GOP: A Neo-Fascist White-Identity Party?

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tags: election 2016, GOP, Trump



The Daily Beast special correspondent Michael Tomasky is also editor of Democracy: A Journal of Ideas. Follow Michael Tomasky on Twitter at @mtomasky.

I’ve been reading recently about Bill Clinton’s presidency for a project I’m working on, and I just got to the part about the Oklahoma City bombing. What stood out to me, reading over this material in the Era of Trump, is the way a number of congressional Republicans at the time played footsie with the then-burgeoning far-right militia movements in the run-up to the bombing itself.

If you have no memory of that time, here’s what happened in a nutshell. Right-wing militia movements started growing in the late 1980s. In August 1992, federal agents shot and killed a survivalist in Idaho named Randy Weaver, and his wife and son, after a months-long standoff after Weaver had missed a court date (it was on a weapons charge, but the government really wanted him to flip and become an informant on Aryan Nations, and he said no). It became an iconic moment in those circles.

UPDATE: Randy Weaver survived the raid. His wife and a son were killed, along with a federal agent. He went on to stand trial and was acquitted of most charges; others were laid aside by a judge.

When the dreaded son of the ’60s Clinton was elected, membership in such groups spiked further. Then just three months into Clinton’s term came the FBI storming of the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, resulting in 76 deaths. The next year Clinton and Congress passed, over the NRA’s objections (yes, this was possible, although it did help lose the Democrats their House majority in 1994), an assault-weapons ban. Finally, in April 1995, on the second anniversary of the Waco siege, Timothy McVeigh exploded his truck bomb in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people.

What’s relevant to us today is the way Republicans and the mainstream conservative movement pandered to these militant far-right groups. Many didn’t merely criticize the ATF and the FBI, which was entirely reasonable under the circumstances, but went beyond that to stoke these peoples’ paranoia about government and suggest/not suggest, in that same way we’re familiar with on those non-answer/answers about Obama’s citizenship, that armed resistance was acceptable. Texas Senator Phil Gramm, who was prominent and respected and at one point a plausible presidential candidate, was probably the highest-profile pol to use such rhetoric, arguably aside from Newt Gingrich himself. And of course Republican and conservative movement stoking of fears about immigrants has been constant. 

This was also the time when right-wing talk radio was just exploding (there was no Fox News just yet). Aside from all the normal racial and xenophobic ranting, the AM airwaves were also full of defenses of these movements. G. Gordon Liddy, of Watergate infamy, once advised his listeners that if they saw an ATF man approaching, “Go for a head shot; they’re going to be wearing bulletproof vests.”

There’s no serious counterpart to this on the liberal left. You could compare it I guess to Leonard Bernstein’s radical chic back in the day, but unlike Phil Gramm, Bernstein wasn’t a United States senator whose presidential candidacy was being taken seriously by serious people. The difference may simply stem from the fact that radical left-wingers don’t typically vote in our corrupt capitalist system, while radical right-wingers more typically do. But whatever the reason, the difference is there and has been for a good 20 years at least.

The line from all this to the rise of Donald Trump, based wholly on his immigrant-bashing rhetoric, is direct and indisputable. Back in August, in The New Yorker, Evan Osnos went out and spoke to white nationalists and far-right figures who were enthusiastic about Trump. One, a man named Jared Taylor, who edits a white nationalist magazine, told Osnos: “I’m sure he would repudiate any association with people like me, but his support comes from people who are more like me than he might like to admit.” ...




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