It Can’t Happen Here… Can It? Trump’s Storm Troopers and the Possibility of American Fascism

By Bob Dreyfuss

March 14, 2016 “Information Clearing House” – “Tom Dispatch” – Can it happen here?

That’s the question circulating now that Donald Trump, the nativist, rabble-rousing xenophobe, and billionaire, is threatening to capture the Republican nomination for president of the United States — and it’s a question that isn’t being asked only on the left.  It’s been raised by a New York Times editorial, which claimed that Trump has brought the GOP “to the brink of fascism,” and by Republicans, ranging from neoconservative pundit Max Boot to Virginia’s centrist former Governor Jim Gilmore. Conservative Times columnist Ross Douthat was reasonably typical in a piece headlined “Is Donald Trump a Fascist?” While he allowed that The Donald may not be Adolf Hitler or Benito Mussolini, he added, “It seems fair to say that he’s closer to the ‘proto-fascist’ zone on the political spectrum than either the average American conservative or his recent predecessors in right-wing populism.”

For figures ranging from comic Louis C.K. to right-wing commentator Glenn Beck, making direct Hitler-Trump comparisons has become the fashion of the moment.  I must admit, however, that “proto-fascist” sounds about right to me.  Certainly, the rise of Trump has caused many voters to take notice — the question being whether the real estate mogul (who further stirred the pot recently byretweeting a quote from Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini) could cobble together enough of a coalition of nationalists, Angry White Men, “poorly educated” working-class backers, the disaffected religious right, Islamophobes, immigrant-bashers, and others to wield the figurative pitchforks in a march to victory in November.

If indeed Trump is a mere “proto-fascist,” then what ingredients, if any, are still needed for the emergence of an authentic twenty-first-century American fascist movement? To think about that question, I recently read Richard J. Evans’ book, The Coming of the Third Reich. It spans the era from 1871 to 1933, describing in exquisitely painful detail the gestation and growth of the Nazi party. If you decide to read the book, try doing what I did: in two columns in your head draw up a list of similarities and differences between the United States today and Weimar Germany in the 1920s and early 1930s.

In this edgy moment in America, the similarities, of course, tend to jump out at you. As Trump repeatedly pledges to restore American greatness, so Hitler promised to avenge Germany’s humiliation in World War I. As Trump urges his followers, especially the white working class, to blame their troubles on Mexican immigrants and Muslims, so Hitler whipped up an anti-Semitic brew. As Trump — ironically, for a billionaire — attacks Wall Street and corporate lobbyists for rigging the economy and making puppets out of politicians, so Hitler railed against Wall Street and the City of London, along with their local allies in Germany, for burdening his country with a massive post-World War I, Versailles Treaty-imposed reparations debt and for backing the Weimar Republic’s feckless center-right parties. (Think: the Republican Party today.)  As with Trump’s China-bashing comments and his threats to murder the relatives of Islamist terrorists while taking over Iraq’s oil reserves, Hitler too appealed to an atavistic, reckless sort of ultra-nationalism.

The Second Amendment Society

But don’t forget the differences, which are no less obvious. The United States has a long-established tradition of democratic republicanism, which 1920s Germany did not. The economy of the planet’s last superpower, while careening into a near-depression in 2008, is incomparably too strong to be put in the same category as the hyperinflation-plagued German one of that era.

There is, however, another difference between Donald Trump of 2016 and Adolf Hitler of 1921 (when he took over the leadership of the fledgling National Socialist German Workers Party) that overshadows the rest.  From the beginning, Hitler wielded the support of a brutal, thuggish armed paramilitary wing, the notorious Sturmabteilung (SA), the Storm Detachment (or storm troopers). Also known as the Brown Shirts, the SA often used violence against its opponents in the streets of Germany’s cities, and its sheer presence intimidated Germans across the political spectrum.

And that got me thinking. Would it be possible for Donald Trump or some future Trump-like figure to build an armed following of his own? Frighteningly enough, the answer is certainly: yes. And it might not even be that hard.

Bear with me a moment here.  Back in 2010, in Alexandria, Virginia, radical partisans of the Second Amendment right to bear arms, bolstered by Virginia’s egregiously anything-goes open-carry laws, held a Restore the Constitution Rally in Fort Hunt Park on the Potomac River — and they came armed. The event was, by the way, scheduled for April 19th, the anniversary of Timothy McVeigh’s 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City. At the time, I lived a mile or so from that park, and the combination of fear, anger, and disgust that such a weapons-displaying political demonstration could happen in the virtual shadow of the Capitol was palpable.

Admittedly, only about 50 armed people took part, though 2,000 others held an unarmed, parallel rally in Washington, D.C., where carrying weapons is forbidden. Think about how many more might turn out today in a country where there have already been a number of armed rallies and demonstrations by Second Amendment activists, and in 2016, thanks to effective lobbying by the National Rifle Association (NRA), the majority of states have enacted complete or partial open-carry laws. Meanwhile, all 50 states now have concealed-carry laws, meaning that pistol-packing is lawful in most public places other than Washington, D.C.

So imagine this scenario for a moment: Donald Trump (or a future Trump-esque demagogue) announces that he’s convening a rally in a state where open-carry is permitted — say, in Dallas, at the Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium — and adds that he wants his supporters to come armed. (Trump has loudly defended the NRA’s interpretation of the Second Amendment during the primary season and on his websitethere’s a plank called “Protecting Our Second Amendment Will Make America Great Again.”) Under Texas law, it would be perfectly legal for his supporters in the thousands to attend such a rally armed with semi-automatic weapons. And there, at the podium, looking out over the crown of gun-wielding militants would be The Donald, smiling broadly.

It doesn’t take much to imagine the instant backlash this would engender, from near-apoplectic television talking heads to scathing editorials in the New York Times and other newspapers to sputtering denunciations from liberal and moderate politicians, especially those from urban areas. But it’s also easy to imagine Trump’s vitriolic disdain for the naysayers, while the NRA’s pet Republicans tut-tutted over Trump but defended his right to organize such an event.

Imagine then that he repeated the event in other stadiums in, say, Denver, Phoenix, Indianapolis, and Miami — and then announced that he’s establishing the Donald Trump Second Amendment Society? He might even issue specially designed baseball caps emblazoned with the name. How far might we then be from armed marches by the new organization in the streets of American cities, its name, of course, soon abbreviated to the Trump SA (for Second Amendment) Society?

To some, this may sound like an outlandish, near-doomsday scenario. (“It can’t happen here.”) But developments in this country in recent years suggest that the path is open to just such a possibility, and that the question is less “if” than “when.” The groundwork is already potentially being laid.  According to the latest report from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), 2015 saw a significant increase in hate groups in this country, with militias and anti-government “patriot” groups growing last year from 874 to 998, having fallen precipitously in the previous two. Of these, says the SPLC, at least 276 were anti-government “militias.” It adds: “Generally, such groups define themselves as opposed to the ‘New World Order,’ engage in groundless conspiracy theorizing, or advocate or adhere to extreme antigovernment doctrines.”

In early January, the nation watched in shock as a band of “dozens of white, armed American militants stormed a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon seeking to take a ‘hard stand’ against federal government ‘tyranny.’” The action thrilled militia and “patriot” groups across the country, while, oddly enough, the mainstream media was reluctant to apply the obvious word — “terrorism” — to this armed rebellion by political radicals led by the sons of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy. (Juliette Kayyem, a Harvard expert on terrorism and a former assistant secretary of homeland security, was a rare exception in writing for CNN, “The men, heavily armed, urging others to come support their cause, and claiming somehow that, while peaceful, they will ‘defend’ themselves whatever it takes, are — by any definition — domestic terrorists.”)

The occupation was eventually suppressed, but in the present overheated atmosphere expect other provocative actions by some of the 200-plus militias that the SPLC has identified. Though Trump himself expressed mild disapproval of the Oregon militia, calling for “law and order,” Gerald DeLemus, a co-chair of Veterans for Trump in New Hampshire, praised the action as a “great success,” insisting in an interview with Reuters that the militia’s cause was “peaceful” and “constitutionally just.”  He was later arrested “as a ‘mid-level leader’ and organizer of a conspiracy to recruit, organize, train, and provide support to armed men and other followers of rancher Cliven Bundy.”

Trump, of course, has repeatedly played with fire when it comes to violence, intimidation, and the role of white supremacists, the radical right, and others. His dog-whistle refusal to instantly disassociate himself from David Duke and the Ku Klux Klan on the eve of the Super Tuesday primaries in the Deep South was widely condemned even by Republican officials. But in at least one case, an actual neo-Nazi, Matthew Heimbach, the leader of the Traditionalist Workers Party, used physical force against protesters at a Trump rally in Louisville.

Uniquely American Fascism

However reprehensible Trump’s dalliance with the far right may be, however disturbing the actions of figures like Heimbach, we’re still a significant way from the birth of a true national fascist movement, even if the Times’s Roger Cohen can already write a columnheadlined “Trump’s Weimar America.” (“Welcome to Weimar America: It’s getting restive in the beer halls. People are sick of politics as usual. They want blunt talk. They want answers.”) As of yet, Trump has not tried to fuse his far-right allies into a genuine movement — though he has started using the term “movement” — or a party, nor has he made any real effort to rally the country’s gun-owning right-wing militants into his own version of the SA. And he may never do so.

Keep in mind as well that an American-style fascist movement would hardly be a precise copy of either the German or the Italian models, or even of the parties currently building far-right movements in France, Hungary, Greece, and elsewhere. Nor would it copy the proto-fascist coalition of ultra-nationalists and religious zealots being courted by Russia’s Vladimir Putin. It would undoubtedly be a uniquely American creation.

Though Trump has managed to bring together disparate elements of what an American fascist movement might roughly look like, he may not, in the end, be quite the right messenger for its development, nor may this be quite the right moment for it to fully develop. Among other things, for such a movement and the armed militias that would go with it to coalesce, you might need another 2007/2008-style economic meltdown, a crisis long and profound enough for such a movement to seize the moment. In that case, of course, it’s also possible that a Bernie Sanders-like leftist or socialist — or maybe Sanders himself — would emerge to capture the ensuing political and economic unrest in a very different manner. But in The Donald’s America, don’t rule out the possible emergence of an even more formidable and threatening Trump-like figure, one unburdened by his clownish persona, Trump University, and the rest of his billionaire’s baggage.

Whether or not Donald Trump wins the Republican nomination or is elected president, for the gathering members of his grassroots coalition, he’s certainly shown what can, indeed, happen here.

Bob Dreyfuss, an independent journalist in New York City and Cape May, New Jersey, specializes in writing about politics and national security. He’s written widely for the Nation, Rolling Stone, the American Prospect, Mother Jones, the New Republic, and other magazines. He is the author of Devil’s Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Nick Turse’s Tomorrow’s Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa, and Tom Engelhardt’s latest book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Copyright 2016 Bob Dreyfuss


9 Responses to “It Can’t Happen Here… Can It? Trump’s Storm Troopers and the Possibility of American Fascism”

  1. Nollidge says:

    Sorry Tap,but the content of this article suggests that you’ve been reading some lefty-liberal crap sites.For a start,the Neocons aren’t conservative – they are nearly all Trotskyist Jews.Just called themselves neocons to fool people.
    Understand that I’ve been following the U.S. political scene for years,so I recognise many of the names in this article,& they are all in the same George Soros boat,one way or another.If I had the time & the typing speed I could de-bunk most of this “the sky is falling” fear porn.I suggest you read a conservative site such as FREEREPUBLIC.COM.It will give you the other side of the story.

  2. beLIEve says:

    A ….DISINGENUOUS…line from the article above, jumped out at me…..

    “…..The ECONOMY of the planet’s last superpower, while careening into a near-depression in 2008, is……. incomparably TOO STRONG…… to be put into the same category as the hyperinflation plagued German one of that era………”

    BULL Shi*…….with the caveat that the ……ECONOMIC DOWNFALL of USA Inc….might just be at the hands of…..DEFLATION….rather than inflation ?

    One of the so-called Wall Street Banks, is apparently thinking of assisting Deutsche Bank with it’s $75 TRILLION ..BLACK HOLE…of ..DERIVATIVE….exposure.

    I think Goldman Sachs may be the rescuing Bank but I can’t be bothered to check because, in this case checking would be irrelevant, because …..ALL the “BIG” Wall Street Banks…..are financially underwater……. 40-trillion-in-derivatives-exposure-each/

    DERIVATIVE exposure is …..Casino betting……in the hope of a big win !
    In the current case……Wall Street ….BETS….have failed.

    If the Banks had ……BET SUCCESSFULLY….no one would have heard a “dickie bird” because THEY would have simply……SAILED into the SUNSET on their MEGA YACHTs….with THEIR….ILL GOTTEN GAINS.

    Unfortunately the….BETs HAVE GONE WRONG……….

    J P Morgan… $67 TRILLION… of Derivative exposure.
    Citibank…$60 TRILLION…of Derivative exposure.
    Goldman Sachs…$54 TRILLION…of Derivative exposure.
    Bank of America…$54 TRILLION…of Derivative exposure.
    Morgan Stanley…$44 TRILLION…of Derivative exposure.

    RATs-child…..DEUTSCHE BANK… $75 TRILLION…of Derivative exposure.

    So…….WITCH…..COVEN of CRIMINALS……OWN……the banks above …………………….

    Rothschild, Rockefeller, Kuhn Loeb, Lehman, Goldman Sachs, Warburg, Lazard and….. Israel Moses Seif.

    AND this group of ….MUTANTS….also “apparently” owns 52% of the “Federal” Reserve.
    I say “apparently” because I was under the impression THEY owned the …..PRIVATE…..”Federal” Reserve in it’s entirety…… i.e. 100 %.

    What is…..MISSING…aka…STOLEN….from the “Federal” Reserve ?


    $9,000,000,000,000 …and….TONNES of GOLD.

    To watch the video reference the missing $ TRILLIONS from the Federal Reserve you need to Google the title…..

    “$9,000,000,000,000 Missing From The Federal Reserve”

    The link has been disabled but the video is still available by Googling the title.

    USA Inc is almost certainly… technically ….BANKRUPT.
    Especially …………..
    1) the UNLAWFUL UNCONSTITUTIONAL …so-called “government.
    2) Wall Street.

    So the quote…….
    “…The economy of the world’s last superpower is …..too strong…”…..HA HA HA HA HA.

    And, who says the ……..United State of A$hkeNAZIs…… the world’s ….LAST SUPER POWER ??

    Wishful thinking methinks.

    What about Russia, China and the ……United States of South America ….the ……United States of Africa ? ?

    Finally ….where has all this money gone ? ?

    It sounds a bit like the man who impoverishes his legitimate family because he has a ……MISTRESS and ILLEGITIMATE children elsewhere……

    Underground bunkers ?
    Secret Space programme ?
    Antarctica ?
    Non-mankind beings ?

  3. Dublinmick says:

    Some of it may be true however Hillary is not exactly going to bring in the golden age either. In fact whoever the diebold voting machines select will most likely institute the same program of the roman empire.

  4. edbutt says:

    I like Information Clearing House but sometimes I think their content would be better placed on a site called Propaganda Clearing House. Take this (the theme of the article) “Conservative Times columnist Ross Douthat was reasonably typical in a piece headlined “Is Donald Trump a Fascist?” While he allowed that The Donald may not be Adolf Hitler or Benito Mussolini, he added, “It seems fair to say that he’s closer to the ‘proto-fascist’ zone on the political spectrum than either the average American conservative or his recent predecessors in right-wing populism.”

    Sorry but that’s bollocks.

    Donald Trump may be many things, obviously I don’t know the man personally but his public persona comes across as an arrogant loudmouth driven by self interest. One thing Trump is most certainly not however is a fascist.
    Derived from a symbol of the Roman Empire, the fasces’ represented the unbreakable power of the central authority. And while Hitler and Mussolini (and Stalin and Chairman Mao) were ruthless centralists, Donald Trump, whatever else he many be is not a fan of big government.

  5. Dublinmick says:

    As Mussolini indicated fascism is simply corporatism, control of the state by corporations. We pretty much have this world wide and have for a long time.

    Even the USSR was controlled from behind the scenes by large corporations, Armand Hammer comes to mind. Their resources were being siphoned off by the west. There was even a big hunt on for Tsar Nicolas’ gold which they never found.

    Many today simply view fascism as being race based during Adolf Rothschild’s regime. It takes many forms however, that was only one play in the corporate power control scheme.

    It is alive and well in the God save the queen meme, which is God save the queen who allows us to be under corporate control.

    Another form is in America, motherhood the flag, apple pie, USA USA USA, corporations rule under the fascism of the City of London and the vatican.

    The biggest form of fascism is that of the tribe which controls most of the corporations. However should one mention that possibly for instance Germany might want to half mass immigration and save their genome and culture then we hear the bleats of fascism full time.

  6. Lynn says:

    Who to vote for…..well Goldman Sachs have funded the rest. Trump has more braincells than these parasites who stole all their money..he will outwit these Bankers. Morraly and

  7. salty says:

    Donald Trump’s furtive loyalties to Israel

    Posted on April 8, 2016.


    Is this the (furtive) Jewish New World Order?

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