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Trump’s Embrace of “Nationalist” Label Is Final Link to Dangerous Pattern

By calling himself a “nationalist,” Trump has made it clear who gets to be a part of his “nation.”

President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at McKenzie Arena, in Chattanooga, Tennessee, on November 4, 2018.

Now that Donald Trump has announced that he is an unapologetic “nationalist,” it is even more likely that violent repression of anti-fascist demonstrators will occur. While Trump did not affix any prefix to “nationalist,” his actions speak loudly for the fact that he favors a specific definition of who is counted for in his “nation”— certainly not LGBTQ folks, those who have migrated to the US, Muslims, people of color or Indigenous peoples. Indeed, he has accused any protests against his “nationalism” to be led by “mobs.” All these groups are targeted by the “alt-right” in general.

Far-right groups are rising in the US and becoming bolder in their actions as they incorporate more and more people who subscribe to either the entire Trump agenda of hate or selective parts of it. And that is not even to mention individuals who might not be members of these groups but embody and enact their programs of hate — people like the one who sent pipe bombs to those who have criticized Trump, people like the person who murdered two Black people at a Kroger store in Kentucky and the person who killed 11 people at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.

Why does this open identification with white nationalism send up danger signals for those who oppose it — especially anti-fascists? Because it completes an already existing set of connections. First is the open declaration of “nationalism” as Trump sees it; second is the redefinition of “law and order” to mean increased police violence; third is the alliance between racist far-right groups and the White House; and most deadly of all, the extension of this alliance to loop in police officers.

Throughout the presidential campaign, Trump promised to “restore law and order.” He made clear what he meant, telling his supporters to “knock the crap” out of hecklers and bemoaning the fact that “in the old days, these people would be carried out on stretchers.” Now this encouragement of violence has taken on an extremely dangerous dimension: Trump has encouraged police to be more aggressive and to venture over the line of legality. In July 2017, he told a group of police:

And when you see these towns and when you see these thugs being thrown into the back of a paddy wagon — you just see them thrown in, rough — I said, please don’t be too nice. [Laughter.] Like when you guys put somebody in the car and you’re protecting their head, you know, the way you put their hand over? Like, don’t hit their head and they’ve just killed somebody — don’t hit their head. I said, you can take the hand away, okay? [Laughter and applause.]

His pardoning of former Sheriff Joe Arpaio, convicted of criminal contempt for ignoring a court order, sent a strong signal to police officers that the niceties of the Constitution need not apply. Arpaio is well known for his brutal tactics and abuse of prisoners. If he can get off scot-free, other police can also expect leniency under the Trump administration.

Embracing victimization as an excuse for brutality is the second element of the combustive formula Trump has concocted. Trump’s persistent comments that he is under attack by the “mainstream press” and that it is the “true enemy of the people,” coupled by First Lady Melania Trump’s statement that she is one of the most bullied people shows the administration’s “under-siege” mentality. But this also applies to white males of any class: In 2017, in Charlottesville, Virginia, far-right extremists screamed that they would not be “replaced.” The slogan specifically named Jews as those the white nationalists were afraid were replacing them, fusing anti-Semitism with anti-Black racism. “This city is run by Jewish communists and criminal n******,” one demonstrator told Vice News’s Elspeth Reeve during their march.

This sense of victimization is what scholar Robin J. DiAngelo calls in her book of the same name “white fragility”: “White Fragility is a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves.”

Now we come to the third element in this formula — many police officers and Trump supporters have formed alliances with “alt-right” hate groups like the Proud Boys. Its founder, Gavin McInnes, has made direct appeals:

Fighting solves everything. We need more violence from the Trump people. Trump supporters: choke a motherfucker. Choke a bitch. Choke a tranny. Get your fingers around the windpipe.

With police creating “order” in protecting white nationalists and indeed, helping perpetuate violence, it is one side who suffers the bulk of the consequences. Thanks to this new alliance between the “alt-right,” police and Trump’s media, leftist dissidents are the ones targeted for violence.

In early October, after the Proud Boys held a rally in New York, they took to the streets, beating and kicking people who protested them. But as ThinkProgress reports, “Fox News responded by only reporting on anti-fascist vandalism that had taken place at the venue, while continuing to portray Democrats as the real angry mobs.” Fox did not report on any of the beatings the Proud Boys carried out. This reporting feeds the image of white supremacists as victims and of protesters as violent mobs.

Trump’s media relayed the message that anti-fascists were the sole cause of the unrest, and the police protected the Proud Boys as the violence occurred. McInnes brags about his relationship with the New York Police Department (NYPD): “So I get there and there’s a mob of screaming lunatics, and the cops have been there all day. Tons of cops, I have a lot of support in the NYPD, and I very much appreciate that, the boys in blue.”

The same thing happened in Berkeley, California, in August, where a “No to Marxism” rally brought a number of “alt-right” agitators to the city. When the far-right and counterprotesters clashed, police not only protected the “alt-right,” they also targeted those protesting white nationalists and posted counterprotesters’ personal information online, thereby making them vulnerable to assault and harassment from “alt-right” groups. As the Guardian reported, “New emails have shown that the city has an explicit policy of targeting protesters with mugshot tweets, with the goal of using ‘social media to help create a counter-narrative.'”

There is a racial aspect to this as well. At a June 2016 neo-Nazi rally in Sacramento, California, a neo-Nazi stabbed Cedric O’Bannon, a Black citizen journalist covering the event. But instead of being seen as a victim, police characterized O’Bannon as the perpetrator. The Guardian reported, “His presence at the protest — along with his use of the black power fist and ‘social media posts expressing his ideals’ — were proof that he had violated the rights of neo-Nazis at the 26 June 2016 protests, police wrote in a report. None of the white supremacists have been charged for stabbing O’Bannon.”

Authoritarian regimes make law enforcement do their bidding, and they control the media. Trump criminalizes protesters, exploits the partnership of law enforcement with white-supremacist groups, and uses his media to promulgate a false and misleading narrative while attempting to discredit all other media. Make no mistake, whereas in this case it is anti-fascist protesters that are being targeted, this formula can be used against any foe that dares protest Trump.

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