– Omar Aziz, Radcliffe fellow at Harvard
Why are so many young white men turning to fascism and the far-right?
Omar Aziz notes that on multiple social media platforms, the consensus is “the angry, alienated white male is finding fascism not just appealing, but cool.” Far-right commentators have amassed millions of views on YouTube, tapping into an “aggrieved white male psyche operating in plain sight.”
The word “fascism” is often thrown around loosely and those who use it are criticized, but we have been slow to recognize its dangers. It’s not too late to address its pervasive characteristics, as noted by Aziz:
- embraces an ideology that glorifies the traditional masculine ideal;
- believes in a spiritual right to exact violence;
- calls for the seizure of government for authoritarian rule;
- expresses hatred of progressive ideas;
- owns a sinister sense of entitlement that declares that America belongs to them;
- feeds off of the “culture wars”;
- exploits psychological insecurities; and
- uses deeply held resentments.
At a time of intense polarization of Rs and Ds over race, gender, and democracy, it’s not surprising that fascism has found young cultists, this time as a lifestyle.
According to Aziz’s reporting, in Mussolini’s Italy, “the Fascist party gave people not just a political cause but also carnivals, parades, fairs, and other forms of social bonding. For Italians, Fascism was fun. Effort went into creating the presentation of Fascism with performances, carnivals, stage shows, youth rallies — all of it filmed, edited, and put out to the public.” It was the 1930s version of Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok. (For today, just think of Donald Trump’s carnival-like events.”
“Today’s fascists … take on different forms, some more racist, some more sexist. But they’re drawn to the propaganda and symbols of racial and sexual brutality. For many young white men, fascism starts as a cultural identity, rather than as a political ideology,” continues Aziz.
In The Atlantic, David Frum sees a glimpse of fascism when “voting is harder, self-censorship is rampant, Congress is submissive, graft is pervasive, and truth is hard to find. There will be a slow, demoralizing process of corruption and deceit," he writes.
Frum summarizes his view of where we are today. He defines “the arbitrary exercise of tyrannical power”:
- suppression of free speech;
- curtailment or abolition of civil liberties;
- laws passed by decree without public debate or popular approval;
- arrest and imprisonment without trial;
- torture and murder by unchecked agencies of the government; and
- theft, extortion, and embezzlement by politicians in power.
In his book On Tyranny, professor Timothy Snyder provides lessons to avoid the “evil of tyranny.” Among those lessons is this key one: “Beware the one-party state; suppression of oppositional political parties is a glaringly obvious step on the way to tyranny.”
We don’t have to venture far to find a glaring example of the march of fascism in plain sight.
On March 27, an attack in Nashville’s Covenant School killed six people, including three children. Calls for gun control laws to address the crisis of mass shootings rang out across that state.
As part of a protest at the state capitol, the “Tennessee Three” took to the Tennessee House of Representatives floor chanting “no action, no peace” during a peaceful protest on March 30. They were protesting for action by the legislature to pass laws to mitigate this epidemic of gun violence, as hundreds of pro-gun control demonstrators piled into the statehouse.
Rep. Jones (D-Nash.), 27; Rep. Pearson (D-Mem), 28; and Rep. Gloria Johnson (D-Knox) used a megaphone and banged on the House lectern as they made rousing speeches and addressed the protesters.
“We don’t want to be up here, but we have no choice but to find a way ... to disrupt business as normal, because business as normal is our children dying,” Rep. Pearson said.
The chamber's proceedings were brought to a standstill for nearly an hour.
Tennessee Republicans — who likened the peaceful Capitol protests in the wake of the shooting to an “insurrection” — justified the removal of Jones and Pearson as a defense of decorum.
As the votes were cast to remove the representatives, the students outside the doors of the House floor were chanting in response: “F*^K YOU, FASCISTS.” The account for the March for Our Lives movement tweeted “Our democracy is dismantling right before us.”
Reaction around the country was swift. It may, in fact, finally be an inflection point about how Republicans have blatantly used their gerrymandered super majorities to destroy democratic principles at a variety of levels: school boards, city councils, state representation, congressional seats, and even the Electoral College.
Rep. Summer Lee (D-Pa.) called the expulsion of state Democratic Reps. Justin Jones and Justin Pearson “straight-up fascism in its ugliest, most racist form.” Jones and Pearson are both Black; a vote to expel their colleague Rep. Gloria Johnson, who is white, fell short.
“There is no justification for ousting two legislators who were protesting with and for their constituents,” Lee said. “That two Black men were expelled for standing up against the murder of children — but not their white counterpart — says it all. People are dying because Republicans want to put politics over the lives of the people they represent. They ask for safety for themselves, but not for school children, and they’ll sacrifice the lives of our loved ones for their lobbyists.”
Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) tweeted, “This is fascism, full stop. MAGA Republicans are no longer content with inaction on gun violence – instead of thoughts and prayers, they want to silence and expel politicians who speak up to protect children. I vehemently condemn this racist, undemocratic assault on freedom of speech.”
Remember, Frum’s definition of autocratic [fascist] behavior includes suppression of free speech, curtailment or abolition of civil liberties, and laws passed by decree without public debate or popular approval. We are seeing all of these practices today, not just in Tennessee, but all across our nation.
If we allow those who think fascism is “cool” to operate unchecked, we can say goodbye to our fragile democracy.
In the words of Professor Snyder in On Tyranny, “history allows us to see patterns and make judgments.”
So even as some young people see fascism as “cool,” others like the protesters in Nashville and the young black representatives in their state house are standing up against it. Thanks, “Tennessee 3,” for the good job you did fighting fascism in your state legislature, and giving us a glimpse of ‘patterns and judgments’ that must happen to make fascism “uncool” again.
Written by John James Alexander, a pseudonym for a long-time Kentucky educator.