a national insurrection.
Public opinion polls and other research have repeatedly shown that Trump's Big Lie about the 2020 presidential election has helped create a highly combustible situation in which tens of millions of white Americans are potentially willing to support political violence aimed at returning Donald Trump and his allies to political power.
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Kyle Rittenhouse was recently acquitted on all charges for shooting three men, killing two of them, during the civil unrest that followed the police shooting of an unarmed Black man in Kenosha, Wisconsin, during the summer of 2020. While many reasonable observers see Rittenhouse as a vigilante who eagerly sought out an opportunity for lethal violence, he has, predictably, been declared a hero by the Republican-fascist movement and the larger white right. After the verdict, he was summoned to Mar-a-Lago to meet Donald Trump and also featured in a lengthy interview on Fox News.
Civil rights organizations and domestic terrorism experts are warning that white supremacist groups and fascist militias understand the Rittenhouse verdict (correctly) as tacit legal endorsement and permission for acts of white right-wing vigilante violence. The crucial point here is that Republican fascists are moving beyond the use of stochastic terrorism, with its coded appeals and "dog whistles," toward naked and explicit threats of violence.
Here is Mark Follman at Mother Jones:
As the former president further seeks to rewrite January 6 and stoke incendiary far-right grievances, veiled tactics and plausible deniability are no longer in the equation, according to another expert among those last fall who called out Trump's tactics. "So much commentary still seems uncomfortable or coy about stating what Trump is doing," says Juliette Kayyem, who served as an assistant secretary at the Department of Homeland Security under President Obama and currently directs national security research at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. "He's not hinting, whistling, or luring these extremists anymore. He's providing an owner's manual. I will never understand why we are being so polite about describing this."
Kayyem's observations are especially resonant given that the mainstream news media continues to avoid telling the full truth about the country's extreme democracy crisis. The Republican Party is not "flirting" with or just "tempted" by fascism and violence. These things are not "impending" or "on the horizon." There is no serious prospect that "respectable" conservatives will force a "turning point" in an epic struggle for the "soul" of the Republican Party, which will surely end up "distancing" itself from Trump or shedding him as an unwanted "burden."
Too many voices in the mainstream news media and among the country's larger political class refuse to accept the simple, obvious, ominous truth: The Republican Party has become an authoritarian-fascist movement. It is committed to white supremacy, misogyny, hatred and sadism, and increasingly inclined to violence. Many Americans have convinced themselves they are like Dorothy in "The Wizard of Oz," and can return to normalcy and safety just by clicking their heels.
Serious journalists and commentators should tell the American people the truth, even about unpleasant and even terrifying things. Placebos and distractions will not save democracy and freedom. America's fascist reality is not coming at some indeterminate time in the future — it is right here, right now.
More on the fascist decay of the post-Trump Republican Party: