Last month, Louisiana’s Sen. David Vitter and Kentucky’s Sen. Rand Paul introduced legislation aimed at amending the Fourteenth Amendment—specifically, denying birthright citizenship to those born to undocumented immigrants. (The State Column, Jan. 30) This idea was notoriously broached last year (“worth considering,” he said) by then-House Minority Leader—today House Speaker—John Boehner. (CNN, Aug. 8, 2010) This would be an alarming enough development, if it were not happening amid a sinister mainstreaming of pro-Confederacy revisionism…
The Minneapolis Star Tribune informs us Feb. 15:
Some white Mississippians want to mark the 150th anniversary of the Civil War with commemorative license plates. The Sons of Confederate Veterans want the plates to honor Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, who was also a notorious Ku Klux Klan leader.
Mississippi’s NAACP is urging Gov. Haley Barbour to denounce the effort. Barbour, a possible 2012 Republican presidential candidate, took several days to ponder whether it’s a bad thing to honor a white supremacist thug who led violence against blacks.
Today, he finally broke his silence on the matter, saying he wouldn’t denounce the effort.
Nathan Bedford Forrest was the founder of the Klan (not just a “leader”)—but also, as a Confederate general, author of the Fort Pillow massacre, where Black POWs were killed en masse in Tennessee in 1864… So the 14th Amendment, which instated equal rights in the aftermath of the Civil War and slavery’s abolition, is under attack just as the legacy of the Confederacy is being rehabilitated. This isn’t just a coincidence. Follow the political logic…
Both Rand Paul and Haley Barbour are, to varying degrees, partisans of the Tea Party. Last year, when former President Bill Clinton observed that Tea Party rhetoric is similar to that brandished by the grassroots right prior to the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, Barbour jumped into action. The chairman of the Republican Governors Association told Fox News that suggesting the “Tea Party movement is going to cause people to be violent” is the “biggest crock that you’ve ever seen.” (Politico, April 19, 2010) (To be fair, this was before the Tucson massacre, before the conviction of Minuteman leader Shawna Forde on child murder charges, and before a populism-spouting yahoo was busted for attempting to shoot up the San Francisco ACLU—although just weeks after the suicide attack on the Austin IRS building!) Rand Paul, for his part, has got a new book out, The Tea Party Goes to Washington. (You can read an excerpt at In The Arena blog, Feb. 25.)
The Tea Party is also serving as the “grassroots” opposition to the ongoing protest vigil against Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s effort to gut state workers of their collective bargaining rights, now in its 11th day. The generally anemic (thank goodness) counter-protests have been courtesy of the Tea Party. And with Republican governors preparing similar rollbacks in Indiana, Ohio, New Jersey and elsewhere, the Tea Party may find itself very useful to those attempting to foist the burden for the economic crisis more firmly onto the backs of the working class. From Reuters, Feb. 25:
Wisconsin Republicans’ drive for budget cuts and a rollback of labor power is a boost to conservatives, Tea Party activists say, though some worry momentum is being lost to pro-union demonstrators.
Activists with the Tea Party Patriots—one of the anti-establishment conservative groups that shook up the Republican Party in November congressional elections—are gathering in Phoenix this weekend for a three-day summit as Wisconsin’s fight over union rights simmers.
These are about the most insightful words one can expect to read in wire copy. The Wisconsin movement is the first time since Obama’s election that the left has started to seize back some of the populist fire from the right. If progressives do not mobilize against capital’s attack, the populist space will be usurped by the right—which will wed its supposed stance in favor of the “little man” to forms easily exploited by the ruling elites: racism, xenophobia and paranoid anti-commnism. This is why we maintain that progressives must wage a three-way fight—against both the lords of capital and the fascist right.
Yes, we said “fascist.” Spare us the lectures on Godwin’s Law. Fascism isn’t a frivolous analogy here, it is what we are talking about. Those who know the history of the rise of classical fascism in Europe understand that this is exactly how it works: In response to rising movements of the working class, a right-wing populism is harnessed to create a corps of thugs to beat workers back into submission. This was precisely the role of the Brown Shirts in Germany and the Black Shirts in Italy. Once fascism consolidates power and the left is safely crushed, the populists are inevitably betrayed with extreme violence (see “Night of the Long Knives,” June 29-30, 1934).
This is why the calls to tweak the 14th amendment and the concomitant mainstreaming of Confederacy-nostalgia are even more sinister than they superficially appear. It would be the beginning of formalizing white supremacy. The anti-immigrant backlash has already seen the seeds of a system of de facto two-tier citizenship. The next step would be to repeal the notion of equal rights entirely.
Despite their fetishization of “original intent” of the Constitution (and especially the Second Amendment), the right has a special bugaboo about the 14th Amendment. The persistent right-wing folklore that the 14th Amendment created “two classes” of citizens (“sovereign” or “organic” and “14th amendment” or “admiralty law”) is clearly derived from the simple unwillingness to accept non-whites as full citizens. The worst elements mix this notion up with the “two-seed” theory of the Christian Identity movement, holding that non-whites are the offspring of Satan. This sounds utterly wacky, of course—because it is. But the brains behind the Militia movement in the ’90s adhered to this doctrine, and these men were just one degree removed from Pat Buchanan.
An obstacle to the rise of a fascist movement in this country is, of course, the fact that the US fought the Nazis in World War II. This means that an openly pro-fascist stance runs into trouble with the appeal to nationalism and militarism that is always a pillar of fascism. This contradiction necessitates the adoption of pseudo-anti-fascist rhetoric. Hence the alarmingly widespread perception on the American right that Nazism was a phenomenon of the left because of the “national socialism” rhetoric—precisely the rhetoric that made Nazism appealing to populist sentiment during its rise to power! This is what we have identified as the application of Hitler’s own ideology and propaganda techniques to Hitler himself.
A critical key to resisting fascism’s rise is learning to recognize it in its new guises—even when it paradoxically employs anti-fascist rhetoric (Obama as Hitler, ATF agents as “jack-booted thugs,” Hitler as an advocate of gun control, etc.) As Huey Long, Louisiana’s populist governor and senator of the 1930s, is supposed to have said: “Fascism will come to America in the name of anti-fascism.”
That’s the way it could work here. The most reactionary elements of the white working class (and downwardly-mobile middle class) will get ethnic scapegoats and the promise of a nation purged of foreign contagions as they are used to beat back the progressive elements of the working class—until such time as their work is done and they have outlived their usefulness to the ruling class. By which time we will all be under some form of American fascism that will almost certainly call itself something other than “fascism.”
Or am I just paranoid?
See our last post on the worldwide rise of the radical right.