When violent right-wingers get away with it …

They keep on going.

I am very afraid that my grandchildren will live in a fascist America.

Read this special report by some Reuters reporters about Trumpsters (that is, fascists) who are getting away with death threats and intimidation of public officials.

Special Report: Reuters unmasks Trump supporters who terrified U.S. election workers

By Linda So and Jason Szep

22 minute read

REUTERS/Tom Brenner

REUTERS/Tom Brenner

Nov 9 (Reuters) – In Arizona, a stay-at-home dad and part-time Lyft driver told the state’s chief election officer she would hang for treason. In Utah, a youth treatment center staffer warned Colorado’s election chief that he knew where she lived and watched her as she slept.

In Vermont, a man who says he works in construction told workers at the state election office and at Dominion Voting Systems that they were about to die.

“This might be a good time to put a f‑‑‑‑‑‑ pistol in your f‑‑‑‑‑‑ mouth and pull the trigger,” the man shouted at Vermont officials in a thick New England accent last December. “Your days are f‑‑‑‑‑‑ numbered.”

The three had much in common. All described themselves as patriots fighting a conspiracy that robbed Donald Trump of the 2020 election. They are regular consumers of far-right websites that embrace Trump’s stolen-election falsehoods. And none have been charged with a crime by the law enforcement agencies alerted to their threats.

They were among nine people who told Reuters in interviews that they made threats or left other hostile messages to election workers. In all, they are responsible for nearly two dozen harassing communications to six election officials in four states. Seven made threats explicit enough to put a reasonable person in fear of bodily harm or death, the U.S. federal standard for criminal prosecution, according to four legal experts who reviewed their messages at Reuters’ request.

These cases provide a unique perspective into how people with everyday jobs and lives have become radicalized to the point of terrorizing public officials. They are part of a broader campaign of fear waged against frontline workers of American democracy chronicled by Reuters this year. The news organization has documented nearly 800 intimidating messages to election officials in 12 states, including more than 100 that could warrant prosecution, according to legal experts.

The examination of the threats also highlights the paralysis of law enforcement in responding to this extraordinary assault on the nation’s electoral machinery. After Reuters reported the widespread intimidation in June, the U.S. Department of Justice launched a task force to investigate threats against election staff and said it would aggressively pursue such cases. But law enforcement agencies have made almost no arrests and won no convictions.

In many cases, they didn’t investigate. Some messages were too hard to trace, officials said. Other instances were complicated by America’s patchwork of state laws governing criminal threats, which provide varying levels of protection for free speech and make local officials in some states reluctant to prosecute such cases. Adding to the confusion, legal scholars say, the U.S. Supreme Court hasn’t formulated a clear definition of a criminal threat.Report ad

For this report, Reuters set out to identify the people behind these attacks on election workers and understand their motivations. Reporters submitted public-records requests and interviewed dozens of election officials in 12 states, obtaining phone numbers and email addresses for two dozen of the threateners.

Reuters was able to interview nine of them. All admitted they were behind the threats or other hostile messages. Eight did so on the record, identifying themselves by name.

In the seven cases that legal scholars said could be prosecuted, law enforcement agencies were alerted by election officials to six of them. The people who made those threats told Reuters they never heard from police.

All nine harassers interviewed by Reuters said they believed they did nothing wrong. Just two expressed regret when told their messages had frightened officials or caused security scares. The seven others were unrepentant, with some saying the election workers deserved the menacing messages.

Ross Miller, a Georgia real-estate investor, warned an official in the Atlanta area that he’d be tarred and feathered, hung or face firing squads unless he addressed voter fraud. In an interview, Miller said he would continue to make such calls “until they do something.” He added: “We can’t have another election until they fix what happened in the last one.”

The harassers expressed beliefs similar to those voiced by rioters who stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6, trying to block Democrat Joe Biden’s certification as president. Nearly all of the threateners saw the country deteriorating into a war between good and evil – “patriots” against “communists.” They echoed extremist ideas popularized by QAnon, a collective of baseless conspiracy theories that often cast Trump as a savior figure and Democrats as villains. Some said they were preparing for civil war. Six were in their 50s or older; all but two were men.

They are part of a national phenomenon. America’s federal elections are administered by state and local officials. But the threateners are targeting workers far from home: Seven of the nine harassed officials in other states. Some targeted election officials in states where Trump lost by substantial margins, such as Colorado – or even Vermont, where Biden won by 35 percentage points.

“These people firmly believe in the ‘Big Lie’ that the former president legitimately won the election,” said Chris Krebs, who ran the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency at the Department of Homeland Security. Krebs was fired by Trump last year for declaring that the 2020 election had been conducted fairly. By terrorizing election officials, he said, they’re effectively acting as Trump’s “foot soldiers.”

A Trump spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment.

Representative John Sarbanes, a Maryland Democrat, introduced legislation in June to make it a federal crime to intimidate, threaten or harass an election worker. The bill, which has not come up for a vote, followed a Reuters investigation into such threats published the same month.

“I think we’re on a dangerous path,” Sarbanes said last week when told the threats were continuing with little law enforcement intervention. “We want there to be some effective and sustained push back on this kind of harassment.”

YOU’RE ‘ABOUT TO GET F—— POPPED’

Only one of the nine harassers Reuters interviewed wouldn’t reveal his identity: the man threatening Vermont officials. Before reporters started examining him, law enforcement officials had decided against investigating, as many other agencies have done in similar cases nationwide.

Late last year, between Nov. 22 and Dec. 1, he left three messages with the secretary of state’s office from a number that state police deemed “essentially untraceable,” according to an internal police email obtained through a public-records request. The man identified himself as a Vermont resident in one voicemail.

Police didn’t pursue a case on the grounds that he didn’t threaten a specific person or indicate an imminent plan to act, according to emails and prosecution records. State police never spoke with the caller, according to interviews with state officials, a law enforcement source and a review of internal police emails.

Reuters did.

Reporters connected with him in September on the phone number police called untraceable. In five conversations over four days spanning more than three hours, he acknowledged threatening Vermont officials and described his thinking.

He soon grew agitated, peppering two Reuters reporters with 137 texts and voicemails over the past month, threatening the journalists and describing his election conspiracy theories.

The man telephoned the secretary of state’s office again on Oct. 17 from the same phone number used in the other threats. This time he was more explicit. Addressing state staffers and referring to the two journalists by name, he said he guaranteed that all would soon get “popped.”

“You guys are a bunch of f‑‑‑‑‑‑ clowns, and all you dirty c‑‑‑suckers are about to get f‑‑‑‑‑‑ popped,” he said. “I f‑‑‑‑‑‑ guarantee it.”

The officials referred the voicemail to state police, who again declined to investigate. Agency spokesperson Adam Silverman said in a statement that the message didn’t constitute an “unambiguous reference to gun violence,” adding that the word “popped” – common American slang for “shot” – “is unclear and nonspecific, and could be a reference to someone being arrested.”

Legal experts didn’t see it that way. Fred Schauer, a University of Virginia law professor, said the message likely constituted a criminal threat under federal law by threatening gun violence at specific individuals. “There’s certainly an intent to put people in fear,” Schauer said.

After Reuters asked Vermont officials about the October threat, the Federal Bureau of Investigation began an inquiry into the matter, according to two local law enforcement officials.

The FBI declined to confirm or deny any investigation into that threat and others reported in this story. In a statement, the bureau said it takes such acts seriously, working with other law enforcement agencies “to identify and stop any potential threats to public safety” and “investigate any and all federal violations to the fullest.”

‘I’M A PATRIOT’

Many of the harassers have been radicalized by a growing universe of far-right websites and other sources of disinformation about the 2020 election. Like Trump, they bashed mainstream news outlets and cast them as complicit in an elaborate scheme to steal the election.

Jamie Fialkin of Peoria, Arizona, talked of a grand conspiracy of those controlling the media, the banking system and social media companies. “When you have those three things, you can get away with anything – you can tell people, ‘black is white, white is black,’ and people go, ‘OK,’” Fialkin said.

On the surface, nothing about Fialkin’s biography suggests extremism. A former stand-up comedian from Brooklyn, New York, Fialkin said he has a degree in actuarial science, the study of insurance data. In 2017, he self-published a book marketed as a “survival guide” for first-time older parents. The 54-year-old said he spends most days taking care of his two young daughters and driving part-time for Lyft.

At a 2006 comedy show, he poked fun at his “professional bowler” physique, balding head, and inability to play golf. The self-described Orthodox Jew also took aim at Palestinians and described his political views as “a little more to the right.”

Fialkin said in an interview that he’s no longer in a joking mood.

He believes America is headed for civil war. He endorsed Trump’s false claims that millions of fraudulent votes swung the election to Biden. He said he’s convinced that former President Barack Obama, a Democrat, and progressive philanthropist George Soros bought fake ballots from China, another debunked theory promoted by Trump’s allies.

Fialkin blamed one person in particular for Trump’s Arizona loss: Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, the state’s top election official. On June 3, Fialkin called Hobbs’ office and left a message saying she’d hang “from a f‑‑‑‑‑‑ tree.”

“They’re going to hang you for treason, you f‑‑‑‑‑‑ bitch,” Fialkin said.

Minutes later, Fialkin left another voicemail in which he recommended a “good slogan” for Democrat Hobbs’ campaign for governor: “Don’t vote for me, for one reason. Back in December, I got hung for treason.”

Fialkin said he never intended to harm Hobbs, but was unapologetic.

“I’m not denying anything,” he said, “because I’m a patriot.”

Fialkin said he changed his Republican voter registration to independent because the party didn’t fight hard enough for Trump.

“I’m like most Americans,” he said. “We’re just waiting to see when the civil war starts.”

Fialkin’s messages were part of a barrage targeting Hobbs. Two others came from Jeff Yeager, a 56-year-old self-employed electrician from Los Angeles, California. Yeager, too, called for her execution.

“When Katie the c‑‑‑ is executed for treason, what are you f‑‑‑‑‑‑ traitors going to be doing for work?” Yeager said in a June 17 voicemail left for Hobbs and her staff. Months later, on Sept. 8, he left another voicemail warning she’d be executed.

Yeager acknowledged leaving the messages and said he didn’t care if Hobbs felt threatened. “If she thinks that I’m a threat to her, I’m not,” he said. “But the public is going to hang this woman.”

Yeager said he sees the mainstream media as full of disinformation; he called Reuters “one of the most evil organizations on the planet.” He said he gets his news from “alternative websites that are not censored,” including social network Gab and Bitchute, a video-sharing site known for hosting far-right figures and conspiracy theorists.

“Everything we’re being told is a lie,” he said.

In an interview, Hobbs said the threats by Fialkin, Yeager and others have been “emotionally draining” for her and her staff. The messages from Fialkin and Yeager were sent to the FBI, her spokesperson said. Some threats triggered a security detail, Hobbs said.

Jared Carter, a Cornell University law professor specializing in constitutional free-speech issues, said the threats by both men could be prosecuted under federal law. “In light of the multiple voicemails from the same person, and the overall tone of the messages, a court could find them to be true threats,” Carter said.

Election administrators such as Hobbs are part of a broader array of public officials targeted by Trump supporters. The day before Yeager spoke with Reuters in September, he said, two FBI agents visited him at his Los Angeles home to discuss threats he made to two national politicians: Republican Senator Mitt Romney and Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, both of whom denounced Trump for inciting the January 6 insurrection. He said the FBI agents produced transcripts of his calls to Pelosi and Romney. Yeager said the transcripts quoted him as saying “we will kill you.”

The agents instructed him how to lawfully express his political views, Yeager said, and left without arresting him. “I’m not making any more calls to anybody,” he said. “I may have crossed the line in one sentence, but I’m no danger to anybody.”

Spokespeople for Romney and Pelosi declined to comment on Yeager’s threats.

INSPIRED BY TRUMP

Others who threatened election officials told Reuters they were directly inspired by Trump or his prominent allies, who have denounced specific election offices nationwide for allowing voter fraud, turning them into targets.

Eric Pickett, a 42-year-old night staffer at a youth treatment center in Utah, said his anger boiled over after watching an Aug. 10 “cyber symposium” held by pillow magnate Mike Lindell, a Trump ally who has pushed false election conspiracy theories.

Pickett said he paid close attention as one of the symposium’s speakers, Tina Peters, a Republican clerk in Colorado’s Mesa County, criticized Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold, a Democrat. Griswold has been leading an investigation into Peters over a voting-system security breach in Mesa, one of the state’s most conservative counties. At the symposium, Peters, an election-fraud conspiracy theorist, claimed Griswold “raided” her office to produce false evidence and “bully” her.

None of that was true, according to state officials. Nonetheless, Pickett snapped. He got on Facebook and sent Griswold a message.

“You raided an office. You broke the law. STOP USING YOUR TACTICS. STOP NOW. Watch your back. I KNOW WHERE YOU SLEEP, I SEE YOU SLEEPING. BE AFRAID, BE VERRY AFFRAID. I hope you die.”

A Griswold spokesperson said the August message was promptly referred to state and federal law enforcement. The threat was reported by Reuters in September.

Pickett said in an interview that he “got wrapped up in the moment.” He was surprised Griswold found the message threatening and expressed regret for causing alarm.

“I didn’t know they would take it as a threat,” he said. “I was thinking they would just take it as somebody just trolling them.”

Colorado State Patrol, in response to a records request, said they had no investigative reports on the threat. A spokesperson, Sergeant Troy Kessler, said the State Patrol reviewed all messages it received from Griswold’s office and that no one had been arrested.

Three legal experts said the message met the threshold of a threat that could be prosecuted under federal law. “The whole purpose of the threats doctrine is to protect people from not only a prospect of physical violence, but the damage of living with a threat hanging over you,” said Timothy Zick, a William & Mary Law School professor.

Lindell and Peters did not respond to requests for comment.

TARRED AND FEATHERED

Trump’s stolen-election claims about Georgia, traditionally a Republican stronghold, have sparked some of the most serious election threats.

In a Dec. 10 hearing organized by Georgia Republican lawmakers, Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani played a short snippet of surveillance footage from Atlanta’s State Farm Arena, which was used as a tabulation site. He claimed it showed Fulton County election workers pulling out suitcases full of fraudulent ballots in Biden’s favor. State investigators and county officials have said the “suitcases” were standard ballot containers and the video shows normal vote-counting.

Ross Miller, the real-estate investor in Forsyth County, Georgia, saw the video. He left a Dec. 31 voicemail for Fulton County Elections Director Richard Barron, saying he “better run” and that he’ll be tarred and feathered and executed unless “ya’ll do something” about voter fraud. Barron forwarded the threat to police, according to a county email.

However, Fulton County Police Chief Wade Yates said his agency did not contact Miller after concluding the message did not constitute a threat under Georgia law.

In an interview, Miller acknowledged making the call.

“I left the message because I’m a patriot, and I’m sick and tired of what’s going on in this country,” he said. “That’s what happens when you commit treason: You get hung.”

Miller, who said he was in his sixties, said he’s been kicked off Twitter seven times for his views. He follows “Tore Says,” a podcast popular with QAnon adherents whose host, Terpsichore Maras-Lindeman, has called for a “revolutionary movement.”

“You’ve got to stand up,” said Miller. “You’re either a patriot for the freedom of this country or you’re a communist against it.”

‘YOU’RE ALL F—— DEAD’

Some Vermont officials questioned why the man intimidating state officials wasn’t investigated or prosecuted, highlighting a broader national debate over how to respond to post-election threats. In a pattern seen across America, Vermont law enforcement officials decided this man’s repeated menacing messages amounted to legally protected free speech.

The threatener focused on one of the central conspiracy theories promoted by Trump and his allies: That officials had rigged vote-counting technology from Dominion Voting Systems to flip millions of votes to Biden.

“Just let everybody know that their days are f—— numbered,” he said in a Dec. 1 voicemail. “There are a lot of people who are going to be executed.”

Around that time, officials at Dominion’s headquarters in Colorado received three unsettling voicemails. “You’re all f‑‑‑‑‑‑ dead,” said one message. “We’re going to f‑‑‑‑‑‑ kill you all.” The caller’s telephone number and voice matched those on the Vermont threats.

The threats to Dominion were referred to the Denver Police Department and the FBI. Denver police failed to identify the caller, a department spokesperson said.

The Vermont secretary of state’s office is located in a historic 19th-century brick Queen Anne-style house in the capital of Montpelier. The staff helps register voters and administer elections in a state with one of America’s lowest rates of violent crime. The voicemails terrified some staffers.

“I had to try to calm people down,” Secretary of State Jim Condos said in an interview. “We were all on edge.”

After the Dec. 1 threats, Vermont Deputy Secretary of State Chris Winters expressed astonishment that police wouldn’t pursue the caller, according to emails between secretary-of-state officials and police obtained through a records’ request.

“I am trying to make sense of this,” Winters wrote in an email to Daniel Trudeau, the criminal division commander of the Vermont State Police. “If someone makes a veiled threat to come to the Secretary of State’s office and execute only the guilty ones on the election team, without naming names, they’ve not broken the law?” Winters added that he wanted to know “who we’re dealing with.”

Trudeau replied that he had consulted with other officers and didn’t see a crime, because the caller did not specify that he would come to the secretary of state’s office and did not say that he personally would execute anyone.

Vermont’s state police intelligence unit tried but failed to identify the caller. Police examined the number, which bore a Vermont area code, but said it was untraceable, according to an email between state police officials. The unit’s commander, Shawn Loan, wrote to Trudeau saying that the threats could be part of a “larger campaign” and the calls “may have been scripted.” He added that the caller used voice-over-internet technology. Two former FBI agents said such calls can be harder to trace than those made from landlines or cellular phones.

Loan was not immediately available for comment, a spokesperson said.

Vermont State Police didn’t pursue the threatener. Rory Thibault, the state’s attorney in Washington County, which includes Montpelier, supported Trudeau’s decision in a four-page Dec. 15 memo to state police. The messages were “protected speech,” Thibault wrote, because they were not “directed at a single person or official.” They were “conditional” on a “perception of malfeasance in the election process,” and the caller didn’t indicate he would personally inflict harm, he said.

Zick, the William & Mary professor, said a threat doesn’t necessarily have to single out a specific individual to be prosecuted under federal law. If someone calls in a bomb threat to Congress rather than to a specific senator’s office, for instance, “that’s still a threat.”

In an interview, Thibault said Vermont laws pose unique challenges for pursuing such cases because they offer greater protections for individual rights than federal laws. He added that the threats and the rise of extremist rhetoric are leading to a push for tougher anti-harassment laws.

Vermont State Representative Maxine Grad said she plans to introduce a bill in the January session aimed at broadening protections for people who have received criminal threats, such as election workers.

On Dec. 16, a day after the state’s attorney ruled out an investigation, the unidentified caller taunted Vermont election officials in a new voicemail. “All the traitors will be punished” in the “next few weeks,” he said. “Kill yourself now.”

This time, the caller used a different number that appeared to be a pre-paid “burner” phone.

Montpelier Police Chief Brian Peete was concerned. “Very disturbing,” he wrote to state police, security and secretary of state officials after reviewing the Dec. 16 threat. “Fits profile of someone who may act.”

Again, state police declined to investigate because the caller didn’t threaten a specific individual, according to police emails.

The phone numbers used by the caller left few clues about his identity. One reverse phone lookup service linked his number to Bennington, a town of about 15,000 people in southwest Vermont. Denver police couldn’t identify the caller, but found “decent information” linking the number to Bennington, according to a Denver Police Department report on the threats to Dominion.

Surrounded by the Green Mountains, the Bennington area is known for its picturesque farm houses, a towering Revolutionary War battle monument and blazing autumn foliage. Less known is that the rural, mostly white town and other parts of southern Vermont have seen a rise in Trump-inspired militia activity in recent years, residents and state officials say.

In April, the town agreed to pay a $137,500 settlement to Kiah Morris, the state legislature’s only black female elected official, who resigned in September 2018, following complaints that Bennington police failed to properly investigate racially motivated harassment against her. Morris declined to comment for this story.

The calls from the still-unidentified man threatening election officials and reporters were referred to the FBI, according to police emails.

Reuters first reached the man on Sept. 17. In a brief interview, he referenced the Dominion conspiracy theory. Asked for his name, he swore and hung up.

A week later, the journalists contacted him again on the same number. He admitted leaving the voicemails to express his “absolute dissatisfaction” in the election. In three subsequent phone interviews on Oct. 6 and 7 that spanned a total of two and a half hours, he opened up about his views.

The man said he believed thousands of fake ballots were cast in Arizona, repeating debunked claims. He said members of the media would face tribunals and be executed like the Nazi leaders who were hung after the Nuremberg trials in the 1940s and that perpetrators of election fraud would be sent to military prison.

He said he lived “in the woods,” and worked in construction. He didn’t own a gun, but said he had “a baseball bat and a machete.” He shared videos from the far-right website Bitchute and said he watched “all kinds of stuff that definitely needs to be investigated.”

Then he turned on the Reuters journalists.

In an Oct. 11 voicemail, he threatened to sue the reporters for obtaining his telephone number from state records. Over the next 25 days, he texted them 91 times, sharing misinformation on the origins of the coronavirus and other conspiracy theories. On Oct. 17, he left the new voicemails at the Vermont secretary of state’s office, including the one threatening that the reporters and election staffers would get “popped.”

The next morning, the caller followed up with more texts to the journalists. “I am going to destroy you and that is a threat.” In multiple texts, he said he would “ruin” the life of one of the reporters. On Oct. 30, he left two more voicemails for them. “You are all going to f‑‑‑‑‑‑ hang. I’m going to make sure of it,” said one. “Bad s‑‑‑ is gonna to happen to you,” said the other. “Your days are f‑‑‑‑‑‑ numbered.”

He also sent the reporters four messages with the same picture: a grainy black-and-white photograph of a public execution that has been shared widely in far-right social media, with a caption claiming it showed “members of the media” hanging in “Nuremberg, Germany.” (In fact, the photo was taken in Kiev, Ukraine, depicting Nazi officers being hung for war crimes.)

The man’s threats and the rise in extremism in Vermont and nationwide since the election are a concern for Peete and his small staff in the Montpelier Police Department.

“It’s something that keeps me and all of us here up at night,” the police chief said.Reporting by Linda So and Jason Szep

What will happen to Trump’s collaborators?

I found this extremely well-written piece, by a well-known NYT writer who also happened to be in my junior high school homeroom here in DC, in the Daily Intelligencer. I certainly hope he is right that they will land in the cesspool of history. But in actual fact, many criminals do get away with virtually everything, and no, I did not ask Frank’s permission permission before reprinting this.

==================

What Will Happen to The Trump Toadies?

Look to Nixon’s defenders, and the Vichy collaborators, for clues.

By Frank Rich  ( @frankrichny )

Irony, declared dead after 9/11, is alive and kicking in Trump’s America. It’s the concepts of truth and shame that are on life support. The definition of “facts” has been so thoroughly vandalized that Americans can no longer agree on what one is, and our president has barreled through so many crimes and misdemeanors with so few consequences that it’s impossible to gainsay his claim that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and get away with it. Donald Trump proves daily that there is no longer any penalty for doing wrong as long as you deny everything, never say you’re sorry, and have co-conspirators stashed in powerful places to put the fix in.

No wonder so many fear that Trump will escape his current predicament scot-free, with a foregone acquittal at his impeachment trial in the GOP-controlled Senate and a pull-from-behind victory in November, buoyed by a booming economy, fractious Democrats, and a stacked Electoral College. The enablers and apologists who have facilitated his triumph over the rule of law happily agree. John Kennedy, the Louisiana senator who parrots Vladimir Putin’s talking points in his supine defense of Trump, acts as if there will never be a reckoning. While he has no relation to the president whose name he incongruously bears, his every craven statement bespeaks a confidence that history will count him among the knights of the buffet table in the gilded Mar-a-Lago renovation of Camelot. He is far from alone.

If we can extricate ourselves even briefly from our fatalistic fog, however, we might give some credence to a wider view. For all the damage inflicted since Inauguration Day 2017, America is still standing, a majority of Americans disapprove of Trump, and the laws of gravity, if not those of the nation, remain in full force. Moral gravity may well reassert its pull, too, with time. Rather than being the end of American history as we know it, the Trump presidency may prove merely a notorious chapter in that history. Heedless lapdogs like Kennedy, Devin Nunes, and Lindsey Graham are acting now as if there is no tomorrow, but tomorrow will come eventually, whatever happens in the near future, and Judgment Day could arrive sooner than they think. That judgment will be rendered by an ever-more demographically diverse America unlikely to be magnanimous toward cynical politicians who prioritized pandering to Trump’s dwindling all-white base over the common good.

All cults come to an end, often abruptly, and Trump’s Republican Party is nothing if not a cult. While cult leaders are generally incapable of remorse — whether they be totalitarian rulers, sexual Svengalis, or the self-declared messiahs of crackpot religions — their followers almost always pay a human and reputational price once the leader is toppled. We don’t know how and when Donald Trump will exit, but under any scenario it won’t be later than January 20, 2025. Even were he to be gone tomorrow, the legacy of his most powerful and servile collaborators is already indelibly bound to his.

Whether these enablers joined his administration in earnest, or aided and abetted it from elite perches in politics, Congress, the media, or the private sector, they will be remembered for cheering on a leader whose record in government (thus far) includes splitting up immigrant families and incarcerating their children in cages; encouraging a spike in racist, xenophobic, and anti-Semitic vigilantes; leveraging American power to promote ethnic cleansing abroad and punish political opponents at home; actively inciting climate change and environmental wreckage; and surrendering America’s national security to an international rogue’s gallery of despots.

That selective short list doesn’t take into account any new White House felonies still to come, any future repercussions here and abroad of Trump’s actions to date, or any previous foul deeds that have so far eluded public exposure. For all the technological quickening of the media pulse in this century, Trump’s collaborators will one day be viewed through the long lens of history like Nixon’s collaborators before them and the various fools, opportunists, and cowards who tried to appease Hitler in America, England, and France before that. Once Trump has vacated the Oval Office, and possibly for decades thereafter, his government, like any other deposed strongman’s, will be subjected to a forensic colonoscopy to root out buried crimes, whether against humanity or the rule of law or both. With time, everything will come out — it always does. With time, the ultimate fates of those brutalized immigrant and refugee families will emerge in full. And Trump’s collaborators, our Vichy Republicans, will own all of it — whether they were active participants in the wrongdoing like Jared Kushner, Stephen Miller, Kirstjen Nielsen, Mike Pompeo, and William Barr, or the so-called adults in the room who stood idly by rather than sound public alarms for the good of the Republic (e.g., Gary Cohn, John Kelly, Rex Tillerson), or those elite allies beyond the White House gates who pretended not to notice administration criminality and moral atrocities in exchange for favors like tax cuts and judicial appointments (from Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan to Franklin Graham and Jerry Falwell Jr.).

Such Trump collaborators are kidding themselves if they think that post-Trump image-laundering through “good works” or sheer historical amnesia will cleanse their names of the Trump taint as easily as his residential complexes in Manhattan have shed their Trump signage. A century of history — and not just American history — says otherwise.

To take two examples from the Nixon era, the White House criminals Charles Colson and Jeb Stuart Magruder both found God and dedicated themselves to ministries after doing time for Watergate-related crimes. (They were among 69 charged and 25 imprisoned.) But you won’t find their ostentatious efforts at spiritual redemption at the top of their Wikipedia entries or referenced more than fleetingly in the vast Nixon-Watergate literature. Nixon lackeys who did nothing illegal generally fared no better: The New Jersey congressman Charles Sandman, a House Judiciary Committee impeachment holdout until a few days before Nixon’s resignation, lost a seat he had held since 1966 in the subsequent 1974 midterms (48 other GOP members of Congress were wiped out as well) and would wind up the decade dishing out steamed crabs at a joint on the Jersey shore and losing a jury trial on the charge of slandering a police officer. When a Senate counterpart, Ed Gurney of Florida, a vocal Nixon defender on Sam Ervin’s Watergate Committee, died in 1996, his family tried to keep his death a secret, presumably to avoid renewed attention to his past.

Some Nixon loyalists on Capitol Hill escaped oblivion — most notably the Mississippi congressman Trent Lott, from a district that had voted 87 percent for Nixon in 1972 (Nixon’s strongest in the nation). So did some White House flacks well removed from Watergate like Pat Buchanan and Diane Sawyer. Others, prefiguring Sean Spicer’s debasement on Dancing With the Stars, landed B-list (and lower) media gigs: The Watergate burglar G. Gordon Liddy appeared on television’s Miami Vice and MacGyver, and a ditzy Jesuit speechwriter prominent in the White House spin offensive, John McLaughlin, found a secular throne for himself at an odious Beltway chatfest, The McLaughlin Group, after abandoning the priesthood. Like their Trump counterparts, countless Watergate principals wrote tell-all books, many of them best sellers, running the gamut from H. R. Haldeman’s The Ends of Power to John Ehrlichman’s Witness to Power.

But there aren’t any die-hard Nixon supporters in either chamber of Congress who are now remembered as patriots, no matter what else they did with their careers before, during, or after his presidency. The figures who live on are those like Ervin and Judge Sirica, who brought Nixon to justice, and, as the historian David Greenberg has noted, “those loyalists who abandoned Nixon early, when it mattered.”

HuffPost reported in 2017 that the Trump Justice Department took down the portrait of one of the few heroes who stood up to Nixon’s abuses of power from within his administration, Attorney General Elliot Richardson. Whether Richardson’s deaccession was an act of denial, gallows humor, or a conscious or subconscious admission of guilt, it was an impotent gesture — not least because Watergate has with time proved an inadequate analogy for Trump’s metastasizing scandals. The stench of disrepute that will cling to Trump’s collaborators is likely to exceed the posthumous punishment of Nixon’s dead-enders for the simple reason that Nixon’s White House horrors weren’t in the same league.

You don’t have to be a card-carrying fascist to collaborate; you just have to be morally bankrupt and self-serving.

In both cases, impeachment was driven by the revelations of illegal efforts to sabotage a rival presidential candidate and the ensuing cover-ups. But the gravity of the specifics differ by several orders of magnitude. The cash that Nixon & Co. tapped to fund the break-in to the Democratic National Committee headquarters (and the subsequent hush money to the burglars) came from his own donors; Trump, by contrast, sought to bankroll his effort to dig up dirt on the Bidens by appropriating nearly $400 million in Congress-mandated foreign aid paid for by taxpayers. And while the Nixon White House hired freelance bumblers to spy on the Democrats, Trump commandeered a cabal of Cabinet officers, diplomats, and Rudy Giuliani–recruited thugs to try to muscle the head of state of a foreign ally into doing his bidding.

The disproportionality between Trump’s history and Nixon’s hardly ends there. Trump is not Hitler, but some of his actions, starting with his repeated, barely coded endorsements of white supremacists, suggest it’s not for want of trying. Nixon and his vice-president, Spiro Agnew, exploited racial resentments and backlash to the civil-rights movement to attract bigots to the GOP through a new “southern strategy.” Ugly as that was (and is), it pales next to Trump and his campaign’s explicit alignment with those “fine people” who stir hate, bullying, and incendiary alt-right conspiracy theories into an inflammatory dark-web brew. However much Trump’s courtiers try to compartmentalize, they can’t separate themselves from his flirtations with neo-Nazis.

Nor can Trump’s enablers escape the stain of his alliances with murderous neo-Hitlers and neo-Stalins in Russia, Syria, Turkey, Hungary, Brazil, and North Korea. Whatever else is to be said about Nixon, not for a second would he have favored the worldview and national interests of a strongman like Putin over that of America and its allies, or taken Putin’s word as a former KGB agent over that of America’s own intelligence agencies. It’s this aspect of Trumpian rule that sinks to depths previously unfathomable for an American president and makes Trump’s collaborators look less like the corrupt government bureaucrats and hacks of All the President’s Men and more like the traitorous elites who wittingly or idiotically enabled Hitler in the 1930s.

The notion of Vichy Republicans is hardly hyperbole. Christopher R. Browning, an American historian of the Holocaust and World War II–era Europe, wrote in the New York Review of Books in 2018 that those who rationalized their original support for Trump on the grounds of “Better Trump than Hillary” — and are now reupping for 2020 — are channeling those on the right who proclaimed “Better Hitler than Blum” in France in the 1930s. Such Frenchmen, Browning writes, went so far as to empower their country’s “traditional national enemy across the Rhine” and its Nazi dictator rather than reelect the sitting prime minister, Léon Blum, a Jewish socialist who would have preserved French democracy. (In defeat, Blum would become an opponent of Vichy and end up in Buchenwald.)

Make no mistake: The current “Better Trump than Warren” (or Sanders) crowd is repeating this history. Their credo might as well be “Better Putin, Erdogan, and Assad than Warren,” for Trump is serving as an unabashed proxy for our present-day mini-Hitlers while simultaneously trying to transform American democracy into an Ultimate Fighting Championship ring of chaos, corruption, and dysfunction. Prominent Trump supporters like Kennedy, of course, fiercely deny that they are pro-Putin (even though the president himself never has), but that doesn’t vitiate the real-world consequence that by standing with Trump, they are advancing the interests of Russia even as it conducts cyberwar against their own country and threatens some of the same American allies Hitler did.

You don’t have to be a card-carrying fascist to collaborate with fascists and help them seize power; you just have to be morally bankrupt and self-serving. As the authoritative American historian of Vichy France, Robert O. Paxton, has pointed out, it was only “a rather small minority” of France’s wartime collaborators who were motivated by an actual “ideological sympathy with Nazism and Fascism” to go along with the Nazi puppet regime fronted by Marshal Philippe Pétain in Vichy. A more widespread incentive was “personal gain.” Others rationalized their complicity by persuading themselves they were acting in the “national interest.” It would be no surprise if that distribution of motivations persists among Trump collaborators today. Such backers as the financier Stephen Schwarzman and New York real-estate titans like Stephen Ross of Hudson Yards no doubt congratulate themselves on acting in the “national interest” while pocketing personal gains measured in either political influence or on a profit-and-loss statement.

In France, such ostensible moral distinctions among collaborators were rendered moot in the long-delayed and gruesome postwar reckoning. All roads led to the same destination: Starting in 1942, Vichy shipped some 76,000 Jews in mass deportations to their doom. The exiled were mostly foreign refugees, Paxton writes, who had previously “relied upon traditional French hospitality.” Their blood was on every collaborator’s hands. The collaborators’ common postwar defense — that things would have been far worse if they had not been working on the inside — was repurposed by the Trump official responsible for the brutal treatment of immigrants who had relied upon traditional American humanity. “John F. Kelly Says His Tenure As Trump’s Chief of Staff Is Best Measured by What the President Did Not Do” read the headline of the exit interview he gave the Los Angeles Times. Good luck with that in the long-term court of public opinion. France wrestled with Vichy’s legacy for decades before 1995, when the French president Jacques Chirac abjured denial and officially confirmed his nation’s complicity in the wholesale deportation of Jews.

If you look back at the elite figures who lent their clout and prestige to clearing Hitler’s path before or during World War II, it’s striking how such folly and inhumanity remains immutable across national boundaries and centuries. The amalgam of nationalism, isolationism, and nativism embraced by Trump shares its DNA not just with the Pétainists of France but Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement cohort in England and America First, the movement whose name Trump appropriated without (of course) knowing what it was. America First, though originating as a campus-centric peace campaign, was hijacked by a rancid mob of Hitler acolytes and peace-at-any-price dupes that included, most famously, Charles Lindbergh. Many of these Hitler enablers had elaborate rationalizations for their actions that mirror those of Trump’s highest-profile shills today. Robert Taft, the hard-right isolationist senator from Ohio, wrote the script for Better Trump than Hillary–ism nearly a century ago: America should not go to war with Germany, he argued, because “there is a good deal more danger of the infiltration of totalitarian ideas from the New Deal circles in Washington than there will ever be from the activities of the … Nazis.”

Another parallel is exemplified by the Trump collaborator and donor Gordon Sondland, even now, somehow, still the ambassador to the European Union. He’s a zhlubby discount-rack answer to Joseph Kennedy, a far more successful and clever mogul who served as Franklin Roosevelt’s ambassador to the U.K. from 1937 to 1940. Until FDR shut him down, Kennedy tried to conduct a rogue foreign policy to advance Chamberlain’s appeasement efforts to the point of counseling the Nazis that they could get away with brutalizing Jews if they would just do so with less “loud clamor.” Much as Sondland, Trump, and Giuliani thought nothing of leaving Ukraine vulnerable to Putin’s aggression by holding back military aid, so Kennedy thought that Hitler should be free to conquer expendable smaller countries in Eastern Europe. “I can’t for the life of me understand why anybody would want to go to war to save the Czechs,” he wrote in a draft of a speech before the White House nixed it. As went the Czechs then, so have gone the Ukrainians and Kurds today.

The antecedents for Trumpist enablers from the tycoon sector both within and outside the White House — Cohn, Schwarzman, Steven Mnuchin, Wilbur Ross, et al. — can be found in those now-vilified captains of 1930s American industry who were prime movers in various back-channel schemes to appease Hitler. The America First Committee’s members included Henry Ford, an unabashed anti-Semite who was name-checked admiringly in Mein Kampf, and Avery Brundage, an Illinois construction magnate and president of the U.S. Olympic Committee who bent to Hitler’s will by yanking the only two Jewish competitors on an American team in the 1936 Summer Games in Berlin. James Mooney, the General Motors overseas president in charge of its European operations and another America First committeeman, took it upon himself to do his own Giuliani-Sondland-like shadow diplomacy by securing face-to-face meetings with Hermann Göring as well as Hitler. He claimed to be seeking peace, but had he succeeded, he would have facilitated Germany’s conquest of Europe much as Trump and his supplicants have been green-lighting the imperial designs of Russia and Turkey.

These businessmen’s machinations did not bring about peace in their time but did bring financial quid pro quos that fattened their bottom lines. Hitler’s regime gave Brundage’s company the commission to build its new embassy in Washington. More than a half-century after V-E Day, researchers confirmed that Ford and GM’s German operations had manufactured armaments for the Nazi war machine, sometimes with slave labor. Alfred P. Sloan, the longtime GM chairman, explained his philosophy: “An international business operating throughout the world should conduct its operations in strictly business terms, without regard to the political beliefs of its management, or the political beliefs of the countries in which it is operating.” Surely Jared Kushner, Mnuchin, and Schwarzman couldn’t have put it any better as they cavorted with Mohammed bin Salman at his investment conference in Riyadh in October, a year after the murder and dismemberment of Jamal Khashoggi. As with Ford, Brundage, Mooney, and the rest, any loot they accrued in exchange for their pact with the Devil will be unearthed in good time.

While some Hitler appeasers faced swift retribution — FDR shut down Joseph Kennedy’s personal political ambitions for good — others would get their due later. In 1998, nearly four decades after his death, Mooney would at last face an accounting: Newly discovered documents, triggered in part by litigation on behalf of Holocaust survivors, would show, as the Washington Post put it, that in consultation with Göring, “he was involved in the partial conversion of the principal GM automobile plant at Rüsselsheim to production of engines and other parts for the Junker ‘Wunderbomber,’ a key weapon in the German air force.”

One imagines that high-toned Trump collaborators deplore Khashoggi’s murder (though not when in Saudi Arabia). And they may (privately) roll their eyes at Trump’s palling around with bigots. For heaven’s sake, some of them are Jewish themselves, and so is the First Daughter! But America First also claimed to be foursquare against anti-Semitism, despite the fact that Lindbergh, Ford, and Mooney all received medals of appreciation from the Third Reich before the war. Like the Trump White House, the America First Committee deployed token Jews to try to deflect critics, including Florence Kahn, a former Republican congresswoman from California; it even hired a Jew as the first publicity director of its New York chapter. But such disingenuous stunts, like Trump’s soporific teleprompter-scripted condemnation of “racism, bigotry and white supremacy” after mass shootings, didn’t deter American Nazi wannabes from flocking to the organization’s ranks, among them the followers of the unabashedly anti-Semitic radio priest Father Coughlin. Ivanka Trump’s observance of the Sabbath has not stopped her father from retweeting anti-Semitic memes or prevented “Jews Will Not Replace Us” thugs from rallying around #MAGA.

In Hitler in Los Angeles, his groundbreaking recent history of wartime Nazism in California, Steven J. Ross might as well have been writing about Charlottesville when he observes that “America First enabled previously disreputable hate groups to move from the margins to the mainstream of American life and politics.” The anti-Semitic dog whistles of Lindbergh and his prominent peers gave a pass to violent extremist groups of that time like the American Rangers and the Royal Order of American Defenders. The Trump GOP has revived the tradition: Not only did House members meet with Chuck Johnson, a Holocaust denier who raises money for the neo-Nazi Daily Stormer website, but Florida’s irrepressible freshman congressman Matt Gaetz invited him to cheer Trump at the 2018 State of the Union.

No one can predict posterity’s judgments, but if the past is any guide at all, this is not going to end well for Trump’s collaborators. The Reverend Sun Myung Moon, the Unification Church cult leader who was welcomed into the Oval Office by Nixon and whose brainwashed “Moonies” gathered en masse on the Capitol steps to pray and fast for three days during impeachment, may have found his farcical descendants in Trump’s Christian stooges. Witness the offspring of Billy Graham and Jerry Falwell — the Donald Trump Jr.’s, if you will, of America’s pagan Evangelical racket. Franklin Graham has preached an Old Testament parallel between Trump and David, while Jerry Jr. is now fending off inquiries into his and his wife’s antics, business or otherwise, with a pool boy they befriended at the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach. (For his part, Moon was eventually engulfed by repeated post-Watergate scandals, including a conviction for tax fraud and obstruction of justice that sent him to prison in 1982.) The rhetoric of Nixon’s and Trump’s mad-dog defenders can be interchangeable, too. There’s more than a little of the degraded Lindsey Graham in the legendary Today show appearance by Earl Landgrebe, a die-hard anti-impeachment vote on the House Judiciary Committee, the day before Nixon resigned in August 1974. “Don’t confuse me with the facts. I’ve got a closed mind,” he said. “I will not vote for impeachment. I’m going to stick with my president even if he and I have to be taken out of this building and shot.” (The voters shot him soon enough; he received only 39 percent of the vote in his safe Indiana district three months later.)

But such similarities understate the case. The stakes are much higher when an American president is putting the nation, and its Constitution, in jeopardy by abusing his power to aid America’s foreign foes. Someone like Graham is less likely to be remembered as another Landgrebe than as another Burton Wheeler, a senator from Montana who began his career as a conventional New Deal Democrat and morphed into an America First Nazi appeaser. As Graham countenanced Trump’s empowering of Putin and his assault on Ukraine, so Wheeler opposed aid to England and other American allies when war broke out in Europe. He is best known now — and may be in perpetuity — as the fascist vice-president to Lindbergh’s president in Philip Roth’s World War II counter-history, The Plot Against America. (David Simon is soon to bring out a television version.)

Mitch McConnell has led another, even graver reenactment of the Hitler-appeasers’ playbook by slow-walking or ignoring intelligence-agency alarms about Russian interference in our elections past, present, and future. His congressional antecedents did the same when Germany tried to sabotage the election of 1940. As the story is told by Susan Dunn, a historian at Williams College, in her 2013 book 1940, the chargé d’affaires at the German Embassy in Washington, Hans Thomsen, wielded “money, a cohort of isolationist congressmen, senators, and authors, and a bag of dirty tricks,” hoping to realize goals tantamount to Putin’s ambitions: “to convince Americans that fascist aggression posed no danger to them, to discourage them from pouring billions of dollars into national defense and military aid for the Allies, and, finally, to engineer Roosevelt’s defeat in 1940.”

Even without social media in his arsenal, Thomsen’s dirty tricks uncannily anticipated Russia’s 21st-century disinformation tactics. He funneled financial aid to an isolationist “Make Europe Pay War Debts” Committee to rile up Americans against European allies, lent aid to ostensibly grassroots organizations with names like “Paul Revere’s Sentinels” rallying against American entry into war with Germany, and clandestinely underwrote newspaper ads lobbying for the same. With a secret subsidy, he paid an isolationist congressman, Hamilton Fish of New York, to corral anti-interventionist colleagues before a GOP convention platform committee to push a resolution “unequivocally opposing any American involvement in the war in Europe.” Thomsen even helped engineer a fake news stunt worthy of Russia’s propaganda schemes on Facebook by using the isolationist Montana representative Jacob Thorkelson to slip a counterfeit Hitler interview into the Congressional Record. It had “Hitler telling a reporter that American fears of him were ‘flattering but grotesque’ and calling the idea of a German invasion of the United States ‘stupid and fantastic.’ ”

Any historical parallels, alas, end there. Germany’s attempted election sabotage failed in 1940. The Republicans nominated Wendell Willkie, an interventionist, as their presidential candidate, rather than an isolationist favored by the Nazis, and the reelected FDR led America to war. By contrast, Russia may have succeeded in moving the electoral needle in 2016, and may again in 2020, with the blessings of the Putin-admiring American president and his quisling of a secretary of State Pompeo, not to mention the pliant Moscow Mitch, the double-dealing Barr, and the rest of their collaborators in the executive branch and Congress.

Those who continue with Trump on this path, if they have any shred of conscience or patriotism left, would be advised to look at their historical predecessors of the appeasement era, not the more forgiving template of Watergate, if they wish to game out their future and that of family members who bear their names. They might recall that Lindbergh was among the most popular figures, if not the most popular, in the nation before lending his voice to America First. He had won the cheers of the world after piloting the first nonstop solo flight over the Atlantic and then its sympathy after his 20-month-old son was murdered in a sensational kidnapping case. More than a decade after V-E Day, when Hollywood decided it was at last safe to profitably resurrect that heroic young Lindbergh in an adulatory 1957 biopic, The Spirit of St. Louis, some theaters refused to book it despite the added halo of the most unimpeachable all-American star, Jimmy Stewart of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Jack Warner reputedly called it “the most disastrous failure” in the history of Warner Bros. In the following decade, Lindbergh inched back into the spotlight as a philanthropist campaigning for the World Wildlife Fund. “I don’t want history to record my generation as being responsible for the extermination of any form of life,” he declared, prompting the popular syndicated columnist Max Lerner to respond, “Where the hell was he when Hitler was trying to exterminate an entire race of human beings?”

Some of Lindbergh’s fellow isolationists sought to reclaim their reputations after the war, too, but as the historian Geoffrey Perret wrote, they “would generally be regarded for years to come as stupid, vicious, pro-Nazi reactionaries, or at least as people blind to the realities of a new day and a menace to their country’s safety.” Taft, the rigidly isolationist senator who bore a White House lineage (William Howard Taft was his father), failed in two subsequent presidential runs after his first attempt imploded as France fell to the Germans in 1940. Once known as the towering “Mr. Republican,” he now is barely remembered even by Republicans.

A comparable figure in England was Lord Londonderry, né Charles Vane-Tempest-Stewart, a former Tory British air minister whose entanglement with Nazi leaders and push for Anglo-German friendship in the 1930s mirrors Trump, Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, and their posse’s infatuated courtship of Putin’s Russia. As the English Hitler biographer Ian Kershaw writes in Making Friends With Hitler, Londonderry “spent his later years in a relentless, but fruitless, campaign” for vindication. “Was he, as his detractors claimed, a genuine Nazi sympathizer — ‘a Nazi Englishman’ as he was dubbed? Or was he merely a gullible, naïve and misguided ‘fellow-traveler of the Right’?” Though Londonderry “had no truck with the fanatical fascists, or the wide-eyed cranks and mystics who fell for Hitler lock, stock and barrel,” Kershaw concludes, in the end it didn’t matter.

His actions worked to Hitler’s advantage, and his “reputation was ruined.” His fitting permanent memorial is Lord Darlington, the fictional English aristocrat whose outreach to the Nazis and ensuing downfall are observed with a certain sorrow and pity by his butler, Stevens, in Kazuo Ishiguro’s classic novel The Remains of the Day.

No less a sage than Ted Cruz told friends while preparing his 2016 convention speech that “history isn’t kind to the man who holds Mussolini’s jacket,” according to the Politico journalist Tim Alberta’s account in American Carnage. But so harsh was the base’s blowback after he refused to endorse Trump in that address that he has been holding Mussolini’s jacket ever since.

What are Cruz and all his peers afraid of? “Every member of the French Resistance faced the strong possibility of torture, deportation, and death,” wrote Charles Kaiser, whose book The Cost of Courage tells of one Resistance family during Vichy. “The most a Republican senator risks from opposing a corrupt and racist president is a loss at the polls.” And even at that, there can be rewards down the road. Larry Hogan, the current Republican governor of Maryland, recently reminisced to the New York Times about his father, Lawrence Hogan, who was the first Republican on the House Judiciary Committee to come out in favor of impeaching Nixon in 1974. “He lost friends in Congress,” the younger Hogan recalled. “He lost the support of his constituents and he angered the White House. But history was kind to him. He was known as a courageous guy. I think it’s the thing he is most remembered for and the thing I’m most proud of him for.”

Trump’s enablers and collaborators are more Londonderry than Hogan. It is too late for them to save their reputations. We must hope that it is not too late to save the country they have betrayed.

 

Fascism vs Communism

Do you understand how the Italian Fascists took power roughly 100 years ago?

Have you read letters or articles from black Southerners who were essentially re-enslaved when the Ku Klux Klan and their allies violently suppressed Reconstruction?

Have you heard the voices of those suppressed during the racist coup d’etat of 1890 in Wilmington, NC?

Have you seen eyewitness accounts of the the mass murders and lynchings of black sharecroppers in Arkansas, Oklahoma and elsewhere who dared to organize for a fair deal for the sharecroppers, or to run their own businesses?

Have you read the letters or diaries of relatives who were blacklisted or red-baited out of jobs after losing strikes in the coal fields and factories or campuses?

Unfortunately, it is the winners – who are generally the rich, the racists, and the rapacious scoundrels of this world with good PR machines – who generally get to dictate what gets written about history (and that includes the lying tyrants like Stalin or Mao who usurped the mantle of communism for their own benefit!). It is to the credit of Howard Zinn and other left-wingers that they began the process of correcting and revising the standard histories of the United States and other countries.

I was wondering how it was that in Italy, which had a very strong tradition of working-class or peasant socialist or anarchist thought and action, the Fascists were able to take over. This article in Slate, I think, explains it.

“The rise of fascism in the provinces of the Po Valley, in northern Italy, occurred in reaction to the remarkable postwar growth of Socialist power. During the biennio rosso (red two years), between 1918 and 1920, Socialists made huge electoral gains nationally and locally, while labor unions unleashed a wave of strikes unprecedented in Italian history. In the Po Valley, the Socialists established a virtual “state within a state,” winning control of municipal government, labor exchanges, and peasant leagues (unions). Socialists also founded cooperatives, cultural circles, taverns, and sporting clubs.3 Such working-class organizations exercised their power largely through legal means—elections, boycotts, strikes, and demonstrations—which nonetheless often led to clashes with police, with injuries and deaths on both sides.

“Political culture and the social order had been radically altered, with rough peasants and workers occupying the halls of power and red flags hanging from town halls. For landowners, life in this new “red” state meant higher wages, higher taxes, reduced profits, lost managerial authority, deteriorating private property rights, and the threat of social revolution. Moreover, displays of red flags, busts of Marx, and internationalist slogans offended nationalist and patriotic middle-class sentiments.4 Conservatives denounced the “red terror” and “atrocities” of this period, though the landowners and middle classes were in little real physical danger.5They were not physically assaulted, nor were their homes, offices, or private property damaged or destroyed. Yet, from their perspective, they lived in a world turned upside down. The Socialists had virtually “taken over,” and the liberal state appeared to have lost control of law and order.

Fascist squads of armed men personally beat up and humiliated all of the left-wing labor or peasant leaders, threatening their families as well, in town after town. They destroyed left-wing offices, printing presses, meeting halls, and forced elected officials to quit or be killed. All the while, the local police or military did absolutely nothing to stop them, and the left was much too divided to fight back militantly. Eventually, the Italian king invited the fascist leader, Benito Mussolini, to become the official leader of the country. He, in turn, then made all other parties illegal and launched various imperialist wars in Africa and the Balkans, helping set the stage for World War 2 – helping the Fascists come to power in Spain as well.

“…the most immediate and powerfully symbolic form of squadrist violence was the annihilation of the institutions of the Socialist Party, “but the ‘conquest’ of Socialist organizations and municipalities was reinforced and made possible by terror exercised against individuals.”7 The peasant leagues, cooperatives, labor halls, and social clubs—the entire infrastructure of the Socialist “state”—were intensely parochial institutions, organized around popular, charismatic political and labor leaders.8

Fascist squads thus practiced highly personal, localized strategies of violence and intimidation, attacking the most prominent and influential “subversives” within a given province, town, or comune. Fascists sometimes beat these men, occasionally with homicidal intent, but perhaps more commonly intimidated them until they were forced to leave town, thereby decapitating their organizations. The Fascists spent their weekends chasing prominent peasant leaders across the countryside.

Thus, life for labor leaders became terror-filled, especially because Fascists did not limit their attacks to the public sphere. Nowhere was safe. Late at night, 10, 30, or even 100 Blackshirts, as these squad members became known, sometimes traveling from neighboring towns, might surround a home, inviting a Socialist, anarchist, or Communist outside to talk. If they refused, the Fascists would enter forcibly or threaten to harm the entire family by lighting the house on fire.9

In small towns, where everyone knew everyone, Fascists inflicted ritual humiliation on their enemies, a powerful strategy of terror understood by all. Blackshirts forced their opponents to drink castor oil and other purgatives, and then sent them home, wrenching with pain and covered in their own feces. In some cases, squads forced their enemies to defecate on politically symbolic objects: pages of a speech, a manifesto, a red flag, and so on. After administering a castor oil treatment, Fascists sometimes drove prominent anti-Fascist leaders around in lorries in order to reduce them in the eyes of their own supporters.10 They also accosted their opponents in public, stripped them naked, beat them, and handcuffed them to posts in piazzas and along major roadways.11

Although individual working-class leaders might have been willing to live under the constant threat of physical attacks, most were unwilling to subject their families to such danger. Deprived of leadership, meeting places, offices, records, and sympathetic Socialist town councils, the landless peasantry became subject to the landowners’ conventional tactics of strike breaking and intimidation. Having broken the leagues, the Fascists then forced the laborers into “politically neutral” (Fascist) syndicates. Vulnerable peasants had little choice but to join. Landowners used their newfound position of power to restore labor relations to the 19thcentury status quo.

In this country, hundreds of thousands of people joined either a Socialist or Communist party at one point or another during the 20th century. In some cases, those organizations were divided by national origin (Swedes vs Russians vs Jews vs Finns vs Italians vs Blacks, etc) Many of those leftists only remained in those parties for a few months or years. But they helped re-build the American labor movement with their active, leading roles in the great industrial sit-down strikes of the late 1930s; they played important roles in the Civil Rights movement and in the New Deal. And we all know that the Soviet Red Army played the key role in bleeding the Third Reich of most of its military might and in defeating the Nazis. (Which is not to excuse any of the atrocities that the Soviet government visited upon its own people, including active communists who ended up in the gulags along with ordinary criminals or religious dissidents.)

In the late 1940s, the American government decided that all those former New Dealers or premature anti-fascists could no longer be tolerated, and the new Red Scare began. According to a recent book called “A Good American Family”, reviewed in the Washington Post,

“once the Red Scare began to gain steam, many former communists denied their pasts, refashioning themselves as ordinary liberals or refusing to talk about politics altogether. This required not only erasing the trauma of McCarthyism but also playing down the pain of breaking with a cause that had once lent so much meaning to their lives. Like many ex-communists, when Elliott did discuss his communist past, he referred to it as a mistake, a relic from a time when he was “stubborn in my ignorance and aggressive in my prejudices.”

“A Good American Family” shows us something more complex: that at one time, he thought it was possible to be a good communist, a good father and a good American all at once.”

(emphasis mine)

%d bloggers like this: