In his 2004 The Anatomy of Fascism, historian Robert Paxton points out that, since the end of World War II violent, uniformed fascist paramilitary groups have not been able to gain any allies that would help bring true fascism to power. Skinheads, he argues,
would become functional equivalents of Hitler’s SA and Mussolini’s squadristi only if they aroused support instead of revulsion. If important elements of the conservative elite begin to cultivate or even tolerate them as weapons against some internal enemy, such as immigrants, we are approaching Stage Two” (175).
During Stage Two, fascist movements establish themselves as a national political force. Stage three is when fascists actually acquire power.
Perhaps more pessimistically, historian Timothy Snyder argues
When the men with guns who have always claimed to be against the system start wearing uniforms and marching with torches and pictures of a leader, the end is nigh. When the pro-leader paramilitary and the official police and military intermingle, the end has come.
–On Tyranny: Twelve Lessons from the Twentieth Century (42)
Perhaps Paxton is now being proven wrong about the inability of violent groups to gain legitimacy. Consider:
- The Multnomah County (Oregon) Republican Party has invited right-wing paramilitaries to police Republican events.
- Also in Portland, a militiaman assisted federal agents in arresting a man at a anti-Trump protest.
- Candidate Donald Trump allowed Bikers for Trump to join professional security and police at his campaign rallies.
- Candidate and even President-Elect Trump used private security alongside the Secret Service. It is unclear to me what role his private security continues to play now that Trump is President, though it was widely reported before his inauguration that he would take private security with him to the White House. The head of his private security now holds a formal position as an assistant to the President.
President Trump has promoted violence against opponents. He and now the Republican Party around Portland are legitimizing right-wing paramilitary groups. The NRA, which has, until the election of Trump, been an anti-government organization, gives the appearance of becoming a pro-Trump paramilitary group. All of this ultimately undermines the rule of law and the constitutional order. Authoritarianism can ride in on the backs of gangs and paramilitaries.
Yes, there is left-wing violence as well. The Alexandria shooting is the most awful example of political violence since the 2016 presidential campaigns began. But consider the responses of the Democratic Party to such events:
- Democrats immediately and consistently denounced the Alexandria shooting.
- When a man wearing a pro-Sanders shirt participated in a violent disruption of a Trump rally, Sanders immediately denounced that violence.
- Antifa has zero support among Democrats.
- Democrats nearly universally denounced Kathy Griffin for showing a fake severed Trump head. And CNN fired her from the annual New Years show.
While Trump, Portland Republicans, and the NRA promote violence and paramilitaries, the Democratic Party, and liberals and leftists in general, have consistently denounced political violence.
There is no moral equivalence between Republicans and Democrats regarding political violence; it is one-sided. Right-wing paramilitaries and use of violence are undermining the rule of law and the legitimacy of our political institutions. This violence promotes a crisis in the constitutional order, exactly the sorts of crisis that fascists and authoritarian movements have historically exploited to establish authoritarian regimes.