Journalists reporting the events were visibly shaken. Centrist politicians had not seen it coming. Suddenly, seemingly from nowhere, thousands of American fascists had descended on Washington, stormed the Capitol building, and terminated a Congressional session to formalise the election of Biden as president.
Trump had earlier addressed the rally and egged them on. ‘We will never give up,’ he told them. ‘We will never concede. It doesn’t happen. You don’t concede when there’s theft involved. Because you’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength. You have to be strong.’
A few days before, we learned that Trump had phoned the Secretary of State for Georgia and attempted to bully him into rigging the vote during the presidential election. ‘I just want to find 11,780 votes,’ he told Republican Brad Raffensperger. This, too, has taken American by surprise: a sitting president trying to engineer election fraud.
Much of the Left is also behind the curve. We were told in 2016 that Trump was just a regular right-wing Republican who would ‘moderate’ once elected. We were then told at the end of last year, when Trump lost the presidency, that his removal by the normal processes of bourgeois democracy proved him to be a mainstream politician.
The fascist riot in Washington shows the opposite. Three forces combined to produce the riot. First, Trump has shifted US politics sharply to the right and created an electoral mass base for authoritarianism, nationalism, militarism, racism, misogyny, and conspiracy theory. Let us remember that more people voted for Trump in 2020 than in 2016: 74 million of them, 47% of the electorate.
Second, within this mass reactionary electoral bloc, hard-core fascist organisation – including heavily-armed fascist militias – have gained strength and confidence. This was apparent during the Black Lives Matter protests when we saw armed fascists on the streets alongside militarised police units.
This brings me to the third point: Trump’s support base includes disproportionate numbers of police. The police unions, representing around half a million cops, backed Trump’s presidential re-election bid last year. The existing state apparatus – with racist killer cops at its core – is always the primary instrument of fascist-type repression.
Just look at what happened on Wednesday. Trump incited the riot and the cops allowed it. The police were low in numbers, offered only token resistance, and then allowed the fascists to swarm into the building.
Contrast this with the policing of Black Lives Matter protests in the summer. It is inconceivable that a left-wing demonstration of a few thousand would have been able to do this.
The point cannot be made strongly enough. We argued in 2016 – on the basis of the Tory Right’s victory in the Brexit referendum and Trump’s election to the US presidency – that we were witness to a process of ‘creeping fascism’: a wave of authoritarianism, nationalism, racism, and state/street violence that was sweeping much of the world.
This ‘second-wave’ fascism is a direct consequence of the world capitalist crisis since the 2008 crash and neoliberalism’s growing crisis of legitimacy. Economic stagnation, social collapse, and ecological catastrophe have drained popular support away from mainstream liberal centrists and supine parliamentary democracies. As in the 1930s, there is polarisation to the Left and to the Right.
The fascist riot in Washington is another warning from history. We ignore it at our peril.
Neil Faulkner is the author, with Sam Dathi, Phil Hearse, and Seema Syeda, of Creeping Fascism: what it is and how to fight it.