Donald Trump’s political circus and freak show is continuing its American tour. Everywhere it stops, Donald Trump unleashes a torrent of lies, hatred, ignorance, bigotry, racism, narcissism, authoritarianism, threats of violence and other antisocial and evil values.
Trump’s political rallies resemble George Orwell’s “six minutes of hate” from “1984,” expanded to two hours or so.
The mainstream news media has made an obvious editorial decision to downplay or ignore Trump’s political hate rallies and similar events. That may be an attempt to correct for the wall-to-wall coverage Trump received the first time he ran for president, but it won’t save the American people or American democracy — or the “freedom of the press” — from the neofascist assault. Moreover, ignoring Trump’s escalating threats at this point, given all we know, amounts to journalistic malpractice and betrayal of the public trust.
Many other Americans, to be sure, are also ignoring Trump’s rallies. Most of those who are paying attention, it appears, are mostly doing so in order to mock Trump and his followers as ignorant or stupid. They are doing this rather than responding to the danger with an appropriate mixture of fear, caution and then effective planning for how best to defeat the threat. Such behavior is an example of what psychologists call “defensive contempt,” a reaction born of deep existential fear.
As I have observed previously, mockery and laughter won’t save America people from the hell that will be fully unleashed when Trump’s Republican-fascist movement wins the 2022 midterms, and quite possibly the presidential election two years after that.
At this point, many professional centrists, pundits and hope-peddlers in the American news media and larger political class have convinced themselves that attention is like oxygen for Donald Trump and his followers, and therefore that depriving them of attention will suffocate their movement. That metaphor is incorrect: This is more like ignoring a fire and allowing it to burn uncontrolled rather than extinguishing it.
Many observers have convinced themselves that attention is like oxygen for Trump: Deprive him of it, and he will die. In fact, ignoring Trump’s rallies is more like allowing a fire to burn out of control.
Trump’s most recent political rally took place last Saturday in Delaware, Ohio. There he continued to escalate his threats of violence, wallowed even more in the Big Lie and other conspiracy theories and distortions of reality, spouted his white supremacist and racist talking points, and stroked his own narcissism and other mental pathologies. Trump also used the event to anoint Ohio Senate candidate J.D. Vance and various other Republicans as MAGA-approved surrogates in the midterm elections.
During his Ohio speech, Trump amplified his white supremacist race-war fantasies, which are clearly derived from the “Great Replacement” conspiracy theory and fears that white people somehow face extinction at the hands of Black or brown invaders. Trump has now fully mated the Big Lie claim that he is still the “real” president of the United States with white identity politics and grievance mongering:
The very same people who piously claimed to be defending democracy are the ones throwing open your borders, surrendering your sovereignty, defunding your police, prosecuting your politicians — like nobody’s ever seen before, by the way… desecrating your laws, crushing your wages, diluting your vote, and handing your country over millions and millions of illegal foreign nationals — illegal aliens, I would call them — all without your consent.
You haven’t consented to that. On top of that you, had a fake, phony election….
But no matter how big or powerful these corrupt radicals may be, you must never forget this nation does not belong to them. This nation belongs to you. This is your home. This is your heritage, and your great American liberty is your God-given right.
In this age of ascendant American fascism, everything old seems to be new again. Trump’s white supremacist and nativist fictions echo the discredited “scientific racism” espoused by the likes of Madison Grant in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in America and Europe. More than 100 years later, these pseudo-scientific theories have become daily talking points among Republicans, the “conservative” movement and the right-wing echo chamber anchored by Fox News.
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Trump continues to use the propaganda and radicalization technique known as “stochastic terrorism” to amplify his threats of political violence against Democrats, liberals and others deemed by his movement to be a poisonous “enemy within” and a threat to America. This dangerous language echoes the eliminationist rhetoric that led to genocide in places like Nazi Germany, Rwanda, the former Yugoslavia and elsewhere:
In this moment together, we’re standing up against some of the most menacing forces, entrenched interests, and vicious opponents our people have ever seen or fought against. Despite great outside powers and dangers, our biggest threat remains the sick, sinister and evil people from within our own country.
There is no threat as dangerous to democracy as they are. Just look at the un-select committee of political hacks and what they’re doing to our country while radical-left murderers, rapists, and insurrectionists roam free: Nothing happens to them.
Trump and his regime are guilty of de facto democide for their negligent response to the coronavirus pandemic. Of course, Trump now claims that it was Biden, Dr. Anthony Fauci and other public health experts, and the “liberals,” “socialist Democrats” and “the left” who unleashed COVID upon the American people and that (somehow) he and his regime acted as saviors:
They created unyielding and unsustainable and totally horrific mandates and radical mask regulations — and we did just the opposite, and we had far better success in every single category.
In total, Trump’s Ohio rally was a master class in cult behavior, mind control, right-wing propaganda and disinformation, and psychological warfare techniques. Reporters, pundits and other professional smart people with a public platform should be consistently warning the American people about the grave danger this represents. With a few admirable exceptions, they have refused to rise to the challenge.
A cult leader keeps his followers in thrall by creating fantastical threats from evil outside forces — from which, of course, he is going to save them.
Trump’s rally last weekend was a textbook example of how a cult leader keeps his followers in thrall by creating fantastical threats from evil forces in the outside world. In this type of psychological conditioning, the leader becomes a savior figure for the followers, who learn to accept that they must never challenge his or her word.
Trump is also using Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels’ technique of projection and the Big Lie, by literally accusing the Democrats and all others who disagree with him of the crimes against society and democracy that he and his movement have actually committed.
Trump’s rallies create an alternate reality or state of malignant normality, where humane values, reason and truth are rejected or inverted, to be replaced by their opposites. As should be obvious following the events of Jan. 6, 2021, many of Trump’s followers and the other members of the neofascist right are ready to kill, and perhaps to die, for their cause and their leader.
In a 2019 interview for Salon, Steven Hassan, one of the world’s leading experts on cult psychology and deprogramming, explained Trump’s power over his followers and the danger to society it represents:
Destructive cults are authoritarian, pyramid-structured groups where there is often a charismatic or authoritarian leader at the top who commands total power and loyalty. Destructive cults also use deceptive recruitment and specific control of techniques. These techniques include behavior control, information control, thought control and emotional control to keep people dependent and obedient within that group’s structure.
The group really demands a pseudo-identity. It is not your real conscience or your real self. You become someone who is a tool of the leader, an instrument to be used or to be thrown away. Much of the manipulation, aside from telling the members, “You’re the chosen ones,” is about guilt and fear. It is actually a very unpleasant experience to be in one of these cult groups long-term. …
Trump’s violent threats are an example of fear indoctrination and phobia indoctrination for his supporters.
So the question then becomes, when Donald Trump is making these violent threats, what is going on in the minds of the people who are around him? Are Trump’s inner circle, his followers and other supporters really willing to commit murder for Donald Trump? Will his followers go that far for him?…
Trump also tells his followers not to listen to other information if it is critical of him … [and] tells his followers that if you don’t follow him, terrible things are going to happen to you, the country and the world … that the world will be overrun by evil people if they don’t support him. Donald Trump is a stereotypical cult leader like Lyndon LaRouche, who’s a political cult leader, or Sun Myung-moon, my former cult leader. Donald Trump is also like Jim Jones or David Koresh. It is clear when you consider Trump’s malignant narcissism and examine his speeches and writing.
Hassan observed in the same interview that Trump’s supporters could be “an easy target for another country, whether it’s Russia or Iran or China or some other hostile country that wants to sow division in the United States,” and concluded, “Unfortunately, I think that Trump’s supporters are going to be a great danger to the rest of us in this country for some time.”
Social scientists and other researchers have shown that there are many millions of Trump’s followers who support terrorism and other forms of political violence against the Democrats and their supporters in order to protect “real America” (meaning, of course, white America). New research commissioned by The New Republic shows the extent of that danger: More than 50% percent of Republicans believe that the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol was an act of “patriotism.”
Here is a thought experiment for those observers who have convinced themselves that by ignoring Donald Trump and his political hate rallies, the danger they represent to the country will somehow disappear. Donald Trump received 74 million votes in 2020 – roughly 11 million more than he did in 2016. If only 10% of those voters are willing to obey his incitements to political violence, that’s 7.4 million people, a potential force so large that it would throw American society into total chaos and destruction.
If 0.1% of Trump voters embrace political violence, that’s 74,000 terrorists — an insurmountable problem for law enforcement.
Let’s take that a step further: If only 1% percent of Trump’s voters, or 740,000 people, venture into political violence, that would still be a massive national emergency. If you reject that number as unrealistic, then let’s take it to 0.1% of Trump’s voters, or 74,000 right-wing terrorists and other extremists. Again, that would be huge and nearly insurmountable problem for law enforcement, the military and other security forces.
If the naysayers, hope peddlers and others mired in obsessive denial about the neofascist threat would like to force that number down even lower, it still implies a threat level that is likely to mean considerable pain, suffering, turmoil and destruction. Consider this excerpt from an essay by former gun industry executive Ryan Busse, published last November in the Bulwark:
“When can we use the guns?” The question hung in the air just long enough for some in the crowd to begin cheering. “That’s not a joke,” the man added. “How many elections are they gonna steal before we kill these people?”
The question, posed on October 25 during Charlie Kirk’s Turning Point USA event in Idaho, made it clear that this man, and others like him, are hoping for a signal.
I’ve met men like this before. I worked in the firearms industry as a sales executive for a long time and beginning during the Obama presidency, gun business leaders like me, who helped build the nation’s top gun companies, noticed this disturbing chatter from gun owners at firearms trade shows. Many in the industry dismissed these threats. I didn’t. And now we hear them from gun owners across the country who dream of deploying their arsenals to kill fellow citizens.
It’s tempting to wish these people away. It’s a big country and there will always be malcontents and criminals. If you wanted to see the glass as half full, you could say that Charlie Kirk denounced the call to violence. Though to be honest, Kirk’s disavowal didn’t inspire much confidence. He rejected the call to murder not because it was wrong but because it would “play into all their plans” — you can guess who “they” are here. And Kirk then qualified this by saying that “we must exhaust every single peaceful means possible” — which sure seems to leave open the question of what to do after all of the peaceful means have been exhausted.
And the glass-half-empty view seems pretty convincing. America has a rapidly growing authoritarian army comprised of thousands of men like that fellow in Idaho. They have been groomed by Trump acolytes such as Kirk and Steve Bannon. They have also been developed as avatar customers by the gun industry, meaning that they are well armed.
But what non-gun owners may not understand is that these men are not your average gun-owning Americans. They are people who have fallen into a cult where it is normal to organize your entire culture around weapons of war. Some make it official by claiming membership in the Oath Keepers or Three Percenters. Some are just average suburban dads who’ve been radicalized. They laugh at “Let’s Go Brandon” chants, drink Black Rifle Coffee, and wave “Come and Take It” flags at political rallies.
Such warnings are to be heeded and not ignored. Democrats, liberals, progressives and other pro-democracy forces are in a literal fight for their lives — and for the future of America. Perhaps the most tragic aspect of America’s democracy crisis is that the vast majority of Americans do not even understand that they are in the middle of an existential struggle. Most are exhausted and simply hoping to wait out the crisis, when they should be fervently battling against a reactionary-revolutionary movement that is fighting hard to win the present and future. To this point, that movement faces little serious opposition.
Democracy is running out of time. America’s political class and leading figures in the mainstream media still want to pretend that we can somehow return to “normal,” and that denial or wish-casting will make the neofascist assault go away. It won’t.
Read more on our 45th president and his followers: