Republished with permission from Thom Hartmann
How would you react if one day you were sitting at home and the phone rang and when you picked it up you heard a man shout:
“Kill yourself now so we can save ammo!”
Moments later, an email arrives that says:
“I hope the Federal government hangs you and your daughter from the Capitol dome, you treasonous piece of shit! I pray that I will be sitting close enough to hear your necks snap.”
This is what happened to “Shaye” Moss and Ruby Freeman when Trump and Giuliani decided to blame Trump’s loss in Georgia on them, incorrectly claiming they were stuffing ballots for Biden. Just a few hours later, a mob with torches and a bullhorn showed up at Freeman’s house, although she’d already left after being warned by the FBI that she was on the “kill list” of a January 6th defendant they’d just arrested.
Mitt Romney, speaking with writer McKay Coppins for his book “Romney: A Reckoning,” told him the story of multiple Republican senators who were so terrified of violence at the hands of Trump’s fascist followers that they set aside their consciences and voted against convicting him of trying to blackmail Zelenskyy and, later, trying to overthrow the government of the United States.
“One Republican congressman confided to Romney that he wanted to vote for Trump’s second impeachment, but chose not to out of fear for his family’s safety. The congressman reasoned that Trump would be impeached by House Democrats with or without him—why put his wife and children at risk if it wouldn’t change the outcome?
“Later, during the Senate trial, Romney heard the same calculation while talking with a small group of Republican colleagues. When one senator, a member of leadership, said he was leaning toward voting to convict, the others urged him to reconsider. You can’t do that, Romney recalled someone saying. Think of your personal safety, said another. Think of your children. The senator eventually decided they were right.”
I know liberals and regular reporters in the media who are quite happy trash-talking Biden but are frankly terrified of the possibility that Trump or one of his high-profile followers might sic Trump’s fascist fan boys on them. As a result, they self-censor.
Similarly, multiple judges in the past few months have been given the chance to take Trump off the ticket because of his clear violation of the Constitution’s 14th Amendment by inciting and supporting an insurrection. Each one whiffed, and their legal logic was so thin it’s reasonable to conclude they’re also unwilling to have their families suffer the death threats and harassment that comes with being an “enemy of Trump.”
When the justices on the Colorado Supreme Court finally found the spine to vote him off the ballot, within hours the threats began. Now they’re having to pay for security for themselves and their family members, and go to sleep every night dreading the possibility that a lone wolf Trump supporter—like the one who broke into Paul Pelosi’s home and attacked him with a hammer—may be looking for them, too.
As NBC News reported, Trump’s followers reacted to the Colorado justices with predictable ferocity:
“’This ends when we kill these f–kers,’ a user wrote on a pro-Trump forum that was used by several Jan. 6 rioters.
“’Kill judges. Behead judges. Roundhouse kick a judge into the concrete,’ read a post on a fringe website. ‘Slam dunk a judge’s baby into the trashcan.’”
NBC’s Ryan Reilly added:
“The threats fit into a predictable and familiar pattern, seen time and time again after legal developments against Trump.”
Thus, Jack Smith was unable to find even four Supreme Court justices who were willing to grant cert to hear his challenge to Trump’s claim of absolute immunity from prosecution; terrified, they left the case with the DC Circuit Court of Appeals in the hope those judges will draw Trump’s ire—and his followers’ fire—thus diluting their own risk.
This is how fascism takes over a nation from within: with violence and the fear of violence.
I’ve been doing what is now the nation’s largest progressive radio/TV show for 20 years, reaching an estimated audience of 6 million a week. My writings here on HartmannReport.com are frequently reprinted by other progressive media.
The result is that I regularly get threats, although this is not a phenomenon shared by my rightwing colleagues. When I asked a couple of rightwing radio hosts I’ve known for years if they get threats of violence or death, each said, “No.”
There is no movement advocating political violence on either the American left or in the center. It is entirely confined to the American right, and the media needs to admit that and the FBI needs to recalibrate their efforts.
As fascism expert and historian Emilio Gentile noted about how fascist movements start and gain power:
“In the beginning there was violence.”
Violence and the threats of violence are the key to understanding fascists like Trump and the movements they inspire.
As any professional interrogator can tell you, deep down inside, all of us humans are really just scared little kids. The more we’re broken down by the circumstances of life or government policy, the less secure we feel, the harder it is to get by in life, and the more scared we become.
And, for many people, out of that fear comes the willingness—hell, the enthusiasm—to embrace “big daddy” in the form of a tough guy leader who promises to “restore” those who feel the fear back to their previous (or imagined future) positions of power, wealth, and authority.
This becomes particularly easy for fascist leaders when their followers are convinced that the nation’s government has become hopelessly corrupt, a project rightwing fossil fuel billionaires, rightwing media, and Republican politicians have been promoting here in the US for decades.
Ever since the Reagan Revolution, in their zeal to cut their own taxes and stop regulation of the fossil fuel and other polluting industries, they’ve been hammering the message that our government has been seized by “deep state socialists” bent on destroying our country.
Republicans and the billionaires who own them have repeated this conspiracy theory so often for the last few decades that an entire religion, Qanon, as arisen around it.
This belief, that much of what our government does is illegitimate or even malicious, makes it easy for low-information voters to bind themselves to a fascist “reform movement” that promises better times ahead.
As fascist followers act out their violent threats against their leaders’ perceived enemies, they get an inner sense of strength and the feeling that they’ve joined a community: that diminishes their own fear for a short while.
The more an “other”—political enemies; racial, religious, and gender minorities; women—are blamed for the ills of the nation, the more vigilante-style violence against them is justified and the more violent the future becomes.
When the state pushes back against that violence, as America did after January 6th, the calls for increased violence become even louder. Trump is practically shouting “kill them!” with a bullhorn and even our court system is afraid to stop him by throwing him into jail as they would have any other common criminal who encouraged such violence against judges, juries, witnesses, court officials, and their families.
Calling people to violence by denouncing those being scapegoated is central to fascist politics.
Mussolini used to feature Italian “whistleblowers” who, like Joe McCarthy here back in the day, would call out “corrupt” government officials whose only real crime was not supporting him. Hitler had every radio station in Germany play phone calls from local citizens who denounced their neighbors for sympathizing with Jews, socialists, or trade union organizers.
Once publicly targeted in these ways, mobs or lone-wolf assassins would descend on these people’s homes. After a few well-publicized beatings and killings, everybody from media figures to politicians to judges backed away from trying to stop fascists or even hold them accountable.
When he was rising to power in Hungary, for example, Victor Orbàn’s right-hand-man led a torchlight march into a Budapest Roma neighborhood threatening to burn the “gypsies”—who fled in terror—out of their homes. More recently, Orbán started arresting people who “defamed” him on social media.
Soon, nobody in or out of the government is willing to stand up to the fascists; it’s too dangerous and too exhausting. Being the object of regular threats of violence or death is not something anybody would volunteer for unless they saw the stakes as being very, very important.
This is what Trump and the GOP he’s captured are working toward: the silencing of dissent and accountability, replacing them with fear and a guilty complicity. Just take a look at the state of social media today, particularly Xitter and Facebook, which have dialed back on their content moderation and thus loosed the fascists on anybody who dares criticize Trump or the GOP.
As Michael Ebner wrote in his book “Ordinary Violence in Mussolini’s Italy”:
“The Fascist state ruled Italy violently, projecting its coercive power deeply and diffusely into society through confinement, imprisonment, low-level physical assaults, economic deprivations, intimidation, discrimination and other quotidian forms of coercion.
“Moreover, by promoting denunciatory practices, the regime cemented the loyalties of ‘upstanding’ citizens while suppressing opponents, dissenters and social outsiders.”
Trump is telling us right up right now that he intends to rule as a fascist if he’s able to either win or seize power through other means in 2024. Informally, his militia followers will be showing up at polling places next fall to intimidate voters; they see themselves as the shock troops of the new GOP.
Formally, he’s planning on ending your and my protections against state-sponsored police violence, which he openly intends to deploy against anybody who opposes him and his regime:
“I am also going to indemnify our police officers. This is a big thing, and it’s a brand-new thing, and I think it’s so important. I’m going to indemnify, through the federal government, all police officers and law enforcement officials throughout the United States from being destroyed by the radical left for taking strong actions against crime.”
When Trump says “crime,” of course, he’s using the same fascist-speak that Hitler, Mussolini, Putin, and Orbán use that means “minorities” and “political enemies.”
And his followers are listening and acting.
The Anti-Defamation League published a report finding there have been more than 170 murders committed by rightwing (and, I’d add, therefore probably Trump-aligned) extremists over the past five years; only 3 deaths could be attributed to people “on the left.” None of the victims were “criminals.”
So, how does a nation deal with an epidemic of violent rhetoric and actual violent attempts?
Fascists are always a minority when they rise to power in a country. They’re experts at manipulating democratic systems—particularly through things like voter suppression, gerrymandering, voter roll purges, and voter intimidation—to seize power, and then corrupting the existing systems and laws in ways that keep them in power.
At the moment, the fascist movement in the US is very much confined within the GOP and aligned with fringe militia and fundamentalist religious factions.
Merrick Garland should have come down on them hard as soon as he assumed his job as Attorney General; because he dithered for two full years until he was shamed into appointing Jack Smith by the January 6th Committee, Trump’s fascist followers have gained considerable momentum.
By continuing to refuse to investigate or prosecute the people who are still in power and conspired with Trump to overthrow our government, Garland further empowers America’s homegrown fascist movement. This must stop, and news that the FBI has finally acquired some of the content of Congressman Scott Perry’s phone is a positive sign, albeit too little and too late.
But the ultimate victory over fascism in America has to be in the ballot box rather than the courthouse. Americans who believe in democracy and reject strongman oligarchy must turn out next November in overwhelming numbers and so shatter the GOP that the party will be forced to reinvent itself in a way that includes purging itself of its fascist-supporting members.
And we damn well better succeed, because fascists never give you a second chance to defeat them or hold them to account. If we try to stop them and fail, Trump has already told us he’ll have a nice cold cell waiting for you and me in the concentration camps he promises to build to hold “millions.”
There is pretty much nothing more important now than waking up our friends and neighbors to this threat…
Thom Hartmann, one of America’s leading public intellectuals and the country’s #1 progressive talk show host, writes fresh content six days a week. The Monday-Friday “Daily Take” articles are free to all, while paid subscribers receive a Saturday summary of the week’s news and, on Sunday, a chapter excerpt from one of his books.