The Republican Party Is a Fascist Cult

All Republicans bear the blame for this assault on democracy. 

Ask not for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee, Republicans.

On Wedneseday, pro-Trump rioters stormed the United States Capitol in an act of sedition. They did so at the behest of the president of the United States in an attempt to overturn our election and install Trump as a president. Rudy Guliani spoke of “trial by combat.” Donald Trump Jr. threatened opposing congresspeople, exclaiming that “we’re coming for you.”

Rioriters prowled through the Capitol, armed with zip tie handcuffs. They brought pipe bombs, Molotov cocktails, and gallows. Some sought to kill any lawmakers they could find who opposed them, like Vice President Mike Pence, who they planned to hang from a Capitol Hill tree because he wouldn’t exercise a nonexistent power that Trump and other conspiracy theorists claimed he held. And they came dangerously close to reaching lawmakers. Their actions caused the deaths of five people and the serious injury of over fifty officers.

Yet Republicans are still making excuses for them. Most blame Joe Biden. But the whole country saw what Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz and company did. They. Wanted. This. 

And Joe Biden thinks impeachment is too divisive, and won’t be in the interest of unity? Says we need a “principled and strong” Republican Party? Shame. Biden’s words are as insane as anything Trump has ever tweeted.

Trump must be impeached this week, then be charged and convicted of incitement of insurrection. Law enforcement leadership, as well as individual officers who abdicated their duty, must be investigated and fired as appropriate (some already resigned). And the Republican Party, which aided this coup every step of the way, must pay. There can be no unification with Republicans without accountability, no reconciliation; the only way the country can “heal” is to ridicule and ostracize them.

There is no way to look at the massive budget and military capability of  Capitol Police and conclude that this was unavoidable. Though there are conflicting accounts of who was responsible for the lackluster law enforcement presence, it was an egregious underestimation of the mob’s violent intentions one way or the other. We saw the meltdown on camera. Notwithstanding those who retreated out of necessity, some police aided the attackers by opening pathways, standing by, and directing rioters to congressional offices. Those who actually did their job paid a heavy price, being mercilessly crushed and beaten by rioters. There was insufficient preparation for a planned assault, and by the time the mob was taken seriously, it was too late.

DC is the most protected place in the country; the Capitol has not been seized since 1814 when the British burned the White House. Need we be reminded of what the Lincoln Memorial looked like during the summer’s Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests?

Or what police did to peaceful protesters at Lafayette Square at the order of President Trump and Attorney General Bill Barr?

Attempts to frame this as some unfortunate accident are nonsense. The streets of DC would be bathed in blood right now had BLM protesters attempted even a fraction of what Trump’s brownshirts did. DC police arrested almost three hundred protesters on June 1—the day of the Lafayette square attack on peaceful protesters—and the morning after. They even sought to use a heat gun on BLM protestors.

But Wednesday afternoon? Thirteen arrests, less than a typical Steelers football game. The rioters smashed the windows and doors. Stole House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s mail, laptop, and podium, and hunted for her throughout the building as her terrified aides hid nearby. Advanced within view of House lawmakers still being evacuated in the Speaker’s Lobby. And were mere feet away from the unlocked Senate chamber (with Senators still inside) just seconds before it was sealed. 

Many police stood by for them to do so. One officer directed rioters around while wearing a MAGA hat, and another even took a selfie with an attacker. And it was the police who allowed many to leave as if nothing happened. Unsurprising, considering how many of the rioters were some of their own.

Everyone knew this was coming. Trump supporters broadcasted their intentions loudly and clearly for weeks. Earlier events in DC foreshadowed the violence at the Capitol.

It is not the disruptive nature of this event that makes it wrong. Violence, in and of itself, does not invalidate a movement. State violence occurs every day in this country, and we allow it to happen simply because it is backed authority. On some level, we recognize that destruction can be justified.

The majority of Americans approved of the burning down of a Minneapolis police precinct after the George Floyd murder. And they were right—it deserved to burn to the ground. Because Minneapolis police earned it. Because it was the symbol of a state that had murdered Floyd in cold blood. Because Floyd was just one of thousands that same state had brutalized. The substance of the action matters. 

But what is the substance of this attack? Right-wing extremists working with elected officials to mount a hostile takeover of the government. Anti-democratic individuals who are so far gone they believe the election was stolen from Trump through voter fraud ranging from ballot stuffing to vote switching to voting software commissioned by a dead Venezuelan president. People who want to enact minority rule and uphold a far-right autocrat with no concern for the law—and who believe their right to protect their White identity supersedes all else. There is no moral equivalence behind a movement calling for justice and one that seeks fascism

And yet the blame does not solely lie with the police, despite their participation in these riots and involvement with White supremacists, who were well-represented in Wednesday’s mob. It does not solely lie with the Pentagon, which is responsible for the National Guard being called far too late. And it does not solely lie with Trump, though his incitement of this attempted coup—“You’ll never take back our country with weakness; you have to show strength, you have to be strong”—should never be forgotten. The blame lies with the Republican Party, its media, and every one of its voters. 

Republican lawmakers spent months railing against BLM protesters, calling them un-American. In a sense they were correct; the almost entirely peaceful demonstrations starkly contrasted with America’s tradition of conservative, White violence. Trump and Republican Senator Tom Cotton even called for the military to illegally put down the protests “without quarter.” But no such concerns were raised for their supporters, who planned to install Trump by any means necessary. 

Republicans went along with bullshit claims of election fraud, first to see if they could get away with stealing the election and later because they knew their voters wanted it. Yet claims of fraud were ultimately a farce; these actions would have occurred no matter what. If the only consequence for attempting to overthrow an election is that it didn’t work, there is no reason not to try until it does. A failed coup is still a coup.

To frame the coup as a fringe movement is disingenuous. The Capitol rioters had the support of the majority of congressional Republicans, who either aided them in their attempts to overthrow the rightful president-elect or endorsed them through silence. A majority of House Republicans and twelve GOP Senators vowed to object to the certification of electoral votes, betraying their country in an unforgivable manner.  

Even after the assault on the Capitol, eight Republican senators and 139 representatives still objected, granting the mob exactly what it wanted. Those who rescinded their objections were simply doing damage control and still maintained the lies that caused the riot. Last month, when the Washington Post reached out to congressional Republicans about who won the election, only thirty-seven acknowledged that Biden won, while 208 did not respond.

The coup attempt that we saw was twofold. Those who stormed the Capitol worked in congruence with the lawmakers who attempted to stop the certification of the duly elected Biden. GOP officials from across the country even took part in the raid. 

But Republican politicians aren’t acting in a bubble. The media that conservatives consume fostered the Trump cult of personality that has led to this moment. In this, the establishment liberal media is also to blame, obsessing over Trump, platforming his sycophantic enablers, and indulging in their lies. As mainstream media ponders how something like this could happen, it would do well to consider its role in normalizing the people who made Trump possible. Maybe don’t rehabilitate the image of those who erode democracy by casting them on Dancing With the Stars.

But while liberal media holds part of the blame for putting lipstick on a pig, conservative media is at fault for radicalizing its audience to the point where they no longer live in reality. Seventy percent of Republicans believe that the election was not fair, a number undoubtedly influenced by conservative online commentators, talk radio, and television media

In the two weeks after the election was called, Fox News hosts pushed conspiracies on their news and opinion shows nearly six hundred times. Yet even Fox was too liberal for the election conspiracists, who migrated en masse to even further right stations like Newsmax and OAN after Fox called Arizona for Biden. Though Fox did everything to stoke the flames of election conspiracy, their on-paper recognition of Biden’s win was enough to sink their credibility with many Republicans.

An analysis of conservative online content shows a similar break from reality. According to Transparency Tube, YouTube videos that fall into the category “Partisan Right” overlap 42 percent with the category “conspiracy” and 15 percent with “QAnon.”

Tucker Carlson’s Fox show, the highest-rated program in cable news history, feeds White nationalist propaganda to millions. His top writer Blake Neff, who bragged that he wrote everything Carlson read, resigned this summer after he was revealed to have spent years posting on a White supremacist forum. Carlson defended Neff on his show, perhaps understanding his audience. White supremacist Andrew Anglin, founder of the neo-Nazi site “The Daily Stormer,” called Carlson “our greatest ally,” and his show “basically ‘Daily Stormer: The Show.’” Carlson is the most talked about Fox host on “The Daily Stormer,” having 265 articles written about him between 2016 and 2018 (Sean Hannity comes in a distant second with twenty-seven).

An analysis of conservative online content shows a similar break from reality. According to Transparency Tube, YouTube videos that fall into the category “Partisan Right” overlap 42 percent with the category “conspiracy” and 15 percent with “QAnon.”

Considering the screeds of Republican television, talk radio, and the internet, is it any shock that misinformation has such staying power? It is virtually impossible to get conspiracists to see reason on the fairness of the election. If reason was at play here, we wouldn’t be in this mess. 

Right-wing commentators play a disgusting game of chicken with the country, screaming about how their enemies will be the end of America as we know it, then backing off and taking zero ownership when their lies and fearmongering get people killed

But for all the blame we can put on politicians and media figures, none of this would be possible without the voters who support all of this. The Republican Party’s members have created an illiberal, racist party that scorns the very concept of democracy. While former Republicans were not so brazen as to storm the Capitol, this sort of violence has long been seen as commendable by the Right. 

In 1970, conservative construction workers mauled Vietnam protesters with the acquiescence of police and the support of President Nixon. In 2000, a group of Republican lawyers and staffers rioted outside of the election supervisor’s office during the Miami-Dade County Florida recount. Their efforts inhibited the ability of the canvassing board to meet the court-mandated deadline and helped George W. Bush win the presidency. 

During the height of the Tea Party movement, Republicans gathered nationwide to lynch and burn effigies of President Barack Obama, and brandished guns at health-care town halls. Republicans have been incredibly clear about what gets them going. “I thought he was going to do good things,” one Trump voter said. “He’s not hurting the people he needs to be hurting.”

And should it be said that Trump’s actions don’t represent most Republicans, consider how many people voted for him even after he undermined public faith in elections and democracy for years. Sixty-three million in 2016, seventy-four million in 2020. Ninety-three percent of Republicans voted for Trump in 2020, up three percent from 2016. Trumpism will continue because Trumpism is what Republican voters want. Trump did not hijack the party; he has simply taken it where it wanted to go. Sixty-eight percent of Republicans did not think the Capitol attack threatened democracy; 45 percent—a plurality of those polled—actually supported it. 

Many people, including those on the left, say that cries of Trump’s fascism are overblown. But a revisiting of the components of fascism listed in Umberto Eco’s 1995 essay “Ur-Fascism” shows the Republican Party to be firmly in line with its central tenants. To name a few . . . 

The cult of tradition

Trump’s pledge to “Make America Great Again,” borrowed from Republican hero Ronald Reagan, is a textbook appeal to a forgotten past. A return to this mythic past is the central promise of conservatism—to, in the words of National Review’s founder, stand “athwart history yelling stop.” This also is the rationale behind Trump’s 1776 Commission, an attempt at a revisionist, rosy picture of American history and culture that glosses over or justifies anything unpleasant.

Yet the tradition’s ugliness is integral to its appeal, though it may go unspoken. The White supremacists carrying the Confederate flag through the Capitol, along with those dressed in neo-Nazi garb, understand what the conservative tradition is: a country where women, Black people, Jewish people, and other minorities know their place. 

The rejection of modernism

While Trump personally shows great hostility toward modernity, this is not limited to him. Modernity and progress are by definition the enemies of conservatism. Conservatives have vehemently denounced what they see as the declining morals of America in the last fifty-odd years, identifying the Sexual Revolution and Civil Rights Movement as worthy of ire. Trump’s railing against critical race theory fits into a broader conservative paranoia about “postmodernism” sweeping the nation, fueled by reactionaries like Jordan Peterson and James Lindsay. Their arguments against “social justice” (that “murderous equity doctrine”) are in no way different from those of their forefathers. Today’s BLM antagonist is yesterday’s church bomber. Today’s antifeminist is yesterday’s defender of marital rape

Fear of difference

Exploiting fear of outsiders is the easiest trick in the book for galvanizing Republicans, whether it’s Trump demonizing Mexican immigrants and Muslims in his campaign, conservatives mobilizing over a racist conspiracy that Obama was born in Kenya (which 72 percent of Republicans still believed in 2016), or people from “shit hole” countries. In 2018, Fox News drummed up fear before the midterm elections through nonstop coverage of a migrant caravan in Central America. 

This tactic has been in the conservative playbook for quite some time. Nixon aide John Ehrlichman admitted that the War on Drugs was fueled by a desire to vilify hippies and Black people. When railing against welfare, Ronald Reagan’s “welfare queen” story directly drew upon racist attitudes about lazy Black people. And George H.W. Bush played into fears about Black criminality with his reliance on Willie Horton to smear Michael Dukakis. If the Republican base did not eat this racist vitriol up, conservative media and politicians wouldn’t push it so much. 

Life is a Permanent Warfare

Fascism is fascinated with violence. Trump used the words “fight” or “fighting” twenty times in the speech that incited the Capitol mob, and he was reportedly delighted about the events that unfolded. Edmund Burke, considered the philosophical founder of conservatism, extolled the virtue of a constant, terrible struggle: “The passions which concern self-preservation turn mostly on pain or danger, and whatever is fitted in any way to excite the ideas of pain and danger, or operates in a manner analogous to terror, is a source of the sublime, and is productive of the strongest emotion which the mind is capable of feeling.” 

Conservatives fetishize police, then turn on them when it suits their aims. At the Capitol, a mob, flying the flags they used a month ago to support the police, bashed one nearly to death with flag poles and pipes. The support for the violent state does not stem from a belief in order; it comes from its capacity for violence. Yet when conservatives are roused to violence—whether storming statehouses armed in lockdown protests, plotting to kidnap and behead the governor of Michigan, or seeking “trial by combat” in the Capitol—they find that state power a constraint, even when that power yields to them. Understanding this shows that there is no contradiction in those who supported the brutalization of BLM protesters and those who felt entitled to rampage in the Capitol. 

The obsession with a plot

The Republican Party would not be what it is today without nonsensical plots to excite its base. The plandemic. The election fraud conspiracy. QAnon and the Great Awakening. Pizzagate. The Great Replacement. Antisemtic theories about George Soros and global elites. Republican congresspeople, like Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert (who aided the rioters by tweeting in real time about the movements of Speaker Pelosi), have supported QAnon. In fact, 56 percent of Republicans believe that QAnon is at least partly true.

The enemy is both strong and weak

Essential to the fascist mindset is Orwellian doublethink—entertaining conflicting beliefs about the enemy. Conservatives portray their opposition as whatever suits their purposes. One moment, Joe Biden is a sleepy, do-nothing politician. Then he is a radical leftist hell-bent on bringing socialism to America. Or he is a corrupt crime boss, who colludes with Hunter Biden to rake in millions of dollars. 

Liberals are special snowflakes who are offended by everything and afraid of being real, strong men. Simultaneously, they go around beating into submission everyone who disagrees with them. Liberals value feelings and emotions over facts, and conservatism is the ideology of logic; yet academia, scientific organizations, and virtually all experts conspire against conservatives. No one but glorious patriots could have raided the Capitol in such a fashion, but antifa is actually to blame for the violence, who “forced” them to storm the building.

Oh, and did I mention the crypto-fascists, racists, and Nazis among their actual candidates for office? 

“How does this happen?” demanded Lindsey Graham of Senate Sergeant at Arms Michael Stenger during the Capitol lockdown. The irony was apparent. While Stenger and security officials were at fault for the actual breach, Graham and his Republican ilk bore direct responsibility for the fervor of the mob that now threatened their lives. 

In the wake of this latest display of fascism, the Republican Party has shown that it deserves no place in this country. This is not to say that the country should become an ideological monolith, but reactionaries cannot be tolerated in this manner. 

America cannot go on in such a fashion, where one party stops at nothing to obtain power and contests elections they lose. It is up to everyone who cares about democratic rule to excise every member of the Republican Party. Mitt Romney is not your friend. Jeff Flake is not “one of the good ones.” The Trump cabinet members who resigned days before Biden’s inauguration are not heroes. The “Good Republican” myth must die.

This sort of thing can never happen again. Ensuring Republicans never come to power is the first step toward achieving this. A house may withstand the thief or the liar, but it cannot survive the arsonist.

This article has updated to correct inaccuracies and slightly tweak its argument.

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