The people who stormed the U.S. Capitol Building Wednesday afternoon are not new, and they’re not going away. With this in mind, we can’t hesitate to call their movement what it is: Fascism.
What happened in Washington was another instance of the recent unity between the extremist far right and the mainstream GOP base. Conspiracy theories like QAnon and online echo chambers have driven much of Trump’s base into the arms of the neo-Nazi far right. Look no further than Representative Mary Miller, R-Ill., telling the crowd “Hitler was right on one thing” the day before rioters stormed the Capitol while flying white supremacist banners and wearing “Camp Auschwitz” hoodies.
This development is a reminder of the white supremacy and authoritarianism which has held power in America since before its independence. This ideology has not always taken the form of fascism, but slavery, the genocide of Native Americans, the KKK, Jim Crow and countless other evils that make up the history of a country which has routinely upheld racism instead of liberty and justice.
President-elect Joe Biden’s claim the events at the Capitol “do not represent who we are” is wrong. In fact, the U.S. has often attempted to violently overthrow lawfully elected governments — even doing so inside the United States to preserve white rule. Even today, a significant minority of Americans supported the mob in D.C., with one in five voters approving, according to a YouGov poll.
Beyond being wrong, Biden’s remarks show how incapable mainstream liberalism is of dealing with this threat. Appealing to the “rule of law” and “simple decency” in the face of a literal fascist insurrection, however disorganized and unprepared it might have been, is naïve and weak.
His reference to the “rule of law” is especially absurd, because the people who enforce said laws, the police, are partly responsible for this happening in the first place.
The Capitol Police and D.C. Metropolitan Police were not unprepared for Wednesday’s events. The demonstration on Jan. 6 was planned by the far right online, in plain sight of anyone who wanted to do anything about it. In fact, they were encouraged by the president to be violent. It wasn’t exactly a covert operation.
The reason why the mob was able to breach the Capitol building is not that they overran the police; the police let them in. They opened the gates between the demonstrators and the Capitol building, took selfies with them and then politely escorted them out.
Why? The political goals of the far right are in line with the political goals of the police. The Fraternal Order of Police and other police unions endorsed Trump in 2020 and 2016, and the call for “law and order” was nothing but a dog whistle in support of police violence.
These far-right demonstrations do not challenge the power of the police and the state, unlike the mostly peaceful Black Lives Matter protests last year, which faced infinitely more repression. Cops are more than twice as likely to break up left-wing protests than right-wing ones. Police will not stand against fascism — they'll support it.
In another liberal effort to strike back against the insurrectionists, House Democrats seem poised to impeach Trump again. While this action is certainly needed, the movement that Wednesday’s mob represents is too far out of control for it to really work. As they demonstrated on Capitol Hill, fascists are more than willing to act with or without approval from on high. Trump is incredibly dangerous and a potent rallying point for the far right, but he is not a serious leader, and the far right will not go away when he leaves office.
If anything, their show of force on Jan. 6 will embolden them. Whether we like it or not, the most important political battles of the near future may not be in the legislatures but in the streets. In short: the government will not save us.
If the reaction from the left to this development is to avoid confrontation and call for civility, then the far right will simply grow, consolidate, and organize their power while also threatening the safety of the most vulnerable groups in the US. Instead, we must be willing to confront this growing threat head-on, even if it means moving past liberal politics.