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Hitler and his fellow fascists in 1930

A photo dated October 22, 1930 shows the 107 national socialist (Fascist) members of the German Reichstag assembled in a room at the Reichstag building for a rally before the opening session of the legislative body in which they now rank as second strongest. At the head of the table in dark suit is Hitler, whose rise to power as head of the German Fascists, had by that point caught the attention of the entire world, though he had yet to take full power at this point. (Photo:Bettmann / Contributor / via Getty Images)

History Has Told Us Where This Could Lead

The ominous path towards fascism is very much a choice during Tuesday's election.

Chuck Idelson

Voters this Tuesday will pass judgment on an existential emergency facing the nation. Despite the efforts of some Democrats to normalize the historic trend favoring the minority party in midterms, the code blue alarm bells this year have a chillingly different resonance.

Warning signs are everywhere.

  • An escalation of violent threats through mass media, social media, the dark web and internet message boards that culminated in the attempted kidnapping of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the attempted murder of her husband, Paul Pelosi. They’re also acting to “monitor” and intimidate voters at drop boxes and the polls on election day
  • The most openly racist campaigns in years funded by corporate and super rich donors who profited from Trump’s policies. The blitzkrieg, aided by fear mongering, gerrymandering and voter suppression, and often feckless Democratic response, is poised to win control of the House and potentially the Senate, and expand Republican control in many states.
  • A proliferation of federal and state candidates—by 60 percent of GOP nominees—who are both 2020 election deniers, and proponents of overturning any future elections their candidates lose.

MSNBC's Rachel Maddow this week summed up the convergence of election denial, how prominent Republicans, especially those aligned with former President Trump, mitigated the attack on Pelosi, and increased acts of violence by their most fanatic followers.

“You’re telling us what you want your side to be able to do instead of politics to your political opponents. That is the other option if we're not going to have elections anymore,” Maddow said. “It’s either elections or it is force and violence.”

A New York Times editorial echoed the warning, citing “the embrace of conspiratorial and violent ideology and rhetoric by many Republican politicians during and after the Trump presidency, anti-government anger related to the pandemic, disinformation, cultural polarization, the ubiquity of guns and radicalized internet culture, and the insurrection…Taken together, these factors form a social scaffolding that allows for the kind of endemic political violence that can undo a democracy.” The Times undercut the “both sideism” rhetoric cited by the right as justification, noting 26 of 29 extremist-related homicides last year were committed by right-wing extremists.

Similarly, President Biden has stepped up his own alert that “we can’t take democracy for granted any longer,” and “the fate of the nation” is at stake.

At its core, Biden noted, “there is an alarming rise in the number of our people in this country condoning political violence or simply remaining silent because silence is complicity.”

National Nurses United was among those warning “the alarming rise of antisemitic and racist hate speech and attacks on our democratic system are jeopardizing the safety and security of many Americans, and ripping apart the social fabric of our nation,” as NNU president Deborah Burger, RN put it.

Burger cited “dangerous threats that expose political leaders, election workers, and minority communities—including Jews, people of color, LGBTQ+ people, and immigrants—to harassment, intimidation, and violence are a stark warning sign of the erosion of our democracy, into an atmosphere that puts everyone at risk.”

Anti-Black racism has long been a staple of national Republican attack ads, dating to Richard Nixon’s 1968 Silent Majority effort to reverse the gains of the Civil Rights era. But overt racism escalated with attacks on Barack Obama and severely ratcheted up by Trump during his 2016 campaign and his four years of encouraging and enabling white supremacy.

Feeding off what Trump encouraged, campaigns this year have normalized unconcealed racist language targeting Black Democratic candidates like Mandela Barnes in Wisconsin and Stacey Abrams in Georgia.

In a rare candidate endorsement on November 2, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel condemned the “racist and disgraceful” ads against Barnes “hoping to scare voters that the Black man running for Senate is too ‘different’ and too ‘dangerous’ to serve,” and “even intentionally darkened Barnes skin.” Such rhetoric and photo-shop tactics are often used in racist campaigns against Black candidates.

Republican campaigns also accelerated fear mongering on crime with implicitly racist overtones including against many white candidates, often citing "Democrat-run" cities, even though overall crime rates have been stable, most violent crimes are committed by white people, and the highest homicide rates are in Republican dominated states that have the most lax gun safety laws.

Fueled by fears of the nation’s growing diversity, the white supremacist conspiracy known as the “great replacement theory” that posits immigrants and other people of color are supplanting white voters has also been cited by Republican candidates including Senate nominees Blake Masters in Arizona and J.D. Vance in Ohio.

GOP strategists are also seeking to divide communities of color who have been central to a Democratic voting base with poisonous campaign tactics.

Trump's anti-immigrant architect Stephen Miller leads a committee that has flooded battleground states with virulently racist mailers that claim “Joe Biden and left-wing officials are engaged in widespread discrimination against White and Asian Americans.”

Mille's committee also sponsored anti-transgender mailers in Spanish sent to Latino voters in Colorado spouting lies and distortions being channeled to other Democratic leaning voters as well, such as this ad attack in Nevada targeting Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto and Gov. Steve Sisolek.

Antisemitic public expressions, long a staple of the far right, have also mushroomed following statements by Trump repeating his canard that U.S. Jews have dual loyalty to Israel, and a Twitter post by Ye, the performer formerly known as Kanye West, to his nearly 32 million followers that said “Go death con 3 on JEWISH PEOPLE.”

Ye's message was quickly exploited by neo-Nazis who dropped banners over crowded freeways in Los Angeles “Kanye is right about the Jews." The message was similarly screened across a Jacksonville stadium during a major college football game, and across another large building in the city's downtown. The Anti Defamation League (ADL) has reported over 2,700 antisemitic incidents this year, a 34 percent rise over those in 2021, which itself was the highest on record, they said.

There’s another word that describes where this amalgam of tactics leads, one with global historic roots. In his 2004 book “The Anatomy of Fascism,” Robert Paxton defines fascism as “political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation or victimhood… in which a mass based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues (it’s repressive anti-democratic goals) with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints.”

History has told us where that leads. That ominous path and choice is what is on the ballot Tuesday.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Chuck Idelson

Chuck Idelson

Chuck Idelson is the Communications Senior Strategist for National Nurses United, the nation's largest union and professional organization of registered nurses with 175,000 members.

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