[John Suggs photo]
Probably the main reason I write about fascism and its immanations in the United States is because I've seen genuine fascism up close and personal -- particularly the Aryan Nations in northern Idaho and the universe of right-wing extremists it attracted, all settling into the dark backwoods and making themselves at home there.
When you get to know fascists up close, you realize that the stereotypes of them -- either they are poor, uneducated backwoods hick, or vile, monstrous skinheads in black leather -- don't fit very well. For the most part, in fact, they are ordinary-seeming people who live in ordinary homes and go to regular day jobs.
James Aho's landmark study of far-right "Christian Patriots", The Politics of Righteousness, found that in fact, the average Aryan Nations attendee was better educated than the average American. Many of them, in reality, are very intelligent people indeed. Some are marvelously skilled engineers. Others are math whizzes.
In my experience, I found that the notion that these people were simply ignorant didn't jibe with reality. Any number of them, actually, have very detailed and thoroughly thought-out universes that provide them with rationales for their beliefs. What was lacking was a basic Human Decency gear that they seem not have been born with.
But having gotten to know them, I also realized how close they were in reality to the rest of us -- and particularly to ordinary conservatives.
This was in the 1980s and 1990s. And what has been astonishing and disturbing has been watching the differences between those ordinary conservatives and those ordinary fascists gradually shrinking. And shrinking. Until they have nearly vanished.
This is the real problem with pseudo-fascism: It creates an environment conducive to the real growth of genuine fascism. The theocratic rantings of the Reconstruction crowd -- about whom Tristero has been recently writing -- in particular are rife with the themes and "mobilizing passions" that have been the essence of fascist movements throughout history. The danger lies in how these ostensible "conservatives" give public blessing to attitudes that very much lay the groundwork for fascists.
Awhile back, I reported on an outfit called Christian Exodus who announced that they intended to create an all "Christian" homeland in South Carolina.
Now it seems that the Aryan Nations, having been dislodged from their Northwest compound at Hayden Lake, are picking up on the concept themselves.
They held their most recent Congress in Laurens, South Carolina. The gathering, as you might expect, turned into a big ole Klan-meets-neo-Nazis hatefest. The liveliest speaker was a young fellow with tatooed biceps named Ryan, who was so brave he refused to give his last name. Still, he put on a good show:
- "You better hope I don't come in your bedroom window," Ryan said to FBI informants he suspected were in the audience. "Warriors kill and break things. We're warriors in waiting."
Ryan, whose biceps were adorned with 8-inch Nazi "SS" tattoos, capped his speech with a dance across the stage, a la Mick Jagger, and a bellowed challenge: "You want to see blood in the streets? I do!"
According to everyone in attendance, the consensus seems to be leaning toward giving up on the five-state Northwest homeland project favored by white-supremacist leaders and shifting everything to the South:
- For years, Aryan Nations aspired to have an uprising in the Northwest, and turn five states into, literally, The Aryan Nation. With the group staggering from the double whammy of litigation and factionalism, the new goal is more modest: South Carolina.
Aryan Nations' Washington leader, who gave only his first name, Paul, is 60-ish and has a British accent from 25 years in England. Paul outlined possible strategies for the group: establishing a state in Alaska ("few minorities," he said), or a wholesale "South will rise again." Both of those he discounted as impractical, although certainly worthy.
In the end, Paul observed, the best option is to "look at the secession of South Carolina. Start with this state."
Mind you, the Northwest homeland concept is far from dead. At least one online racist based in Olympia is churning out founding documents [warning: hate site] for a would-be "Northwest American Republic." But the movement seems to be scaling back its ambitions for now, and taking aim at a place where they believe the public will be more receptive.
But I was especially struck by the sidebar to this article in which the author, John Suggs, contemplated the meaning of the AN gathering, and the odds of success for the South Carolina plan:
- Then, while Williams cheerfully explained that blacks, Asians and Hispanics were subhuman, and that a race war was his most cherished goal, one of my voices piped up again.
"Yo, John," the voice intoned, "you realize these guys aren't too far outside the mainstream. After all, fringe extremists, our own versions of Iranian Maximum Loon Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, have seized the control levers of this country."
I always listen to my voices since, like George Bush, I'm sure it's the Lord speaking directly to me. And that last epiphany made sense.
Racism doesn't exist in a vacuum, whether ranted Hitleresque from a podium or conveyed with a Dick Cheney wink. We hate others of our species because we're in competition with them for land or oil; or we need a scapegoat to blame for our own miserable existence. Often we claim the Celestial Mystery Being has commanded us to commit atrocities in his name.
We come up with fantasies of superiority, myths about the nobility of my ancestors and the degeneracy of yours. In order for me to smite you, I must believe with God-almighty fervor that you're inferior. You're a raghead, a slant, a kike, a nigger, a spic, a white devil, a fag or a bitch -- and if I torture and slaughter you, it ain't really murder. No, sir.
If a whole segment of society agrees with those racial assessments, they become part of the cultural conversation. That's why U.S. Sen. George Allen (R-Uptown Klan) is a veteran at employing the "n" word, although still rather a novice at denigrating folks of South Asian ancestry.
Those sentiments ooze like fetid sewage into what should be the crystal-clean water of public policy. In America, we lived through generations of statutory enforcement of the belief that one race has the right to dominate the other. And, if you conclude such thinking is "history," you're a fool.
It's not just that a few ignorant rednecks believe, in their illiterate confusion, that they're somehow "superior." Rather, it's that we still make laws based on such assumptions. The Republican Party since 1964 has consciously made a "racism is OK" pitch to unreconstructed Southerners.
Even scarier, millions of Americans go to churches where racism is part of the catechism, whether blatantly stated or masked by theological mumbo-jumbo.
And, as he observes at the end, this hate is being fomented at the elite media level by so-called "conservatives":
- The New York Times commented last month on similar national voter ID legislation: "The actual reason for this bill is the political calculus that certain kinds of people -- the poor, minorities, disabled people and the elderly -- are less likely to have valid ID."
Bushite bomb-thrower Ann Coulter arrogantly conceded the point, writing this month: "Way too many people vote. We should have fewer people voting. There ought to be a poll tax to take the literacy test before voting."
Coulter is saying ballots should be reserved for right-wing white folks. And that's almost exactly what Pastor Williams believes.
The chief means for the spread of this kind of hatred has been a national media that gives people like Coulter and her junior partner, Michelle Malkin, far more than their 15 seconds of fame. More importantly, the press allows hatemongers in the ranks of movement conservatives to peddle race-baiting and bigotry with references that only the most obtuse can miss -- as with the ugly race-baiting recently thrown Harold Ford's way.
The only way to combat it, in the end, is not to allow race-baiting and sly racial inferences, so common among right-wing pundits and politicians, to go unremarked. It's in not allowing hatemongers like the Minutemen and the assorted anti-immigrant xenophobes -- see particularly Pat Buchanan -- now driving our immigration debate to proceed apace, applauded by Lou Dobbs and Ed Schultz alike.
Unfortunately, we're doing a lousy job of that these days.