As an historian, I do not throw around the word fascist lightly. It has a very precise meaning but is so often used to describe anyone to the right of you. I am not using it in that sense. Fascism, as I am using it here, refers to an authoritarian and repressive government using military force to enforce its will domestically.
Background: The Protests Around the Death of George Floyd
Protests have erupted across America in response to the murder of George Floyd by a police officer in Minnesota. The protests have been largely peaceful, but there has also been some violence, looting and property destruction. The latter is obviously to be condemned, but we cannot ignore the wider systemic issues to which these protests are responding. Consider the following brief list. The blatant use of excessive force by the police. Systemic wealth and income inequality. Political corruption and the government’s pathetic response to COVID-19. Rank corporatism in the government. The death of Mr Floyd may have been the spark for these protests, but the powderkeg has been there for a long time.
What was the response from the police, you may ask? Violence, in a word. Jimmy Dore has covered multiple instances of police violence throughout these protests. The police have become a militarised force who are not to be questioned, just ask them (or maybe not). The issue here is not about responding to the issues the protesters are upset about. This is about maintaining and exercising power and control. The Mayors of many of the towns have backed the actions of the police, despite the violence. This should not surprise anyone: a unified front in response to criticism is a common political trick.
Fascism, USA, Part One: The Framework
In a speech from the White House, President Trump declared that
In recent days our nation has been gripped by professional anarchists, violent mobs, arsonists, looters, rioters, criminals, ANTIFA and others.
He then described acts of violence against the police while omitting any mention of acts of violence by the police. He added this little gem too
These are not acts of peaceful protest. These are acts of domestic terror.
While the claim about violence being anathema to peaceful protest is true, domestic terror Mr President? Recall his false equivalence of ‘very fine people on both sides’ in reference to Charlottesville and the infamous ‘Jews will not replace us’ clowns? No such claim here. What could it be that is different about this situation? I cannot seem to put my finger on it. Somone will work it out I am sure.
Fascism, USA, Part Two: Martial Law?
He then gets to the point of the speech that is garnering the most attention. Having outlined (in suitably propagandistic terms) the nature of the situation, the President said this
I am taking immediate Presidential action to stop the violence and restore safety and security in America. I am mobilising all available federal resources (civlian and military) to stop the rioting and looting, to end the destruciton and arson and to protect the rights of law-abaiding Americans including your Second Amendment Rights
Yes, Mr President, because the protesters were coming for people’s guns. That man is an idiot. He lives in a reality completely of his own creation. But more to the point, mobilising federal troops (that’s what federal military resources means)?
As if this point were not explicit enough, he added this
I have strongly recommended to every governor to deploy the National Guard in sufficient numbers that we dominate the streets. Mayors and governors must establish an overwhelming law enforcement presence until the violence has been quelled. If a city or state refuses to take the steps that are necessary to defend the life and property of their residents, then I will deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them
That last clause is decisive: sending the military into states to quell protests. The President has now gone full fascist. To deploy the military against unruly citizens is the height of tyranny. It is the very definition of a dictatorship; the very form of government America claims to oppose.
Cease Quoting the Laws to Us, For We Carry Guns, Part One: The First Amendment
The title of this section is a modernisation of a line from the ancient biographer Plutarch in his life of Pompey the Great. It refers to the fact that when you have troops at your command, the law means nothing. Well, I am going to do it anyway. This blatant violation of at least two laws that I can think of off the top of my head must be called out. Trump’s claim to be able to deploy the armed forces against American citizens contravenes many laws (the First Amendment chief among them). Now before anyone tries to strawman me and say that the First Amendment does not protect rioting, I never said it did. But Trump has conflated the issue of rioting with protest broadly defined, which is protected by the ‘beautiful law’ to quote him. The text of the much-vaunted First Amendment says (in full)
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances
Note the word ‘peaceably’ in that quote. It is perfectly legal to assemble (gather and protest) and to petition for redress of grievances (cry out for change in some form). You can, indeed you must, arrest the rioters and criminals and leave the non-violent protesters alone. Trump’s conflation of non-violent, civil protest with the rioters, intentional or otherwise, allows him to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Nuance never was his strong suit however, so the precedent is set: protest is bad. Any other rights you would like to curtail, you fascist?
Cease Quoting the Laws to Us, for We Carry Guns, Part Two: Posse Comitatus
Of greater interest than the First Amendment violation, however, (where the hell are you constructionist and states’ rights conservatives?) is the violation of Posse Comitatus. Under this 1878 law, it is illegal for active duty (federal) soldiers to perform law enforcement functions inside US borders. In other words, federal troops cannot be used as a make-shift police force. Note that this only applied to federal troops. The state governors are Commanders in Chief of their respective National Guard regiments and can deploy them to supplement existing law enforcement. The prohibition is on using federal troops for law enforcement purposes inside US borders. The problem is clear enough: state governors have no authority over federal troops.
Trump’s policy of deploying the military to quell the violence (and by extension the protests) by definition means he intends to have the soldiers shoot people. They cannot enforce the law, so what other purpose do they serve? This is truly dangerous and must be opposed with all possible (non-violent) force.
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