President Donald Trump’s long-advertised and planned coup d’etat and insurrection – backed by a mobilisation of armed fascists – was long in the making and is not yet over. Its repercussions in American political life are set to continue long after Trump has vacated the White House. And the fascist genie remains out of the bottle, as extremists plan protests on January 20.
Right-wing extremists – in and beyond the Republican party – allied with their police and other supporters are already planning nationwide attacks and protests on January 20, the day of the inauguration of President-elect Joseph Biden. They have been emboldened by Trump’s support for their insurrectionary invasion of the Capitol building on January 6, and encouraged by somewhat diminished but largely continued loyalty to Trump among Republican leaders and voters.
From evidence emerging in the past few days, it is clear that the storming of the Capitol was coordinated from the White House and involved the Capitol police, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Defence and Homeland Security. A full independent and public inquiry is required to investigate the extent of the conspiracy that enabled, facilitated, aided and abetted the fascist attempt to prevent Congress from certifying the verified results of the 2020 presidential elections.
Biden calls out Trump and GOP Big Lie technique
For all his relative passivity since his election victory, Biden has called out the Nazi character of the forces that Trump has amassed and enabled from the White House, allied to his white supremacist advisers and officials. Biden noted the ‘Big Lie’ technique Trump and his allies in the GOP have championed – the constant repetition of a lie until it so confuses people that it becomes an accepted ‘truth’ to millions. Biden has compared Trump’s mendacity machine to that of Hitler’s propaganda minister, Goebbels.
Biden has also openly stated what is obvious to anyone with eyes to see that had it been Black Lives Matter protestors who had dared to storm the Capitol, they would have been “treated very, very differently than the mob of thugs that stormed the Capitol. We all know that’s true…” There is little doubt that there would have been a massacre in Washington, DC.
He might have added that peaceful anti-fascists were teargassed, flash-bombed, pepper-sprayed and shot throughout 2020’s nationwide demonstrations against racist police violence. Indeed, police and sheriffs across the US protected and mobilised armed right-wing extremists during those peaceful protests.
And Biden should have acknowledged and rued the fact that the national leadership of the Democratic party did not lift a finger against such police violence and called for police crackdowns and extra powers to suppress peaceful marches and rallies.
Yet, this may well represent Biden’s finest hour, to call out storm-trooper politics and its GOP allies, and help sweep into history’s dustbin the fascistic Donald Trump.
Writing on the wall
Observers have pointed out that the writing was on the wall on January 6, for anyone willing to look. There was the storming last summer by armed white supremacists of the Michigan state legislature and attempts to kidnap and execute the Democratic Governor Whitmer, and subsequent arrest by the FBI of over a dozen right-wing extremists, including from groups well represented on January 6. The same threats were made against the governor of Virginia and other states.
There were and are Trump-directed threats, followed by death threats, against Democratic and Republican election officials across Georgia, Arizona and other states, and the branding of anyone who dissented as ‘traitors’. There were good reasons why the fascist mob wanted to ‘execute’ Vice President Mike Pence as they poured through the police-opened doors of the Capitol – Trump had already declared him a traitor.
It was clear that Trump returned to the White House earlier than expected from his Christmas break precisely in order to coordinate the messaging, planning and execution of a violent attempt to overturn the election by any means necessary. This was clear as day to everyone except the police.
The insurrection was planned
According to the Wall Street Journal – a staunch ally of right-wing authoritarianism and the Trump regime – there was no routine “threat assessment” by either the FBI or the Department of Homeland Security regarding the planned and publicised pro-Trump demonstrations. Such assessments are routinely made ahead of peaceful leftist and anti-fascist demonstrations. Why would there be if the administration aims to violently overthrow the election and keep Trump in office as the Great Leader?
The Washington Post noted that the Department of Defence had disarmed the Washington DC national guard ahead of the rally, knowing it would delay mobilisation and deployment should the need arise: The Post noted that “the Pentagon prohibited the District’s guardsmen from receiving ammunition or riot gear, interacting with protestors unless necessary for self-defense, sharing equipment with local law enforcement, or using Guard surveillance and air assets without the defense secretary’s explicit sign-off…”
Videos of Capitol police opening barriers to protestors, and stepping aside to allow them into the Capitol building, have become available. PBS sources claim that they and several congressmen and women barricaded themselves into a room, and prayed for their lives, after seeing police abandoning their posts inside the building.
And, oh yes, there are numerous official reports showing large-scale white supremacist and right-wing militia infiltration of America’s police and other law enforcement agencies. A 2017 FBI report showed that white supremacists pose a “persistent threat of lethal violence” that has produced more fatalities than any other category of domestic terrorists since 2000. Internal FBI policy documents also warned agents assigned to domestic terrorism cases that the white supremacist and anti-government militia groups they investigate often have “active links” to law enforcement officials. Unsurprisingly, few police departments prohibit officers from joining white supremacist organisations, while the Department of Justice has no strategy to deal with the issue.
No threat assessment, prevention of prior preparation, infiltrated police forces, and officers to open the doors and step aside. This is the stuff that coups are made of.
Billionaires stand behind Trumpism
There is little that is truly spontaneous about what’s been happening in US right-wing politics for the past two decades at least. And despite our yearning to hold a specific individual responsible, monstrous though his regime is, individuals are enabled by forces and conditions beyond their control or making.
The most significant driver in the development of right-wing populism arises from specific initiatives of billionaire right-wing donor networks, especially the Koch brothers’ complex. This includes the Mercer and DeVos families and Sheldon Adelson, among others who are central to Koch donor networks. They disagree on aspects of Trump’s ‘conservatism’ and leadership style, but share a love of limited government (with coercive policing), corporate welfare, low taxes and a war on the poor.
According to research at Harvard University, from around 2003, Koch et al united and invested billions of dollars to build a major ecosystem of faux grassroots (astroturf) organisations, and networked with policy advocacy, ideological and protest groups staffed by over 2.5 million largely paid ‘volunteers’ across the US.
The Tea Party exploded onto the scene, with Koch network funding and organisational support in and around the GOP across numerous states, driving the party’s elected representatives further to the right than GOP’s own voters. They created the machinery for the extreme right that provided the platform for Trump’s racist ‘birther’ movement, his incendiary 2016 election campaign, and mobilisation of white supremacists and neo-Nazis in the country.
The GOP establishment called those right-wingers ‘bomb-throwers’. They knew what was happening and aided, abetted and appeased the extreme right; indeed, they benefitted electorally in 2010, declaring President Barack Obama an illegitimate president leading an illegitimate political party. In 2020, they refused to challenge Trump’s lies about the election results. The gap between right-wing-inspired, propaganda-induced beliefs and real-world realities opened into a chasm, as the US sank into post-truth politics.
But the Koch-constructed infrastructure of extremism was also aided by the likes of the Heritage Foundation, whose leaders had declared as far back as 1991 that they wished to build a ‘conservative’ establishment of media, think-tanks and advocacy groups to wrest power from liberals and the left. Billionaire Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News was surely one of their greatest triumphs, though it’s now victim of the monster its own news division under Roger Ailes created.
That Koch-manufactured ecosystem blossomed, showered with millions of dollars of ‘dark money’, was used during the Trump years: particularly by the far right to organise protests, including armed resistance to COVID-19 lockdowns. Though encouraged by Trump, they were not and are not subject entirely to his or GOP control.
Trump’s ‘truthful hyperbole’ – key to mass manipulation
President Trump has long understood mass psychology and manipulation. Biden categorised him correctly – Trump is in the mould of the greatest liars in world politics. In his 1987 book Art of the Deal, Trump outlined the notion of ‘truthful hyperbole’: “I play to people’s fantasies … People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular. I call it truthful hyperbole. It’s an innocent form of exaggeration.” Not that innocent when applied to baseless claims of election fraud, the illegitimacy of political opposition, and demands for total cult-like loyalty from all – and a coup d’etat against democratic government.
As ever, Antonio Gramsci, the great anti-fascist leader of the Italian communist party and intellectual, summed it up. He might have been writing about Trump himself – though he was actually analysing the politics of Benito Mussolini. For Gramsci, fascist politics was all about the “creation of concrete fantasy”, the mobilisation of the “irrational elements in the human psyche”. The aim? Nothing less than to move “a dispersed and shattered people to arouse and organise its collective will…”
If politics is perception, perception is reality, and facts become malleable. Alternative facts are always available. And that’s the terrain on which Trump acts so effectively, his message honed, his language incendiary, inciting violence. And conservative Americans – bombarded with a sophisticated propaganda fact-producing machine for decades which have engineered a new hardwired common sense – believe they are victims, who have lost position and power in “their” country to minorities, immigrants and ungrateful foreigners. And they retain almost complete faith in Donald Trump – he remains approved of by almost 90% of Republican voters, and not held responsible for what happened at the Capitol by almost 70% of them.
And it’s not over yet
There are economic, geographical and racial divisions in the American electorate that demonstrate a deep schism, a rupture, in the social fabric. Add to that support for Trump that is immune to the impacts of his incitements to political violence against all opponents, including Republicans who dare stand up to intimidation.
Factor in rival sources of news and information, Fox for Republicans and CNN, MSNBC, ABC, etc., for Democrats, and there appear near-unbridgeable rifts in American society. Fox, which has lost right-wing viewers since the 2020 election, seems to be winning them back with supportive coverage of the January 6 Capitol storming. Some of their interviewees peddled a new conspiracy theory: that anti-fascists had infiltrated the protest and instigated the insurrection, leading to five deaths.
The mental maps occupied by American voters amplify the other divisions, fears and anxieties. And their sense of the ‘enemy within’. Mentally, they appear to live in different countries, in different realities, believing different truths.
Despite public intellectual Henry Giroux’s claims that “we no longer live in the shadow of authoritarianism.. [but] have tipped over into the abyss,” the public reaction to the fascist storming of the Capitol amid calls for Trump’s removal from office, suggest that opposition to fascism remains powerful.
Nevertheless, Giroux is right to suggest that “Under Trump’s rule, lies, ignorance, encouragement of white supremacy and thirst for violence has taken on a more lethal direction….These forces have deep historical roots in the United States”.
And those forces have a future in Biden’s America, as Trump’s law enforcement agencies prepare to “protect” the January 20 inauguration.