By Al Markowitz
Of all the things that bothered me about the recent electoral season, I found the ugly rise and empowerment of hate-groups and the neo-fascist right the most disturbing. Beyond partisan politics, it is obvious that we as a nation have a serious problem. Though I write this before the election, whatever the outcome, this dangerous problem will continue to plague us like a putrid cyst, unless we deal with the diseased culture of hatred, bigotry and xenophobia that has been exposed.
Trump opened the Pandora’s Box of white supremacist bigotry and hyper-militant nationalism that festers beneath the surface of American society, but he didn’t invent it. If anything, maybe he did us a favor in exposing the reality of a growing menace in what is now calling itself the “alt-right.” What was in the past an assortment of hate groups has become more aligned through the internet, developing into a subculture with its own coded language and symbols. Subcultures, once established are resilient and long-lasting. The essence of what unites these groups is white nationalism. This includes militant varieties of fundamentalist Christianity, hyper-nationalism, anti-Semitism, anti-immigrant fervor and gun culture. Many of these people are hard hit by the de-industrialization and pervasive debt resulting from neo-liberal economics. They feel threatened by “minorities and foreigners” as voiced by white nationalist and author Kevin MacDonald who edits the Occidental Observer, an online anti-Semitic and racist e-zine — one of many. Some wealthier types, like Trump, see personal opportunity by feeding the hate and fears of others. None of this is new to our country.
The United States was established and built on racism, slavery and genocide. Virginia’s early economy was based on the breeding and selling of slaves. This, in fact, became a keystone in the national economy just as fossil fuels and militarism are today. The issue of slavery tore our nation apart resulting in the Civil War and continuing regional resentments to this day. Early in the republic citizen groups like the “Know Nothings” formed, voicing fear, hatred and opposition to immigrants from Germany and Ireland. As the Civil War ended, resentment and fear of newly freed Blacks gave rise to the terror of the Ku Klux Klan. In the west, Chinese, as well as Native Americans were the focus of brutal and often violent hatred.
In the 20th century the Klan saw a resurgence in the teens and 1920s. Lynchings and segregation continued in the south and in much of the country into the 1960s. The depression of the 1930s saw a popular rise of socialist thought and at the same time a fascist reaction to it with the growth of pro-Nazi groups. Leading pro-Nazi Americans included such notables as Henry Ford, Charles Lindbergh and The Dulles brothers (Alan and John Foster) as well as leading industrialists who saw in fascism an opportunity to crush organized Labor and socialism. Anti-Semitism was pervasive as well. When my parents were young, Jews were discriminated against and often faced violence. I experienced this regularly growing up in California in the 1960s.
The post WWII years saw the rise of the racist John Birch society founded by Robert Welch and Fred Koch, not coincidentally, the father of the Koch brothers who continue to fund the corporate right. This period was also marked by the McCarthy Red Scare – really an attack on organized labor. This era saw the founding of the New Republic magazine by William F. Buckley, possibly the last intellectual of the far right, and a blatant racist. It also saw the founding of the American Nazi Party led by George Lincoln Rockwell. Much of this was a reaction to Roosevelt’s New Deal and to the struggle for civil rights. In fact, right wing politics from Mussolini to the present is generally a reaction against progress and modernism, thus the term “reactionary” to describe it. Even today, the progeny of these racist organizations voice a desire to “return to a white, Christian America,” to an idealized version of a time in which everyone but wealthy white Christian men was without rights.
Beyond the fear of disinheritance and disenfranchisement pushed by scapegoating others; behind the false populism pushed by right-wing extremists to lull those left behind, there is a real class context that needs to be acknowledged. It is no coincidence that peaceful protesters, from pipeline resisters to those who chose to occupy parks, met the violent suppression of heavily armed police while right-wing fanatics hoard military weapons and form practicing militias without any resistance. It is not a coincidence that Native Americans peacefully protesting on the Standing Rock Reservation to protect their water from a destructive oil pipeline are brutally attacked and charged with crimes while armed militia members led by Ammon Bundy get off Scott-free for violently seizing and occupying public property at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon.
Unlike those exposing corporate and government malfeasance or injustice, extreme rightists and gun-hoarding anti-government types do not threaten the corporate basis of power. Neither do anti-social Libertarians. As I wrote in a previous article, Libertarianism was a project of the corporate world, launched as a big business “ideology” in 1946 by The US Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers. They established a new lobbying front called the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) that focused on promoting a new pro-business ideology which they labeled Libertarianism. The purpose of this front, and of Libertarianism as it was originally created, was to supplement big business lobbying with a pseudo-intellectual, pseudo-economic rationale and to back legal attacks on organized labor and on government regulations. It later became a way to confuse and mislead angry working class folks to support the very corporate agendas which do us harm. So too with front groups like the corporate-backed “Tea Party.” Armed militias and hate groups also act as a force against citizen activism, as the “Oath Keepers” did in Ferguson and as other groups like the KKK have done by threatening and attacking protesters and strikers in the past.
As civil rights and progressive social consciousness advanced in the 1960s, many of these hate groups and right-wing organizations were on the wane with shrinking memberships. Richard Nixon was successful in tapping racist resentments about the ending of legal segregation in the south and to breaking the former regional Democratic Party lock or “solid south” by appealing to racist Dixiecrats, many of whom switched to the GOP in the election of 1968. Though Nixon’s strategy led in the short term to his electoral victory, it set the GOP on a different path. What had been the party of Lincoln became the party of the old Confederacy. The GOP continued to pander to a racist and reactionary base which, like a cancer, eventually took it over. The seed was further planted with the help of Nixon’s adviser and extreme right political pathogen, Roger Ailes.
Roger Ailes is a master of propaganda who also advised Ronald Reagan and George Bush but his biggest and most influential role came as founder and chairman of FOX news. FOX, now owned by Rupert Murdoch, is connected with corporate think tanks and lobbying groups like “The Franklin Center” funded by the Koch brothers and the influential American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Along with “Clear Channel” radio, owned by Bain Capital, which hosts right wing pundits like Rush Limbaugh, Don Imus, Sean Hannity and others who consistently dispense divisive partisan misinformation, Ailes has managed to warp the minds of a significant number of people with blatant lies. The slant of the propaganda offered feeds the hatreds, fears and nationalism of the extreme right, awakening and empowering old hatreds and resentments. These came to the fore with election of Barack Obama, our first Black President. Gun sales rapidly increased as did hate group membership.
Trump tapped into the brain-rotted trail left by Roger Ailes’ FOX project and Clear channel talk-radio but long after Trump is gone from the political scene, the ugliness he has empowered and made evident will still be with us and will have to be dealt with.
How we do this remains to be seen. Media bears a great deal of responsibility. Chris Hedges speaks to this writing, “We are blinded to our depressing reality by the avalanche of images disseminated by mass media. Political, intellectual and cultural discourse has been replaced with spectacle. Emotionalism and sensationalism are prized over truth. Highly paid pundits who parrot back the official narrative, corporate advertisers, inane talk shows, violent or sexually explicit entertainment and gossip-fueled news have contaminated cultural life. “Reality” television, as contrived as every other form of mass entertainment, has produced a “reality” presidential candidate.
Mass culture, because it speaks to us in easily digestible clichés and stereotypes, reinforces ignorance, bigotry and racism. It promotes our individual and collective self-glorification. It sanctifies nonexistent national virtues. It takes from us the intellectual and linguistic tools needed to separate illusion from truth. There are hundreds of millions of Americans who know that something is terribly wrong. A light has gone out. They see this in their own suffering and hopelessness and the suffering and hopelessness of their neighbors. But they lack, because of the contamination of our political, cultural and intellectual discourse, the words and ideas to make sense of what is happening around them. They are bereft of a vision. Austerity, globalization, unfettered capitalism, an expansion of the extraction of fossil fuels, and war are not the prices to be paid for progress and the advance of civilization. They are part of the savage and deadly exploitation by corporate capitalism and imperialism. They serve a neoliberal ideology. The elites dare not speak this truth. It is toxic. They peddle the seductive illusions that saturate the airwaves. We are left to strike out at shadows. We are led to succumb to the racism, allure of white supremacy and bigotry that always accompany a culture in dissolution.”
Along with the blind eye turned toward dangerous proto-terrorist gun-hoarding extremists, fear-mongering and racist propaganda has been allowed as a vestige of “freedom of speech” while truth tellers have been locked up, exiled or suppressed by the corporate media. You won’t see Glenn Greenwald, Jeremy Scahill, Amy Goodman or Julian Assange on CNN. It is time for some public responsibility. Hate speech should be as regulated as child pornography and blatant misinformation should be labeled as opinion, not news. Hate rhetoric is not free speech. It is incitement to violence.
Instead of corporate media mergers like the impending merger of AT&T and Time Warner, we need more independent public media, not like what has become of NPR but more like the BBC or Germany’s Deutsche Welle where actual news is reported and multiple views encouraged. We need to dis-embed our press from the National Security State and hold media moguls responsible for misreporting and for its effects.
We also need an emphasis on multi-cultural education and mutual respect. None of us should tolerate bigotry. All of us need to question ourselves, examining and rooting out our own prejudices. The best way to overcome prejudice and misconceptions about others is to get to know them. No one can make you do so but we can and should have more kinds of people and more experiences in our media to break down barriers of fear and ignorance.
Our American demographic reality is changing. This will continue in spite of the rise of bigotry the GOP has encouraged and fed. It gives me hope to see multi-racial families and social groups, welcomed immigrants and the blending of cultures. No matter the noise from the extreme right, our country is not going back to the blatant racism of the past but, as mass shootings and recent attacks by racist groups demonstrate, we need to seriously crack down on gun-hoarding, hate groups and militias. These present a real and present danger to public safety and to the security of our country.
The tribalism and animosity this election season demonstrated with threats to not accept the outcome and of “2nd amendment solutions,” could easily devolve into a violent civil breakdown and social unraveling not unlike the nightmare of the Yugoslav break up or the horror happening in Syria. We are a nation increasingly, but artificially, divided. I fear that, if Clinton is the President-elect as you read this, the extreme-right will continue to grow if not confronted. We can choose sides but it would be far more constructive to realize that we are, the vast majority of us, really on the same side. We need to understand that what really divides us are not race gender identity, ethnicity, religion or immigrant status but class loyalties and manipulated fear. These are efforts of the oligarchy to divert our focus and keep us divided for their own security, because together we might threaten their power and influence by demanding real representative democracy, climate sanity and an economy that works for all of us. It is time to reject the divisive hatreds and come together as a nation and as a world beyond artificial borders to face the real problems that affect us all.