Some of you may recall that when Jonah Goldberg first noticed my review of Liberal Fascism in TAP Online, he dismissed it (without having read it) as "shallow, cliche ridden, attack-the-messenger stuff," and then, upon having actually read it, confirmed in a broader response his view that it was "shallow, cliche ridden, attack-the-messenger stuff."
Well, irony of ironies, after I'd fully responded and eventually called him out for failing to honestly engage my arguments, he finally came forward with a response that (beyond being shallow and cliche-ridden, not to mention breathtakingly dishonest) is nothing if not a textbook attack on the messenger -- a theme that continues in his follow-up post. Ad, meet hominem.
The whole thing, in fact, is a pile of false assumptions, misrepresentations, and the usual fetid collection of rancid strawmen that he clings to like his long-lost teddy. Most notably, he keeps insisting that I'm making an argument that I never make. All in all, it's the textbook case of a bad-faith argument, which is generally what we've come to expect from Goldberg.
A lot of it is personal, and nearly all of that he gets wrong. But I'll get to that later, since it is in the end pretty irrelevant to the point of the discussion, regardless of how much Goldberg may want to make it that. If we sift through all the ad hominem, it's possible to discern the vague outline of an actual response to the substantive points, so I'd like to at least initially focus on that.
First, let's stipulate up front that there is a lot of blather and nonsense in Liberal Fascism, but the entire linchpin for his thesis (and his choice of title for the book) is his claim that "fascism, properly understood, is not a phenomenon of the right at all. Instead, it is, and always has been, a phenomenon of the left."
I've been engaged largely in proving the utter, laughable falsity of that claim. And notably, even Michael Ledeen, whose review Jonah immediately and fawningly addressed, observed that "it is still a real stretch to say that fascism was somehow leftist."
Even Goldberg seems poorly equipped to defend this central point: at one point he writes, "even if Nazi nationalism was in some ill-defined or fundamental way right-wing, this only meant that Nazism was right-wing socialism. And right-wing socialists are still socialists." What one is forced to conclude from this is that Goldberg conceives of socialism as both a phenomenon of the right and the left -- which directly contradicts his central claim. He's simply incoherent on this point. (Spencer Ackerman, whose work Goldberg simply won't discuss, has been particularly thorough in discussing this.)
So let's go back to my challenge to Goldberg. At my Firedoglake post on this (a link to which, I note, Goldberg has declined to provide his readers), I posed three questions for Goldberg to answer:
- -- How does he account for the continuing presence -- from the 1920s up through the present -- of definably fascist groups, not just American entities like the Ku Klux Klan, the Christian Identity movement, the Posse Comitatus, the Aryan Nations, the National Alliance, Hammerskin Nation, and White Aryan Resistance (to name just a few), but also European groups like Vlaams Belang and Jean-Marie Le Pen's National Front, all of whom are clearly right-wing political entities? Doesn't this lay waste to his claim that fascism is "a phenomenon of the left"?
-- How does he defend his whitewashing of the Ku Klux Klan? Is he seriously trying to argue that the Klan is a "phenomenon of the left"?
-- How does he explain the self-evident inadequacy of his definition of fascism? (Goldberg's definition, as we've explained, describes not fascism -- particularly not any of the traits that make it distinct -- but rather totalitarianism (or authoritarianism, if you will) generally, of which fascism is but a particular species, and a definitively right-wing one at that).
Unsurprisingly, Goldberg refuses to recognize the challenge, but he does try to tackle at least one of the questions -- the second, regarding his whitewashing of the Ku Klux Klan.
Here's Jonah's stab at it:
- As for the Klan, I discuss it quite a bit. He simply shrugs off that discussion so he can get back to his own little dog and pony show. I don’t dispute that the Klan is bad, that it had ties to the Nazis in the 1930s, or any of that. It’s just not an important part of the story I have to tell.
Excuse the interruption, but: Why the hell not? You've written a book about the fascist lineage in America -- why not include an honest assessment of identifiably fascist American movements?
Ah, but we're getting to that. It seems the Klan just isn't worth exploring fully -- because they just weren't important enough.
Now, to what extent does Goldberg actually discuss the Klan? Well, let's give readers the entirety of what he writes on the subject (most of which we've already cited).
On p. 30:
- The nativist Ku Klux Klan -- ironically, often called "American fascists" by liberals -- tended to despise Mussolini and his American followers (mainly because they were immigrants).
On p. 137, in discussing Father Charles Coughlin:
- Coughlin's first taste of publicity came when he battled the local Ku Klux Klan, which at the time was harassing Catholics, many of them immigrants. He talked a local talk radio station into permitting him to deliver live sermons over the air. He was a success almost from the outset.
From 1926 until 1929 Coughlin confined himself almost entirely to religious topics, denunciations of the Klan, sermons for children, and diatribes against Prohibition ...
On p. 196, discussing early radical black activists:
- Muhammad sent Malcolm X to Atlanta to negotiate an agreement with the Ku Klux Klan whereby the Klan would support a separate black state.
On p. 232, discussing Barry Goldwater:
- LBJ accused him of "preach[ing] hate" and consistently tried to tie him to terrorist "hate groups" like the Klan (whose constituency was, of course, traditionally Democratic).
And on p. 272, he briefly mentions that Margaret Sanger "proudly gave a speech to a KKK rally in Silver Lake, New Jersey."
The longest discussion comes on pp. 259-260:
- Perhaps an even better indication of how little modern popular conceptions jibe with the historical reality during this period is the Ku Klux Klan. For decades the Klan has stood as the most obvious candidate for an American brand of fascism. That makes quite a bit of sense. The right-wing label, on the other hand, isn't nearly as clean a fit. The Klan of the Progressive Era was not the same Klan that arose after the Civil War. Rather, it was collection of loosely independent organization spread across the United States. What united them, besides their name and absurd getups, was that they were all inspired by the film The Birth of a Nation. They were, in fact, a "creepy fan subculture" of the film. Founded the week of the film's release in 1915, the second Klan was certainly racist, but not much more than the society in general. Of course, this is less a defense of the Klan than an indictment of the society that produced.
For years the conventional view among scholars and laymen alike was that the Klan was rural and fundamentalist. The truth is that it was often quite cosmopolitan and modern, thriving in cities like New York and Chicago. In many communities, the Klan focused on the reform of local government and maintaining social values. It was often the principal extralegal enforcer of Prohibition, the consummate progressive "reform." "these Klansmen," writes Jesse Walker in an illuminating survey of the latest scholarship, "were more likely to flog you for bootlegging or breaking your marriage vows than for being black or Jewish."
When modern liberals try to explain away the Klan membership of modern Democrats -- most frequently West Virginia senator Robert Byrd -- they cough up a few cliches about how good liberals "evolved" from their southern racial "conservatism." But the Klan of the 1920s was often seen as reformist and modern, and it had a close relationship with some progressive elements in the Democratic Party. The young Harry Truman as well as the future Supreme Court justice Hugo Black were members. In 1924, at the famous "Klanbake" Democratic convention, the KKK rallied around the future senator William McAdoo, Woodrow Wilson's secretary of the treasury (and son-in-law), a key architect of Wilson's war socialism, and a staunch Prohibitionist.
Moreover, if the Klan was less racist than we've been led to believe, academia was staggeringly more so. ...
I think anyone who reads my retort on this point can see that I hardly "shrug off" this discussion -- I engage it frontally, saying that this description of the Klan really is nothing less than a grotesque whitewashing, embodied in the fact that, in his description of the Klan's second iteration, he completely elides the central and formative role of the lynching of Leo Frank:
- This is, of course, outrageous. Nothing that Goldberg presents as "evidence" actually suggests that "the Klan was less racist" -- rather, it only demonstrates that the Klan, a profoundly racist organization, was more than merely a collection of rural rubes; it was, in fact, a complicated phenomenon. And while popular conceptions of the Klan such as Goldberg cites may have distorted that reality, there have never been any illusions about that on the part of historians.
Nor has there been any illusion about where the Klan resides on the American political spectrum: it is an established figure of the far right, and it is so for many reasons besides its racism.
The Klan, of course, was much, much more than merely a "creepy fan subculture" for a film. It used the film for its symbology -- its costumes and cross-burnings were taken from the film, not from the old Klan -- but the heart of its meaning and purpose could be found in the lynching of Leo Frank.
Because the Klan, as Robert O. Paxton explains in his 2004 book The Anatomy of Fascism, was probably the first real manifestation of fascism as an organization, not just in America but anywhere:
- ... [I]t is further back in American history that one comes upon the earliest phenomenon that seems functionally related to fascism: the Ku Klux Klan. Just after the Civil War, some Confederate officers, fearing the vote given to African Americans by the Radical Reconstructionists in 1867, set up a militia to restore an overturned social order. The Klan constituted an alternate civic authority, parallel to the legal state, which, in its founders' eyes, no longer defended their community's legitimate interests. In its adoption of a uniform (white robe and hood), as well as its techniques of intimidation and its conviction that violence was justified in the cause of the group's destiny, the first version of the Klan in the defeated American South was a remarkable preview of the way fascist movements were to function in interwar Europe.
Moreover, as Paxton explains, the Klan was fascist not just in its function and the political space it occupied, but in being the embodiment of its ideology, namely:
- Although one can deduce from fascist language implicit Social Darwinist assumptions about human nature, the need for community and authority in human society, and the destiny of nations in history, fascism does not base its claims to validity upon their truth. Fascists despise thought and reason, abandon intellectual positions casually, and cast aside many intellectual fellow-travellers. They subordinate thought and reason not to Faith, as did the traditional Right, but to the promptings of the blood and the historic destiny of the group. Their only moral yardstick is the prowess of the race, of the nation, of the community. They claim legitimacy by no universal standard except a Darwinian triumph of the strongest community.
Elsewhere, Paxton explains:
- Fascism may be defined as a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation, or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy, and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal constraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion.
David Chalmers, in his Hooded Americanism: The History of the Ku Klux Klan, also is unequivocal in placing the Klan firmly on the right of the political spectrum:
- Throughout its history, the Klan has been a conservative, not revolutionary, organization. As a vigilante, it has sought to uphold "law and order," white dominance, and traditional morality. To do this it has threatened, flogged, mutilated, and on occasion, murdered. The main purpose of the Klansmen, Kligrapps, Kludds, and Night Hawks, Cyclopses, Titans, Dragons, and Wizards assembled in their Dens, Klaverns, and Klonvokations, rallying in rented cow pastures, and marching in solemn procession through city streets, has been to defend and restore what they conceived as traditional social values. The Klan has basically been a revitalization movement.
This happens to confirm the identification of the Klan with American fascism if we follow Roger Griffin's definition of fascism as "a palingenetic and populist form of ultranationalism" (palingenesis referring to a core myth of phoenix-like national rebirth).
The Klan was about much more than mere racism, which was more an expression of its larger mission -- enforcing, through violence, threats, and intimidation, "traditional values" and what it called "100 percent Americanism." It was essentially populist, certainly, but there was no mistaking it for anything "progressive." The latter, in fact, was its sworn enemy.
Yet, in this latest response, Goldberg continues to keep slapping on the ol' whitewash:
- However, two points are worth making about the Klan. The first is, they’re a joke. An evil joke to be sure, and they should be prosecuted for their crimes as aggressively as possible when the evidence warrants it. But they’re essentially a nostalgic cargo cult. If you want to call them fascist, at the end of the day that’s fine with me, particularly if you define fascism the way Neiwert does. Like neo-Nazi skinheads, the Klan play a game of make-believe. Indeed, as I note, the Second Klan has its start as a basically a fanboy craze for Birth of A Nation – a film admired and promoted by none other than Woodrow Wilson (he actually screened it for congressmen and Supreme Court justices in the White House). To say that today’s Klan is even close to as serious as the Klan of the 1920s and 1930s, strains credulity.
There are several obvious problems with this. The first is that Goldberg seems to want to drift back and forth in time portraying the Klan as "a joke", having his cake and eating it too: dismissing their 1920s version as a "fanboy craze" on the one hand but then acknowledging, in the very next sentence, that this version of the Klan was "serious" in comparison to the current version.
Reality check: If the Klan was just a "fanboy craze" or a "cargo cult," it was the goddamnedest cargo cult in history. The Klan in the first half of the last century was anything but a joke, and trying to portray it as such is simply conscienceless. I explained this in some detail:
- As we recently noted, the Klan briefly became a real political force: a nationwide organization with chapters in all 48 states that briefly became a political powerhouse in a number of states, including Oregon, Indiana, Tennessee, Oklahoma, and Maine, where the Klan played a critical role in the 1924 election of Owen Brewster to the governorship. That same year, the Klan made waves at the Democratic Convention when the Klan-backed candidate, William Gibbs McAdoo of Georgia, declined to denounce them. Al Smith of New York managed to block his nomination, largely on these grounds, and West Virginia's John Davis emerged as the compromise selection. He lost to Calvin Coolidge.
As Chalmers records:
- In 1922, the Klan helped elect governors in Georgia, Alabama, California, and Oregon, and came close to knocking Missouri's Jim Reed out of the U.S. Senate. It was reported that perhaps as many as seventy-five members of the lower house had received help from Klan votes. An undetermined, and unguessable, number of congressmen, veterans, and newcomers, had actually joined the hooded order, and E.Y. Clarke was asking the local chapters to suggest likely candidates for the future. The next year, the Klan continued to expand, with its greatest strength developing in the upper Mississippi Valley and in the Great Lakes kingdom of D.C. Stephenson.
All this time, the Klan's propensity for violence became its very byword. In Tulsa, where the Klan was such a prominent and active presence that it kept a public "whipping field" at which it publicly humiliated various miscreants, the violence evenutally erupted into the massive Tulsa Race Riot of 1921, where the resulting death toll of African Americans is estimated to have been between 300 and 3,000.
[More photos from the riot here.]
Klan violence clearly was not relegated strictly to the South, but its was particularly intense there, especially the use of cross burnings to threaten and intimidate blacks. This became especially the case in the 1930s and '40s, when the Klan rose to attempt to stem the oncoming tide of the Civil Rights movement; and in the early 1950s, the Brown v. Board of Education ruling ordering the desegregation of Southern schools actually produced a second revival of the Klan, all of it focused on the "traditional values" of white supremacy and its fruits: Jim Crow, segregation, lynching.
There were thousands of these lynchings. They are the human victims, like Leo Frank, of the Klan who Jonah Goldberg so casually and carelessly airbrushes out of the pages of his history of American fascism.
Second, regarding "the way I define fascism": Yes, it's true that I prefer to refer to the work of respected academic historians and political scientists rather than the musings of would-be pop political philosophers who insist on using laughably inadequate definitions as the basis of their work.
The third and perhaps most germane point regards Goldberg's insistence that I'm arguing that "today’s Klan is even close to as serious as the Klan of the 1920s and 1930s". Simply, I never make this argument, nor would I.
What I am saying is that, if you're going write a book depicting fascist strains in American thought, beginning in the early 20th century and continuing through the present -- as Goldberg has at least attempted to do -- it's intellectually dishonest not to forthrightly and accurately discuss the Ku Klux Klan, which has existed in various iterations as an ongoing form of American fascism since that period -- and in fact was contemporaneous with the many European fascist organizations whose underpinnings Goldberg picks at throughout the text.
It's worth noting that Goldberg also dismisses objections that those Euro-fascists often referred to their hatred of liberalism by claiming that, since these were Europeans talking in a European context, we shouldn't be transferring the meaning of the words to the American context. Fair enough -- but then that means we shouldn't be talking about fascism in America outside of its very real American context, either, because European fascism was indeed a distinct creature. This is something Goldberg, of course, refuses to do, because he's busy finding fascists under Hillary Clinton's bed.
Obviously, the Klan since its heyday has been largely relegated to the political fringes of American life, which is all in all a good thing. But as I also observe, they haven't gone away either, and their impact on both politics and the public discourse continues:
- And it is not as if the Klan has gone away since. In the ensuing years, it has remained the implacable enemy not merely of civil rights for blacks, but for any minority, including gays and lesbians. Its activities have remained associated with violence of various kinds, including a broad gamut of hate crimes committed against every kind of non-white, or non-Christian, or for that matter non-conservative.
In the recent past, it has revived its nativist roots by becoming vociferously active in the immigration debate, openly sponsoring anti-immigrant rallies at which the Klan robes have come out:
Somewhat predictably, immigration has become a major point of recruitment for the Klan and other white supremacists. And just as predictably, a sharp spike of bias crimes against Latinos has followed in their wake.
Moreover, as I've been explaining, keeping right-wing hate groups like the Klan relegated to the fringes requires constant work and vigilance, since they are forever trying to insinuate themselves back into the mainstream right, as they once were. This is the work that groups like the SPLC and the ADL, and the many community- and church-based anti-hate organizations are constantly engaged in, and it's serious and generally thankless work -- Jonah and his ilk being among the most thankless (more on this shortly).
Goldberg shrugs these points off by claiming that they really don't matter much these days:
- Second, the threat from the Klan isn’t existential or even severe. I’m sure they want to do bad things and the government should try its best to prevent those things from happening. But, come on, fascism ain’t coming to America in pillowcase with eye holes cut out. I mean really. If fascism comes to America it will be in a form that large numbers of Americans see as popular and progressive. The Klan will never be that. Leftwingers who think so need to get over their nostalgic ego trips.
Well, let's point out that when I discuss the existential threat posed by the far right, it's not merely in the context of the Klan, but additionally in their numerous modern-day ideological (that is, fascist) brethren: neo-Nazis like the National Alliance and the National Socialist Movement, Christian Identity groups like the Aryan Nations, and various skinhead and prison-based racist gangs, and the proto-fascist militias that began forming in the 1990s. I'd like Goldberg to explain to the victims at Oklahoma City or the victims of Eric Rudolph why these groups aren't a serious existential threat. And it's not as if the threat has gone away -- we've seen right-wing domestic terrorists arrested for making cyanide bombs and plotting to gun down Latinos en masse. But this sort of thing, unfortunately, doesn't cross the national radar because people like Goldberg don't think it's very important.
As for what fascism would look like if it came to America, I'll defer to Paxton, who writes [pp. 201-202]:
- The United States itself has never been exempt from fascism. Indeed, antidemocratic and xenophobic movements have flourished in America since the Native American party of 1845 and the Know-Nothing Party of the 1850s. In the crisis-ridden 1930s, as in other democracies, derivative fascist movements were conspicuous in the United States: the Protestant evangelist Gerald B. Winrod's openly pro-Hitler Defenders of the Christian Faith with their Black Legion; William Dudley Pelley's Silver Shirts (the initials "SS" were intentional); the veteran-based Khaki Shirts (whose leader, one Art J. Smith, vanished after a heckler was killed at one of his rallies); and a hot of others. Movements with an exotic foreign look won few followers, however. George Lincoln Rockwell, flamboyant head of the American Nazi Party from 1959 until his assassination by a disgruntled follower in 1967, seemed even more "un-American" after the great anti-Nazi war.
Much more dangerous are movements that employ authentically American themes in ways that resemble fascism functionally. The Klan revived in the 1920s, took on virulent anti-Semitism, and spread to cities and the Middle West. In the 1930s, Father Charles E. Coughlin gathered a radio audience estimated at forty million around and anticommunist, anti-Wall Street, pro-soft money, and -- after 1938 -- anti-Semitic message broadcast from his church on the outskirts of Detroit. For a moment in early 1936 it looked as if his Union Party and its presidential candidate, North Dakota congressman William Lemke, might overwhelm Roosevelt. The plutocrat-baiting governor Huey Long of Louisiana had authentic political momentum until his assassination in 1935, but, though frequently labeled fascist at the time, he was more accurately a share-the-wealth demagogue. The fundamentalist preacher Gerald L.K. Smith, who had worked with both Coughlin and Long, turned the message more directly after World War II to the "Judeo-Communist conspiracy" and had a real impact. Today a "politics of resentment" rooted in authentic American piety and nativism sometimes leads to violence against some of the very same "internal enemies" once targeted by the Nazis, such as homosexuals and defenders of abortion rights.
Of course the United States would have to suffer catastrophic setback and polarization for these fringe groups to find powerful allies and enter the mainstream. I half expected to see emerge after 1968 a movement of national reunification, regeneration, and purification directed against hirsute antiwar protesters, black radicals, and "degenerate" artists. I thought that some of the Vietnam veterans might form analogs to the Freikorps of 1919 Germany or the Italian Arditi, and attack the youths whose demonstrations on the steps of the Pentagon had "stabbed them in the back." Fortunately I was wrong (so far). Since September 11, 2001, however, civil liberties have been curtailed to popular acclaim in a patriotic war upon terrorists.
The language and symbols of an authentic American fascism would, of course, have little to do with the original European models. They would have to be as familiar and reassuring to loyal Americans as the language and symbols of the original fascisms were familiar and reassuring to many Italians and Germans. No swastikas in American fascism, but Stars and Stripes (or Stars and Bars) and Christian crosses. No fascist salute, but mass recitations of the pledge of allegiance. These symbols contain no whiff of fascism in themselves, of course, but an American fascism would transform them into obligatory litmus tests for detecting the internal enemy.
Around such reassuring language and symbols in the event of some redoubtable setback to national prestige, Americans might support an enterprise of forcible national regeneration, unification, and purification. Its targets would be the First Amendment, separation of Church and State (creches on the lawns, prayers in the schools), efforts to place controls on gun ownership, desecrations of the flag, unassimilated minorities, artistic license, dissident and unusual behavior of all sorts that could be labeled antinational or decadent.
Note that Paxton's description is drawn largely from what we know about real American fascists, and not those imagined by Jonah Goldberg. Indeed, Goldberg in his response continues, by discussing Rockwell, to make plain his fundamental incoherency as to what kind of creature American fascism really is:
- Oh, and for the record, Neiwert continues to distort what is and isn’t in my book. For example, I do mention George Lincoln Rockwell and the American Nazi Party. Specifically I mention where Rockwell was invited to speak at the Nation of Islam National Convention in 1962 where he praised Elijah Muhammed as the black Adolf Hitler. I also mention how Malcolm X was dispatched to meet with the KKK to negotiate support for a separate black state.
Yes, he does indeed mention these points -- but he does so in a way that actually undercuts his central claim that "fascism is a phenomenon of the left." That is, in both of these instances, he makes the association as a way of illustrating how black radicals of the '60s would flirt with fascists -- when in fact both of these entities were clearly right-wing in orientation.
As we've already explained, the KKK has always quite clearly been a right-wing organization, and Rockwell was equally so. According to the book Hate: George Lincoln Rockwell and the American Nazi Party, he started out in the 1950s as a devoted McCarthyite, initially working for the American Federation of Conservative Organizations; his first attempt at publishing came in creating mockups for an AFCO paper to be titled the Conservative Times. He was briefly hired in 1955, in fact, by William F. Buckley to help sell promote National Review on college campuses. From there, he was drawn into an increasingly radical spiral that led to his founding the ANP. (More on Rockwell here.)
So which is it, Jonah: Are identifiable American fascists phenomena of the left, or the right? If you want to make the case that they are left-wing, well, you've got a lot of 'splainin' to do.
Judging from this response, though, you'll try to do so by simply inventing your own definitions (we now call this "the Goldberg Principle") -- such as your continuing insistence that populism, too, is inherently a left-wing thing:
- As for the others in Neiwert’s seemingly impressive list of omissions, I don't mention them, largely because it's not necessary, but for a different reason than the one that left the Posse Comitatus on the cutting room floor. Take Gerald L.K. Smith. Well, Smith was one of the populist radicals affiliated with both Father Charles Coughlin and Huey Long, two figures I deal with at some length. Smith was essentially the Ed MacMahon to Long's Johnny Carson. He was also a peripatetic populist prophet evangelizing for Huey Long’s “Share our Wealth Program” (which hardly appears on the to-do list of The Club For Growth or Americans for Tax Reform). When Long died, he joined forces with Coughlin. I deal with both Long and Coughlin — far more important figures than Smith — by correctly placing them on the political left. I’ll post some passages about Coughlin in a subsequent post.
Yes, Smith was anti-Semitic, so was Coughlin. Coughlin was even avowedly pro-Fascist at the end of his career. But the important point is that Coughlin was a man of the left. Until he broke with FDR, he was defended by the liberal-left in the Congress and in the press. When he broke with FDR, he did so largely because FDR's economic program wasn't radically leftwing enough. In 1936, Smith was Coughlin's stand-in for President. I agree entirely that Gerald L.K. Smith was a vile and grotesque figure but he was at best a footnote to the more important and revealing story of Coughlin and Long. I think it would be interesting to trace Smith's roots in the Social Gospel and populist-progressives. I wouldn't be surprised if they were deep.
Well, I said it in the TAP review, and I've repeated it and expanded on it:
- [P]opulism in fact is a historically complex and broad phenomenon that has encompassed both right- and left-wing political spheres, and every point in between. Some of the previously observed right-wing expressions of populism in America included Bacon's Rebellion, the Know-Nothing nativists, and the Ku Klux Klan.
Coughlin provides a good example of how dishonest Goldberg's approach is: his career, as nearly every biographer of the man has observed, was marked by dramatic shifts in political direction and beliefs and allegiances; one can easily construct a portrait of him as "progressive" populist by focusing on his early career and sermons; but his hatred of the elites led to a hatred of Jews, which eventually led him to openly embrace fascism largely for its right-wing politics, and with an open animus toward democratic institutions. Recall, if you will, the events that led to his eventual downfall:
- Additionally, after 1936, Coughlin began supporting an organization called the Christian Front, which claimed him as an inspiration. In January, 1940, the Christian Front was shut down when the FBI discovered the group was arming itself and "planning to murder Jews, communists, and 'a dozen Congressmen'" and eventually establish, in J. Edgar Hoover's words, "a dictatorship, similar to the Hitler dictatorship in Germany." Coughlin publicly stated, after the plot was discovered, that he still did not "disassociate himself from the movement," and though he was never linked directly to the plot, his reputation suffered a fatal decline.
Goldberg's approach to Coughlin is consistent with his approach to fascism generally: he assumes that it was something of a static beast whose essence could be divined from the early words of its founders. But as we've explained in detail, this methodology simply does not work when confronted with the realities of fascists in action:
- The mistake -- almost certainly an intentional one -- that Goldberg makes here is in placing as much weight as he does, not just here but throughout his "hundreds of pages of evidence," on the words of fascist ideologues, and particularly on their words in the formative first stage.
The problem with doing so is twofold: not only were fascists prodigious liars and deceivers, they also were highly mutative and opportunistic. Because fascism is more in the way of a pathology than an ideology -- a pathology centered around the crude acquisition of power -- it would adopt and discard ideologies and ideas with great alacrity, depending on its needs in forming alliances and gaining access to the levers of state power. As Franz Neumann put it:
- National Socialism ideology is constantly shifting. It has certain magical beliefs -- leadership adoration, the supremacy of the master race -- but it is not laid down in a series of categorical and dogmatic pronouncements.
Thus, to genuinely understand historical fascism, it's far more important to look at their actions as well as their words.
This is the approach in fact taken by Robert O. Paxton in his book The Anatomy of Fascism, which I'm going to rely on here for a bit because Paxton's methodology not only is sound -- built out of a lifetime's study of the broader historical context involved -- and his scholarship fairly representative of the historical consensus about fascism, he clearly lays out the flaws in a thesis like Goldberg's. This book was written in 2004, and Goldberg even cites, but it's clear that he ignores Paxton's warnings about the very methodological flaws that he insists indulging.
Paxton explains it thus:
- Faced with these conflicts between words and actions concerning capitalism, scholars have drawn opposite conclusions. Some, taking the words literally, consider fascism a form of radical anticapitalism. Others, and not only Marxists, take the diametrically opposite position that fascists came to the aid of capitalism in trouble, and propped up by emergency means the existing system of property distribution and social hierarchy.
This book takes the position that what the fascists did tells us at least as much as what they said. What they said cannot be ignored, of course, for it helps explain their appeal. Even at its most radical, however, fascists' anticapitalist rhetoric was selective. While they denounced speculative international finance (along with all other forms of internationalism, cosmopolitanism, or globalization -- capitalist as well as socialist), they respected the property of national producers, who were to form the social base of the reinvigorated nation. When they denounced the bourgeoisie, it was for being too flabby and individualistic to make a nation strong, not for robbing workers of the value they added. What they criticized in capitalism was not its exploitation but its materialism, its indifference to the nation, its inability to stir souls. More deeply, fascists rejected the notion that economic forces are the prime movers of history. For fascists, the dysfunctional capitalism of the interwar period did not need fundamental reordering; its ills could be cured simply by applying sufficient political will to the creation of full employment and productivity. Once in power, fascist regimes confiscated property only from political opponents, foreigners, or Jews. None altered the social hierarchy, except to catapult a few adventurers into high places. At most, they replaced market forces with state economic management, but, in the trough of the Great Depression, most businessmen initially approved of that. If fascism was "revolutionary," it was so in a special sense, far removed from the word's meaning as usually understood from 1789 to 1917, as a profound overturning of the social order and the redistribution of social, political, and economic power.
This is why Paxton's book goes on to explore the "five stages" of fascism (creating, taking root, getting power, exercising power, and the long duration), at each of which the phenomenon acquires shifting traits and sheds old ones. This, obviously, is not a methodological approach that Goldberg wishes to acknowledge, because it makes clear the shoddiness of his own.
He seems content instead to ignore these points and disguise the questions about his methodology by heaping more bad-faith arguments atop the mess he's already made, particularly by wholly misrepresenting my argument:
- All this points to the source of large swaths of Neiwert's confusion. Anti-Semitism and racism are bad. And frankly, I don't much need leftwingers to tell me that. But insisting that they are inherently rightwing and fascistic doesn't make it so. Here are a bunch of questions that should flummox Neiwert.
Stalin was an anti-Semite, was he not a leftwinger?
He was. But all his anti-Semitism tells us is that he was a hateful bigot.
- Mussolini wasn't an anti-Semite, was he therefore not a rightwinger?
He was. But all his lack of anti-Semitism tells us is that he was not an anti-Semite.
- Karl Marx was an anti-Semite - was he left or right?
Left. But his anti-Semitism only tells us he was an anti-Semite.
- Wilhelm Marr, the anti-Semite who made up the word “anti-Semite” to give some pseudo-scientific-sounding, progressive oomph to Jew hatred was a leftwinger.
I could quite literally do this all day.
Obviously, so could I -- though I'd probably go insane with sheer boredom by day's end. Because it's an inane argument, predicated on a mendacious misrepresentation of my actual critique.
Stalin was a left-wing totalitarian, but his anti-Semitism wasn't indicative of that one way or another. And neither, for that matter, was Hitler's anti-Semitism particular proof of his right-wing politics -- especially in the context of the 1920s, when racism and ethnic bigotry were fairly pervasive. I agree with Goldberg that Woodrow Wilson was a racist, but in the context of the times, it's certainly not evidence he was a fascist. These figures' anti-Semitism, especially in the context of their respective times, only really tells us they were anti-Semites.
Contrary to Jonah's persistent misrepresentation, I never argue that either racism or anti-Semitism is specifically a definitive characteristic of the political right. Here's what I wrote:
- ... I certainly never argue either that racism is inherently right-wing, or that this is what makes the Nazis right-wing. As we've seen above, what makes the Nazis definably right-wing is the actual manifestation of their agenda in action -- particularly its destruction of democratic institutions and norms; its violent attacks on left-wing organizing of any kind, including the banning of labor unions; and its open embrace of capitalism as the engine for their war machines once they obtained power.
Goldberg is quite right that racism itself is not inherently right-wing, particularly not for the period in question. I've actually explored this point in some detail on several occasions here, as well as in my book Strawberry Days -- pointing out that much of the early labor organizing on the West Coast between 1870 and 1920 was actually predicated on naked anti-Asian prejudice. Likewise, anyone who knows the history of labor unions at all is familiar with the racial animus stirred up by the use of black strikebreakers by various captains of industry.
Nonetheless, it is accurate to say that modern liberalism -- the liberalism that Goldberg seeks to smear by associating it with fascism -- does have as one of its current major traits an abiding opposition to racism. This is the legacy of liberals' long-running support for the Civil Rights movement and the legislative advancement of minority rights, its open embrace of multiculturalism -- for which it is regularly and often scorned and maligned by conservatives.
Racism and anti-Semitism are, at best, rough indicators of one's political bearings: they in fact often manifest themselves on the right, but have a history on the left as well. What makes an organization or person identifiably fascist is not their racism, but rather traits that inevitably produce rank ethnic bigotry of various kinds; those kinds will vary depending upon the given agenda of each national variant of fascism.
But Goldberg, having gleefully demolished this feeble excuse for a straw man, continues on in the same MO, weaving together another argument I never make and then knocking it down:
- Neiwert makes the same predictable mistakes when it comes to economics. He repeats the leftwing myths about how the Nazis rose to power on the backs of big business and all that. I demolish those myths in the book. But don’t take it from me, the definitive scholarship on this is Henry Ashby Turner’s German Big Business and the Rise of Hitler.
Actually, what I argue -- and what has been substantially confirmed by many historians well beyond Ashby -- is that the fascist path to power entailed aligning itself and occupying political space on the right, including business capitalists, but not necessarily large industrialists prior to 1933 (which is largely the focus of Turner's text); rather, the bulk of the fascist alliances were with large landholders, business owners, and cultural conservatives, and those alliances were largely about defending (through violence and intimidation) status-quo, conservative interests. This was true in its initial root-taking phases in both Italy and Germany, as Paxton convincingly demonstrates with his chapters devoted to Italian fascism in the Po River Valley and German fascism in the Rhine and elsewhere.
But even more significant is the course of action the Nazis took once they actually obtained power. As Paxton puts it:
- Once in power, fascist regimes banned strikes, dissolved independent labor unions, lowered wage earners' purchasing power, and showered money on armaments industries, to the immense satisfaction of employers. ...
... What they criticized in capitalism was not its exploitation but its materialism, its indifference to the nation, its inability to stir souls. More deeply, fascists rejected the notion that economic forces are the prime movers of history. For fascists, the dysfunctional capitalism of the interwar period did not need fundamental reordering; its ills could be cured simply by applying sufficient political will to the creation of full employment and productivity. Once in power, fascist regimes confiscated property only from political opponents, foreigners, or Jews. None altered the social hierarchy, except to catapult a few adventurers into high places. At most, they replaced market forces with state economic management, but, in the trough of the Great Depression, most businessmen initially approved of that.
This was true in Germany for most of the prewar period, as postwar prosecutions and more thorough assessments of the business records have made abundantly evident. And it was true outside of Germany as well, where capitalists -- including many American captains of industry, including Henry Ford -- were ardent supporters and investors in the building Nazi war machine.
Of course, pointing this out annoys Goldberg no end:
- He also revisits, like a dog returning to his vomit, this idiocy about Bush grandfather funding Hitler. It’s really a tiresome topic. But let’s assume for two seconds it’s true. The most common criticism I get from the left is that I’m playing guilt-by-association. The New Republic crowd liked Fascism and therefore I’m supposedly insinuating that today’s New Republic crowd does too. I take great pains not to make that argument in the book. Still, if that were a legitimate line of criticism of me, surely it also applies to all of these lefties tittering about how Bush’s grandfather was pro-Nazi. It’s all the more frustrating because the charge against Prescott Bush is so flimsy while the charge against, say, Joseph Kennedy – Daddy to JFK, RFK and Teddy – is ironclad. Joe was outright pro-Nazi. But, as we’ve seen, these sorts of arguments are always fair when pointed rightward and always silly when aimed leftward.
Well, as I explained, there's no "assuming" necessary when it comes to the matter of Prescott Bush's involvement in the investment of American capital in the Nazi regime's industrial project: It's an indisputable fact of the public record.
But that notwithstanding, note that Goldberg again misrepresents my argument regarding the significance of these facts. I don't argue, childishly as Goldberg suggests, that these connections suggest Bush and the right are secretly Nazis and Nazi sympathizers; rather, I argue that the predilection of business capitalists -- both the Bushes and the Kennedys alike -- to form alliances with fascist and otherwise authoritarian thugs throughout history has been the cause of some of the worst misery we've endured, abroad and at home, in this nation's recent history:
- It is clear that, while the Bush/Walker clan was utterly conscienceless in its dealings with the Nazis, and at least a substantial portion of the Bush family's fortune is in fact built upon that blood-tainted business, there is no evidence that they had any serious ideological ties to them. In a literal sense, of course, it is silly to refer to them as "Nazis," since one had to be a German citizen and join the party to earn the name factually. But even in the generic ideological sense, the evidence of even an affinity, let alone an identification, with the Nazi ideology is very thin.
... What is essential to remember is that, historically speaking, fascism has only ever taken root as a genuine political power when it has formed an alliance with mainstream corporatist conservatives. While proto-fascist elements have had their moments in the sun in America -- particularly the ascendant Ku Klux Klan of the early 1920s -- they have fallen short mainly because the nation's corporatist conservatives have not deigned to ally themselves with them. This was not true in Germany or Italy, where corporatists such as Fritz Thyssen were all too happy to ride the fascist tide until it began to reveal its true nature and turn on them -- by which point, of course, it was all too late to do anything about it.
In that respect, today's mainstream corporatist conservatives -- and I think it is clear that not only President Bush but the bulk of his administration fit that description -- do not resemble Hitler and the Nazis so much as they resemble the Thyssens and Hindenburgs, the fools who believed that by co-opting their nation's growing extremist contingent, they could control it. And they resemble the Prescott Bushes and Averell Harrimans who only saw the chances for increased profits and consolidation of their power in underwriting the Nazi military machine. In the process, they all combined to unleash one of history's greatest nightmares.
... This really is why the questions around the Bush family's connections to the Nazi regime are relevant today. The episode does not point to some secret ideological affinity for fascism so much as it reveals a willingness to empower them if it furthers their ends.
Again, this is a point Goldberg deigns not to answer. Instead, he caps it off with a closing round of ad hominem:
- In short, Neiwert and his crowd want to own the right to use the word fascist as a cudgel against forces he doesn't like. And any attempt to wrest away their well-worn weapon will be greeted by every other weapon in their arsenal. It’s not pretty but it is predictable.
Actually, I'm not the least interested in "owning" the word fascism -- as I've consistently said, I'm interested as someone involved in dealing with fascism as a real-life phenomenon in ensuring that there is a clear understanding of it in the public discourse. Fascism isn't just a theory or a hypothetical exercise to me, the way it clearly is for Goldberg.
Goldberg's book doesn't just try to redefine fascism -- as I said in the TAP review, it's actually a piece of Newspeak, intended to render the word meaningless. Making sure the word remains meaningful -- something, incidentally, that Orwell was also hoping to do with the essay on the degradation of the term that Goldberg cites carelessly as "his definition" -- is not the same thing as claiming ownership.
And so, having penned a farrago of bad-faith arguments, he closes with the consummate bit of bad faith: He's taking his ball and going home, where he can no doubt continue to whine about how those nasty liberal fascists won't play Jonahball according to his rules:
- After today, I doubt I will deal with Neiwert again — at least not at any length — for one simple reason. Virtually every rebuttal to what he's said about my book can be found in my book. He simply doesn't care what I say, he only cares about discrediting me at all costs. There's no percentage in debating such people.
Of course, anyone reading this can see that not only do I challenge the basic assertions that "can be found in his book" in full context -- see, e.g., the Klan "discussion" therein -- but he utterly refuses to address those basic challenges in any kind of intellectually honest fashion. He keeps claiming "I refute this in my book" when in fact I'm challenging his supposed "refutations" with facts and evidence that are not in the book -- and he simply refuses to even acknowledge that this is the case.
But the final line, of course, is the clincher: Why bother to debate "such people"? And what kind of "people" am I? Well, that takes us back to the early parts of the post wherein he indulges in a rather amusing personal attack on me:
- Here's my grand theory about this guy. He's made his career hyping the terrible threat from the Posse Comitatus, Aryan Nations and American Nazi Party and so like the bureaucrats in Office Space who think TPS reports are the most important thing in the world, he can’t seem to grasp that they’re pretty trivial.
In other words, he came to his understanding of fascism by following bands of racist white losers in the Idaho woods while using some Marxist tract or other as a field guide to identify the various species he encountered. In other words, he's internalized every cliché and propagandandistic talking point I set out to demolish in my book. Moreover, his career depends on maintaining his version of the fascist peril. So, he's banging his spoon on his highchair a lot because my book undercuts his whole reason for being.
This is such a pack of outlandishly wrong presumptions on Goldberg's part that it's hard to know where to start, but I'll begin by noting my background regarding the academic work I've studied in concert with my on-the-ground experience reporting on and writing about these groups.
The first actual book on Nazism, besides the usual war-history accounts, I ever read was Albert Speer's Inside the Third Reich (sometime in high school), which as far as I know is free of any Marxist taint. The first book on fascism I ever owned was Stanley Payne's Fascism: Comparison and Definition (1979), which I bought sometime in the early '80s, when I first started taking this stuff seriously. This text -- like Payne's later book, A History of Fascism: 1914-1945 (1995) -- specifically repudiates the Marxist interpretation of fascism. Later readings were influential as well: Roger Griffin's The Nature of Fascism, Zeev Sternhell'a The Birth of Fascist Ideology, and most recently Paxton's The Anatomy of Fascism, fed in between by readings of Walter Laqueur and other Europeans. My first "field guide," as it were, was actually a sociological text, James Aho's The Politics of Righteousness: Idaho Christian Patriotism, which came out in 1989. And all of this was supplemented by reading histories of the Klan, of right-wing populism, and of the far right in America generally.
So Jonah's already pretty far off his mark, theory-wise.
But really, I didn't need to study textbooks or read insightful essays to figure out that these people were not just right-wing: they were fascists. I could pretty much figure that out by listening to Richard Butler rant before an Aryan Nations crowd -- festooned with Nazi flags, surrounded by brownshirted skinheads with swastika armbands, wielding the Nazi salute and shouting "Sieg Heil!" -- about how the niggers and the spics were all going to ruin the country by having the government steal all the working men's money and give it to them as welfare. How the Jews were controlling the media and slanting it against "real Americans." You get the idea.
I could pretty much figure out where the Montana Freemen were coming from by sitting in a Billings courtroom and listening to Leroy Schweitzer and Dan Petersen holding forth on the evils of the Jewish-controlled New World Order federal government and its illegitimate court system and demanding a return to the "organic Constitution" (meaning rule by white male property owners): Posse Comitatus stuff. You'd have to be pretty fucking stupid not to get it.
Early on, I didn't take them seriously at all: I've written about this before:
- When I was the editor the Daily Bee up in Sandpoint in the late 1970s, we were faced with the tough decision of how to handle the increasing visibility of Richard Butler’s neo-Nazi Church of Jesus Christ Christian, based at the Aryan Nations compound some 30 miles down the road in Hayden Lake. After much hand-wringing, we decided it was best not to give them any coverage, since publicity was what they craved, and it would only encourage their radicalism.
What we didn’t understand was that the silence was (as it always is with hyper-nationalistic hate groups) interpreted as consent. And so, over the next several years, the Idaho Panhandle was inundated with a spate of hate crimes -- enough so that Idaho became one of the first states to pass a bias-crime law -- as well as a flood of extraordinary violence, ranging from the multi-state rampage of murder and robbery by the neo-Nazi sect called The Order to the pipe-bombing campaigns planned by their successors. All of these acts emanated from the Aryan Nations.
By then I had moved on to other papers, but the Bee changed its policies vis a vis the Aryan Nations in fairly short order, as did most other newsrooms in the area that had taken similar approaches. I certainly never forgot the mistake.
What was clear, once you scratched beneath the surface, was that the far right wasn't merely a local phenomenon, but a national network of subterranean movements whose effects weren't immediately visible, but always showed up in predictable ways: a surge of crimes -- particularly hate crimes -- and harassment of local government officials. But it was a phenomenon with national reach. Showing up at the Aryan Congresses were white supremacists from the South, from the Midwest, from California, from Pennsylvania. Likewise, when I was tracking the Freemen in the 1990s, we were seeing license plates from every state in the union pulling into their ranch to get a week's worth of LeRoy's lessons on "constitutional law."
For the most part, I tended to regard this nonetheless as, at best, a limited threat, until April 19, 1995. When Tim McVeigh, operating from the blueprint for "race war" dreamed up by William Pierce, blew up 168 people in Oklahoma City, I realized that not only were they a real existential threat, the national network of what Roger Griffin calls the "corpuscular" web of far-right extremists was the source this emanated from.
Shortly afterward, I went to work at MSNBC.com as a writer-producer, and from that vantage I point I began tracking these groups nationally, monitoring their activities and reporting on them when the situation warranted (the Buford Furrow incident being a prime example). Eventually, this work produced a report on domestic terrorism that tracked the steady drumbeat of right-wing domestic terrorism between 1995 and 2000 -- a report that went on to win a National Press Club award for distinguished online journalism.
One of the continuing problems facing people who deal with the far right in America, as I recently noted, is that they constantly have to fight to keep journalists' eyes on the ball, since they often just "parachute" into stories as they happen and then move to other pastures. I've tried to be different by taking this beat seriously, because it deserves to be taken seriously. And the idea that I'm making some kind of lucrative "career" out of this is pretty damned laughable, considering the reality of what I actually make doing this kind of work (hint: it's not even close to what Goldberg rakes in off the right-wing money wagon).
But Goldberg doesn't really care about any of this. Indeed, he's part of the problem: His easy dismissal of the presence and activities of the far right in America are actually quite reflective of the conventional wisdom about them, which is a large part of why keeping the public informed and educated is a constant uphill struggle.
To wit, the rest of the personal slagging he directs my way in his facile response, after briefly quoting part of my critique:
- In his follow up, he goes on to repeat all of this, all the while complaining how I ignored it all the first time. I ignored it because I thought it was unworthy of much of a response beyond the other things I said. I still basically feel that way.
But he feels differently. So, you want my short answer to why I don’t discuss, say, the Posse Comitatus? Okay here it is: Who gives a rat’s ass about the Posse Comitatus?
Ah, yes -- the "who cares" defense. Note that Goldberg gets all worked up when others respond similarly to his pet citations, but he can't find it worth the energy to evince even the slightest concern over an organization whose poisonous legacy remains with us today.
But let me first point out the fundamental dishonesty of this kind of argumentation: I in fact provided a long list of clearly fascist American organizations -- only one of which was the Posse Comitatus -- who represent a very real manifestation of actual fascism, not simply because they're racist (as I said, that's not necessarily any kind of definitive trait of fascism anyway), but because they fully fit the description, both academic and real-life.
So yes, one might easily dismiss the Posse Comitatus, by any accounts a relatively small organization with a relatively limited immediate reach. But one cannot so easily dispense with the entire American far right -- the bulk of which in fact is identifiably fascist or proto-fascist -- quite so readily. The Posse Comitatus is just a small, though important, part of this continuum -- it was founded by one of Gerald L.K. Smith's disciples, William Potter Gale; and it in turn became a significant cornerstone of the Patriot/militia movement of the 1990s, perpetrators of the Oklahoma City bombing; who in turn gave birth to the Minutemen so fondly back-slapped by right-wing pundits like Jonah Goldberg.
I'm not complaining that Jonah missed discussing the Posse Comitatus per se; I'm complaining that he completely elides any kind of serious or thoughtful discussion of American fascists as we've known them historically. Of course, any such discussion would probably have to include the Posse, but that's beside the point.
Tracking the activities of these groups has consumed a sizable chunk of my journalistic career, but Goldberg, rather than respecting that on-the-ground experience, dismisses it in a cloud of amusing innuendo:
- I’m sure Neirwert’s gorillas-in-the-mist reportage on these guys is top notch, and I’ll take his word for it their bad guys. But being bad guys alone doesn’t in and of itself make them fascists. Indeed, from my limited understanding of what these guys believe, they are radical localists, who don’t believe any government above the county level is legitimate. Do I really have to spell out why that’s not exactly in keeping with hyper-statist ideology of Nazis and Italian Fascists? “Everything in Hazard County, nothing outside Hazard County,” has a nice ring to it, but the Hegelian God-State it is not.
No, Jonah, being bad guys alone doesn't make them fascists. But holding swastika and Dixie banners aloft, shouting "Sieg Heil," and ranting ad nauseam about how bestial colored people and queers and the Jewish media are destroying the country, and demanding that we start shooting Mexican border crossers -- well, that pretty clearly marks them as fascist, dontcha think?
And for a guy who insists irregularly that we not confuse European liberalism with its American version, Goldberg certainly has little compunction about conflating European fascism with its American variant. In fact, American fascists are fairly variegated in their worldviews and resulting strategies: some, like the Posse and the Freemen, are indeed hyper-local, though their version of local government is a white male supremacist ideation in which minorities have no rights and homosexuals and abortion providers are put to death. Others see themselves as largely regional organizations (particularly the Northwest's "white homeland" advocates) with a national reach, while still others -- the Klan, the Aryan Nations, the National Socialist Movement, Hammerskin Nation -- see themselves as national organizations whose ideas for a right-wing authoritarian state do indeed more closely resemble the European model.
The same is true for figures like David Duke, who sees himself as an international role model for neo-Nazism. In recent years, he's been traveling to places like Russia and the Arab world, spreading his vicious anti-Semitic propaganda. And in both places, it's clear he's been gaining audiences and having an impact on the ground. So much for these fascists' insignificance.
But then, it's essential for Jonah's already-shaky thesis that he minimize, downplay, whitewash, and otherwise utterly trivialize these groups, their presence and their activities, because their very existence not only undermines, it completely demolishes his central claim that "fascism, properly understood, is not a phenomenon of the right at all" but that "it is, and always has been, a phenomenon of the left." Because clearly, American fascists are now, and always have been, a phenomenon of the right, quite unmistakably so.
It's all about trivializing the monstrous, all to serve his increasingly dubious claim that conservatives are in no way at all even remotely fascist. Indeed, it's more than evident that the wish to rebut that "smear" is what has animated this entire enterprise (Goldberg has made this clear in numerous interviews, as well as the book itself).
The problem is that it's much easier to demonstrate the opposite is true. And over the next couple of weeks, I'll be discussing that.
But you have to wonder about someone who can so easily whitewash the realities of the Klan, dismiss the social and cultural effects of modern-day fascists, and then compare the Nazi eliminationist program to Hillary Clinton's day-care initiatives. It is not often you get to see the holes in people's souls on public display, and it's never pretty.
[Note to Jonah, regarding your feeble critique of some of my previous work, by way of establishing your ad-hominem argument that I'm an idiot: I'd be happy to discuss my published analyses of fascist strains in modern conservatism at any time. Indeed, I've often wished that a conservative would seriously discuss it with me, but unfortunately, your attempt doesn't remotely qualify. And you won't hear me whining about it, either. But more to the point, we're discussing your work here, not mine. If you wish to change the subject, well, perhaps we all know why.]
[Second note to Jonah: A remora is not a parasite; its relationship to whales is a symbiotic one. Jaysus, you can't even get your lame insults right.]