One of the hallmarks of the American right's utter descent into complete wingnuttery is the increasing willingness of its footsoldiers to buy into palpably, provably false nonsense and embrace it as fact. This ranges from the Birthers' insistence that Barack Obama hasn't produced a birth certificate to the teabaggers' claims that health-care reform means we'll be euthanizing senior citizens.
One of the most persistent components of this is the right's ardent embrace of the fraudulent thesis of Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism -- to wit, that "properly understood, fascism is not a phenomenon of the right at all. Instead, it is, and always has been, a phenomenon of the left." The embrace of this fraud as somehow truthful has produced those teabaggers' signs bearing swastikas (suggesting that health-care reform is fascist) and signs showing Barack Obama as Hitler and, moreover, the claims that Obama is marching the nation down the road to fascism.
The impact of this embrace on our national discourse has been deeper than probably anyone suspected when the book was first published last year. Not only is Goldberg's thesis now taken as an article of faith by such right-wing talkers as Rush Limbaugh (who probably helped inspire Goldberg's thesis in any event), Glenn Beck, Michael Savage,, but also among the teabagging protesters whose ranks are increasingly filled by real right-wing extremists.
What's most noteworthy, perhaps, is that Goldberg's thesis is being used to attack anyone who points out the frequently violent and intimidating behavior of these extremists. It's not the right-wing protesters carrying open weapons, Obama=Hitler signs, and openly disrupting the discussion of health-care reform at town-hall sessions who are behaving like Brownshirts, they insist -- it's the liberals who show enough nerve to stand up to them!
We saw this a couple of weeks ago here in western Washington, where Rep. Brian Baird -- who had decried the ugly nature of the town-hall disruptions by in fact comparing some of these extremists to "Brownshirts," and then appearing on the Rachel Maddow show, where he compared them to Timothy McVeigh -- was attacked at his town-hall meeting on health care by a former Marine named David Hedrick who accused Baird and House Speaker of Nancy Pelosi of being the real Nazis.
Of course, this ensured him a guest slot on Fox News, and so Hedrick shortly thereafter appeared on Sean Hannity's program to explain his thinking. As you can see, he has absorbed and swallowed Goldberg's thesis whole:
Hannity: I read that one of the main reasons that you wanted to be there is because Congressman Baird had used the term "Brownshirts" to describe people showing up at the town halls. You confronted him on that. What happened?
Hedrick: I did confront him on that, and I don't think it's acceptable language that he is, you know, comparing us to Nazis. And it's -- Pelosi did this, he did this, now he's compared us to McVeigh, and talked about bombings there. And, uh, basically I called him on it, I said, 'You know what? If you want to call us Nazis, let's look at the Nazi doctrine. Let's look at National Socialism. And what is National Socialism? Since you let the cat out of the bag, we'll talk about it.
National Socialism is very much what we see today in this administration. It's a policy on what's line for line -- it's the same economic policy, it's the same political policy. And so if they want to talk about Nazis, then they better be careful about that conversation, because they might find that the swastika is on their own arm.
Of course, a little context for what provoked Hedrick's outrage might be useful. When Baird made his "Brownshirts" and "McVeigh" remarks, he clearly was referring to some of the tactics being used by some of the teabaggers. What he made clear shortly afterward was that in fact he and his office had been threatened by some of these teabaggers, who faxed death threats and made them by phone as well. One phone message from Aug. 10 said "You think Timothy McVeigh was bad, there is a Ryder Truck out there with your name on it" (according to Baird’s Vancouver district director).
Those are, indeed, classically fascist attempts at political intimidation. Not only was Baird right, but Hedrick's claim about "the real Nazis" is incredibly obtuse for someone from the Pacific Northwest.
Because anyone who has lived any length of time in this region is all too familiar with "the real Nazis." For the better part of two decades, one of the nation's most prominent neo-Nazi organizations plied its white-supremacist wares and spread its vicious poison right here in our backyards.
Most of us can still remember its strange fruit: from The Order to Buford Furrow to Shawna Forde's killer Minuteman gang, the ugly scars of the murderous violence they embrace are with us even today. We remember them all too well. Indeed, it was only a few years ago they were marching on the steps of our state Capitol.
We already know who "the real Nazis" are, and they are anything but liberals. Indeed, they are precisely its opposite: they are true right-wing extremists. And they always have been.
What people like Goldberg, in responding to this point, have always claimed is that there's nothing particularly right wing about the kookery of people like the Aryan Nations or the Posse Comitatus -- they're just kooks, plain and simple. So when James von Brunn shot up the Holocaust Museum this summer, Goldberg disingenuously went on Beck's program and tried to persuade us that Von Brunn wasn't a right-wing extremist -- just a garden-variety kook. Just like Dr. George Tiller's assassin, Scott Roeder.
But this is palpable nonsense. What makes these people right-wing extremists is that they not only adopt right-wing political positions, they take them to their most extreme logical (if that's the word for it) outcome:
- They not only oppose abortion, they believe abortion providers should be killed.
- They not only believe that liberal elites control the media and financial institutions, but that a conniving cabal of Jews is at the heart of this conspiracy to destroy America.
- They not only despise Big Government, they believe it is part of a New World Order plot to enslave us all.
- They not only defend gun rights avidly, they stockpile them out of fear that President Obama plans to send in U.N. troops to take them away from citizens.
- They not only oppose homosexuality as immoral, they believe gays and lesbians deserve the death penalty.
- They not only oppose civil-rights advances for minorities, they also believe a "race war" is imminent, necessary and desirable.
And on and on. Every part of the agenda of the agenda of right-wing extremists is essentially an extreme expression of conservative positions. And that, fundamentally, is why American fascism always has been and always will be, properly understood, an unmistakable phenomenon of the Right.
Of course, that's only the tip of the iceberg for what's wrong with the whole "liberal fascism" thesis. As I explored in some detail more recently, the historical record itself unequivocally repudiates Goldberg's thesis.
Now, Goldberg has tossed some sneering bon mots my way (in his book, I'm merely the "always comically inept David Neiwart [sic] at Crooks and Liars" (ahem), but he has never addressed this point, which I've raised numerous times. Goldberg tosses all kinds of anecdotal evidence our way in support of his fraudulent thesis, but he refuses to come clean on the bottom line: The historical record is irrevocably clear that fascism, not just in Germany and Italy but also in America, has always been a phenomenon of the Right.
He's not only profoundly misleading large numbers of the American reading public, he is in the process misshaping our national discourse. Because when large numbers of people believe crap that is simply and provably false, not only is our resulting discourse deeply irrational, but so are the democratic outcomes.