For the first time in modern history, a fringe wing of Christian extremists have obtained the highest seats of power in the US government—from Mike Pence to Betsy DeVos.
This new development is coupled with the emergence of the Alt Right, the Trump movement, and the rise of fascist movements abroad.
Renowned journalist and author Chris Hedges has embedded himself in what he calls “Christianized Fascism” and warns that this is the biggest danger we face under Trump.
Chris Hedges & Abby Martin – Trump, Fascism & the Christian Right
ABBY MARTIN: Many are calling Trump a fascist, even the next Hitler. Can you define what fascism is?
CHRIS HEDGES: Fascism is not really ideologically based. It’s very protean in terms of its ideology. There’s a German historian I like very much who wrote a book called Male Fantasies1 about the Freikorps, and the Freikorps were the antecedents to the Nazi Party. They were demobilized, right-wing World War I veterans who were used to crush the Spartacus uprising in Berlin and the kind of radical left. They killed Rosa Luxemburg. And it revolves more around emotion, hyper-masculinity, a virulent nationalism, a celebration of “strength” and of “military virtues.” It holds up a kind of moral purity that it claims to represent. Robert Paxton wrote a very good book called Anatomy of Fascism,2 and he notes that fascism in every country has its own peculiar characteristics in the sense that Italian fascism was very different in many ways from German fascism. I think that fascism, although I’ll use the word to describe Trump, is perhaps not finally accurate. I think you’re better off describing our system as what Sheldon Wolin, the political philosopher, calls inverted totalitarianism,3 by which he means that you’re not replacing old symbols and structures. It’s more like the old Roman republic after the civil wars and the rise of Augustus. So you still had a Senate. You still supposedly had a republic, but it was all a facade. So you have corporate forces that purport to pay fealty to electoral politics, the constitution, the iconography and language of American patriotism, but internally they have seized all of the levers of power to render the citizens disenfranchised. And Wolin writes that in that system, politics is never able to trump economics. It’s all about economic consolidation, maximization of profit, and so what we’re getting with Trump is, I think, a species of inverted totalitarianism, with demagoguery.
AM: It’s insane that one of Trump’s first measures was basically making it harder for poor people to get mortgages.
CH: Right, so what we’re going to get is a turbocharged neoliberalism. You can see it from all of the appointments around him.
AM: His political base is far from monolithic. We have the Christian right and the alt-right. I know that you’ve spent an enormous amount of time studying the Christian right, but what exactly is the alt-right. How would you even define this ideology? Would you say it is synonymous with neo-Nazism, like how people are saying that today?
CH: Yes, I think it has a lot of characteristics of neo-Nazism, but so does the Christian right. The Christian right, like the alt-right, is endowed with all sorts of conspiracy theories, coupled with magical thinking, coupled with an utter disdain for historical fact, and I think that what we will see is that the Christian right will fill Trump’s ideological vacuum because he doesn’t really have an ideology. He’s such a narcissist. And I think that that will be handled through Pence, so I think this in many ways will be the empowerment of Christian right, which I’ve always considered a political movement. I went to seminary. I grew up in the church. I do not consider them Christians any more than the German Christian church, which was pro-Nazi, was Christian. The German Christian church had the Nazi flag on one side and the Christian cross on the other. That’s how I look at the Christian right, and that’s why you saw 81% of evangelical voters support Trump, even though his personal life makes a mockery of the very values, the kind of family values that they say they hold sacred. So I think as we’re watching the Trump presidency, especially as it comes under attack from the establishment, both the old landed Republican and Democratic establishment, you’ll see his fortress become the ideology of the Christian right. I wrote a book called American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America. I didn’t use that word lightly. I think that they are Christianized fascists.
AM: But certainly there’s a differentiation between the Christian right and this emergence of these emboldened bigots who seem to be much more vitriolic—the alt-right, those who call themselves alt-right.
CH: No, I think the Christian right is as bigoted as the alt-right. The Christian Right is much more sophisticated because it is a network. Tens of millions of Americans are hermetically sealed within this bizarre world. With Betsy DeVos this is going to be expanded if everything goes through: $20 billion of federal money will get, in essence, handed off to religious schools, so they are sealed within their news, their religious information, their entertainment all gets colored with this Christianity. So one of things I learned when I wrote the book, which I spent two years on, was I would go to the services and they would have nice music and the chairs would be a lot more comfortable than the pews in the Presbyterian Church where I grew up. And it was kind of warm, and you would feel good, but then you would be pulled into the back rooms where you would be disciplined, and you would be assigned people. They would really break you down and sever you from your family because the next thing you know, you’re there every night of the week. I was in prayer groups where people were weeping because their children weren’t saved or their husband wasn’t saved, and that’s one of the great ironies. As they talk about family they’re the great destroyer of families. So they’re quite clever in having a kind of public face, which in many ways is even appealing, but which is very dark and cultish. I found many aspects of cults within it in terms of the way they broke people down, the kind of inability to question these white male pastors who had direct communication with God, made fabulous amounts of money off of these people’s despair, so I think that the Christian right is a far more dangerous movement than the alt-right, and I think that it has many characteristics that it shares with the alt-right in terms of its anti-Semitism, it’s homophobia, and it’s Islamophobia. I think the alt-right, because it incorporates so-called New Atheists, has its own coloring, but I think it shares many common traits with the Christian right. But I don’t think it’s as dangerous as the Christian right. I think people focus on it because it’s more visible. There is a strain of deep cruelty, savagery even, fascism and intolerance within the Christian right that is institutionalized in a way that makes it a far more dangerous movement than the alt-right.
AM: You mention that 80% of evangelicals voted for Trump. I wanted to briefly talk about how evangelicals became this highly politicized force because they don’t comprise that much of the population.
CH: It’s really a kind of fascinating story. It was a conscious attempt on the part of right-wing groups to politicize Christian conservative movements because traditionally fundamentalists, for instance, and evangelicals hated each other. Fundamentalists considered evangelicals, because they spoke in tongues and stuff, Satan. There were all these divisions. Fundamentalists called on believers to remove themselves from the political process and not be contaminated by it. This was in the 1920s and 30s. And what you saw roughly around 1980 was the rise of what we call dominionism. It was propagated by Rousas Rushdoony who wrote this very turgid book I had to read based on the ten commandments. This goes back to their saying we don’t have to worry about prisons because all murderers will be put to death and women who commit adultery will be stoned. It’s really crude stuff, and that got very heavily funded. They took over seminaries like Southern Baptist, which used to be a great seminary. They used to have in the Southern Baptist Church a fusion of kinds of Christians who were conservative, in terms their personal piety, but they were very left-wing in terms of their politics, which is how my father was, actually. That’s all gone, and so there was a kind of hostile takeover. The essence was: can we create the Christian society? And that viewpoint got infused into a movement that, while it’s called the Christian right, really doesn’t bear any resemblance to what had come before in terms of evangelicalism or fundamentalism. It was a new entity. Many people call it dominionism, and that’s when it got political and it began to strive for political power, with a lot of mistakes at first. They were too heavy-handed. They were too obtuse. Remember Pat Robertson ran for president, this kind of stuff, and now they’ve got a lot more clever, and they ally, for instance, with The Federalist Society. So Liberty University has a law school. They’re producing these federalist judges, so they have quite effectively seeped into the inner workings of power, and it is an ideology that, in that sense, although they speak about tradition, is really new.
AM: And Mike Pence was told by Trump’s people that he would be running domestic policy. He will be the most powerful Christian evangelical, if I’m not mistaken, ever in political history, especially with the executive power that’s given to the presidency. Will this move us forward to what you call Christianized fascism, and if so what would that look like?
CH: Yes, that’s what I expect because this is an ethics-free administration, as we’ve seen. There’s not even a pretense about ethical rules, whether it’s with Trump or anyone else, and so you have what’s going to become a kind of naked kleptocracy, and I’m not just speaking about Trump’s family, which of course will get fabulously rich, but about all those forces that are predatory, sucking money out of the education department. They’re just going to loot the country, but they’re also inept, which is a very bad combination. As that ineptitude becomes more pronounced and more understood, they are going to have to become more ideologically rigid, and I think the only place they’re going to go is to the Christian right. So what is it going to look like? It’s going to look like a Christianized fascism. It’s going to be the fusion of the American flag with the Christian cross and the Pledge of Allegiance. We’ve already seen it. It is going to be assaults on women’s rights. It’s going to be assaults against the educational system, so we’re teaching creationism and magical thinking. It’s going to be attacks against “those forces of secular humanism that are destroying the country.” It’s going to be a kind of sanctification of law and order, and imperial adventurism turned into a kind of crusade. And I think that as society unravels they will stoke this demonization of the other: Muslims, undocumented workers, African- Americans are on the list… feminists, all the way down the list, to vent the frustration and the rage against segments of the society that are vulnerable within the context of a kind of Christianized language. That’s what I think is coming.
AM: Betsy DeVos: you mentioned her. She’s being roundly condemned for many reasons as being Trump’s appointed secretary of education, but people are under-reporting her ties to Erik Prince, her brother. He’s the famous mercenary founder of Blackwater. He’s also one of Pence’s biggest donors, and now he’s advising Trump.
CH: Right, and I had a conversation with Jeremy Scahill who wrote the great book on Blackwater4, and I had been going around the country speaking about the Christian right, and I said, “We don’t have to worry. They’re not fascists because they don’t have an armed wing,” and Jeremy said, “What do you mean? That is their armed wing.” And I realized he was right and I was wrong, and they do have, through Blackwater, essentially mercenary forces at their disposal, and any totalitarian or even authoritarian government relies heavily on vigilante violence because they’re not held accountable for it, even the excesses of the Brownshirts. People forget Hitler would denounce them because he could, but of course he was giving a green light to them, but then they would go beat up a bunch of people and there would be an outcry, and Hitler would say, “Well, they shouldn’t have done that.” These forces, will, I think, play an increasingly prominent and frightening role within American society because they’re not going to be punished. They’re not held accountable and they can carry out forms of coercion and violence and intimidation, and threats on behalf of the state, and the state will protect them, but they’re kind of immune. And that’s classic fascism.
AM: Yeah, we saw it in Israel. We see it everywhere with these kinds of militias that then become…
CH: I saw it in Yugoslavia.
AM: Yeah, but I was going to say Blackwater and what Eric Prince is doing is kind of institutionalized whereas, as far as the vigilante groups on the ground, the actual armed militias that are emboldened by people like Joe Arpaio and are taking action on their own terms at the border, those are different, right?
CH: They are, but they’ll be brought under control. Again, you can go back to the historical record. The state wants centralized control. That’s what finally did in the Brownshirts with the Night of the Long Knives. When Hitler got rid of Röhm and the SS supplanted the Brownshirts. They want control, so I think all of those groups, if we come to this, will be put within structures that may not be public structures, but will be put within structures.
AM: I think a fascinating example of how this has already happened under the Obama administration is the difference between the Standing Rock North Dakota access pipeline protesters, who are unarmed, and crushed, and then you have the Bundy Ranch Militia.
CH: There you go because imagine Bundy and all those guys were black. They’d all be dead. There’s a good example, but that’s always been true, and Richard Hofstadter wrote about that in his last book on violence.5 Throughout American history we have relied on white vigilante thugs to go after African-Americans, the Chinese labor movement. We’ve had bloody labor wars in US history. Hundreds of American workers were killed, and who killed them? Gun thugs, Pinkertons, Baldwin-Felts, mine militias raised by the Scrantons in Pennsylvania. There’s a long tradition of that, including the klan (the KKK), and so we have this kind of historical precedence for what’s coming.
AM: And as the Trump administration uses the rhetoric of alternative facts to basically shut down any dissent, what about the alternative facts being promoted from websites like Breidtbart or Infowars? Do you have any comment on the fact that Steve Bannon is now in the ear of Trump, and so is Alex Jones.
CH: Well, they’re conspiracy theorists, just like Trump, so they just reinforce his kind of loony worldview.
AM: The US isn’t the only country where we’re seeing this far right rise. Obviously, this is happening in Europe and beyond. How is what we’re witnessing here connected to elsewhere in the world?
CH: Well, it’s the result of neoliberal economics where you destroy public institutions, and, whatever you say about communism, and I was there in Eastern Europe, they had a first- class educational system which people did not pay for. Everyone had health insurance. There was full employment, and so neoliberalism went in and destroyed, in the name of the free market—which everyone confused with freedom, all of those institutions. Huge state enterprises closed, and this caused massive unemployment. I was just in Poland. Two million young Poles work as baristas in Spain or somewhere. And it created a new oligarchic class by selling off state assets. This happened, of course as well, with Russia, and people finally woke up and realized they were being had, and they were being had by that “liberal establishment” in the same way that we’ve been had by these liberal elites on the East Coast and the West Coast. And we’ve seen the rise of proto- fascist movements in Hungary and Poland. We’re seeing powerful proto-fascist movements in France and even Germany. And it all goes back to this idea that human society and human life should be ruled by the dictates of the global marketplace. It’s an insane ideology that’s never worked anywhere in human history, but until we break the back of corporate power, we’re not going to blunt the rise of these movements.
AM: Yeah, we’re in such a post-truth reality that people think that Trump is still anti- establishment because they’ve just learned to blame the state for all of their ills.
CH: That’s right, and when they figure out somehow that he isn’t, when they get what’s happening, then you will see turbocharged the hate talk and the hate crimes. That is classic fascism.
AM: Like you said, the police state was already put in place. It just takes someone like Trump to pull the lever.
CH: This was the big mistake. He has all the tools at his disposal to, with the flick of a switch, turn this into a police state. They were all given to him primarily by the Bush and the Obama administrations. We allowed whole segments of our population to be stripped of their rights. I’m talking about poor people of color and marginal communities, a court system where you know 95-94% never even get a trial, of the system of mass incarceration, the police terror where police can use indiscriminate lethal force against unarmed people. Hannah Arendt writes about this in The Origins of Totalitarianism.6 When you allow a segment of your population—she was talking about stateless persons—she herself was stateless in France—to be stripped of their rights, once rights become privileges, then should unrest spread throughout the society, you have both a legal and physical mechanism to impose. They’re already in place to impose on everyone else, and that’s what we’re seeing: that what poor people of color have been enduring in these mini police states is just instantly expanded once the rest of the population is no longer passive.
AM: You talk about how the biggest way to fight Trump, the Christian right and the alt-right is to revolt. Mass resistance. What does that look like? What does that mean? And why is the Democratic Party not the vehicle for the resistance?
CH: Because the Democratic Party is not going to confront the underlying ideological system of neoliberalism or corporate power, which has created the mess that we now live in. Instead of we, and the opposition, dealing directly with the ravages of neoliberalism and what it’s done, you have a Democratic Party that blames the election result on Putin or on FBI director James Comey. This is ridiculous, and it is a way to be as demagogic as Trump, and a way to present alternative facts of your own, and that’s very dangerous because if we don’t have significant segments of the society that deal with the ideology, the utopian ideology of neoliberalism that has led us to this mess, and continues to offer up these alternative facts, then, in essence, they’re going to collude with Trump to create a form of American fascism, and they will be in many ways as responsible. If we don’t go after those corporate forces through acts of civil disobedience, such as at Standing Rock, we don’t have any other way to have our voices heard or to create resistance. Now, it’s going to be ugly under the Trump administration, and Standing Rock was ugly under Obama—rubber bullets, concussion grenades, water in sub-zero temperatures laced with pepper spray. It was ugly there, but it’s going to be even uglier because there just will be no holds barred at all. And in Standing Rock they brought in private security contractors who had just come from Afghanistan and Iraq, which gets back to these kinds of quasi-militias aligned with the Christian right. We’re just going to see a lot more of that. It’s going to be fierce, but there are no institutions left that are authentically democratic, that are going to challenge the centrifugal forces that have brought us to where we are. That’s only going to be done in the streets.
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