From the start of this series, we’ve been warning of the metastization of American Fascism, and we’ve been noting how so many of these warnings hide in plain sight – as in, right on the screens of our internet-enabled devices. Today, we’re flying abroad and venturing the globe to find out how not-so-unique this strain of fascism truly is.
WARNING: This story covers some sensitive topics, including terrorism, harassment, and murder. This story also includes some adult language. Reader discretion is advised.
Gawddammit, must fascism come this close to my (and my father’s) doorstep?
Of all the summer news cycles I’ve experienced and covered in the last 15 years, this summer has already proven to be the wildest – and not necessarily in a good way. In my original homeland of Orange County, California, the newest city council member of Huntington Beach, Rhonda Bolton, immediately faced racist epithets and threats of a recall election just minutes after being sworn in. This is on top of the statewide recall election facing California Governor Gavin Newsom (D) that’s mostly being driven by far-right forces seeking to overturn the 2018 and 2020 elections they lost. Normally during this time of the year, I’d plan a Surf City outing with my dad. Instead I just listen as he updates me on the latest unrest in what’s once again a hotbed of fascist activity, and we’re making sure he’ll be ready to vote once his recall election ballot arrives in the mail.
Closer to home, far-right activists continue to descend upon the Clark County School District (CCSD) and Washoe County School District (WCSD) to disrupt board meetings, rail against mask mandates, spread anti-vaccine conspiracy theories, complain about school curricula that dare to be better inclusive of our whole population and complete history, resort to blatant homophobia and transphobia to attack new sex education standards, and demand a riskier environment for everyone at our public schools amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic – all in the name of “protecting our children”.
Late last month, former WCSD Trustee Kurt Thigpen posted an op-ed in This is Reno explaining why he resigned earlier this year. It’s easy for some activists to shitpost about their desire to “fuck shit up”, but do they ever think of how their actions affect everyone else in the room? In his op-ed, Thigpen recalled some incredibly harrowing ordeals of doxxing and online harassment that could have led to physical altercations. No matter how “anti-establishment” the apologists and sycophants out there try to “rebrand” this behavior into, it shouldn’t change the reality that these kinds of threats are not conducive to a functioning democracy.
As we’ve been warning throughout this series, this did not “come out of nowhere”. In our “Chosen One” and “A Brief(-ish) History of American Fascism” installments, we examined the origin story of American Fascism – one that’s rooted in white supremacist ideology, been with us since the earliest days of European colonialism, and latched onto Christian Fundamentalist/Christian Dominionist theology to gain more power and mainstream acceptance. And in “Red Pill” and “The QAnon Phenomenon”, we examined how internet-savvy fascists refashioned their ideology of bigotry into byte-sized memes and “anti-establishment” rhetoric that was expertly designed to go viral on social media. Today, we’re taking a closer look at the “boomerang effect” of American Fascism traveling abroad, gaining further power and influence abroad, and coming home with chilling consequences.
What the hell was Tucker Carlson doing in Hungary, and why should we care?
Tucker blames “chaos, filth, and crime” on immigrants and then offers up authoritarianism as the solution.
Seriously. His week in Hungary has been an absolute nightmare and a gift to the antidemocratic Right. https://t.co/Ipty2kS9G4
— Jared Yates Sexton (@JYSexton) August 7, 2021
Last week, Fox News star polemicist Tucker Carlson took a field trip to Hungary to proclaim the many virtues of Hungarian President Viktor Orbán’s regime. Again, this did not “come out of nowhere”. Rather, the Orbán regime spent years building relationships with fellow far-right forces on both sides of the Atlantic that culminated in then President Donald Trump’s endorsement of Viktor Orbán and his voracious rollback of democracy after Hungary seemed to break free of Soviet-era authoritarianism.
On Fox News and throughout the “Web of Hate” that provides most of Fox’s content these days, Hungary is a model of “law and order Christian conservatism” where “cancel culture” is eradicated, “family values” reign supreme, and “Western civilization” has reached its pinnacle. In the real world, however, Hungary has become a prime example of “gangster capitalism” corruption where access to Orbán is the most valuable commodity, and where the vast majority of Hungarians who don’t have that level of access have no chance at success. Orbán has also become notorious for his attacks on independent journalists, his refusal to adhere to European Union human rights standards as he openly persecutes LGBTQ+ Hungarians and immigrant communities, and his embrace of authoritarian leaders like Russia’s Vladimir Putin and China’s Xi Jinping as they form a new global alliance of “illiberal democracy” that’s merely a front for their transnational crime syndicate.
Carlson is a Fascist demagogue. From Mussolini on, “filth” has meant groups that threaten the nation’s “health,” such as Jews, leftists, Muslims, Roma, migrants, LGBTQ+. https://t.co/ndOt23I5LN
— Ruth Ben-Ghiat (@ruthbenghiat) August 7, 2021
Very good dissection by @ruthbenghiat of Tucker Carlson’s leading his viewers toward Hungary-style autocratic nationalism.
— Ryan Goodman (@rgoodlaw) August 7, 2021
When we look more closely, we can see even more “family resemblance” in Viktor Orbán’s brand of “illiberal democracy”. When Rhonda Bolton was sworn onto the Huntington Beach City Council last month, the opponents in the audience hurled insults like “Transplant!” and accused her of “radical” “racial pandering”, simply because the council chose to appoint her over a known alt-right activist and neo-Nazi sympathizer who lost her bid for city council in last year’s election. In his This Is Reno op-ed, Kurt Thigpen recalled how opponents would try to flood the space at WCSD board meetings with personal insults when they couldn’t make any fact-based justification for their calls for WCSD to violate Nevada state law on sex-ed and diversity inclusion. And of course, former President Donald Trump continues to trumpet his alleged “law and order” platform, even amidst growing evidence showing how Trump sought to overthrow our very Constitution-based democratic government so he could stay in power despite losing last year’s election.
From the incredibly racist “replacement theory” that aspiring authoritarian leaders like Viktor Orbán and Donald Trump have used to hide their racism behind “law and order” rhetoric, to the manipulation of “democratic” language to justify the destruction of democracy itself, there are plenty of common threads that bind Orbán, Trump, Putin, and their fellow leaders of “illiberal democracy”. The better we understand these common threads, the better we can stop the assault on our democracy before it succeeds.
Wait, wait, do tell us – What was Donald Trump doing in advance of January 6?
Amidst everything else that was going down last week, it’s easy to understand why so many Americans probably missed this news entirely. Nonetheless, let’s review: Patrick Hovakimian, chief of staff to then-acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, prepared a resignation letter that made clear why he couldn’t stay any longer: “This evening, after Acting Attorney General Jeff Rosen over the course of the last week repeatedly refused the President’s direct instructions to utilize the Department of Justice’s law enforcement powers for improper ends, the President removed Jeff from the Department.” Hovakimian never sent that letter, as Rosen somehow survived as Acting Attorney General all the way to President Joe Biden’s inauguration on January 20, but he did recently turn it over to the U.S. House’s January 6 investigative select committee.
There were ample reasons for Hovakimian’s suspicion of Trump’s behavior. On a December 27, 2020, phone call with Rosen and acting deputy attorney general Richard Donoghue, Trump declared, “Just say that the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the [Republican] Congressmen.” The U.S. Justice Department never found any evidence to corroborate Trump’s claims of “voter fraud”, but this call does strengthen the case against Trump’s efforts to commit election fraud. Just days before the January 6 Attack on the U.S. Capitol, The Washington Post and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution revealed a call between Trump and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) where Trump explicitly demanded that he “find 11,780 votes” for Trump despite Raffensperger reiterating that Biden indeed won the election in Georgia by 11,779 votes.
These are just the latest reminders of how close we came to losing our democracy entirely. At the same time, these also serve as sobering reminders of how close we still are to losing our democracy entirely. Despite the ample evidence of Trump’s brazen attempt to cancel the 2020 election results and undemocratically consolidate his power, so many in our government and in the national media continue to act as if it “wasn’t that bad”, blame it on “both sides”, and/or indulge in full-blown revisionist history where the insurrectionist terrorists were allegedly just misunderstood “anti-establishment revolutionary heroes”.
Here are more prime examples of “useful idiots” for the global spread of 21st century fascism.
Ever since the Cold War, Russian government intelligence operatives have cultivated a network of “useful idiots” around the world who spread propaganda for them, even when they don’t realize their words and deeds are exactly what the Kremlin wanted. More recently, the Kremlin has become more aggressive in building a large cohort of international allies who always happen to endorse Vladimir Putin’s agenda, even when they claim they have no relationship with Vladimir Putin.
Since at least 2016, the Kremlin has interfered in multiple European elections. The most notorious example is the United Kingdom, particularly when it comes to the 2016 Brexit referendum where the pro-Brexit/anti-European Union campaign was powered by “financiers” and political operatives with close ties to Putin alongside dreams of disconnecting Britain from the E.U. Following Brexit, Putin turned his sights deeper into the E.U. with the 2017 French presidential election: the far-right candidate Marine Le Pen infamously met with Putin in Moscow, her National Rally party awkwardly obtained a $10 million loan from a Putin-linked bank, and even after Le Pen’s loss Putin-linked operatives continued to sow “instability” in France by taking advantage of situations like the 2018 Yellow Vest protests. Meanwhile in Germany: Russian state media have openly campaigned for the far-right AfD party, Russian operatives have developed relationships with both the AfD and the far-left Die Linke party, and both AfD and Die Linke regularly rail against economic sanctions and other attempts to rein in Putin’s influence over Europe.
Speaking of Putin’s influence over Europe, we can find multiple reasons why Putin and his network of oligarchs continue to meddle in European politics. In the U.K., “Londongrad” has become a hotspot for Russian oligarchs to hide their assets thanks to Britain’s very lax financial regulatory system. In the E.U., the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project serves multiple purposes in securing more European customers for the Russian state fossil fuel company Gazprom, strengthening Europe’s reliance on Russian natural gas, and providing a bypass away from the fledgling democratic government in Ukraine. And at home, Putin loves to show the Russian people how his “managed democracy” is allegedly superior to the “chaos and destruction” in the wild, wicked West.
If any of this feels vaguely familiar, it should. In 2018, the Putin-linked Ukrainian-Americans Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas set up a shell company to illegally launder foreign money – especially Kremlin-linked oligarch money – into U.S. campaigns and other political organizations. Coming even closer to home, Fruman and Parnas sought to launch a “marijuana dispensary” here in Nevada as their shell company made $10,000 donations to Adam Laxalt’s (R) and Wes Duncan’s (R) respective campaigns, and as they joined former federal prosecutor turned New York City Mayor turned Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani at a campaign event for Danny Tarkanian (R). Later on additional news broke on Parnas and Fruman pursuing a similar “marijuana business” in California, Parnas and Fruman funneling foreign cash into Republican coffers across the nation, Parnas allegedly setting up a fraudulent “fraud protection” insurance company to cover up his real mission with Giuliani to “get dirt” on Joe Biden, and Parnas later admitting himself that their “business” was really just a series of scams to benefit themselves.
Let’s examine some more the “family resemblance” among these far-right movements.
In Russia, Vladimir Putin has become notorious for his brutal crackdown on political opponents, his frequent attacks on Russia’s LGBTQ+ communities and other historically oppressed communities, his abuse of “terrorism” charges to silence opponents and scare the general public into submission, his abuse of power to essentially raid state coffers for his own personal enrichment, and his “managed democracy” where elections never really have consequences because the elections are always decided in advance (and not necessarily by the Russian people). However, Putin doesn’t always have to crack down on his own – He’s essentially outsourced much of the enforcement to private “Cossack” militias who simultaneously give Putin “grassroots support” and plausible deniability, and to regional leaders like Chechnya’s Ramzan Kadyrov who go about their reigns of terror with Putin’s approval.
In recent years, Putin and his allies have been exporting this model abroad. Most notoriously in Ukraine, the Putin regime supported “Cossack” militias in Eastern Ukraine while Russian state media spread lies about the Euromaidan Revolution that rid Ukraine of their pro-Putin kleptocratic President Viktor Yanukovych, and Putin himself has even tried to gaslight the world into believing Ukraine is somehow not a real country. Meanwhile in the European Union, Putin utilizes his collection of “useful idiots” to mendaciously reframe their fascist movements as “anti-establishment patriotic populism”, and he weaponizes “commercial links” to get political leaders in E.U. member states like Hungary, Austria, and Italy to lobby his case from within. Far-right demagogues like Heinz-Christian Strache in Austria, Matteo Salvini in Italy, and Marine Le Pen in France regularly call for a new “nationalism” based on “identity” and “sovereignty”, yet a closer look at their respective parties’ finances show how their racist, xenophobic, and anti-immigrant rhetoric mask their real desire to participate in transnational crime sprees.
The Russia-Ukraine War has since become a major online and IRL recruitment field and training ground for neo-Nazi militias (and even worse – they’re found on both sides of the conflict). As mentioned above, the U.K. has become a key financial hub for Putin-linked oligarchs to launder their illicit gains and “flash that cash” in proper British style, and not even the growing epidemic of “mysterious” assassinations on British soil has curbed these pro-Putin billionaires’ establishment of “Londongrad”. And during Donald Trump’s presidency here in America, we saw mounting evidence of Trump and his apparatchiks monetizing U.S. foreign policy for their own benefit as the Trump administration dragged their feet in enforcing Russian sanctions, brushed aside both American democratic ideals and national security interests in building relationships with the likes of Vladimir Putin and the Saudi royal family, and openly boasted of foreign policy goals for “Trump’s second term” after he lost the 2020 election.
Yes, the threat of fascism is real. Yes, it’s happening around the world. And yes, fascism is closer to home than some of us want to admit.
I am appalled by the recent remarks about Nevada’s First Lady Kathy Ong Sisolak. These blatantly racist and false anti-Asian conspiracy theories are dangerous tools used to divide us. Kathy Sisolak and Nevada’s entire AAPI community deserve an apology. https://t.co/KX10O77ZHT
— Senator Cortez Masto (@SenCortezMasto) August 10, 2021
— Jean Guerrero (@jeanguerre) August 8, 2021
Before we go, I want to make this clear: I have zero interest in spreading any conspiracy theories, and I’m trying my best here to lay out the facts without making false accusations of all-encompassing “collusion”. Rather, I’m pointing out patterns in the hope that more of us notice what’s happening in our own country, more of us recognize that none of this occurs in a sealed vacuum, and that even “nationalist” fascism respects no international boundaries. In the 1920s and 1930s, the Nazis looked right here to America and found in Jim Crow a useful blueprint for unleashing their “Aryan” crime state across Europe. In the internet-driven 21st century, that bloody export of fascism is coming back to haunt us.
When viewed in isolation, it’s quite disturbing to watch some of the most powerful Nevada Republicans develop “business relationships” with the very Proud Boys who participate in violent crimes like the January 6 Attack on the U.S. Capitol, then watch some of Nye County’s most powerful Republicans spread false propaganda and launch racist diatribes against Nevada First Lady Kathy Ong Sisolak, then notice the leading Republican candidate for Secretary of State participate in an “election fraud symposium” run by the same consultant behind the Nevada GOP-Proud Boys relationship. It’s also disturbing to watch aspiring demagogues like far-right talk radio personality Larry Elder (R) take full advantage of the California Recall special election, even to the point of trying to hide his own relationships with known anti-vaxxers, his rejection of climate change science and minimum wage law, and his own role in influencing Donald Trump’s presidency while marketing himself as some “anti-establishment” savior. It’s also disturbing to watch Governors Ron DeSantis (R-Florida) and Greg Abbott (R-Texas) take their “limited government conservative” rhetoric and twist it into attempts to coerce local governments into allowing free reign for COVID-19.
I don't agree with Nichols on much but he's right, this is how people who lived through it in earlier eras describe fascist radicalization happening. Like falling off a cliff: someone goes over the edge even the slightest bit and then they fall all the way to the bottom. https://t.co/QbwxVi4YJw
— Will Stancil (@whstancil) August 8, 2021
However, we should not view any of this in isolation. We should look around us, and we should look abroad. As I say so often, this did not “come out of nowhere”. Even though Trump’s attempted coup failed to keep him in The White House past January 20, he and his allies continue to reap the rewards of the acceptance of violent fascism as “dank memes”, the rebranding of voter suppression as “election integrity”, the gaslighting of an unconstitutional and undemocratic power grab attempt into some “law and order agenda”, the hiding of racist threats behind “anti-establishment fervor”, and the crass normalization of brazen corruption. Just as these problems did not just vanish in Ukraine following Euromaidan and Viktor Yanukovych’s departure, these problems do not just disappear from America because Donald Trump has established his own bizarro-world presidency-in-exile at Mar-a-Lago.
Try as they might, but President Joe Biden and other Democrats currently in power can not just rely on “survey liberalism” and nicely stagecrafted speeches to wishcast this ongoing threat of fascism out of sight and out of mind. One of our greatest foreign policy crises is also one of our greatest national security threats, and it’s long past time we treat this global resurgence of fascism as such.
If you or someone you know is facing a major life crisis and struggling with thoughts of suicide, help is available. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is always there at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK). So is the Crisis Text Line, where you can start a conversation with a volunteer counselor by texting “START” to 741741. And for LGBTQ+ youth in need of immediate help, the Trevor Project has a 24/7 hotline at 1-866-488-7386 and a text option (text “START” to 678678) available.