The Storming Of The US Capitol Was Fascism In Action — And It May Very Well Happen Again, With Or Without Trump
Once democracy’s fragile shield is punctured, the rights and freedoms we hold dear will never be safe from the threat of authoritarianism
In October 1922, Benito Mussolini, alongside members of his party and its paramilitary wing, the ‘Blackshirts’, finally seized power in Italy. Spurred by anti-socialist hatred and widespread malcontent, the 30,000-strong group marched on Rome, leading to Mussolini’s appointment as Prime Minister on 31 October. On that day, Italy became a Fascist country.
Fast forward to almost a century later, and the scenes we witnessed last month in Washington, D.C., where bands of far-right supporters of US President Donald Trump, repudiating the 2020 presidential election outcome, stormed the Capitol, bear an uncanny resemblance to the March on Rome. Now, the differences between a coup d’état directly led by Mussolini himself and a disorganised, at times outright embarrassing, break-in are aplenty — beginning with the fact that the former actually succeeded. If anything, the insurrection would almost appear closer to the “Beer Hall Putsch” of 1923, the Nazi Party’s humiliating botched attempt to seize power, although stark dissimilarities between the two events also exist. At its core, however, the underlying root behind the recent insurrection, namely the violent rejection of national democratic will, remains the same as that of the listed historical episodes, leading to the most unabashedly Fascist moment American history. While we may now breathe a sigh of relief with Joe Biden now being in office, what happened has set a dangerous precedent which must not be ignored — one that should act as a warning sign for democracies around the world.
‘Fascism’ is a term that often suffers from a rather indiscriminate usage, so it’s important to define its parameters. The word itself originated from Mussolini’s party, and its totalitarian, ultra-nationalistic aim of “reviving” the Roman Empire. Nevertheless, its general definition has been expanded to refer to ideologies favouring the militaristic implementation of authoritarian power through demagogical strongmen, often appealing to the socioeconomically-disenfranchised by pitting their interests against those of minority groups — trends which have become growingly present within mainstream politics on both sides of the pond.
For too long, many of us on the progressive wing of politics have been told ignore such concerning political developments, thus preventing us from calling this growing ideological “beast” by its name. Doing so would have been “partisan”, “divisive”, “loaded”, “disrespectful”, to “dilute” the power of its original meaning.
But the truth is, we could see this “beast” taking form every time Trump opened his mouth or sent a tweet. We saw it two years ago, when rally-goers reacted to the President’s comments on US Representative Ilhan Omar by chanting “send her back!” We saw it last November, when Trump supporters, egged on by false accusations of electoral fraud, showed up to polling booths in Michigan, demanding an end to the counting process. And we’ve seen it this January, in Trump’s now-deleted Twitter video, where he declared his “love” for the rioters and repeated his “stolen election” mantra. We’ve all watched over four years of a man whose actions have fuelled the fire of an increasingly dangerous sentiment, leaving us to deal with the consequences it all: tear gas and guns blazing in the Capitol building.
Like almost every Italian born in the previous century, I have relatives who remember living through Fascist rule. My maternal great-grandfather risked his life and professional reputation by refusing to wear a black shirt, and my great-aunt still has her brother’s school report book from 1942, with “Fascist culture” listed as one of the subjects. Listening to my family’s testimonies made me realise just how one of Fascism’s greatest dangers is its surreptitious infiltration within accepted national discourses and rhetoric. The violence with which we associate the term is merely its brutish pinnacle laid bare. Those rioting in D.C. may have only been a tiny minority of POTUS 45’s fan base, and many Republicans themselves denounced the acts that occurred; nonetheless, wittingly or not, they belong to a political movement that has brought to a gradual normalisation of anti-democratic language, thus leading to such unprecedented acts.
The protest, riot, ‘coup’, whatever it ought to be called, failed — Biden is now the 46th President of the United States. But we mustn’t see this as a sign of being out of the woods. While some may dismiss the horrific scenes that blasted on our television screens as the “death throes” of a movement, and its leader, who are being banished to the ignoble footnotes of American history, the truth is that far-right populism and the legacy of Trumpism remain as alive as ever, and have planted seeds around the world that were watered by events two weeks ago. Whatever happens to Trump, as he now faces his trial in the Senate, and however he and his entourage decide to deal with the next few years, a framework for violent Fascism has been established within the US, that has no guarantee of dying with Biden in office. After all, failed coups aren’t always the end of a road — merely a decade after the Beer Hall Putsch, Hitler became Germany’s chancellor.
This must also alert us to a far more widespread issue. For decades, we’d idolised the US as a pinnacle of democracy, whatever profound problems it has battled since its creation. The concept of a “Fascist America” has an almost oxymoronic ring to it. All of this should leave us with the following conclusion: if it can happen there, it most definitely can happen here, in Britain. The gradual erosion of democratic values around the world means we must drop any notion that the UK, or any other West European country, is immune to threat of Fascism. After all, only last June did we have Fascists of our own marching in Westminster Square.
Ultimately, if we want to make sure that such a blatant assault on the values we hold so dear never happens again, both on American soil or on that of any other democracy, it is time we finally nip the thorn in its bud and call it by its name: Fascism, in its truest form.