Government Violence, Militias and Intimidation in American History

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This entry is part 8 of 11 in the series Fascism in America

Trump’s calls for aggression seen in America’s long history of government violence, government-sanctioned violence and intimidation by militias, KKK and other hate groups

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(10-24-2017, updated 07-11-2018)  Fascists don’t mind violence, as long as they’re meting it out, with violent and intimidating government policies and actions, and by encouraging a militarized citizenry. This post explores America’s history of government violence. government-sanctioned violence and intimidation, Hitler’s Nazi Party in Germany,  Trump rallies, and his encouragement of violence against his opposition.

America’s History of Violence and Intimidation

The Wild West

Several Native American nations fought brutal wars, others were mostly peaceful. The different warring factions were probably pretty evenly matched, usually, but their warriors were no match for European firearms. The colonial armies, other tribes who had made deals with the colonists in exchange for firearms, and regular colonists with guns massacred Native American men, women and children. White Americans forced what was left of the tribes into reservations, often not even close to their own territory.

For the longest time, and some would argue still, the country west of the Mississippi was in truth the Wild West. The American army was always fighting Native American tribes. Colonists regularly crossed the Proclamation Line and sowed death and destruction among Native-American villages to make them move. Native American warriors regularly sowed death and destruction in white settlements in retaliation. There were bears and cougars and outlaws, oh my! And folks needed guns to hunt their food. The justice system was just getting started — posses and bounty hunters would often hunt for suspects of crimes and get the reward when they turned them in, dead or alive. Populations exploded during the gold rushes. They had to be able to defend themselves and their property until the justice system caught up.

European colonists began enslaving people almost immediately after their arrival in the Americas, and with it began their brutal suppression of African Americans. Plantation owners could do with their slaves whatever they wanted; they were their property. Plantation owners put poor whites in charge of black slaves. After the Civil War the rich still pitted poor whites in the South against people of color, made them feel superior to blacks, so they wouldn’t unite into one powerful working class.

If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you. — President Lyndon Johnson

Keeping Blacks in Their Place

The  Ku Klux Klan, arose during the Jim Crow Era after the Civil War. The KKK were organized groups of white supremacists who intimidated and lynched “uppity” blacks–any people of color who they felt needed reminding of their place in society. As a warning to others, they would lynch a man or boy, which meant hanging him in a public place like from a lamp post or a tree, for all to see. The police and the entire justice system worked to keep blacks down, and that’s carried over to today. Police violence is in the news every day. Police shoot black kids and men dead on the streets almost on a weekly basis. The prisons are full of black men who got long sentences for holding an amount of drugs on their person for which a white man would only get a slap on the wrist.

A few years ago I was at a train station in New York, seeing my aunt off on her way to JFK Airport. While we were waiting around, one of New York’s finest kicked a young man who was sleeping off on the side somewhere, and yelled at him to move, that he couldn’t sleep there. The guy, Caucasian, probably a European college student catching some z’s after making the absolute most of his visit to New York, mumbled something, sleepily, and the cop yelled aggressively, “What was that?”, itching for a fight. So many police seem to go into every interaction on the offense.

It’s built into the system — it’s purposeful government violence. In this article Chris Hedges points out how policing in America has been all about controlling the “dangerous classes” from the beginning. Shaun King is writing a series right now about the arrest quota system that the New York Police Department officially doesn’t have in the poorest neighborhoods of the Bronx.

Slavery in Prison

Police, local district attorneys and the prisons often work together. The prisons farm out non-violent prisoners in the surrounding areas, and the government pays privatized prisons per prisoner, so of course they always want as many prisoners as possible. It’s in nobody’s interest but the prisoners’ and their families to have prisons be serious rehabilitation centers and it’s in a lot of folks’ interest to keep the free, mostly black, labor–also known as slavery–coming. As for the violent criminals, they just throw them in a cage and throw away the key. It’s a jungle. That you’re going to get raped in prison unless you get protection from a gang is a given; nobody is even outraged about that.

Shootings and NRA Fear-Mongering

Then there’s the National Rifle Association, which nowadays is pretty much a direct advertiser for the gun manufacturers. The gun manufacturers want to sell more guns, so the NRA scares more people (white people) into believing that their home could be invaded (by black people) at any time, and they should therefore be armed to the teeth. And this fear, or the willingness to use firearms against perceived threats is not limited to the home. In 2012 Trayvon Martin, a seventeen-year-old black kid who was visiting relatives in a gated community, was shot and killed by a neighborhood watch volunteer who just felt that he was “up to no good” based on the fact that he was wearing a hoodie and being black while walking in a gated community.

Though 85% of gun owners want sensible gun laws, only the Democrats in Congress–and then only a very brave few–address the issue. The NRA and the second amendment folks make liberals out to be an existential threat, out to git yer guns. It’s clear where the police stand on this issue. Just look at the way the police react to any African-American male who might have a gun.

In 2014 John Crawford III, African American, bought a BB gun at Walmart (because, yeah, you can buy firearms at Walmart, right along with your potting soil and toothpaste) and he walked with the gun through the store to leave. How else could he have left? Beam me up, Scottie? At the sight of a black man with a gun, someone called the police and they shot him dead. In 2016, a cop stopped Philando Castile, African American, for a traffic issue. As he reached into his glove compartment for his insurance papers, he told the officer that he had a gun, and that he had a license to carry. The officer shot him dead.

Juxtapose that with the ridiculously respectful and patient way the Bundy militia was treated by police and other government officials when they occupied and destroyed government property on the Malheur National Wildlife Reserve for an entire week in Oregon in 2016.

Then we have the daily gun violence and intimidation that comes with living in a country with so many guns. There are the mass shootings, but they aren’t even the worst of it. As of today, nearly 900 people have been killed and about 2,000 wounded by gun violence since  the mass shooting in Las Vegas, only 25 days ago. We’ve become almost immune to seeing daily Facebook posts: toddler accidentally kills sibling with gun, teacher finds gun on elementary school kid in the classroom, some idiot shoots someone while cleaning his gun. As for the intimidation, it’s always there. You have to think twice before pointing out to someone when they’re cutting in line in the grocery store, because they might shoot you. Recently someone pulled a gun in Walmart over a notebook in a Back-To-School sale. A fricking notebook! The price difference between one notebook and the other at Walmart is probably at the very most 50 cents.

So that’s a short overview of the government violence, government-sanctioned violence, intimidation and oppression that has been an intrinsic part of American society from the beginning, and unique among the developed nations. That is the part you have to remember. This is not normal anywhere else in the Western world.

Now back to violence and intimidation as aspects of fascism.

Hitler’s Rise to Power

Germany, 1920s: Hitler‘s Nazi Party promoted a Thousand-year Reich,  and a pure Aryan race that would rule the world and wipe out the Untermenschen, starting with the Jews. Naturally, the party attracted violent thugs who quickly formed into various militias, some of them armed, some just intimidating in their numbers and noise and destruction. It wasn’t long before these armed bands were prepared to do anything for Hitler, for the Nazi Party, for the German Reich. They were prepared to go to war.

Germany had become a democracy in 1918, after World War I. In 1917 Russia had its revolution, and it was now a communist state. Germany’s new democracy, also known as the Weimar Republic after the city where its constitutional documents were signed, was a parliamentary democracy with a multi-party system. In a multi-party parliamentary system, if no single party gets more than half the votes in an election, several parties who together have more than 50 percent of the votes form a coalition government.

The Weimar Republic was never fully functional, because President von Hindenburg  was always vetoing things, and he called for a state of emergency several times. In 1933 he appointed Hitler chancellor after the Nazi Party won more than a third of the votes in the election. Von Hindenburg and the conservatives  thought they could use Hitler and his Nazi Party to attain their own goals in a coalition government.  After all, Hitler had no political experience; he was just a demagogue.

In what we now call a shock event, a mentally challenged Dutch man set fire to the Reichstag, the German parliament building, and Hitler convinced Von Hindenburg to call for a permanent state of emergency, because the fire was clearly a sign that the Russian communists were coming. From that moment on the Nazi Party ran the show. All individual freedoms and freedom of the press were wiped off the table and all other political parties were banned. Germany had become a dictatorship. The Nazi Party used its militias and the police to round up (and often kill) dissidents, to shut down the press and to intimidate the people into submission. With all the armed citizens on the streets there was no clear distinction anymore between the military and the citizenry. Germany now had a military citizenry.

Trump Won’t Be Impeached

At the moment, here in America, we have a Republican Congress that refuses to impeach Trump or declare him unfit under Article 25 of the Constitution, because Trump is rolling back a lot of the work done during Obama’s time in office, in particular work that increased rights of  LGBTQ people and regulated large corporations. They also hope to further their agenda, and to a large degree they are succeeding, especially thanks to Trump’s nominations of conservative, large-corporation-friendly folks to cabinet positions and his nominations of extremely conservative judges. Republicans thought they could handle Trump, either because he’s a know-nothing with no experience in politics, or because they thought his behavior on the election trail was just a spiel, or because they hoped he would change.

Though Trump differs from Hitler in that he’s erratic and just plain dumb as far as governing is concerned, he’s been consistent throughout his election campaign and his presidency in his relationship with violence.

Trump Rallies are Fascist Events

Trump behaves like a textbook fascist dictator. He loves holding rallies even now he’s already president, in large part because he can play the crowd. And by, do they get played. Trump supporters laugh at every lame line that can’t even be called a joke and they roar their approval on key. Half the time I wonder if they’ve even heard what he actually just said. They just know it’s time to roar.

Trump Encourages Violence

Trump encourages violence. The American president encourages violence.  He often incited violence against protesters and referred to the good old days when protesters had to be carried out on stretchers. Trump encourages police violence. During a speech to the Long Island police Trump encouraged them to be more violent when arresting people. Because we don’t have enough police violence yet. White Supremacist spokesman Steve Bannon was Trump’s top strategic adviser for the first seven months of his presidency. Trump uses dog-whistle language all the time, which keeps his White Supremacist, KKK and other violent, racist thugs happy.

Trump Encourages Hatred

He also spreads his bigoted message by what he doesn’t do: by not celebrating Diwali, Rosh Hashanah and Eid at the White House. Trump encourages hatred by not reacting at all when immigrants, people of color, LGBTQ people, or anyone who can speak more than one language is attacked or killed in America by people who are clearly from his base (“You’re in Trump country now.”). However, he does immediately tweet about any suicide bombing in France or Britain by Islamist terrorists.

Trump Encourages Militias

Many of the folks who would do anything for Trump, who walk around in public in heavily armed groups, ostensibly “to keep it polite” were already members of militias or the KKK. They harass and intimidate and kill immigrants, people of color and LGBTQ people. Since Trump’s candidacy for president new groups have been popping up like mushrooms in a wet forest. They show up at Trump rallies to “protect the president” and some Republican politicians are hiring or are considering hiring these guys for protection against… well, their constituents, I suppose.

These militias and others, who decide to walk around armed at local events (like at the fair in my little town a few months ago), claim to be there to keep the peace and to just practice their second-amendment rights, but we all know that if a group of black men were to walk the streets with semi-automatics over their shoulders, practicing their second-amendment rights, the army would roll in. Unless it were to happen in one of those cities that have army surplus equipment–then the police could roll out their own tanks. (Obama had put a stop to cities receiving surplus military equipment but Trump gave it all right back again.)

Democrats and the Media Are Not People

Clearly the right to bear arms is only a right for white people, and the only reason those white folks want to bear arms in the street is to intimidate black people. And immigrants. And liberals. During Trump’s election campaign, he immediately started verbally abusing the press, calling them criminals–the liberal media, the mainstream media with their liberal bias, and it didn’t take long before the press was fenced into small areas and guarded by security, visually suggesting their criminal nature. He said of protesters that they weren’t people. “They’re not people, remember that.” In June Eric Trump also said in a TV interview that Democrats were not even people. The NRA is helping this indoctrination through their straightforward propaganda commercials.

Trump’s Base is Ready For Civil War

Exactly how aggressive and how emboldened Trump’s base was became clear in Charlottesville in August, when Neo-Nazis and White Supremacists protested the removal of a Confederate statue and fought counter-protesters, especially beating up black counter-protesters. The militia violence was captured on camera by plenty of folks. One racist even drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing one woman, Heather Heyer. Different groups and individuals have been saying since this spring that if Trump is impeached, they will start a civil war or go on a shooting rampage. A militant citizenry is rising, and it is ready to fight people of color, liberals, LGBTQ, Immigrants… they are ready to fight anyone who opposes Trump.

This is Part 8 of the series Fascism in America. My next post will be about toxic masculinity. It was first published on the blog Resident Alien: Being Dutch in America, under the title: “Fascism in America 8: Violence and Intimidation”, 10-24-2017)


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