Does Facism Have A Chance in America?
“We are living through a battle for the soul of this nation. The giant forward steps we have taken in recent years on civil liberties and civil rights and human rights are being met by a ferocious pushback from the oldest and darkest forces in America.”
This is not Abraham Lincoln talking. It’s Joe Biden and he made this comment the other day in response to what Trump has been saying or not saying about neo-Nazis, white supremacists and all the other ‘hate’ groups who seem to have emerged since the 45th Presidnt was inaugurated on January 20, 2017. And now that the Breitbart contingent has been booted out of the Oval Office, does this mean that the ‘darkest forces in America’ may decide it’s time to launch the second civil war?
Judging by the guns and gear that some of them were carrying around during the Charlottesville events, the far-right hate groups certainly seem ready to move towards some kind of armed revolt. And what better proof do we need about the looming possibility of armed violence than the videos produced by the National Rifle Association which call upon the membership to raise a ‘clenched fist’ against those who would stop at nothing to prevent America from becoming great again?
The Southern Poverty Law Center tracks the existence and activities of the various hate groups which, according to their data, have been on the rise since 2000 and have been getting bigger and bolder since 2008. I guess this is what Biden is referring to when he talks about the ‘darkest forces,’ but the problem is that a ‘group’ can consist of 2 people or 200 people or 2,000 people, and the fact that someone puts up a website or a Facebook page really doesn’t say anything about the size of any particular group at all. The SPLC says there are currently 917 hate groups in the U.S. with at least one group operating in every state, but we don’t have any membership numbers, so who knows what it really means.
For example, there are supposedly 80 or so neo-Nazi groups operating in every state except Maine, Alaska and Hawaii, the largest being something called the National Socialist Movement which appears to ‘operate’ out of a post office box in Detroit. The so-called ‘commander’ of this outfit is a 44-year old named Jeff Schoep who shows up at various public venues with the obvious intention of saying something that will piss everyone off. A bunch of these jerks marched down the street in Charlottesville yelling anti-Semitic slurs, the odds that this group represented any of what Trump called ‘good people’ is zero to none. On their website, the NSM claims to be the ‘largest’ National Socialist party in America. And while they state that the two-party system is ‘flawed,’ they have never run a candidate for any elected office of any kind.
I drilled down a bit to get a better sense of the threat posed by the neo-Nazi bunch and took a look at the neo-Nazi group operating in Idaho. Why Idaho? Because this state is also a home base for the militia movement, whose armed members showed up at Charlottesville in full battle regalia to ‘protect’ everyone from everyone else. I’ll get back to the militia groups in a second, but as regards the Idaho neo-Nazis, known as ‘Endangered Souls 519,’ of course they have a website and Facebook page and subscribe to the precepts of David Lane, who was an early white supremacist and coined a phrase known as ’14 words,’ which is routinely chanted by racist demonstrators: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.”
I know this 14-word business sounds stupid as hell but Lane is considered the true ‘martyr’ of all hate groups because he ended up dying in prison after being convicted of being part of a gang that shot and killed a Jewish radio talk show host in 1985. Over the years various white supremacist groups and individuals have engaged in random acts of violence, but the neo-Nazi bunch in Idaho appear to be about as dangerous and violent as any group of beer-drinking, Harley-riding, post-adolescent infants could be. In fact, looking closely at the pictures on their website, the entire bunch seem to number less than 10 people, and that’s if you include several wives and kids.
The idea that this neo-Nazi movement could constitute the slightest threat to civil society is a joke, even when they align themselves with the other right-wing screwballs, for example, the so-called militias who showed up at Charlottesville. The SPLC considers militias to be a sub-group of what they call ‘extreme antigovernment groups’ which total roughly 600 groups of which 165 are militia organizations. Like the neo-Nazis, the militias also appear to have representation in all 50 states and again the existence of a group doesn’t particularly mean that they have any significant membership.
One of the most famous militia groups is located in Michigan and became notorious when it turned out that Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols may have attended several meetings before bombing the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995. Most of the members quit the Michigan militia once the media and law enforcement began nosing around; they claimed to have had several thousand members in the good old days, now the organization counts ‘several hundred,’ most of whom appear to be middle-age, overweight guys playing an adult kind of Boy Scouts game with walkie-talkies, camo outfits and real guns.
For the most part the militia groups aren’t as hard-core, unregenerate assholes as the white supremacists or the neo-Nazis, but they are solidly conservative in their political and social views, and even if they claim to be primarily concerned with keeping the community ‘safe,’ they usually believe that safety is threatened most of all by the national state, particularly when the political hue of the national is blue. For all their hot air and loose talk about how patriotism is a non-partisan affair, the bottom line is that militia patriots have a funny way of defining every issue in terms of Right versus Left, and they always end up on the Right.
Let’s pretend that these three slices of right-wing activity — white supremacy, neo-Nazi, militias — all got together and announced they were going to challenge the ‘progressive movement’ in a physical and violent sort of way. How big would their army actually be? Altogether, there are roughly 900 such groups in the United States with five states — California, Texas, Florida, New York and Virginia — counting 286, and five more states — Pennsylvania, Ohio, Tennessee, Georgia and Illinois — counting another 177. In other words, 10 states are home to half the hate groups active throughout the country as whole.
On the other hand, the manner by which the SPLC designates these various groups as being part of Biden’s ‘darkest forces’ coalition is not only arbitrary, but creates a false impression about what many of these groups actually do. For example, Michigan has 28 groups, which places it above the average number for all states. But 6 of these groups are Black separatist organizations, including several Nation of Islam operations, and there’s also a Holocaust denial group, Deir Yassin, which in fact is an international group containing Jewish members which advocates for Palestinian rights. Believe me, this bunch isn’t about to march down the street behind a Nazi flag.
What are we atlking about numbers-wise? Would all these organizations together count half a million or more? I suspect the actual number would be half that or less because I am assuming that probably 450 of the 900 ‘hate’ organizations exist only on a website and don’t have any membership activity at all, and the remainder probably average, at best, 200 members which gets us up to 90,000, and in many states this would be far beyond what the real membership count ought to be.
If you are thinking that the problem lies not in the existence of some hard-core, revolutionary types but much more in terms of general attitudes shared by folks on the Right, the metrics for where people get their information and form their attitudes also runs counter to the prevailing idea that far-right ideologues play a major role in what Americans read, hear and believe.
Looking at the numbers from SimilarWeb, over the last 3 months the Breitbart website has been visited 85,000 times. During that same 3-month period, the website of The New York Times has been visited 674,000 times. In fact, Breitbart has dropped from 62,000 in May to just over 10,000 in July. No wonder Bannon rushed out of the White House to return to his Breitbart gig — if visits keep dropping the way they have dropped over the last several months, Breitbart might be going the way of the print edition of the Village Voice. As for the Old Lady in midtown Manhattan, web traffic went from 69,000 in May to 425,000 in July. What are these pundits talking about when they bemoan the ‘disappearance’ of the ‘mainstream’ press?
The total 3-month web visits, May — July for Drudge, Fox and Breitbart were 1.2 billion, 70% of that represented by 803 million for Fox. For the same three-month period, website visits for The New York Times, Washington Post and CNN were 2.4 billion, with 50% being for the ‘fake news’ CNN. So for all the talk about how the liberal, mainstream media is losing the communication battle against the alt-right, the actual web visit numbers show exactly the reverse.
In the aftermath of the election many progressives experienced a shock because we took for granted that a majority of Americans believed in the democratic process and the rule of law. Seemingly out of nowhere we ended up with a proto-Fascist who panders to the most extreme alt-right, alt-white base and this makes some people believe that liberalism would be eclipsed by a new Fascist and racist tide.
I’m not saying that armed goons from the neo-Nazi or militias don’t pose a threat against a specific individual or in a specific situation such as turning up at a public meeting of some progressive group. But the truth is that just as the alt-right, alt-white and their spiritual leader sitting in the Oval Office need to promote the idea that the ‘radical Left’ is a serious threat, so creating a bogey-man out of whole cloth to spur political support and donations can work both ways.
I agree with Paul Krugman (which I rarely do) when he says that 20% of the electorate might hold proto-Fascist beliefs which can be exploited by a media manipulator like Donald Trump. But let’s not lose sight of the forest just because we can’t yet figure out what to do with one big tree. Trump’s a phony, his support depends on the endless and unquenched thirst for extremist rhetoric generated by social media, and he may have won a battle but he sure isn’t winning the war.