Over the last few months I have been revisiting research I did a long time ago on fascism. Pinochet’s Chile, Suharto’s Indonesia, Montt’s Guatemala, Hitler’s Germany and beyond. I’ve spent time poring over the accounts of the survivors, the details of the crimes, the descriptions of the torture, of the camps, the ghettos, the dehumanization, the cruelty, the terror, the photos of the train cars headed to concentration camps, the mass graves, the massacres, the piles of corpses. And reading through the accounts of people who knew things were going in this direction, that something ghastly was being done to other people, yet did nothing, not even raised their voice when they had the chance.
Sadly, I have come to believe that it is, once again, reasserting itself globally and more overtly. And it isn’t just in incendiary speeches from the US president or others who stoke the flames of racism, and scapegoat and demonize the poor, the immigrant, the marginalized, or the oppressed. In recent days, I have seen far right trolls on social media sharing memes with gruesome photos of the deceased in Kenosha. Photos mocking them, memes celebrating it, and cheering on more of the same, and worse. From my research, I realized that this is how it all started. How fascism became normalized in those societies that fell to its barbarism. A level of callous dehumanization that cannot be sated. Cannot be reasoned with. And that, when joined with state agencies, becomes a force that is lethal and next to impossible to stop. I can tell you, the research has taken an emotional and spiritual toll, and led to many sleepless nights.
But Americans have already tolerated the precursors of fascism. The atrocities they have largely chosen to look away from, or normalize, or conveniently blame on one president. They know of the imperialistic invasions and bombings of scores of non-Americans in the Global South by the US military. And at home, they have seen immigrant and refugee families torn apart and put in cages. They have heard the sobbing of children in detention camps. They have seen people prosecuted for daring to help these people in the scorching desert. They have seen police departments acquire tanks and armour, and use tear gas and fire at people on their front porches. They have seen unarmed protesters beaten, and maimed, and disappeared in unmarked government vans. And much of this was happening long before Donald Trump darkened the doors of the White House. To be sure, fascism has always simmered just below the surface in the United States. History’s pages, dripping with the blood of Indigenous genocide and the suffering of African slaves, has nurtured the ground for fascism to flourish whenever the conditions were ripe for it. Indeed, the Nazis took lessons from America’s ruthless systemic supremacism. So anyone who argues that “it can’t happen here” has no interest in this history. Because it already has happened here, it just hasn’t affected the majority of white Americans yet.
As the election looms closer it has become undeniable that the proto-fascist in the Oval Office will do everything he can to stop his potential removal from office. Indeed, Trump has already started pulling the levers of power available to him, from attacks on the US Postal Service to casting doubt on the process itself. He is employing one of the few gifts he possesses, incitement, to activate his far right base, including armed white supremacist militias. He has accelerated his demonization of opponents and any political group who dissents, including anarchists and Black Lives Matter activists. And he has aligned himself with the most unhinged and violent factions of the notorious conspiracy engine known as QAnon. If anyone thinks he will leave office without trying to cause immeasurable chaos and misery, they have not been paying attention to the last four years. And his opposition comes from the most stale, neoliberal precincts in recent memory. A cadre of ghouls and grifters for the interests of capital, who offer little hope outside of platitudes to the millions of Americans struggling with a pandemic, an economic downturn not seen since the Great Depression, as well as climate change fueled catastrophes.
And so how then shall we proceed? How shall people of conscience, those who reside at the margins of an empire in a state of collapse, live? There are times when history feels quickened. When the merciless maw of barbarism cannot be avoided. But there are moments every step along the way which give us a window of reprieve. A chance at redemption. A space to build solidarity with others of like mind and spirit. Others who cannot stand silent or paralyzed while the heel of ruthless hatred stamps out our very humanity. It is up to us to seize those moments when we can, because they can often lead us toward preventing unthinkable atrocities. I believe this is one of those moments, but I also believe that it is rapidly fading away.
Kenn Orphan September 2020