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July 11

“What if Trump won’t accept 2020 defeat?”

That’s the headline of a Politico article published this month; its a question which has been raised repeatedly, both by the president’s opponents and, more threateningly, by his allies. The article goes on to catalogue the evidence of this suspicion: in 2016, the president demurred when asked if he would accept a campaign loss, while he simultaneously began churning out propaganda about voter fraud to preemptively delegitimize the election result. Jerry Falwell Jr. is among the reactionary voices suggesting that the president’s term should be extended, as retribution for a treasonous plot to illegally unseat him.

Trump himself “joked” about enjoying a quadruple term like FDR, and he recently retweeted a meme showing his campaigns extending into successive decades. He mused about eliminating term limits altogether, as the Chinese government has. The article lists Republicans who brush off the issue as mere histrionics from political enemies, and Democrat lawmakers who express concern, but also assert their trust in police and judges to assure a peaceful transition of power. Ultimately, the very framework of the question misses the true danger of 2020: that the modern American fascist movement will have every reason to make this their most ambitious and most violent escalation to date. Focusing on the president’s willingness to obey the rule of law misses the more pressing danger of a Republican party which is openly embracing an antidemocratic program, and within which American fascism is rapidly metastasizing out of control.

The president has comfortable circumstances surrounding his 2020 run. Historically, even unpopular presidents can be handily reelected when economic growth – a flimsy term which nonetheless plays well in the news cycle – can be waved at the public. The asymmetrical nature of the American electoral system means that if certain conditions were met, Trump could secure a second term with as little as a single electoral vote, even if he lost the popular vote by millions, and lost some of the states he won in 2016. The GOP has been strengthening its minoritarian position with voter purges, ID laws, gerrymandering, and in some cases outright destruction of ballots.

Should the election result in a legal conflict, the president has a 5-4 rubber stamp Supreme Court in his pocket. The public is anxious to see if any Democrat challenger can overcome such a heavily fortified position, and the media is, predictably, organizing a feverish cycle of early horserace coverage. But with so much anticipation surrounding the election still 18 months away, almost no attention is being paid to rumblings of Trumpists themselves, who are keen to make their intentions known: they have rejected all authority, save for that of their president, and they consider challenges to his supreme will tantamount to treason. Furthermore, they are willing to use any means, even paramilitarism, to defend their party.

At an Orlando rally, ordinary Trumpists were joined by their blackshirt counterparts, the Proud Boys, who have survived the general atrophy which claimed almost every other faction of the original alt-right. While the president spat his pronouncements to an audience of shrieking fanatics, demonizing immigrants and condemning the entire Democratic party and is supporters as “hateful socialists” who threaten the stability of the nation, outside, the Proud Boys attempted to seek out a nearby anti-Trump protest. They were unsuccessful in finding their victims, and were given only a smattering of coverage by mainstream news organizations. Though their presence was largely ignored by the press, a New York Times reporter captured them parading past bystanders, chanting “Pinochet did nothing wrong” and flashing white power hand signs, openly reasserting their commitments to both white nationalism and anti-leftist murder as a political tool.

Times reporter Trip Gabriel reached out to an unnamed GOP operative who confirmed that while the party doesn’t acknowledge or openly condone the violence of fascist street gangs, they are fully aware of the Proud Boys as an allied faction: “They don’t care,” the operative explained. “Staff are to treat it like a coalition they can’t talk about.” No GOP official was willing to comment on whether they were open to the Proud Boys’ presence at future events, but the gang have clearly stated they intend to be a fixture of Trump’s 2020 campaign.

‘”They don’t care,” the operative explained. “Staff are to treat it like a coalition they can’t talk about.” No GOP official was willing to comment on whether they were open to the Proud Boys’ presence at future events…”

At this point, the violent exploits of the Proud Boys is commonly known. Founder Gavin McInnes publicly declared in 2016 that the Proud Boys’ general message to their opposition was “we will kill you.” The next year his followers would be present (and helped organize) the deadly white nationalist attack on Charlottesville. Brien James, a neo-nazi member of the Vinlanders – connected to at least nine murders nationwide – served as the Indiana chapter representative. Member Reggie Axtell publicly threatened Mayor Ted Wheeler of Portland, where the gang and its associates have been filmed brutalizing protesters and bystanders alike in vicious attacks. In New York, after commemorating the on-air assassination of a Japanese socialist politician among members of the Metropolitan Republican Club, Proud Boy members attempted to stomp a protester to death and assaulted others, all under the watchful eye of the local police.

Unlike most fascist groups, the Boys have been successful in maintaining this level of aggression while also securing legitimacy on the political stage, as evidenced by their close relationship with GOP notables, most famously Roger Stone, for whom they provided “security” in 2018. But the Proud Boys also serve as an intermediary between the “face” of the Trumpist bloc and its less-welcome militant supporters; the Proud Boys have rubbed elbows with the Three-Percenter and Oathkeeper militias, as well as Identity Evropa (now called the American Identity Movement), the white nationalist group which has successfully recruited both active military members and law enforcement officers. As their bona fides within the GOP have gradually solidified, the Proud Boys’ propensity for violence has matured, and now they are fully emboldened to act as a militant wing of the Republican Party itself. This begs the question of what these fascist street gangs will feel entitled to do during election season, considering their open admiration for the state-sponsored murder of leftists.

The past three years have seen a massive spike in white supremacist and fascist violence; multiple mass shootings and even a serial bombing attempt should have, by now, made clear how bloodthirsty the American fascist movement has become. But behind those headline-grabbing acts of destruction are quieter, less high profile, or less successful attempts to militarize and mobilize fascists to suppress political opposition. GOP representative Matt Shea of Washington was discovered taking part in a chat group with far-right extremists, including Anthony Bosworth, who participated in the Malheur national wildlife refuge occupation in 2016. They proposed intimidating suspected leftists by targeting their homes, places of work, or the daycare centers where their children were cared for, and fantasized about torturing leftist captives. Shea also publicly encouraged his constituents to arm themselves in preparation for anti-leftist violence. Rep. Steve King, an open white nationalist still serving in the party, has broadcast his musings on a “second civil war.”

Numerous attempts have been made to either reach out privately to Republican politicians for support, a major objective of Identity Evropa, or for white nationalists to secure public office, as with James Allsup, Arthur Jones, and Patrick Little. Within this coalition of openly violent fascists can be found more organized cells, such as the aforementioned militias, and the United Constitutional Patriots, the paramilitary group which claims responsibility for the kidnapping of thousands of migrants at the border, and whose leader plainly stated to the FBI his preferred method of immigration control would be exterminating migrants with firing squads “like the Hitler days.”

This is to say nothing of the continuing wave of individual white nationalist attacks which has terrorized the public, including arsons, bombings, stabbings, beatings, and acts of intimidation. But perhaps the most audacious act of fascist repression has arisen in Oregon, where a confluence of Republican representatives, supporters, and paramilitaries managed to literally hold the state legislature hostage.

As senators in Salem prepared to vote on House Bill 2020, a bill modeled after California’s cap-and-trade fossil fuel legislation, 11 Republican senators fled the state and crossed the Idaho border in secret. When governor Kate Brown announced her readiness to use state police to retrieve the senators, all hell broke loose. Writing for Rolling Stone, Tim Dickinson dissected the dumfounding incident:

“Massive logging trucks circled the streets around the capitol, flying American flags in their truck beds and blasting horns, as hundreds of right-wing protesters rallied in support of Oregon’s fugitive GOP senators, whose week-long walkout appears to have killed the state’s ambitious cap-and-trade climate legislation. The rally was a show of force for rural Oregonians. Hundreds of demonstrators, mostly white men, some in hard hats, some wearing camo and hunting orange, many sporting unruly beards, spilled out over the steps in front of the statehouse. The plastic tanks of an irrigation truck parked out front were spray-painted with the words “NO ON HB 2020” — referring to the climate bill. A cluster of III% militiamen gathered in black sweatshirts reading ‘When Tyranny Becomes Law, Rebellion Becomes Duty.’

John Hanlin, sheriff for rural Douglas County in southern Oregon, took to the mic in uniform with a broadside of cultural lament: “This state was built by the timber industry and by farms, ranchers, construction and other blue collar industries,” he said. “Not on coffee businesses and marijuana dispensaries.” Inside, the cavernous senate chamber was hauntingly empty, echoing with the honking of rigs, it’s business ground to a halt for an eighth day…

Oregon Democrats won a supermajority in the 2018 midterms, so the GOP no longer has the votes to block legislation. But the state’s constitution requires a quorum to conduct business. In the 30-seat state senate that means that if more than 10 of the state’s 30 senators don’t show up for work, nothing moves. Eleven GOP senators have fled the state. ‘We cannot conduct business unless we have a quorum,’ Oregon’s Senate Majority Leader Ginny Burdick tells Rolling Stone. The GOP walkouts, she says, ‘are exploiting that, in violation of their oath of office…’

Before leaving Salem, one GOP state senator, Brian Boquist, responded with incendiary rhetoric. On the floor of the chamber, he first threatened the state senate president, Peter Courtney, saying: ‘If you send the State Police to get me, Hell’s coming to visit you personally.’He later menaced state troopers themselves: “Send bachelors and come heavily armed,” he said on camera. ‘I’m not going to be a political prisoner in the state of Oregon…’

As Republicans scurried from the state, right-wing militia groups threw fuel on the fire, drawing national media coverage. One anti-government III% militia leader vowed on Facebook to provide security and transportation for the Republicans on the run. Militias in Idaho, where several were heading, also offered aid and comfort.”

The Oregon GOP, unable to secure the consent of the public, has instead simply made the act of governance impossible without their personal say-so. This act of antidemocratic extremism represents the pinnacle of American fascist achievement, perhaps even moreso than the construction of concentration camps on the southern border. Republicans have tacitly cooperated with their paramilitary supporters, in defiance of even the state police, in service to the greater party doctrine and their president, to thwart the will of a public majority using the undisguised threat of violence. That this gambit was successful in killing HB 2020, and that it has gone unpunished, is a graver omen than most people realize.

The fascist program hinges upon the ability of a radicalized party to bully, intimidate, and pummel citizens into submission. Under the Nazi regime, this was done as much through police crackdowns on leftists, as by the brownshirts conducting their own purges of dissenters by brutalizing strangers who refused to perform the Roman salute on command. In this way, fascists – who did not enjoy majority support in either Germany or Italy – secure their power not by winning popular allegiance, but by making dissidence too costly, and thereby forcibly extracting obedience from a cowed population. And now that the rank-and-file Republican knows they are capable of overturning the democratic process through sheer obstinance and brutality, what is to stop them from capitalizing on that strategy?

“This act of antidemocratic extremism represents the pinnacle of American fascist achievement, perhaps even moreso than the construction of concentration camps on the southern border.”

Consider how this atmosphere of violence, the rapacity of fascist gangs, and the tacit or active approval of GOP representatives might crescendo during the 2020 election. In 2016, the same year he started the rumor of “millions” of votes illegally cast against him by undocumented residents at the direction of Democrat opponents, the president was encouraging his supporters to monitor polling stations in “certain areas,” because, as he coyly put it, “you know what I’m talking about.” In 2018, he attempted to pass legislation which would have allowed him to dispatch Secret Service agents to investigate polling places. Militia members could easily take it upon themselves to apply for poll monitoring positions or, failing that, simply deputize themselves and show up with hardware in hand. The president will almost certainly throw fuel on that fire by once again broadcasting propaganda about voter fraud, only this time, Tucker Carlson’s white nationalist television program might be holding a bullhorn to the president’s lips.

The fact that the Republicans of Oregon found themselves at odds with the police might seem to lend credence to the belief that if the president refused to obey a peaceful transition of power, law enforcement would act on behalf of the republic and remove him. The reality, of course, is that swaths of the police have been thoroughly radicalized themselves, and the Oregon incident is merely an eventual outcome of fascist mobilization; it is loyalty to the party, not to state machinery, that determines who fascists will consider an ally. American police are completely compromised by fascist influence. While the split between Republican and Democratic voters among the police is larger than one might expect, Trump secured the endorsement of the Fraternal Order of Police, which has a membership of 300,000 and is itself a ferocious reactionary organization. The more obvious measure of police support for the American fascist movement is how frequently law enforcement have assisted fascist vigilantes with their operations.

It was in 2016 that Sacramento police responded to the stabbing of 10 antifascists by first denying that the Golden State Skinheads were responsible for the violence, then by letting the neo-Nazi attackers off with light charges, and finally cooperating with them to track down and charge counterprotesters of various crimes, including one of the stabbing victims, himself a journalist covering the event.

In April of 2017 at the first Berkeley riot, police pursued a “hands off” approach to the violence of the day, but only after taking away the shields of antifascist protesters and leaving the reactionary invaders fully armed – Richard Black, an organizer of the event, claimed he had coordinated this approach with local police, and that officers agreed to enforce a non-existent permit to allow the alt-right rally to occur in the first place. Police have repeatedly, unnecessarily, released the information of antifascist and anti-racist protesters after their arrests, knowing this makes them vulnerable to vigilante reprisals. During the aforementioned Proud Boy attack in New York, local police refused to intervene as gang members stomped repeatedly on a protester’s head. Oregon has been a particularly egregious site of police collaboration with fascists: Portland police Lt. Jeff Niiya was caught texting with Patriot Prayer organizer Joey Gibson, instructing him both on how to avoid being arrested on warrant during a rally, and updating him on the location of counterprotesters.

In one 2017 Portland rally a police officer cooperated with an Oathkeeper milita member to conduct the arrest of a protester. The next year, at another rally, after directing local fascists on how to avoid being checked for weapons, police opened fire preemptively on antifascist demonstrators. Not only did they nearly kill one protester, whose bike helmet saved them from having their skull crushed by a flashbang grenade, but afterward, police falsely claimed they were attacked first and were forced to defend themselves with non-lethal rounds. Footage provided by Unicorn Riot reporters proved this to be a lie, and photographs captured the police responsible for the flashbang injury laughing after the shells hit. This past month, in Denver, an antifascist activist was attacked while taking down Patriot Front stickers; they were gutted so badly they were forced to hold their own intestines while waiting for an ambulance. Police declined to press charges.

This is to say nothing of the presence of active white nationalist members within both the police and military of America. In a study by the Plain View Project, which attempts to shed a light on radicalization within police departments, about one in five police officers’ social media accounts included violent and/or racist rhetoric. Two Virginia officers were fired in February of this year over their connections to white nationalist groups – Robert A. Stamm of the Asatru Folk Assembley and Daniel Morley of Identity Evropa, respectively. Raymond Mott of Louisiana was fired in 2017 after photos surfaced of his connections to the Klan. Christopher Matthias of the Huffington Post announced in April that the publication had located 11 active investigations of servicepersons accused of being members of white supremacist groups. The next month, Lt. Christopher Paul Hasson of the Coast Guard was discovered to have a cache of weapons and a hit list of his political enemies, including Representatives Ocasio-Cortez and Omar, along withany and all members of the DSA.

Rural sheriffs, like those currently supporting the Oregon GOP in their defiance of the public will, are particularly conspicuous allies of the white nationalist cause: some 300 sheriffs are members of the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association (CSPOA), an outgrowth of the reactionary Posse Comitatus movement, which itself has served since the ’60s as a vehicle for white nationalism thinly disguised as a movement of “patriots.” In 2013, in St. Charles, Missouri, the CSPOA held a national convention; in attendance was Stewart Rhodes, founder of the Oathkeepers, and Representative Matt Shea of Washington. Then-AG Jeff Sessions, when speaking before the National Sheriff’s Association in 2018, declared “The office of sheriff is a critical part of the Anglo-American heritage of law enforcement.”

The grim truth is this: the Trump regime has bred a fully-formed American fascist party, which is now fundamentally at odds not just with its cultural opponents, but with democracy itself. The GOP has, through means both direct and indirect, aligned itself with a movement of fascist vigilantes, law enforcement collaborators, and corrupt officials all committed to the hazily-outlined establishment of a white authoritarian ethnostate.

In support of this mission, the Republican party has engaged in rampant sabotage of the democratic system: fundamentally reshaping the judiciary, shifting the ideological center of the Supreme Court rightward through dubious appointments, and engaging in a sustained campaign of voter suppression including the tampering of ballots, the stripping of powers for incoming Democratic legislatures, and recently, gaining a favorable ruling from the Supreme Court which allows gerrymandering to take place of the explicit purpose of favoring one party. This, of course, effectively allows for racially-motivated redistricting. And now, in Oregon. American fascists have managed to use the threat of lethal force to unilaterally kill popular legislation proposed by a supermajority of elected representatives, underwritten by a majority of the citizenry.

“This is the groundwork for a nightmarish conclusion to 2020, whether or not Trump wins a second term. Trump himself has expressed a coy fondness for international authoritarians who can disappear journalists and overturn election results, free from the shackles of public consent.”

This is the groundwork for a nightmarish conclusion to 2020, whether or not Trump wins a second term. Trump himself has expressed a coy fondness for international authoritarians who can disappear journalists and overturn election results, free from the shackles of public consent. His followers revere those reactionary death squads who ran roughshod over a population opposed to their hateful politics, killing and brutalizing their enemies with the support of heavily-armed police. His supporters in the state are gradually entrenching their power to the point that one party is significantly more powerful than the other, despite widespread public opposition to their agenda. It is imperative that liberationists of all stripes recognize the situation we are in: while lawless thugs terrorize political prisoners in concentration camps at the border, the government is teetering on the precipice of a chain-reaction breakdown.

The major threat of fascism comes from its appeasement. Each time fascist elements are capitulated to in good faith, each time they swear their latest transgression or violent outburst is the last, each time the public defends them from their critics on the grounds of civility or fairness, the fascist learns that they are exempt from the rules of society, and they rush to take advantage of the privilege afforded to them. They will accept nothing less than absolute totalitarian control; a nation in which whites are held superior in the written and unwritten law alike, where women are kept in bondage through the denial of their autonomy, where heteronormativity is a prerequisite for full citizenship, where Christian theocracy is common law, where Fortress America is somehow both in command of the international community and simultaneously divorced from it as an isolationist ethnostate.

This is not hyperbole, but the actual rationale being expressed by the Republican platform and its legislative decisions. We have already seen the mad twinkling of this vision in the eyes of Trumpists; we now live with the terrible knowledge that millions of Americans were always feigning their polite “cultural conservative” objections, always waiting for the chance to carry out an ethnic cleansing campaign, to watch starved babies die in the arms of their mothers for daring to pollute American soil with their presence. If 2020 becomes a year in which fascist violence and political arson escalates, or worse, is paired with an electoral victory, there is no telling what nightmare will be born from the failure of our society to stand firm and proclaim, “no farther.”

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