“Colette has won the Academy Award in the category of best documentary short…90-year-old Colette Marin-Catherine confronts her past by visiting the German concentration camp Mittelbau-Dora where her brother was killed. As a young girl, she fought Hitler’s Nazis as a member of the French Resistance. For 74 years, she has refused to step foot in Germany, but that changes when a young history student named Lucie enters her life. Prepared to re-open old wounds and revisit the terrors of that time, Marin-Catherine offers important lessons for us all.”–Anthony Giacchino, “Collette.” The Guardian. November 2020.
“Fascism: a political philosophy, movement, or regime (such as that of the Fascisti) that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition—Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, s.v. “fascism,” accessed January 24, 2021, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/fascism.
When I think of fascism, I think of uniforms and the threat of violence. Want to wear a Hawaiian shirt with tactical gear and carry a gun? Into wearing a white hood and burning a cross on someone’s yard you don’t like? You might be a fascist.
In the United States, there are fascist elements baked in. We have ideas that “America” is exceptional. After the Capitol riot of 2021, there was a great deal of talk about the Capitol building being “sacred”. Sacred can mean dedicated to a specific use. But, the more common use implies religion and a deity. What religion is the Capitol building dedicated to? The religion of America.
It is understood that America is white, Anglo-Saxon, and Protestant. America might be a melting pot, but there’s no question what the dominate flavor should be, at least among the fascists.
Then, we have a system of government that has concentrated much of its power into the hands of the President, putting the “sacred” functions of government into the hands of one person. There are even ideas like the unitary executive theory that argue that the President has complete authority over executive functions.
Autocratic control by a dictatorial leader is a feature of the U.S. system. It only requires someone to use it that way with sufficient cooperation from the other branches of government to make it a reality. The 45th President demonstrates the point.
Once you have autocratic government, then severe economic and social regimentation and forcible suppression of the opposition is not far behind. Who is the opposition? It can be some specific group: Jews, immigrants, Muslims, Mexicans, aborigines, Germans, Arabs, Igbo, etc. Or it can be a group fabricated whole cloth, a catch-all term indicating an ideology or an imaginary distinction: Jacobians, anarchists, socialists, communists, terrorists, or antifa.
Every age has its opposition to the status quo, whether it’s anarchists organizing for an eight hour work day; the American Taliban, pushing for the return of a white, Christian orthodoxy; American revolutionaries and/or reformers fighting George III, Lincoln or Jim Crow; etc. All are dangerous to the established order. Whether you think the danger is good or not depends on your values. However, fascist values, with an authoritarian leader and a strong state subordinating the individual or individual states, are also American values. The United States has had its fair share of cult of personality leaders, and in some ways, great man (or woman) narratives tie into the individualist streak of our culture.
Labeling opposition as socialists or neonazis is standard in every kind of politics. It is a time-honored way of reducing nuance and creating The Other that can serve as a catalyst for cohesive action. The target of these labels largely doesn’t matter. They just have to be The Other and someone that opposes, or could oppose, the political project. Fascists do have a unique advantage that such thinking is built into their philosophy of authoritarian control and a national culture.
At the level of the nation, there is little an individual can do. You can only hope in institutions and in good people.
However, the process described above also happens in microcosm at the interpersonal and local levels. Local chapters of Proud Boys, booj and other fascist groups precede the appearance of those ideas on a national stage.
Look for the uniforms. It could be as simple as a color, an article of clothing, etc. Of course, these are also signs of tribalism. The key questions are whether these groups use violence and how.
Neo-nazis may have bad ideas. But, you cannot kill ideas, even bad ones. You can kill and arrest people, however. Sometimes, this is necessary, out of a sense of self-defense of the body politic.
Targeting people raise the stakes on violence. Generally, non-violent resistance raises the moral stakes. It reaches good people by creating opportunities to engage their conscious. But, again, there are individuals that do not respond to this approach. Some people aren’t in touch with their goodness or their conscious. Some people only understand the language of social censure and/or violence.
Violence is a dangerous tool. It is often self-perpetuating. But, it sometimes cannot be avoided. Some fascists, the violent ones trying to dominate a local space who don’t heed non-violent resistance, simply need to be punched. You need to speak to people in languages that they can understand, whether they be moral, violent or other.