Just two weeks after the January 6 failed insurrection attempt, President Biden delivered his inaugural speech calling for unity and a commitment to restore the soul of America. Biden explicitly stated that we must confront and defeat the rise of “political extremism, white supremacy, [and] domestic terrorism.”
The angry response by many supporters of former president Donald Trump is informative. Rand Paul, U.S. Senator from Kentucky, characterized the speech as “thinly veiled innuendo calling us white supremacists, calling us racists, calling us every name in the book.” Tucker Carlson of Fox News devoted an entire segment to denouncing the speech and claiming the “new regime” was getting “the FBI and the Pentagon involved in this hunt for people who may criticize them.” And 60% of Republicans nationwide still believe the election was stolen and Biden is not the legitimate President.
The continued allegiance of so many Republicans to the blatant falsehoods and political extremism promoted by Donald Trump is greatly concerning. I asked a colleague I have known for decades, Russell Bellant, to join me in a conversation about how Republican conservative ideals were warped by political extremism, including fascism and Nazi ideology, into the “New Right.” Bellant is the author of Old Nazis, the New Right and the Republican Party: Domestic Fascist Networks and U.S. Cold War Politics. This book was initially published in 1988 and focused on the Reagan Administration. In 1991 it was expanded to the Republican Party as a whole. The book is an excellent source of information on the history of fascist influence on American politics. Sadly, it is just as relevant (if not more so) today.
America First Caucus
Political extremist Republican members of the House of Representatives, including Marjorie Greene of Georgia, and Paul Gosar of Arizona, had been planning to establish an America First Caucus to support the “long-term benefit of the American nation.” Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida was supposedly planning to join the Caucus along with Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas. After the details of the Caucus’s platform were revealed through Punchbowl News, it was clear the Caucus was designed to further promote and implement the nativist world view of the former President. In the document, for example, infrastructure is described as something that should “reflect the architectural, engineering and aesthetic value that befits the progeny of European architecture….” Immigration should be seriously curtailed, including chain migration (which, ironically, is how Trump’s current in-laws immigrated to the United States). References are made to the “deep state” and substantive investigations into “mass voter fraud perpetrated during the 2020 election.”
After considerable negative reaction, including a critical tweet from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Greene is reportedly not going to launch the proposed Caucus. However, she has stated that she intends to continue promoting the values and ideals of Donald Trump; she did not specify exactly how she and her colleagues of like mind will do that, but left no doubt that they would continue to promote Trump’s vision for America.
Bellant explains this is essentially a re-enactment of the Coalition in 1924 that created the National Origins Immigration Act to perpetuate “Nordic” values. The Act was designed to restrict or completely block immigrants from Slavic countries, Italians, Greeks, Spaniards, Asians, and Latinos. Supporters of the National Origins Immigration Act later created the American Coalition of Patriotic Societies to coalesce with emerging extremist forces worldwide.
Trump Family Support for Political Extremism and Nazi Ideology
In The Cult of Trump, I described the family dynamics that formed Donald Trump. Fred Trump, Donald’s father, was authoritarian, emotionally distant, and hypercritical. By his example, Fred Trump conveyed the concept that “killer” and “king” were synonymous. Fred Trump was a supporter of the KKK and was arrested after a clash between 1,000 Klansmen and NYC Police at a rally in Queens in 1927. Donald Trump’s first wife said in a national interview that Donald Trump’s only bedside book was Hitler’s Collected Speeches, which Hitler himself called his second Mein Kampf.
The Trump family were followers of Norman Vincent Peale and attended the church in Manhattan where Peale was pastor. Described either as God’s salesman or con man, Peale preached a philosophy combining faith with material success. His message fits in perfectly with Fred Trump’s worldview. Peale was a board member of Spiritual Mobilization. The group was the creation of prominent Protestant ministers and leaders in industries such as oil production and automobiles. Spiritual Mobilization opposed FDR’s New Deal and became associated with the “America First” movement that opposed U.S. involvement in World War II.
In 1973, after Donald had joined the family business, the Trumps were sued by the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Justice Department for racial discrimination in their numerous housing projects throughout New York City. Folk singer legend Woodie Guthrie happened to live in one of the Trump properties, the Beach Haven apartments. He composed a song called “Old Man Trump” regarding the racist discrimination and the lawsuit.
Perhaps the most important aspect of a political extremist or fascist worldview is that it is fueled by a ruthless drive to attain and hold (state or personal) power. Fascists and authoritarian leaders are willing to abandon any principle and support a contrary position if it is more likely to keep them in power. Truth is whatever set of “facts” helps you succeed and hold power over others.
Winning was everything to Fred Trump, and he expected personal loyalty at any cost. Principles and ideals were for losers and weaklings and could be changed at any time to achieve success.
Fascism Invades American Politics–A Brief History
As I pointed out above, Bellant’s book is an excellent resource for understanding the history of fascist ideology and its effect on the trajectory of the Republic Party in the United States. This history is too detailed and complex to be fully covered in this post. However, during our conversation, Bellant provided a briefer description of the players and the timeline involved.
Fascism as a distinctly political approach had its modern beginnings in Italy under Mussolini. The reactionary movement following World War I was based on a rejection of the social theories that formed the basis of the 1789 French Revolution. These theories were expressed in the rallying cry of the Revolution: Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.
The social theories of liberty and equality are at complete odds with fascist ideology. However, they had a major positive impact on the framers of the United States Bill of Rights and Constitution.
During World War II, numerous ethnic paramilitary units collaborated with Germany to fight against Russia and the Allied Forces. The Bulgarian National Front, the Romanian Iron Guard, Ukrainian Nationalists, The Hungarian Arrow Cross are a few. When the war ended and displaced person camps were established, members of these groups as well as members of the Waffen S.S. found their way into the camps. The camps were run by the Displaced Persons Commission. Within the camps, the various ethnic groups were allowed to keep their networks intact.
A law enacted in the U.S. Congress in 1948 authorized 200,000 admissions to the U.S. over the next two years, and in 1950, it increased that number to 415,000. Many of those admitted to the United States were members of these ethnic groups.
Entities that would later be identified as affiliated with intelligence agencies were also involved in the camps. At the end of World War II, some of our former fascist enemies became our allies in the fight to stop the spread of communism. Nazi scientists were “laundered” and brought into the U.S. space program under Operation Paperclip.
Ethnic Groups in the United States and the Republican Party
After the immigration of many members of these units, starting in 1952, the Republican Party began to establish “heritage groups.” One example of this effort comes from Bellant’s hometown of Detroit. Arrow Cross was the Hungarian equivalent of Germany’s Nazi Party, and former members were moved into southwest Detroit, where there was a Magyar church and a large Hungarian population. Laszlo Pasztor came to the U.S. in the 1950’s and joined the GOP’s Ethnic Division.
Pasztor was one of the leaders of the 1968 Nixon-Agnew campaign’s ethnic division. According to Pasztor, Nixon promised him that if he won the election, he would form a permanent ethnic council within the GOP. After Nixon became President in 1969, the Heritage Groups Council was formalized, and Pasztor was made the organizer of the Council.
Bellant marks the Nixon Administration as the true beginning of the “New Right.” Nixon’s attorney general, John Mitchell, adhered to politically extremist ideology. He believed that the need for law and order justified severe restriction of civil liberties. He brought conspiracy charges against critics of the Vietnam War, likening them to brown shirts of the Nazi era. Mitchell advocated for “no-knock warrants” and preventive detention. He once told a reporter, “This country is going so far to the right you won’t recognize it.”
The goal of a country dominated by Christian Anglo Saxons, controlled essentially by one party and secured through harsh and punitive law and order, is still alive and well in the New Right.
Expansion of New Right During the Presidency of Donald Trump
Until Donald Trump became a presidential candidate, no national Republican candidate had embraced organized white supremacy. During the 2016 election, Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazi leaders were organizing support for Trump, and he, in turn, embraced their support.
During his presidency, the Republican Party became more openly conservative and politically extremist. Members of groups like the Proud Boys, QAnon true believers, and hardline conservative religious leaders became bolder in their actions. Neo-Nazi advocates came out of the closet. Many of these individuals were involved in the January 6 failed insurrection.
On March 26, 2021, John Avlon of CNN Reality Check, spoke about several arrested afterward who had espoused Nazi ideals. These are just a few:
- Timothy Hale-Cusanelli was a military contractor who was well known to be a Nazi sympathizer at the Navy base where he worked.
- Riley Williams, who stole a computer from Nancy Pelosi’s office, was seen on video giving a Nazi salute.
- Robert Packer wore a sweatshirt with “Camp Auschwitz” on the front and “Work Brings Freedom” on the back. This is a rough translation of the “motto” of that infamous death camp. More than a million people, mostly Jews, were slaughtered by the Nazis at Auschwitz.
- Brendan Hunt was not at the Capitol on January 6, but two days later posted a video online telling people to “Kill your Senators.” In December of 2020, Hunt had posted on Facebook urging public execution of prominent politicians such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Senator Chuck Schumer. Hunt had told his father that Trump should be more like Hitler.
Steps Needed to Lessen the Threat of Political Extremism
Bellant and I agree on some of the essential steps needed to deal with this serious threat to our democratic way of life. As a country, we need to have a better understanding that freedom comes with responsibility. Freedom does not mean you can do whatever you want with no consequences. A comprehensive civics curriculum that includes familiarity with the political process and promotes civil discourse and individual responsibility should be included in all schools. The U.S. military must develop a fair approach to identifying extremists and either neutralizing them as a threat to the Constitution or expel them so they do not undermine our strength.
We need to grapple with the concept of free speech in the digital age. Regulations that speak to the power of the Internet and its potential for misuse may need to be enacted. Finally, everyone needs to be educated on the tactics and power of undue influence used by state actors as well as authoritarian individuals.
John Avlon made a very important point when he said, “this did not come out of a vacuum.” His statement is well supported by Bellant’s thorough research and detailed description of the process by which fascist, neo-Nazi ideals moved the Republican Party so far to the right. Solutions must come from Washington DC as well as from the business and private sectors. We need unity and getting to know and befriend others from other cultural and religious groups. The preservation of our democratic way of life depends on it.
Interview With Russ Bellant
Infiltration of Fascist Ideals into American Politics:
- PRO‐ARMS COALITION FORMED IN CONGRESS – The New York Times (nytimes.com)
- Systemic Racism and Oppression: Networks of White Supremacy in the United States – CovertAction Magazine
Reaction to Biden’s Speech:
- Tucker Carlson: Joe Biden declares war on ‘White supremacy.’ What does he mean by that? | Fox News
- After the Gold Rush | Vanity Fair | September 1990
- Donald Trump 2016: How Norman Vincent Peale Created Him – POLITICO Magazine
Nazi involvement in January 6 assault on capitol:
- Timothy Hale-Cusanelli: Navy probe finds contractor charged in Capitol insurrection was well-known Nazi sympathizer – CNN Politics