The horrid stench of violent authoritarianism and fascism is in the air. This week on Intercepted: Trump prepares for a U.S. military deployment along the Mexico border and threatens to abolish birthright citizenship as the country is rocked by mass murder and pipe bombs. Two scholars of fascism, NYU’s Ruth Ben-Ghiat and Yale’s Jason Stanley discuss Trump’s brand of authoritarianism and dissect the similarities and differences between Trump and fascist leaders Mussolini and Hitler. Actor Ty Jones, producing artistic director at the Classical Theatre of Harlem, perform’s Langston Hughes’s poem “Let America Be America Again.” Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting’s Adam Johnson breaks down how white supremacy and fascism are discussed in U.S. media, hypocrisy on Saudi Arabia, and the false both-sides paradigm on radical right-wing violence and terrorism. And hardcore punk musician Julian Cashwan Pratt of the band Show Me the Body talks about “Work Sets You Free,” a silent visual essay juxtaposing federal prisons in America with the band’s own footage of visits to concentration camps while touring Europe. Info on the screening of the film can be found here.
Laura Ingraham: And now, my interview with President Trump. Mr. President, thank you so much for being here today. We really appreciate it.
Donald J. Trump: Thank you, Laura.
LI: When you hear people use the phrase “anti-Semitism” to describe anything connected to you — you have a Jewish daughter — what do you say to that?
DJT: She — I don’t know, she’s just a globalist, and I don’t see any other connotation than that.
LI: Over the weekend you called Andrew Gillum, you referenced him being a thief. What did you mean by that?
DJT: One hundred percent. Well, if Florida has a African-American governor like that, Florida will become Venezuela. It will be a disaster.
LI: Kanye West spent some time here.
DJT: He’s great. I said, who’s that guy? Let me see it again. And I said that guy is great. He’s a star.
LI: Uh, they’re pointing fingers at you, saying, look, you could do more, you’re the leader of the free world, stupid, dumb, slept in the afternoon, incompetent, a warmonger. He obviously—also seen as insane, completely insane. What do you say to that?
DJT: I was insane for a long time. A total maniac.
LI: Thank you, sir. Thank you for your time.
DJT: Thank you very much. Thank you.
LI: Really appreciate it.
Jeremy Scahill: This is Intercepted. I’m Jeremy Scahill, coming to you from the offices of the Intercept in New York City, and this is Episode 72 of Intercepted.
DJT: I could have had a little bit of an excuse, there was no excuses. We have our lives, we have our schedules, and nobody’s gonna change it, okay? And we’re here. So let’s have a good time. [Applause.] And if you don’t mind, I’m going to tone it down just a little bit. Is that OK?
DJT: No. [Laughs.]
JS: In the United States right now, there is an unmistakable stench in the air. It’s the horrid scent of violent authoritarianism and fascism. Whether it is intentional or just a product of his life circumstances, Donald Trump has embraced one of history’s most foul playbooks — a playbook written by the Mussolinis, the Hitlers, the Francos. It is unmistakable because we see it openly on national television.
DJT: The media has a major role to play, whether they want to or not. [Crowd boos.] The media’s constant unfair coverage, deep hostility and negative attacks — you know that — only serve to drive people apart and to undermine healthy debate.
JS: We see the president of the United States call the news media “the true enemy of the people.”
DJT: When I say the enemy of the people, I’m talking about the fake news. And you know it better than anybody. You have news out there that is so fake, and I can do the greatest thing ever — North Korea.
JS: We hear Trump’s press secretary discussing revoking Posse Comitatus.
Steven Portnoy: Is the president talking about potentially ignoring Posse Comitatus by having the military go down? There’s a provision in the law that allows for a constitutional exemption. Is that in any way under consideration?
Sarah Huckabee Sanders: We’re looking at a number of different options.
JS: We hear the president threatening to change the Constitution by fiat, by executive order, to strip birthright citizenship.
DJT: It was always told to me that you needed a constitutional amendment.
Jonathan Swan: Right. [Crosstalk] amendment.
DJT: Guess what? You don’t.
Jonathan Swan: You don’t.
DJT: Number one. Number one, you don’t need that. Number two, you can definitely —
Jonathan Swan: I mean, that’s in dispute. That’s very much in dispute.
DJT: Well, you can definitely do it with an act of Congress. But now they’re saying I can do it just with an executive order.
Jeremy Scahill: At rallies, this man revels in chants calling for his political opponents to be locked up and jailed.
Crowd: Lock her up!
JS: We see thousands of children stripped from their parents’ arms and placed in camps, while their mothers and fathers are characterized as rapists, murderers, criminals.
DJT: We have gang members, we have predators, rapists, killers. A lot of bad people.
… That’s called an invasion of our country.
JS: We see the president leading the way in attempting to strip gay people, transgender people of their humanity. We see modern-day Brownshirts being openly encouraged to carry out violent acts.
DJT: Any guy that can do a body slam, he’s my kind of guy.
JS: And we see the followers of this president and his ideology murder Jews because they are Jews, murder African Americans because they are African Americans, send bombs to politicians, and Jewish philanthropists and news organizations.
CBS David Begnaud: Two days after the slaughter at the synagogue, the man accused of the massacre appeared in court, shackled and in a wheelchair. He was formally charged with killing 11 people in what has been called the deadliest attack on Jews in U.S. history.
Jake Tapper: The FBI is now investigating last week’s fatal shooting of two African Americans at a Kroger grocery store in Kentucky as a potential hate crime, the town’s mayor said today. Police say the accused shooter initially tried to get into a predominantly black church—
Reuters: A 56-year-old man, accused of sending parcel bombs to prominent Trump critics, top Democrats and CNN, has been charged with five federal crimes. Florida resident Cesar Sayoc, seen here at a 2016 Trump rally, now faces up to 48 years in prison.
JS: The top law enforcement officer in this country right now, Jeff Sessions, is a white supremacist who goes out of his way to praise the “Anglo-American heritage” of law enforcement.
Jeff Sessions: The office of sheriff is a critical part of the Anglo-American heritage of law enforcement. We must never erode this historic office.
Jeremy Scahill: We saw the president declare himself a nationalist, and we knew what he meant when he said it.
DJT: You know, they have a word. It sort of became old-fashioned. It’s called a nationalist. And I say, really, we’re not supposed to use that word. You know what I am? I’m a nationalist, okay? I’m a nationalist. [Crowd cheers.]
JS: All of this is wrapped in the rhetorical flag of Make America Great Again.
Adolf Hitler: [Speaking in German.]
JS: These tactics, this appealing to the false notion that the immigrants, the Jews, the blacks, the leftists, the uppity women have sullied a once-great nation — these tactics are not new. History is filled with monstrous leaders who followed and advanced this same strategy.
Benito Mussolini: [Speaking in Italian.]
JS: Many of them came to power through a democratic process. Trump intentionally revises history. He intentionally promotes a mythology of a country that never existed. He taps into the anger and the rage of white people in search of someone to blame, and he openly encourages them to act on their perceived victimhood.
DJT: For decades, open borders have allowed drugs and gangs to pour into our most vulnerable communities. They’ve allowed millions of low-wage workers to compete for jobs and wages against the poorest Americans. Most tragically, they have caused the loss of many innocent lives.
JS: Yes, we see all of this in Trump. We see it every day. Trump must be confronted. The dangers he poses are grave. At the same time, we must not view Trump as some American anomaly, as just a modern-day iteration of history’s infamous fascists. After all, Trump is not a product of post-Versailles Germany. He’s a product of this empire. He’s a product of the United States.
JS: The question — “Is Trump a fascist?” — is to me a less interesting and less relevant question than why Trump’s message resonated so much that he won in 2016, and why he may well win again. Trump’s message would not be effective if it did not have the 240 years of history that predated his presidency. It would not be possible if this country was not built with the blood, sweat and mass deaths of Africans snatched from their homes and brought on ships across the Atlantic.
It would not be possible if this nation’s settlers did not engage in genocide against its indigenous inhabitants. It would also not be possible if, throughout history, people did not resist, if workers never organized, if black people didn’t fight slavery and systematic discrimination if immigrant rights activists had never mobilized or won victories. The Trump presidency is a violent response to more than two centuries of struggle for human rights and dignity.
When Trump speaks of making America great again, we know what many of his most passionate supporters hear. They want white supremacy to be not just the reality, but the official policy. They want to live the myth that Trump promotes every day. This moment begs us all to resist, to fight, but it also screams out for us to recognize the collective responsibility for Trump. He’s not somehow an extremist outside the bounds of the Republican Party. He’s their perfect leader. He’s a Trojan horse for implementing all of the ideas that they foster, but have had to be careful advocating in public.
Mike Pence: And President Trump, from our campaign in 2016 to every day since, has been calling on the Congress and taking the action that’s available to stem this tide of illegal immigration.
JS: And let me tell you something — Mike Pence knows what he is doing. Mitch McConnell knows what he’s doing. Trump is their ideal leader because they can write off the horrifying things Trump says as, “Well, that’s just how the president talks,” while simultaneously ramming unconscionable policies through the system as law. The Democrats are campaigning on a platform that they’re not Trump, and it’s undoubtedly true. There are definitely real differences between Trump and even the most right-wing Democrats.
At the same time, the Democrats regularly support Trump on crucial issues. The elite of the Democratic Party have backed Trump in expanding his surveillance powers. The paramilitarization of law enforcement did not begin under Donald Trump. A massive military budget has been a staple of the bipartisan consensus in Washington, and it continues unabated under Donald Trump.
Resisting authoritarianism means confronting not just Trump and his ilk. It means recognizing, confronting and yes, dismantling the built-in machinery of repression that is part of the American exceptionalism that both Democrats and Republicans promote. It also means reckoning with the actual history that is erased and whitewashed through this mythical story of American greatness. Trump did not invent this mythology, nor did the GOP. It’s been reinforced by the U.S. political system and its powerful political parties, and it has led us to the terrifying reality where Donald Trump is president.
I’m joined now by two scholars of fascism. Ruth Ben-Ghiat is a professor of history and Italian studies at New York University. She’s the author of several books, among them, “Fascist Modernities” and “Italian Fascism’s Empire Cinema.” Her forthcoming book is called “Strongmen: How The Rise, Why They Succeed, How They Fall.” She’s also a columnist for CNN.com.
And Jason Stanley is the Jacob Urowsky professor of philosophy at Yale University. Stanley is the author of “Know How,” “Language in Context,” “Knowledge and Practical Interests,” as well as “How Propaganda Works.” His latest book, which was released earlier this year, is “How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them.” Ruth, Jason, welcome both of you to Intercepted.
Ruth Ben-Ghiat: Nice to be here.
Jason Stanley: Thank you very much. Great to be here.
Jeremy Scahill: Jason, I want to begin with you. In your latest book, you talk about how you’re going to talk about fascism in the book, and you say that you’ve chosen the label “fascism” for ultranationalism of some variety — ethnic, religious, cultural — with the nation represented in the person of an authoritarian leader who speaks on its behalf. As Donald Trump declared in his Republican National Convention speech in July 2016: “I’m your voice.” Jason, do you believe that what we are witnessing with Donald Trump’s ascent and the way he’s governing—is this fascism?
Jason Stanley: I make a distinction in my book between fascist politics and ideology and fascist government. Fascist government is when the institutions start to be corrupted and corroded by loyalty to the leader, and they start to collapse. And different fascist government appears in different forms. The resulting institutions after they’ve been taken over can look different—differently in different countries. And I don’t think there’s much of a doubt that what we’re seeing, including in the run-up to these midterm elections, are fascist tactics, classic fascist tactics.
RBG: I agree with Jason’s definition of fascism, and I agree that we’re seeing the use of rhetoric and tactics that remind us of fascism. I simply like to make a distinction. I like to use fascism only for situations where there’s a one-party state, because I think it’s very useful for us to see what is different and what stays the same over history. And also to recognize that we have rights. We are still in a — very flawed, but — we’re still in a democracy, and we need to exercise the rights we have.
Jason Stanley: But I think right now we are heading towards, more and more, a one-party state. We’re seeing that emerge with the Republican Party leaders exhibiting what Arendt calls “loyalty to party over parties.”
Jeremy Scahill: At the same time — and I understand the distinction that you’re making — you do have this reality that Donald Trump — and I don’t think it’s based on him reading historical texts, but — there are many tactics that Donald Trump uses that seem as though they are pulled straight out of either Mussolini’s history or figures like Joseph Goebbels in Germany.
This notion of creating a mythic past, the notion of victimhood for the real citizens of the country, combined with policies of warehousing children, stripping them from their parents — now he’s floating the idea of removing birthright citizenship. I mean, there are a lot of tactics that Trump is using that are just sort of dyed-in-the-wool fascist tactics from history.
RBG: I agree with that. And the way that the GOP has fallen — like in classic textbook case — has fallen into being the enabler. And being able to predict exactly what Trump would do and how the GOP would behave because of my knowledge of fascism, I simply think that “fascistic” and saying that “we are in fascism” are two different things. But there’s no question that we’re headed for what I’m calling a new authoritarianism.
These are terms that are used interchangeably. But I do think the existence of other parties, still, is a big distinction. In our case, in particular, we’re not Putin’s Russia, we’re not Erdogan’s Turkey, and we’re in the middle of a battle for the survival of democracy. So we are still in a multiparty system.
Jeremy Scahill: You know, Jason, part of — as I was preparing this and reading both of your writings, I started to sort of wonder if applying the label fascist to Trump lets him off the hook in a way, because it can be dismissed as, oh, you’re comparing Trump to Hitler, or you’re comparing Trump to Mussolini, when in reality, Trump was not a product of reading, you know, Mussolini and his men or Hitler and his men.
In many ways, Trump is a product of the worst components of America’s history, of American political history, and in fact, we know from historical documents that Hitler himself in Mein Kampf praised race laws and race practices in the United States and said that Germany should be looking to the United States for inspiration on how the United States dealt with black people and how that could be applied to Germany.
So, is there a way in which just even putting out the term fascism there undermines the very serious case that we could make that Trump is born of the worst components of American history and in fact is a product of the American political system?
Jason Stanley: When I use the term fascist, in no way do I mean to join the problematic nature of what I regard as the “crisis of democracy” literature like Madeline Albright, which acts like fascism is some foreign European force. No, in Mein Kampf, as you rightly say, Hitler says, when he’s talking about Germany’s lax immigration laws that are the mockery of the world, he says there is a country that is taking initial steps towards being a national state in the way he describes in Mein Kampf, and that is the United States.
And he refers to our then-immigration laws, including the 1924 Immigration Act. I think that’s what he has in mind in that passage. Bradley Hart’s book shows how fascist the ideology was in the 1930s in the United States.
Few self-respecting American fascists would call themselves by the term fascist, because it’s not an American word. And fascism is ultranationalism, and so, American fascist ideology would not come packaged with vocabulary taken from some Eurotrash language like Italian. It would be cloaked in American iconography, so the term carries these foreign implications. The ideology that the term expresses, I think, as you absolutely rightly say, is homegrown.
Jeremy Scahill: I also want to encourage people to watch the documentary that my colleagues at Field of Vision did last year, Marshall Curry was the filmmaker — “A Night at the Garden.” It was held at the German-American Bund in February of 1939 at Madison Square Garden, and it was a big rally of American Nazis.
Fritz Kuhn: Fellow Americans, American patriots. I’m sure I do not come before you tonight as a complete stranger. You all have heard of me through the Jewish-controlled press as a creature with horns, a cloven hoof, and a long tail. We, with American ideals, demand that our government shall be returned to the American people who founded it.
JS: So, that was from the film “A Night at the Garden.” People can watch that at fieldofvision.org. Ruth, one other sort of historically important point I think that’s relevant to bring up is — we can say, oh, well, this isn’t something that is a direct analog to fascism right now, because we have a multiparty system, because we are having elections, because Trump has not declared himself president for life in an official way, although he does joke about it sometimes.
But couldn’t someone make an argument — yes, because we’re only two years into this, but the direction that we are heading in definitely has historical analogs in how Mussolini consolidated power and in how Hitler consolidated power, how General Franco consolidated power? Isn’t it a fair point to say, yes, you may be technically correct that we’re not living in that right now, but all of the warning signs from history are screaming out for us to recognize this for what it is?
RBG: Yes, and — you know, in the case of Mussolini there was a two-year period that’s very instructive where he was head of a coalition government — and Hitler had the same. It’s just that Hitler had already been trying to get to power for 10 years, and he wanted power immediately. You know, Mussolini used to joke about staying in power for 20 years. His personality profile, the way he treated and humiliated his allies in Parliament is very, very similar.
You know, one of the reasons he killed Giacomo Matteotti, who was the head of the Socialist Party —even I was taught in former years that it was just because he was anti-fascist. Well, turned out Matteotti was about to denounce Mussolini and his family and the National Fascist Party for corruption. And so, he was killed for a classic kleptocracy. Mussolini was put under investigation, and it was to escape investigation that he declared dictatorship.
So, these transition moments are very, very important, but they are transitions. When we — when things evolve, and — I believe that we are heading toward, you could say, a militarized authoritarian surveillance state. It will look different than the fascism of the 20th century looked. But we are heading toward that, but we are in the transition, and we still have time to do something about it.
JS: What would be, Ruth, the sort of next steps that people should be aware of based on your understanding of history?
RBG: One of the issues is, when you have someone like this in power, there’s so much going on, and they hit you in so many directions — which is a strategy, by the way. This is a Bannon “blitzkrieg” strategy, that it’s hard to know what to do first. So, you have population management, the very significant move that they were trying to have the National Park Service not allow protest, and GOP legislators introduced several bills to criminalize protest.
One thing I find interesting, which recurs in the past, is Trump is this charismatic figure. And they come along every so often, you’ve mentioned some of them. And they seem to coalesce the kind of anxieties and frustrations of a given historical moment, but the conservative elites—in this case, GOP—back them and not other people, because they believe that they can use them as a vehicle to do the things they’ve been wanting to do for a long time—the racist, the voter suppression, all the things that the GOP has been trying to activate and was very frustrated it couldn’t do under Obama, right? This is a kind of mutual using of the authoritarian and his backers, right? And so, many of the repressive, authoritarian-minded things going on right now are being introduced by the GOP.
JS: Well, it’s like the journalist Allan Nairn said, that Trump dragged the elites of the Republican Party kicking and screaming back into power and has been able to consolidate that power in a way that a Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio never would’ve have been able to.
Jason, one of the fascinating parts of your book is when you talk about the way that fascists have used or publicized false charges of corruption. And I just want to share with people part of the point that you’re making here. You say, “publicizing false charges of corruption while engaging in corrupt practices is typical of fascist politics, and anti-corruption campaigns are frequently at the heart of fascist political movements.”
We just had this huge New York Times exposé — you know, months upon months of work showing in the clearest terms how corruption and financial crimes made Trump who he is today, in excruciating detail. And yet, Trump is constantly lambasting the corrupt political establishment, corrupt Hillary Clinton. Everyone is corrupt except him.
Jason Stanley: Yes. So, this is a theme, and Kate Manne in her book Down Girl notes this about the 2016 election. And she says this also happened in Australia with Julia Gillard — when a female prime minister ran, she was accused of being corrupt.
And then, I was teaching Dubois’ Black Reconstruction. Dubois emphasizes that the story that white historians tell of the end of Reconstruction is that Reconstruction ended, and black citizens in the South were no longer able to vote, and the North accepted that because supposedly the resulting governments were corrupt. And Dubois, of course, documents in extensive detail how false that is. And he says, it appears that corruption just meant that 4 million black citizens finally got to vote.
And then I looked at Richard Grunberger’s 1975 book on the 12-year history of the Reich, and he also —with befuddlement — says, many people seem to think the Nazis were, like, these pure-minded anti-Semites who never would go for corruption, but a lot of them didn’t care about killing the Jews. They just wanted Jewish money and property.
So, you see it in multiple literatures that corruption seems to mean the wrong people are in charge. Fascist politics is a politics of purity, and corruption here means something impure is coming in, foreigners are coming in, nonwhites or women are destabilizing the hierarchy of power.
And if you think about U.S. politics, like what happened in Michigan with the emergency manager act, you were able to convince white citizens of Michigan that all black-led, black-majority cities were corrupt and needed to have their mayors and city councils fired. It’s a big Midwestern theme in America that black-majority cities are, are sort of a fortiori corrupt, because corrupt in this kind of politics means the wrong people are in charge.
RBG: In the case of Hitler and Mussolini, for example, corruption was used to bind people to the leader and to the state just as much as violence and propaganda. But it’s true that we learned about both these men that they were evil in so many ways, but they work almost like ascetics, and they didn’t care about money. And this is particularly pronounced if you — in Italy today — “Oh, Mussolini just cared about the nation. He worked so hard.”
These people were as corrupt as Putin and Erdogan and Trump are today because it really was used not only at the level of the major officials but down to the local party bosses, the neighborhood people. So, corruption is very important in getting loyalty, and authoritarian systems depend on these hierarchical chains of loyalty, going up to the leader.
Jeremy Scahill: Trump, his speaking style, which seems quite intentional, is — he speaks with a lot of vagueness. And he’ll say things like, “We’re going to figure out what’s going on” or “What the hell is going on?” Is that uniquely Trump, or is this also something that you found in your historical research of sort of authoritarian figures leaving things open to interpretation?
And we know when Trump says — you know, “I’m a nationalist, why isn’t this, you know, acceptable anymore? I’m a nationalist” — we know who he was talking to on that, and Trump can say, “Oh no, I just — I just love my country.” But the use of terms that—he knows how his base is going to respond to it, but he uses it in such a way that it gives him an out or gives his defenders an out to say that’s not what he really meant.
RBG: Yeah. There are these techniques that he uses that are consistent with a century of these rulers. One is the use of coded language. Most recently we have “globalist” versus “nationalist.” Another is jokes between quotes, and trial balloons, which is what I call them, where the leader floats ideas that are at the time unacceptable or unthinkable to the mainstream, and in doing so introduces these reprehensible things that then can bubble through, and they become part of the authoritarian shifting the boundaries of what’s possible.
And that’s very important in corruption and violence, to shift the boundaries of what is possible, which is how we got mass murder in the first place.
And the third tactic is the — creating confusion and uncertainty. So when Trump says “we have to see what’s going on” — and he did this very early in his campaign — and in that little phrase is contained the germs of a later project of even declaring martial law, shutting down government, sending troops to the border until we figure out “what’s going on.” And it also is designed to make you doubt things that you knew to be true. It’s a very toxic and destructive language politics that Trump has mastered.
JS: Well, and, Jason, you also write about the necessary mythology that comes with Trump’s whole spiel, that America was once great. What he’s really sort of telegraphing there is, there was a time when white people were in full control of this country until the immigrants, the blacks, the uppity women, the Jews, the globalists came to steal America’s greatness. And one of the stats in your book that you cite is 45 percent of Trump supporters believe that whites are the most discriminated-against racial group in America and that 54 percent of Trump supporters believe that Christians are the most persecuted religious group in America.
Jason Stanley: When the dominant group is made to feel like victims, that seems to be the culture that breeds the success of this kind of politics. The Protocols is sort of reflective of this, that —
Jeremy Scahill: You’re referring to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which has been published in many languages and many iterations, and — correct me if I’m wrong here — it was intended to give the impression that sort of elite Jews had gotten together and developed their roadmap for global conquest.
Jason Stanley: Right. So, the Protocols presents liberalism as a sort of attempt to displace the power of the dominant group and replace it by Jews. So, the idea is that all movements for equality are really masks for domination. And so, at that moment when you find the dominant racial group being made to feel like this enormous victim of feminism, of minority groups, that’s when you know the politics is taking effective control. Of course, it distracts them from what they’re really victims of, which is the people funding this kind of politics, which, as Ruth mentioned, are very often business elites.
Jeremy Scahill: We all continue to be sickened by this terroristic attack on the synagogue in Squirrel Hill in Pittsburgh. You also have had black churches shot up. One of the most heinous of them took place before Trump came to office, but it’s the same sentiments that are embraced by the people that commit these.
You also have this sort of Proud Boys phenomenon of these, you know, heavy-drinking white nationalist thugs that are running around beating people. You had the killing of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville and then Trump saying, “Hey, there are, you know, good people on both sides.” Isn’t this really just an unofficial enforcement squad for the ideology that Trump is promoting through his presidency?
RBG: It’s worse than that. These rulers, when they’re still on their way up, they weaponize their bodies and their words. Authoritarians always tell you what they’re going to do. Duterte told Philippines before the election, during his presidential campaign, “I don’t recommend you vote for me because if you vote for me, it’s going to be bloody. I’m going to be killing people.”
You had just very recently, Bolsonaro in Brazil, where he said, “I’m going to be driving these people, letting them rot in prison.” He used very, very specific threats. It’s not just that the ruler espouses hateful, murderous ideologies like Hitler did. It’s that there’s—many of these people personally let you know that they are capable of violence, that they are capable of ordering violence without, like, brushing their hair in the morning. So, Trump, on January 24, 2016, for me, it was game over. Game over. He said —
DJT: They say I have the most loyal people. Did you ever see that? Where I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters — OK? It’s, like, incredible.
RBG: So, it’s a two-part thing. One, that he could actually shoot somebody, he could commit violence. Two, that nothing would happen to him. So, it’s all laid out. If we talk about corruption, about getting away with murder, about both-sides-ism — which is designed to protect the aggressor side, so far as in Charlottesville — he was letting you know what would happen. And the thing with Trump is that he’s been consistent.
Jason Stanley: The fascist state’s refusal to condemn the extrajudicial violence has a particular linguistic role because the state licenses it by not explicitly condemning it. But at the same time, the state uses its extrajudicial nature to say, “Look, we’re not the extremists. Look, you can see the extremists — they’re out there.”
It’s important to the white nationalist movement to have the people in ties and suits in government. And they need the extrajudicial violence on the street to say, “That’s not us. Look, just look at how we’re dressed versus how they’re dressed.” But you can tell the links between them, not just because of the clear overlap in language — minus a few words. Instead of white nationalist, you just use nationalist.
Instead of adding Jew to globalist, instead of saying, you know, “It’s the Jews that control the press, It’s the Jews that are behind lax immigration laws,” you say it’s the globalists. And then you don’t denounce the extrajudicial violence. You know, you pronounce it in certain extreme cases where you just have to, but you leave it crucially ambiguous at times. And then that has this licensing effect.
Jeremy Scahill: Trump has actually literally told his supporters, “What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.”
DJT: But it’s all working out. Just remember, what you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.
JS: All of this stuff that you’re reading about or hearing, that they want to tell you is reality, isn’t reality.
RBG: One thing I’m quite concerned about, which is one of the last pieces of the puzzle in America — militias. If these people become activated in some way, they will fall into place as the paramilitary component. So, all of this is true, but when we have the actual leader of the country who has declared himself a violent potential killer, that’s a whole other level. And in fact, when Mussolini announced dictatorship, he made the speech to Parliament. He said, “If fascism has been a criminal organization, well, I’m the head of that organization.” So, that was it.
JS: I don’t think we as a society get how serious this is at this moment. And it does seem like the Democrats are totally incapable of rising to the necessary occasion of confronting what we’re witnessing right now, not just with the electoral politics, but also with their lack of a spine. On key issues, the elites of the Democratic Party have actually backed Trump.
They’ve given him sweeping surveillance authorities, colluded with him to massively increase the military budget. There is a pipeline of paramilitary and military weaponry and ordnance coming back from Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere, and going straight to police departments in this country.
Look, we can talk about how offensive Trump’s words are until we’re blue in the face—or, as Ruth, as you’ve just been describing, how they actually can be lethal. But at the same time, the Democrats are not saying, “We need to shut this down.” They are supporting some of the biggest mechanisms of state power that someone like Trump has available to him.
Jason Stanley: Right. Trump is directly addressing the police in his speeches and his actions, to basically militarize police to prevent protests. Look at what happened in Ferguson with protesters met with astonishing military force. And it seems to me when Trump is up there speaking to the police, he’s calling for the police to take his side. And he [said], “I’m going to support you, and I’m going to back you.”
He’s got ICE. He has an entirely new military force that he’s clearly speaking to. The infiltration of local police forces by white supremacists and white nationalist ideology—and that Trump is representing himself consistently and repeatedly as their friend. You know, when my grandmother in her memoir describes National Socialism, she talks about the police being allies until late in the 1930s. And so, switching the police force — that’s something one has to pay attention to.
RBG: One way philosophically to look at this time is, we have been handed an enormous lesson in the operation of power on multiple levels. One is, Trump came up saying that he’s going to drain the swamp. Well, not only is he not really doing that, he is showing us he is the swamp. Trump is the swamp, and he’s showing us exactly how the swamp operates. Look how much we’ve learned already about the way that financial corruption operates, about why people don’t show their tax returns.
The optimist in me thinks that we can put that to use, and one day, perhaps we’ll spark reform. In terms of the Democrats not getting it, we also have a lesson in the slow erosion of conscience when you hold power for too long. Because to get rid of Trump in 2020—because, unfortunately, I feel that he has a good chance to win, because of this problem of not coming up with a proper opposition. You need to treat him with his own medicine, meaning, not go low, not certainly become racist or violent, but to have that charisma and the ability to inspire people.
But the party machine has not been able to embrace those people. It’s not just that the GOP has split with never-Trumpers. Perhaps there’ll be some kind of revolution within the Democratic Party. It didn’t work with Bernie Sanders — the mainstream made sure of that — but I don’t think that all of those lessons will be just thrown away.
Jeremy Scahill: Well, and let’s remember, the fate of the world is not entirely on electoral politics, as, as both of you know from your research history, it’s filled with ordinary people banding together and resisting in times of extreme authoritarianism or danger to the world.
RBG: There’s been a huge renaissance of civic engagement in this country, and not only ordinary people helping, driving people to vote. Many civil servants who were in the Obama administration who have left — or lawyers who have left high paying jobs to go work for advocacy groups that are doing a legal resistance to Trump. These are bipartisan efforts — former diplomats and civil servants, all of this.
Jason Stanley: And we also have a long history in this country, due to the black American resistance, of fighting fake news. From Ida B. Wells and Dubois to the present day, we have a long history of black Americans banding together with civil resistance and, I mean, Black Lives Matter, Ferguson. This kind of resistance is part of our DNA as Americans. And so, I think we actually have a kind of tradition and advantage over other countries when it comes to this.
Jeremy Scahill: Ruth Ben-Ghiat, thank you so much for joining us.
RBG: Thank you.
JS: Jason Stanley, thank you as well for joining us.
Jason Stanley: Thank you so much, Jeremy.
Jeremy Scahill: Ruth Ben-Ghiat is professor of history and Italian studies at New York University. She’s the author of “Fascist Modernities” and “Italian Fascism’s Empire Cinema.” Her forthcoming book is called “Strongmen: How The Rise, Why They Succeed, How They Fall.” And Jason Stanley is a philosophy professor at Yale University. He is the author of “Know How,” “Language in Context,” “Knowledge and Practical Interests,” as well as “How Propaganda Works.” His latest book, released this year, is “How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them.”
Ty Jones: Let America Be America Again, by Langston Hughes.
Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.
(America never was America to me.)
Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.
(It never was America to me.)
O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.
(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)
Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?
I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.
I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one’s own greed!
I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean—
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.
Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That’s made America the land it has become.
O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home—
For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore,
And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came
To build a “homeland of the free.”
Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we’ve dreamed
And all the songs we’ve sung
And all the hopes we’ve held
And all the flags we’ve hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay—
Except the dream that’s almost dead today.
O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine—the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.
Sure, call me any ugly name you choose—
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,
We must take back our land again,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!
Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again!
Jeremy Scahill: Those are the words of the great Langston Hughes from his poem Let America Be America Again. The poem was performed here on Intercepted by Ty Jones, the producing artistic director at the Classical Theatre of Harlem.
Police Dispatch 1: We have a spent magazine, looks like a high-power AK. Middle hallway, off the 1-4 corner.
Police Dispatch 2: I have a description.
Police Dispatch 1: Go ahead, send it.
Police Dispatch 2: Tall white male, short hair, light blue shirt, jeans.
Jeremy Scahill: On Saturday, October 27th, Robert Bowers walked into the Pittsburgh Tree of Life synagogue and opened fire, killing 11 people.
Police Dispatch 3: I got one alive.
Police Dispatch 4: Three, evacuating one right now — still alive. We have four down in the atrium DOA at this time.
Jeremy Scahill: During the shooting, Bowers allegedly said he wanted, quote, “all Jews to die.” Shortly before brutally massacring people, Bowers posted on the social network Gab, “HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people. I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.” HIAS, which stands for the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, is one of the oldest refugee resettlement organizations.
Days before walking into Tree of Life synagogue, Bowers posted a link to a directory of synagogues participating in a HIAS event called National Refugee Shabbat. He wrote, “Why hello there HIAS! You like to bring in hostile invaders to dwell among us? We appreciate the list of friends you have provided.”
In the days and weeks before Bowers set out on a murderous killing spree, Trump and right-wing public figures were hyping up their base, falsely claiming that a caravan of migrants was going to, quote, “invade the U.S.” and cast votes for Democrats in the midterm election.
DJT: As we speak, the Democrat Party is openly encouraging caravan after caravan of illegal aliens to violate our laws and break into our country.
Sean Hannity: That was the president earlier today, blasting our weak immigration laws that have allowed this migrant caravan to become a major crisis.
Tomi Lahren: Well, Democrats don’t just hope. They will ensure that the migrant caravans of today are the voters of tomorrow. So they are —
Bill O’Reilly: Now, the timing, as we discussed, is for the midterm elections, that they’re hoping that Hispanic Americans will see this and vote for Democrats who want open borders.
Pat Robertson: The person who apparently has been financing this thing is George Soros. Now, we don’t have hard evidence on that, but that’s the suspicion.
JS: Now, after a week where we not only had a man commit mass murder in the United States, seemingly provoked by the caravan story — and another man who sent at least a dozen pipe bombs to Trump critics. Trump and his supporters have continued on without skipping a beat. First, they deflected any responsibility, blaming the media and pointing to Bowers, saying Trump is a “globalist, not a nationalist.” Essentially, Bowers, using his favorite dog whistle on the right and one that Trump often uses, thinks Trump wasn’t fascist enough.
And then the rhetoric pivoted back to another favorite trope, a problem of divisiveness on both sides, as if protesting the policies of elected officials or disrupting their meals is somehow the same as sending pipe bombs to them or gunning them down in their places of worship.
And the day after 11 people were murdered in their house of worship for being Jewish — and for their perceived role in aiding people fleeing violence, migrating to the U.S. border — Trump, Republicans and pundits have continued pushing the migrant caravan story.
Maria Bartiromo: They have taken a break right now, have gotten off of the bus, but are continuing their goal to come to the U.S. southern border at the —
JS: This has actually become the Republican strategy for the midterm elections. It’s not campaigning on actual real issues facing people. Fear is their campaign strategy, doubling down on this story that feeds into the white supremacist narrative that the U.S. is going to be invaded by “foreigners.” It’s a narrative that Trump campaigned on and continues to push as president, where he mixes coded language with just straight-up racism.
DJT: You’re going to find MS13. You’re going to find Middle Eastern. You’re going to find everything —
JS: Joining me now to discuss the ways in which white supremacy and fascism are discussed in the broader U.S. media, and the failure to — well, call it like it is, is Adam Johnson. He is a media analyst for Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting. With Nima Shirazi, Adam co-hosts the podcast Citations Needed. Adam, welcome to Intercepted.
Adam Johnson: Hi, Jeremy. Thanks for having me.
JS: Thanks for being here. First question is your analysis of the way that different political camps of political figures and news organizations report on events like the package bombs that were sent to Democratic figures, George Soros, Tom Steyer, CNN — and also the mass shooting in Pittsburgh. How did the Democrats talk about it, the Republicans, the never-Trumpers and the news media?
AJ: Yeah. The first thing people do is they — there’s kind of this broad call for civility. Joe Biden did this, where he’s, like, “We need to” sort of “come together,” which of course is designed to really give the appearance that it’s kind of two sides of the extreme. And even if people intellectually know that one side really does the bulk of the violence, both institutionally and these kind of one-off events, right, because all these kind of white supremacist terror attacks are also in the context of a broader white supremacist regime in this country that exercises violence in more subtle ways every day. Right?
Even if intellectually they know that it’s widely asymmetric, the kind of way you show that you’re a serious person is to sort of talk about extremes of both sides. And the way they did this, over and over and over again, is — as people have noted several times — is to equate things like disrupting people’s dinner with sending bombs to people’s houses. And of course, those are not at all the same.
And then a very popular thing people do is they decontextualize violence. And they talk about violence as this sort of thing that’s per se wrong, but for a country that drops about 30,000 bombs a year without really thinking much about it or even talking about it in any way, we sort of intuitively know that the moral context of violence is what’s important, not just violence itself.
And so, opposing things like incivility on both sides or violence is sort of this really kind of cheap way of looking busy and looking like you’re sort of doing something, but you’re not really making a meaningful statement intellectually or morally.
JS: You also had a number of political figures on the Sunday talk shows, including Ron Dermer, who is Israel’s ambassador to the United States, bring up the Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and his recent quote where he said that he’s “not an anti-Semite, he is anti-termite.”
Ron Dermer: What I find very troubling is that people will only look at anti-Semitism on the other side of the political aisle. Look, you just had somebody — Minister Farrakhan — who called all Jews termites a week ago. That is outrageous, and I would like to hear people on both sides of the aisle, whether you agree with some of Farrakhan’s policies or you don’t.
JS: It seemed as though, certainly in the case of Dermer, that he was drawing a direct parallel between the sentiments expressed by Louis Farrakhan — whose probably authority or popularity peaked in 1995 at the Million Man March — and the fact that we just witnessed a mass slaughter in this Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.
AJ: Well, they want to obscure the fact that the biggest promoter of anti-Semitism in this country, the most popular promoter of anti-Semitism in this country, is the president of the United States, who, of course, constantly winks and nods to anti-Semites with his “globalist” rhetoric. Steve Bannon does the same thing, but he’s made a Faustian bargain with the most right-wing and most vulgar elements in Israel and the pro-Israel lobby within the United States that says, we’re going to — we’re going to wink and nod and channel the forces of anti-Semitism, but as long as we’re sort of very pro-Israel we’ll kind of look the other way. This is an agreement Netanyahu has made with several leaders.
So, they can’t really address the right-wing threat of anti-Semitism, which of course is historically the most violent and most manifest. So, they have to sort of do this deflection and talk about anti-Semitism as if it’s this kind of politically neutral thing that’s just sort of out in the ether.
And so when you go to things like Farrakhan or some of these fringe groups, black nationalist groups —and of course the number one target is to go after Palestinian liberation groups and Palestinian rights organizations. Because they don’t want to talk about the fact that the person they’re aligned with, Donald Trump — and by they, I mean people who are pro-Israel but pro-Trump—they don’t really want to talk about how much of his candidacy was predicated on anti-Semitic tropes, up to and including these George Soros theories, and constantly winking and nodding to anti-Semites by talking about globalists, the term that the Pittsburgh synagogue shooter himself used over and over again. If you look at his social media posts, him and his friends constantly use the word globalist interchangeably with Jewish.
This is a term that, people like me and others and dozens of others have been saying, this is obviously a huge anti-Semitic dog whistle that is meant to make people think that the problems in their life are not due to the fact that we have a crippling capitalist economy or that there’s massive inequality.
But it’s, in fact, the cabal of George Soros-Islamo-Black Lives Matter cabal that’s somehow oppressing them — you know, completely decontextualizing that anti-Semitism is largely a regime — not totally, but it’s largely a regime of white European creation. And, of course, it was Europeans who were — like the shooter in Pittsburgh, who led to the Holocaust. It wasn’t relatively powerless groups.
Having said that, of course, you know, Farrakhan is a vile anti-Semite. And I do think it’s — you know, if there’s one thing that the Dreyfus affair taught us, it’s that you really do have to speak out against anti-Semitism in all of its contexts, even if it is from some relatively minor groups. But I do think that they are focusing on these relatively powerless groups. And for some reason, they think that Farrakhan’s a left-winger. I don’t know, that’s something that they’ve imagined in their head. I guess they assume all black people are left-wing.
JS: Actually, at key points in modern political American history, Farrakhan has cast his lot with extreme right-wingers, including saying very positive things about Donald Trump early on in his rise to political power.
Louis Farrakhan: And he’s the only man probably in the last 100 years that stood in front of some of the members of the Jewish community and told them to their face, “I don’t want your money.” Now, wait a minute. No, no. I want you to think. Because any time a man can say today to those who control the politics of America, “I don’t want your money. That means if I don’t take your money, you can’t control me.”
AJ: He’s the bogeyman. You know, Soros, Farrakhan, these are just trigger words. It’s like the word Chicago — it’s a racial trigger word. That’s all — that’s why they love talking about it.
JS: This whole notion of both-sides-ism — I mean, the Democrats, particularly Chuck Schumer, the leader of the Democrats in the Senate — this guy has a PhD in attempting to draw these sort of immoral equivalencies, even in the way that Chuck Schumer talked about Maxine Waters, who is frequently a target of bigoted racist vitriol, receives many, many death threats. The idea that Maxine Waters’ political speech is the equivalent of the kinds of events that we saw with the pipe bombs or the synagogue — that contributes to this intellectually bankrupt discussion we have in this country, where you can’t simply denounce fascist or fascist-inspired or Trump-inspired mass murder without finding some person on the left or liberals to kick or to kick in your own camp, as Chuck Schumer does repeatedly.
Chuck Schumer: To opponents of the president’s policies, the best way to limit what he can do, to show that is America is not as coarse, as mean, as hypocritical as his behavior suggests — the best solution is to win elections. That is a far more productive way to channel the legitimate frustrations with this president’s policies than harassing members of his administration.
AJ: This obsession with stripping violence of any kind of moral context or ideological properties, right? So, you don’t say “I’m opposed to fascism” or “I’m opposed to white supremacy,” or “I’m opposed to white supremacist violence that vomits out of this grotesque White House.” You have to say, “I oppose violence,” which is sort of this ideologically agnostic thing.
But of course, they’re not opposed to violence. The Joe Bidens and the Chuck Schumers of the world they’re not opposed to violence. They routinely sign $750 billion military bills every year that are largely designed to exercise violence. So again, what we mean when we talk about violence is a super interesting thing, because of course, we’re not talking about state-sanctioned or white supremacist-sanctioned violence, we’re talking about violence that is — somehow deviates from the norm. This kind of high-minded condemnation of violence is mostly just bullshit. It’s a way of gesturing to doing something without really defining what the problem is, because to define the sort of essence of the white supremacist incitement that’s embodied by Trump, you would per se have to condemn large swaths of the country and large swaths of the Senate and Congress who support him. And they don’t want to do that.
JS: Well, and you also have this pattern, and it’s not just when these kinds of micro attacks happen, like shooting up a church or shooting up a synagogue, but also on the macro level with U.S. wars. You look at who ends up on television on the Sunday shows or on the cable news at night, you have all these so-called never-Trumpers, people like William Kristol and Max Boot, and, you know, the list goes on and on — who were part of pushing these wars based on fraud.
And so, on the one hand, you have all of these people who in a normal society would be viewed as thoroughly discredited, and the only reason for interviewing them would be to question them about their roles in these things. They are the new hashtag #Resistance heroes. And then, on the other hand, you reward people like Erick Erickson, who has been pushing conspiracy theories about the caravan. And where does Erick Erickson find himself after this week of horrifying violence and sending potentially explosive devices to media and political figures? You’ll find him sitting there with Chuck Todd on Meet the Press.
Erick Erickson: I mean, just let me address conservatives for a minute. Last week you had a lot of people pushing the — maybe this bomber was —
Chuck Todd: Not — Rush Limbaugh was pushing it, Erick.
EE: You had a lot of people who were pushing this theory. Now we know the facts. Now we know the facts, and yet there are still people pushing this. I got to tell you that from my perspective when we know all the facts now about the guy last week and you’re still pushing this theory, you’re at war with the truth. And if you’re a conservative who is at war with the truth, you’re not really being conservative —
AJ: Erick Erickson — who’s now pro-Trump, by the way, has been since the Kavanaugh hearings, but marketed himself for several years as being this principled conservative opposed to Trump — soon realized there’s not really a market for that, since Trump has 91 percent support amongst Republicans, which is the highest amongst any president with their own party since World War II.
So, he starts to do this kind of wink and a nod to the Alex Jones set. And he tweeted out on October 22nd, quote, “it is not a coincidence that the caravan to the south of us is happening two weeks before our federal election,” which has the worst elements of Alex Jones in that it’s obviously implying some sort of Soros Democratic conspiracy to — I guess, fund a caravan and prop it up.
But it doesn’t have the courage to kind of say it, right? It sort of winks and nods to it. And this is how you sort of do the high wire act where to build a meaningful base on the right outside of national security think tanks like William Kristol, or outside of cushy staff writing gigs like David Frum — to build a base on the right to have any meaningful, like, constituency, you have to be pro-Trump because they’re very pro-Trump.
And so he has to kind of play this thread-the-needle where he still wants to get invited back on Meet the Press, but he also needs to pander to what is, I think it’s fair to say, increasingly an overtly white supremacist — and completely detached from reality — core constituency of the Republican Party. And so, this is someone who’s repeatedly, again, repeatedly racist, repeatedly pro-war. All these never-Trump guys are very pro-war. But again, like we talked about, that’s just violence that’s factored in, right? That’s on the ledger at the beginning of the year.
JS: You, of course, have on the absolute lunatic right — and this is the sort of little cabal of Trump’s favorite people, all of them questioning whether the bombs were sent by the, you know, the Democrats or people supporting the Democrats. You had Lou Dobbs tweeting “Fake News — Fake Bombs. Who could possibly benefit by so much fakery?”
You had three guests on Fox News, at a minimum, suggesting that they were false flags. Rush Limbaugh — “Would it make a lot of sense for a Democrat operative or a Democrat-inculcated lunatic to do it because things are not working out the way they thought?”— Michael Savage, Ann Coulter, Dinesh D’Souza, Alex Jones also. But it’s not just these extreme-right figures who are engaging in this kind of quackery. It’s also Rachel Maddow. On her show last Friday, Rachel Maddow launched into a diatribe that compared the terroristic acts we were witnessing in this country over the past weeks and months to not only right-wingers who shoot and murder women’s health care providers who perform abortions, but she also went so far as to compare these right-wing, pro-fascist terrorists to left-wing resistance groups from the 1970s.
Rachel Maddow: There have always been violent extremist groups on the ragged edge of American politics, right? Anti-abortion extremists who turned to bombs and snipers to kill people to try to get their way, to kill doctors, right? Left-wing groups in the seventies who carried out bombings of their own and hijackings, even prison breaks. A Puerto Rican separatist group shot up the U.S. Capitol in the 1950s. More or less modern iterations of the Klan persist to this day.
JS: On the one hand, it’s very easy for people like you, Adam, or me, to go to town on the Rush Limbaughs and Dinesh D’Souzas of the world, but then it’s another thing when you have Rachel Maddow, with the number one show in primetime cable, with a massive liberal following, promoting the idea that Puerto Rican independentistas and people who assassinate abortion doctors, they’re the same, cut from the same cloth as the Ku Klux Klan, and are the historical precursors to this kind of right-wing fascist violence that we’re seeing right now.
AJ: Yeah. It’s because it’s all kind of a liberal’s rules-based and rights-based critique, right, that the problem with white supremacist violence isn’t the ideology surrounding it, isn’t this sort of genocidal ideology, it’s the method, and that we should condemn methods.
I mean, look, you can debate the morality or the efficacy of the Weather Underground’s tactics, but I mean, we were killing 10,000 to 15,000 people a day in Indochina at that time. The Black Liberation Army, which she didn’t reference, but is constantly condemned by people like Jake Tapper as a kind of left-wing equivalent, Assata Shakur, so forth — I mean, there was a war on black people in this country. There was an actual conflict. There was an actual armed conflict that the white supremacist regime of this country was having on its black population and in many ways it still does, and that they were acting in a revolutionary context. They were acting in a self-defense context, as were the other groups to some extent that Maddow referenced.
These are totally different moral contexts. There’s a general concept that you’re punching up or punching down, that you are advancing some revolutionary or justice-oriented worldview or you’re just a racist thug. I think most people would come away listening to that clip thinking that she was drawing a moral equivalency or at least saying they’re morally comparable. And I think that that’s—it’s a shame, because it does a great disservice to history, and it does a great disservice to what was going on in the country at that time.
JS: I wanted to shift gears a bit here and ask you about this report that you recently published at fair.org — FAIR being Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting. The title of it was, “Blaming Saudis for Corrupting Otherwise Human Rights-Loving U.S.” And of course, this is in the context of this horrifying execution of the Washington Post columnist and U.S. resident Jamal Khashoggi. His body, as of this time that we’re speaking, still has not been found, or at least they haven’t revealed that they have found it.
But we did see, Adam, as you point out, all of these Democrats and Republicans who have a long track record of supporting Saudi Arabia, pushing arms sales to Saudi Arabia, being very, very cozy with powerful Saudis, rushing to microphones or pages of the op-ed section of newspapers to disown the Saudis and condemn them or call for serious action against them. But lay out what you found as you investigated the responses to the Jamal Khashoggi murder.
AJ: So, suddenly — because they killed one of their own, suddenly the Saudis are now non grata amongst the sort of liberal elite opinion makers, namely because they killed a Washington Post columnist. So, now that one of their own has been killed, there’s all this sort of hand-wringing about human rights, and this and that. But again, the things that — the material things like supporting weapons sales, supporting the war in Yemen, the Washington Post was a huge advocate for, both the editorial page and most of its columnists.
You know, they would do a little bit of hand-wringing about human rights now and then, but fundamentally would say Saudi Arabia is an important ally. But now, all of a sudden, we have to sort of talk about how we need to reconsider the partnership. And now, what’s interesting about this — you see this a lot with commentary on Israel, where the primary ideological project of people like Jackson Diehl and Fred Hiatt and these kind of Washington Post national security, John McCain-worshiping crowd, is to prop up the myth that the United States earnestly cares about human rights, which is I think, sort of empirically, obviously not true.
It’s been shown time and time again to not be true — that human rights is a marketing term label that is used to advance U.S. interests, not vice versa. So, what they have to do is they have to reconcile these two competing ideas, which is that the U.S. has been allies for seventy years with a grotesque, reactionary, very violent, very sexist regime while acting like they promote democracy.
And the way we do this is we come up with this idea that the Saudis have corrupted us, that Saudi money is actually the thing that causes it, not that Saudi Arabia has some sort of purpose in advancing American imperial interests in the Middle East, but they’ve actually corrupted us. So, you see this a lot with the libertarian right and how they talk about Israel. But the fundamental reality is that Saudi Arabia and Israel served American interests. That’s why they’re effectively client states of the United States.
But we need to maintain this idea that the U.S. is pure and that it’s moral and noble. So we see this being advanced, that the U.S. is being corrupted by Saudi Arabia, and that we’re somehow forced into this relationship. This idea that the U.S. is somehow being always being dragged in, sucked into and forced to do bad things despite some otherwise intrinsic good motives is a frame that a lot of—it’s sort of taken for granted in a lot of media. And it’s frankly taken for granted in a lot of quote-unquote human rights organizations, which constantly traffic in this idea of the U.S. as this kind of do-goodie regime that would otherwise do good if it wasn’t either corrupted by foreign actors or, you know, it kind of loses its way.
JS: I believe that a lot of our discourse, particularly around war, is shaped from our radical revisionist history of World War II. This notion that the United States valiantly saved Europe and defeated Hitler with no political context, no discussion of how the United States refused to support the international brigades that traveled to Spain in the early thirties to fight fascism.
And the fact that the U.S. officially declared itself neutral meant that the fascists could violently crush the original front line against fascism spreading in Europe. The refusal to let Jewish refugees into the United States, doing business with Hitler’s banks — none of that is ever discussed. The story is just, the U.S. saved the world from fascism. And you see echoes of this kind of revisionist notion of American exceptionalism in one of the grand new heroes of Le Resistance, Max Boot, who now is identified simply as a Washington Post columnist or a CNN analyst, not as a guy who shamelessly promoted every single possible U.S. military action of his adult life.
And his new column, which he’s running around promoting — this is a quote from it. “Political terrorism and sectarian bloodletting — these are the sorts of horrors that occur in the Balkans or the Middle East. Not here. Not in the land of the free. We’re better than this. We’re Americans. Except now the horror show has arrived on our shores.”
How can someone who is so flagrantly misrepresenting American history, world history, doesn’t seem to understand the role that the United States has played in the bloodshed of the Balkans of the 1990s or the Middle East, right up to this millisecond that you and I are speaking? The notion that this guy is now being held up as a good conservative who turned his back on all of the bad things that the neocons were about, or that the right is about, and he has his nice little MSNBC book club book out — this is a guy who is still engaged in radical, destructive revisionist history and propaganda.
AJ: I mean, look, there’s a lot of low-information liberals who want to hear these kinds of flattering tales about how the U.S. lost its way. The irony is that, like — this was a common liberal trope for — this is sort of a Thomas Friedman thing, right, that we kind of lost our way, and we have to make America great again was something a lot of liberals would sort of say a lot. This was the opening monologue to The Newsroom, where he talks about how America used to do great things, and now we don’t.
Jeff Daniels as Will McAvoy: We stood up for what was right. We fought for moral reasons. We passed laws, struck down laws for moral reasons. We waged war on poverty, not poor people. We sacrificed. We cared about our neighbors. We put our money where our mouths were, and we never beat our chest.
AJ: There’s always been a bit of Trumpism-lite in liberal circles about how the U.S. used to be good or used to be noble, but somehow lost its way, and that Trump is sort of a deviation from not just the country, but the party. You see this a lot, where Trump’s not a real conservative, but of course, Trump is the embodiment of every conservative principle there is.
If a candidate was created out of Fox News comments over the last 10 years, it would be Trump. You know, it’s the xenophobia of Lou Dobbs, it’s the paranoid Soros theories of Glenn Beck. He is the embodiment of the Republican Party and in many ways the embodiment of the white supremacist regime that has run this country since it first became a settler colony. He’s not a deviation from anything.
Again, it’s part of national mythmaking. The civic religion in this country is the idea that the U.S. national security state and the global empire of this country is propped up by human rights concerns. And it meets every definition of a religion. It has its dogma, it has its things you’re not allowed to talk about. You can’t criticize the, you know, the troops or the motives of the generals.
And Max Boot’s job is to sort of maintain that mythology in the context of what we see in front of us, in the context of this grotesque president. We have to sort of say, “Oh, we actually — he’s a deviation from some moral norm that we had.” Part of that is to rewrite history that the U.S. has not always been involved in sectarian violence, has not been involved in racial terrorism — which of course is the foundation of this country. It’s how the, quote, “West was settled.” It was settled based on basically a vigilante regime of white settler violence against Native Americans that was sanctioned and paid for by the U.S. government.
I mean, you know, there’s always going to be a market for power-flattering narratives. There’s always a market for it, and it will always get you book deals and get you on NPR. He has flattering coverage on NPR, he — you know, he writes these sort of self-indulgent articles for the Washington Post.
And he’s — before he was obscure before he became a Resistance grifter, he was another kind of washed-up neocon burnout who would have to get some fellowship at the Hudson Institute. And now, he’s a — you know, he’s probably getting $30,000, $40,000 a speech, probably. I mean, you know, it’s a grift. I mean, he wrote an article in 2001 literally called “The Case for American Empire.” I mean, this is someone who’s an imperialist by the sort of self-admitted definition, not in a kind of lefty way, but he says, I’m an imperialist, I’m pro-imperialism.
JS: Well, and now, he’s a permanent resident of the Situation Room. Adam Johnson, we’re going to leave it there. Thank you very much for joining us on Intercepted.
AJ: Thank you.
JS: That was Adam Johnson. He is a media analyst for Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting. Along with Nima Shirazi, Adam co-hosts the podcast Citations Needed. You can find Adam on Twitter. His handle is @adamjohnsonNYC.
We end today with some music. Now, I live in New York City, and in many ways, it’s a city of extremes. It’s where America’s institutional problems become amplified in full view, in a hyper-dense environment. This is the home of Wall Street. It’s also the home of palpable violence, of police brutality and racial profiling. It’s the home of insidious barbarity that comes with gentrification and dramatic wealth inequality.
And throughout its history — its history of resistance and struggle in New York — have grown revolutionary culture movements, from the Harlem Renaissance to the Stonewall riots to the creation of hip-hop and punk. Today we’re going to hear from Julian Cashwan Pratt, a member of Show Me The Body. It’s a hardcore punk trio hailing from Queens, just like Trump.
In 2017, they created the community platform Corpus with the aim of uplifting and empowering the artists around them. They also created Corpus TV, which is a digital series highlighting New York’s underground music and youth communities. The final episode of this series by Corpus TV is a short film by Show Me The Body and Asha Efia Maura, “Work Sets You Free,” a silent visual essay juxtaposing federal prisons in the United States with the band’s own video footage of visits to concentration camps while they were touring Europe. All three members of the band are Jewish.
[“Talk” by Show Me The Body plays.]
Julian Cashwan Pratt: My name is Julian Cashwan Pratt, and I am in a collective called Corpus and in a band called Show Me The Body.
[“Talk” by Show Me The Body plays.]
JCP: I grew up on the west side of Manhattan, and when I was in middle school and early high school, I used to go to ABC No Rio. That’s an unsupervised place for young kids to go on the Lower East Side. It was an ex-squat that had become a legalized co-op. There was, like, a printing press on one floor. There was a dark room on one floor. There’s a zine library on one floor.
Like, it was just all-out fucking awesome for young kids to be in and be around. It was the first time I ever learned about zines and sort of, like, widespread anarchic culture, and that whole idea. I had no concept of that, you know? It was heaven to me, and then I started going there, like, every Saturday, and I would see bands. I’d grown up listening to Madball and listening to Sick Of It All, this sort of contingency that makes up New York hardcore beatdown sound.
[“Pride (Times Are Changing)” by Madball plays.]
JCP: And I was always a fan of that. And at ABC No Rio, they had, you know, bands from all over the country coming in there that were crust, were doom, were hardcore, were everything, anything you could imagine.
It was such a beautiful environment to be in as a young person, because you felt so free both spiritually and ideologically, but also physically. Because no one was fighting, but we were all hitting each other. It was, like, the first pits I had ever been in — in that tiny room in ABC No Rio. It was an elated experience for me.
[“Pride (Times Are Changing)” by Madball plays.]
JCP: I had not a lot going for me in high school besides just writing on my own and writing graffiti and just trying to get messed up with my friends. I ended up dropping out of high school multiple times to do things with Stop Mass Incarceration, do things with VOCAL — that’s another organization in New York — and just sort of the whole Occupy thing that was happening when I was in high school, I was very inspired by.
At the same time that there was this overflow of expression happening with my friend group and all the young kids who had grown up around each other, there was like this unrest happening in the city. And I was super perplexed about how to connect these two things — how do they come together?
Then, my daddy was a community organizer for a long time, worked with, like, tenants, eviction rights and specifically, communities like the Queensbridge projects. And I knew that I liked to be in the streets and, like, go to protests and participate in black bloc events. And it’s only through, I guess, just making music, and throwing shows, and coming together with other young kids to talk about it, and figuring it out, and make music did I sort of start to realize what I could do to participate.
I don’t really even like to think that’s political, in a certain way. Because I think when you live around so many damn people, it’s more of, like, a decision or not a decision to engage. And you probably should engage, and if you don’t, you don’t have to. But I don’t think that it’s a political decision to engage. I think it’s more about being fucking human.
[“Metallic Taste” by Show Me The Body plays.]
JCP: When I was still in high school, my cousin came to our crib one day with a banjo. With a guitar, it gets complicated, you know, you’re always a student, you know, whatever you’re doing, you’re always a student. But at the time, I thought it was so complicated, I wasn’t that good at it, I could only do power chords.
And then homie brings out this banjo, and you could make a whole chord by just putting your whole — one damn finger over the whole thing. You can make a chord, and I thought that was the coolest, most punk rock thing ever. Damn, it’s so easy and simple, like — that’s sick. And then from there, it went on a whole excursion of how to make it noisy, how to make it not sound like a banjo. It allowed the banjo to become something that was much more like a noisemaker than, like, an instrument.
[“Metallic Taste” by Show Me The Body plays.]
JCP: It’s a drum in the essence. Like, the skin, the head of it — that is not a solid piece of material but is an actual reverberating drum, you know what I mean? And if you know about music, you know the history of the drum. The drum is a powerful thing. The drum was meant to organize. The drum was illegal because it was so powerful.
All that sort of inclusivity really made me feel that New York hardcore was bigger than music, you know what I mean? It really is a way of life, you know? That if you participate in this, it’s a real choice. It’s being in the streets together, throwing shows that are in the streets, you know what I mean?
Like, doing things pretty much with your family that is illegal, having fun. That’s what real hardcore’s about. It’s not about listening to a specific type of music that has the same type of breakdown. That’s consumerism, as far as I’m concerned.
[“K-9″ by Show Me The Body plays.]
JCP: The project Challenge Coin, it had two songs on it. It’s referencing NYPD challenge coins. You could have a field day if you look up challenge coins or police challenge coins on eBay. They’re illegal to sell, but those motherfuckers are still selling them.
And you could see some crazy stuff, like, “I arrested a whole group of black kids in Brooklyn” challenge coin, “Queen’s vice” challenge coins, show, like, a picture of a cop knocking a face head, skull open, like all kinds of crazy stuff. Like these are merit badges that are given to police officers and exchanged, a lot of them designed by police officers.
[“K-9″ by Show Me The Body plays.]
JCP: So, K-9 was part of the Challenge Coin project. That song is very much about witness in the city and seeing things go down, seeing people of mainly black and brown descent being harassed by NYPD, seeing your friends and, like, family fearing eviction, and not being sure what to do, but the only thing that we know that we can do is come together and fight.
And how you want to fight is really up to you. If you want to do it knuckle to knuckle or you want to do it with a pen, it’s really up to you. I wouldn’t say it’s a call to action, because I think that a lot of kids were already there, so I don’t even want to say that it’s a call to action. But it’s a way to say that, like, yo, we should be doing this, and, like, this is right, and this is OK. And to witness, and then respond.
[“K-9″ by Show Me The Body plays.]
JCP: In 2016, we got the opportunity to go to Poland to tour. And it was the first time that we ever thought we would go over there, because for two of us in Show Me The Body, our ancestors escaped Poland. My great-aunt was stoned to death by her neighbors in Poland before the Nazis, you know? So, to go over there was a hard decision, and we knew that if we went over there, we wanted to see some sort of remnants that our people went through, you know?
My grandfather, he passed away, bless his soul, like, a year ago, but he never spoke Polish around us. He said that he forgot it, but in his dreams, he would scream it. He would have night terrors, scream Polish in his dreams, because he left Poland when he was, like, eight years old and came over on the ships, like, singing to rich people for bananas.
So, he raised us, like, not thinking about the old world in a positive way, you know what I mean, almost not even thinking about it at all. And when we went back there, we knew that we had to witness something that was part of our heritage.
So, we went and visited Camp Amersfoort, Birkenau, Auschwitz, Dachau. But it was after seeing these places, we were so struck by the idea that these were now museums, these beacons of hatred and suffering and death had become places of education, places of memory. And the question that was on our minds when we left was: How long before the havens of suffering in America, these beacons of hate in prison, how long before these things that they’ve built in America will also become museums, and people from all over the world will come to see what America did to its black and brown people?
How long before America can be part of that conversation of rebuilding, of generational trauma? How long before we can enter that conversation, as well? It was hard to discuss and hard to film, because of the nature of the subject matter. And I guess the subject matter being two things: One being concentration camps that have now become museums, and the other being fully-functional prisons.
And so, our goal in putting both these things in a movie was not to compare at all the Jewish experience with the experience of people incarcerated in America today, but it is a way to look at the longevity, or lack thereof, of a haven of imprisonment and hatred and suffering.
So, the name of the film comes from the phrase that is above the gate when you visit Auschwitz. It’s a joke, and it’s a lie, that basically means that if you’re good, and if you listen, and you do the work that we’re telling you to do, you will be set free. It was a promise, and it was a lie. It’s not far from anything that you’ve heard in the United States: Good behavior — the sentence will be cut short.
You’re given very, very, very little access to see or document suffering in this country. It really just shows the need to document American suffering and the fear and the power of it, because they are afraid for anyone to show it. So obviously, it is a powerful move to be able to document that, to show it to other people, to create empathy with U.S. prisoners, with non-prisoners, tax-paying people who can then say, “Wow, you know, my plight is not so far from these men. Their plight, I can empathize with.”
The sort of organizing that Show Me The Body is able to do is—one, it’s youth organizing. It’s about bringing young kids together to feel part of something that is greater than just capitalism or consumerism or the supreme store. It’s also about the sharing of ideas and the promotion of ideas, empowering ourselves — and for the young kids who want to come, we’re all just trying to talk, be ourselves and become free together.
[“Body War” by Show Me The Body plays.]
JS: That was Julian Cashwan Pratt of Show Me The Body. He spoke to our producer Jack D’Isidoro. We will post a link to the short film that we referenced earlier on the episode page for this episode of Intercepted at theintercept.com. New York listeners can also attend a free local screening, featuring a panel discussion afterward with the band and contributors to the film. That’s next Friday, November 9th. We’ll also post information about that on our website.
And that does it for this week’s show. If you are not yet a sustaining member of Intercepted, log onto theintercept.com/join. Intercepted is a production of First Look Media and the Intercept. We’re distributed by Panoply. Our producer is Jack D’isidoro, and our executive producer is Leital Molad. Laura Flynn is associate producer. Elise Swain is our assistant producer and graphic designer. Rick Kwan mixed the show. Special thanks to Anthony Arnove. Our music, as always, was composed by DJ Spooky. Until next week, I’m Jeremy Scahill.
Correction: October 31, 2018, 3:00 p.m. EDT
The podcast co-hosted by Adam Johnson was misidentified in the audio version of this episode. The name of the podcast is “Citations Needed,” not “Citation Needed.” The transcript will be corrected.