The opening night of this week’s Republican National Convention (RNC) prominently featured a speech by Patricia and Mark McCloskey, the wealthy white couple who illegally brandished firearms at Black Lives Matter protesters in St. Louis, Missouri.
Then, just one day after the McCloskeys’ RNC speech, a white gunman killed two people and injured a third at a Black Lives Matter protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
Police have arrested Kyle Rittenhouse, a 17-year-old Illinois resident, for first-degree murder. The alleged gunman’s suspected ties to militia groups have not yet been established, but he is reported to be a former police cadet and his social media included “Blue Lives Matter” propaganda.
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Kenosha County Sheriff David Beth has confirmed that militia groups have been patrolling Kenosha streets this week, saying, “They’re like a vigilante group.”
Meanwhile, Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes said, “Last night, with the fans of hate being flamed, you see these militia groups decide to take up arms.”
According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, at least one such group known as the Kenosha Guard had “asked members and followers on Facebook to come downtown and be prepared to defend the city” on Tuesday.
Such militia and right-wing vigilantes seem to agree with the McCloskeys’ call to take up arms against the “radical left.”
By “encouraging anarchy and chaos on our streets,” the McCloskeys argued, “it seems as if the Democrats no longer view the government’s job as protecting honest citizens from criminals, but rather protecting criminals from honest citizens.”
Meanwhile, we hear Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan and other Republicans saying that cities “run by Democrats” are rampant with “crime, violence and mob rule.” In this context, how can we be surprised if far right militias or similar figures take matters into their own hands with the explicit nod of the GOP? After all, John Antaramian, the mayor of Kenosha, Wisconsin, is a Democrat.
Fascist and far right politics swim in a sea of paradox, especially when in power. Donald Trump Jr.’s comments were particularly indicative of the outward message of the RNC: “We have to be law and order, but that doesn’t mean we don’t call out abuses.” The hypocrisy of such claims is fully evident in the veneration of the actions of the McCloskeys, which brought felony charges. But the duplicity of the RNC message runs deeper than that. We can see it when we examine the alleged root causes of this need to return society to an orderly state.
Speaking at the RNC, Fox News personality and Trump adviser Kimberly Guilfoyle alleged that — rather than listen to law-abiding everyday people — the Democrats cater to “cosmopolitan elites” who focus on how they will “be received by the elites in Paris,” as Eric Trump phrased it.
This allegation of allegiance to “global progressives” is right-wing populism 101 and only differs in its overt form from what you’d find on white power websites by leaving out explicitly anti-Semitic nods to “puppet masters” like George Soros. It also dovetails with the growing “QAnon”-inspired conspiracy theory that a group of satanic Democrats and other cosmopolitan elites run the world “while engaging in pedophilia, human trafficking and the harvesting of a supposedly life-extending chemical from the blood of abused children,” as Julia Carrie Wong writes.
According to the rhetoric of the RNC, since the Democrats “blame America first” rather than putting “America First” (a slogan with its own fascist history), they want to “invite MS-13 to live next door,” according to the far right Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, and they are “turning a blind eye towards riots and rage,” according to former South Carolina Gov. and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, or are even “captive to the radical left” according to Daniel Cameron, attorney general of Kentucky.
The challenge of restoring order and “protect[ing] our families from the vengeful mob,” is “a fight that only my father can win,” according to Eric Trump and legions of MAGA faithful. As the historian of fascism Federico Finchelstein points out, “Trump replaces the [party] platform because, like Hitler, he is seen as incarnating the program.”
Moreover, the increasingly numerous adherents to the QAnon world believe that their fearless leader is covertly battling the satanic “deep state.” Trump claimed that QAnon adherents are simply “people who love our country.” While Trump sometimes claims to respect the law, he also has a track record of encouraging police brutality and sneering at international human rights.
The message of the RNC — which is chillingly resonant with the upswell of vigilante and militia groups that are patrolling the streets of Kenosha in response to racial justice protests this week — could be summed up in the words of Charlie Kirk, the founder of the far right student organization (with documented links to white supremacists) Turning Point USA: “this election is a decision between preserving America as we know it and eliminating everything that we love.”
While the explicit formula for staving off an impending “socialist utopia,” as Tim Scott phrased it, is to win the election, the RNC, many Trump supporters, and their far right and fascist fellow travelers are simultaneously engaging in racist rhetoric about the need for a militant defense of “quiet neighborhoods” from mobs of immigrants and “radical leftists,” hellbent on “replacing” America (reminiscent of the Charlottesville chant “Jews will not replace us”).
The paradoxical call to subvert the law in order to uphold the law is quintessentially fascist. It’s a fascistic worldview that is apparent in the police embrace of the logo of the Marvel superhero The Punisher: a strongman unconstrained by the “weak” and “effeminate” limits of bourgeois legalism in his pursuit of transcendent justice.
Like many fascist and far right leaders before him, Trump — who “jokes” about holding on to power beyond his term limit — has come to embody this paradoxical embrace of illegality in the name of legality.
Beside Trump are legions of supporters who are becoming increasingly comfortable with the notion of engaging in vigilante violence to stave off what Matt Gaetz has described as efforts by Black Lives Matter and other leftists to commit “cultural genocide,” and what other white nationalists simply call “white genocide” (Gaetz hired a white nationalist speechwriter).
While we have yet to learn whether the alleged Kenosha gunman was explicitly associated with the upsurge of right-wing militia activity there, his embrace of Blue Lives Matter propaganda suggests that he was likely influenced by the glorification of vigilante violence that is endemic to the far right ecosphere.
Given another recent shooting of BLM protesters in Pennsylvania and the rash of vehicular attacks on BLM protesters in recent months after the fatal attack on Heather Heyer in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, it is hard to imagine that the shooting of protesters last night in Kenosha will be the last of its kind.
As struggles against white supremacy and other forms of domination advance in the coming years, we must be vigilant about how far right memes that glorify police violence or fantasize about murdering protesters exist on a continuum with Republican Party rhetoric.
We need look no further than the RNC to see the many links that exist between explicit and implicit endorsements of white supremacy and authoritarianism.