By MICHAEL SCHREIBER
Even as prosecutions and sentencing have gotten underway for people who were involved in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, the far right and “Stop the Steal” forces are steadily regrouping to increase their strength in all levels of government in the United States. Key to their goal is the effort to rewrite election laws in most states in order to limit suffrage rights.
In the meantime, the campaign charging that the 2020 election was “stolen” from Trump continues unabated. Several polls reported throughout 2021 that well over 60 percent of Republicans gave credence to that charge.
The readiness with which the “stolen election” hoax was accepted by a large segment of the population reflects the fact that far-right influence on mainstream U.S. politics has been growing tremendously during the last few years. Racist language and delusional conspiracy stories of the type that once were associated almost exclusively with fascist and white nationalist forces have now entered popular discourse on the internet as well as in the major media (like Fox News) and political forums. At least two current Republican members of the U.S. Congress, and over 30 candidates for the 2022 elections to Congress, have mouthed portions of the QAnon mythology. Other Congress members, such as Senator Ron Johnson (R-Ariz.), often make dubious claims that downplay the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The populist leaders of the far-right, and the media that caters to these types, preys on the economic insecurities and political discouragement found among a section of the white working class and the lower middle class—indebtedness, unemployment, and crime. They manufacture targets such as immigrants, Muslims, Black people, the corrupt “deep state,” Jewish bankers, etc. to take the blame. Since there is no mass party dedicated to working-class struggle, the populists and far-right orators have almost a free platform to spin their lies in much of the country. Their targets often deal with cultural issues that are apt to incite more conservative and less educated people on issues such as abortion, school texts on racism, etc.
The far right gets financing primarily from certain sectors of the ruling class. These millionaires and billionaires often donate funds not only to reactionary Republican electoral campaigns, but also to select right-wing charities and NGOs, who then in turn disperse the money to various projects. The largest bankroller of the right in the past has been the Americans for Prosperity foundation, founded by the oil billionaires, the Koch brothers. The Koch foundation is still in the picture today, but has been eclipsed by other benefactors.
One of the major donors is Richard Uihlein, whose family founded Schlitz beer, and who gave $27 million last year to a group called Club for Growth. This used to be a big-business group that would lobby to lower corporate taxes, but now it has shifted to supporting the campaigns of the most reactionary Republicans in Congress, such as Lauren Boebart, a QAnon conspiracy theorist, and Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz, who led the fight to invalidate Biden’s presidential victory. Uihlein was also the major donor to a group called Tea Party Patriots, which was one of the groups that sponsored the Jan. 6 “Stop the Steal” march on the Capitol.
According to The Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post, the great majority of the funding for the Jan. 6 rally, at least $450,000, was provided by a billionaire supermarket heiress, Julie Fancelli, whose family is the 39th richest in the country. The main group that sponsored the Jan. 6 rally, Women for America First, received $300,000 for the event from Fancelli. WFAF comes directly out of the Tea Party and has received funding from a number of other wealthy right-wingers, including Mike Lindell, the CEO of the My Pillow company. Lindell also helped sponsor the Jan. 6 event, and later tried to cover up for it, stating that the incursion into the Capitol was exaggerated and might have been faked by government plants.
Trump’s role in the Jan. 6 insurrection
The Trump-oriented Republicans and their Stop the Steal allies appear to have been a bit over-zealous when they loosened the leash on some of the openly fascist and more violent forces in the Jan. 6 attack. This opened a path for the Democrats to counter-attack, and even to gather support from a handful of frightened Republicans, by launching the House select committee that is investigating people who were connected to the event. Over 300 witnesses were subpoenaed for the inquiry, including key Trump allies like Roger Stone, Mark Meadows, and Steve Bannon. In addition, at least 727 people are facing prosecution for participation in the assault on the Capitol; it could take several years to process all of the cases.
Trump himself has come under growing scrutiny by the congressional committee. At the moment, the investigation has been slowed by the fact that Trump, claiming “executive privilege,” has petitioned the Supreme Court to shield some 800 pages of his papers from being released to the committee.
Nevertheless, more details have recently come to light about the role of Trump and his allies in the Jan. 6 insurrection. Earlier this month, for example, former Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows gave the investigators a 38-page PowerPoint presentation that presumably had Trump’s attention before Jan. 6. The author of the presentation, retired Army Col. Philip Waldron, reportedly met with Meadows and some Republicans in Congress on a number of occasions. Under the proposed plan, Trump would have declared a “National Security Emergency,” declared electronic voting invalid in all states, seized all paper ballots, and called on federal agencies to recount them.
Another method that was discussed to overturn the election would have been to have Vice President Pence overrule the ratification by Congress of the 2020 vote count and award the White House to Trump. It was proposed that Trump mobilize the National Guard to protect Pence in this action. As it turned out, however, Trump was unable to gain sufficient support for the coup scheme from key military and political figures, including Pence.
Fascist militias recharge and regroup
The overtly fascist groups and militias have encountered a number of legal obstructions since the Jan. 6 event. The Proud Boys, the Oath Keepers, and other groups were hit with several suits in federal and state courts. A few leaders of these groups are facing prosecution, including Proud Boys head Enrique Tarrio, who was also unmasked as an FBI informant. This appears to have furthered a recomposition among the openly fascist groups. For example, some Proud Boys chapters and members have cut ties with the FBI snitch, Tarrio, while others have re-affiliated with other militia organizations.
But despite the legal pressures upon them, sources cited by The New York Times (Dec. 14, 2021) claim that the Proud Boys themselves have been growing since Jan. 6, 2021—especially in small towns but also in large cities such as Philadelphia and Seattle. Many members of the Proud Boys and other fascist militia groups have involved themselves in local politics—school board and health board meetings, for example, where they have backed campaigns to oppose compulsory masks in indoor spaces. In some cases, Proud Boys have disrupted these meetings and threatened people who spoke in favor of public health measures to counter COVID.
The Guardian reported on Dec. 22 that People’s Rights, a far-right group founded by militia leader Ammon Bundy, is now focused entirely on building decentralized regional coalitions. An organizer for the group’s affiliate in Idaho posted a message on its website in November: “No more protesting at the Capitol. It’s not going to work. You hit them in their district offices, local neighborhoods … Think local government.”
Manipulating the elections
Like the fascist gangs and militias, the more mainstream sectors of the far right appear to be regrouping following the outcry concerning Jan. 6. For one thing, Trump is still very much in the picture—perhaps preparing the ground for a new run at the White House in 2024. In a number of political races, Trump has offered his endorsement for local far-right candidates who subscribe to his “stolen election” thesis, while publicly denouncing a few Republicans who have backed away from his agenda.
Such a scenario is playing out in the run-up to the 2022 Republican primary election for governor in Georgia, for example. In that case, Trump dumped the incumbent, Brian Kemp, because he refused to go along with the effort to overturn Biden’s 2020 victory in the state, and instead recruited former Senator and corporate exec David Purdue as his candidate. Some in the right-wing camp, however, have expressed displeasure that the dissension caused by Trump and Purdue will weaken the Republican campaign against the Democrats in the general election.
A group called the Public Interest Legal Foundation has challenged the results of the 2020 election all over the country, often suing state governments and accusing election officials of fraud. For example, the foundation sued the state of Pennsylvania in November 2020, charging that ballots had been cast for over 20,000 dead people in the presidential election. Breitbart News parroted the claim, and it went viral before being disproved.
The expectation among many right-wingers is that if malfeasance can be demonstrated, or even suspected, in the next presidential election, state legislatures (almost two-thirds are controlled by Republicans) may be given the power to overturn the vote results, and select the presidential electors themselves. Alternatively, the reactionary-majority Supreme Court might play a role in determining the winner in a close vote in the Electoral College—as it did in 2000 with Bush defeating Gore.
In the meantime, the Trump machine and other far-right forces, which now appear to be the dominant tendency within the Republican Party, seem to be racing along to obtain a solid majority in Congress in 2022, to win majorities in State Houses and local races around the country. In order to accomplish this feat, the rightists are pursuing a variety of actions in the courts and other governmental bodies with the goal of limiting the vote of sectors of the population—i.e., Blacks, immigrants, etc.—who might tend to oppose them.
In 2021, at least 241 voter-suppression bills were being considered in 41 states; 59 of those bills were introduced in Texas. And 32 bills intended to curtail democratic rights in elections have already become law in 17 states. To help in the task of tightening restrictions at the polls, many right-wingers rely on a constellation of “non-profit” lobbying and propaganda foundations that have big money interests backing them. They include long-established groups like the Heritage Foundation—a right-wing think tank originally funded primarily by beer baron Joseph Coors, later joined by billionaires Richard Mellon Scaife and the Koch brothers, and with additional funding from Philip Morris, Exxon Mobil, Microsoft, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and many other major corporations.
Also weighing into the brouhaha around the elections are FreedomWorks, founded by the Koch brothers, and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which also receives funding from scores of big corporations. ALEC has worked for 50 years to craft legislation that favors big business—lower taxes, less regulations, etc. ALEC’s more shadowy purposes around voting restrictions were brought into the open by its founder, Paul Weyrich, in speaking to a right-wing Christian group in 1980: “I don’t want everybody to vote … our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.”
An organization that grew out of the Tea Party movement, True the Votes, reviews the voter rolls in various states in order to discover cases in which it believes it can challenge people to prove that they were legally registered when they voted. In some cases, True the Votes has been accused of intimidating voters on racial grounds. The Honest Elections Project, which was created by Leonard Leo, a longtime leader of the right-wing Federalist Society and Trump confidant, has also litigated alleged cases of voter fraud, particularly in Pennsylvania.
The Republican Party right wing has been active as well in actions to influence counting of votes. Georgia’s Senate Bill 282, for example, shifts the chair of the Election Board from the elected Secretary of State to a figure appointed by the Republican-majority legislature. It also gives the legislature the authority to suspend local election boards in cases of “malfeasance” or “gross negligence.”
On the national level, Steve Bannon has played a central role in this work, encouraging the Trump forces to take posts as local party workers, poll watchers, and members of election boards. In one of his podcasts, which has millions of listeners, Bannon said, “We’re going to take this back, village by village … precinct by precinct.” According to ProPublica, thousands of local Republicans have responded to his urging by applying for these positions. For example, the Guardian reports (Dec. 24) that Republican groupings in eight of the 11 largest counties of Michigan have systematically replaced officials who formerly administered elections with people who subscribe to the Trumpist “Stop the Steal” dogma.
Another method to increase the domination by right-wing Republican officials, especially in local elections, is by turning out the right-wing base through a concentration on the so-called “culture war.” Thus, for example, Youngkin was elected as governor of Virginia last month after a Trump-like campaign that concentrated on the pseudo-issue of banning critical race theory. Central to the campaign was the question of banning from the schools certain books that were said to be inflammatory. At the top of the list was Tony Morrison’s book “Beloved,” which tells the story of Black people under slavery and its aftermath.
Similar efforts, even to the point of publicly burning the books, have taken place in a number of cities and states around the country. South Carolina’s governor, for example, has ordered an investigation of a book called “Gender Queer; a Memoir,” which he says is pornographic. A Texas state representative has released a list of 850 books that he says should be questioned; many of them are written by people of color, women, or LGBTQ people.
Much of this is related to the hysteria around “critical race theory,” an academic theory that has been taught at the university level since the 1980s, but that just recently has been latched onto and redefined by the right wing. One of the loudest critics of CRT, Damon Linker, wrote in This Week that parents protesting critical race theory, “do not want their children taught in state-run and state-funded schools that the country was founded on an ideology of white supremacy in which every white child and every family today is invariably complicit regardless of their personal views of their Black fellow citizens.”
Another right-wing propagandist, Christopher Rufo, at one moment spoke more candidly in revealing his movement’s aims. He tweeted last March, “The goal is to have the public read something crazy in the newspaper and immediately think ‘critical race theory.’ We have decodified the term, and will recodify it to annex the entire range off cultural constructions that are unpopular with Americans.”
In late 2021, a young far-right media celebrity, Charlie Kirk, embarked on a speaking tour of colleges in order to lecture on critical race theory. At one college in Minnesota, before an audience of about 600 young people, most of them white, he began his talk by blasting George Floyd as a “scum bag” whose death was unworthy of the attention that it received. Kirk spoke at the Republican National Conventions in 2016 and 2020, and occasionally counseled Trump on how to reach the younger generation. He headed the national Youth for Trump group, and served on Trump’s short-lived 1776 Commission, which was created to oppose The New York Times 1619 Project.
Kirk is a proponent of the conspiracy theory of “cultural Marxism”—which meshes very well with the current campaign against critical race theory. The “cultural Marxism” hoax got its start in the United States in the 1990s with the Schiller Institute of Lyndon LaRouche. The theory began with the idea that the Frankfurt School of Social Research in the 1920s, whose members were mostly Jewish, had initiated a conspiracy to subvert Western culture by means of a “culture war.” According to some of its U.S. advocates, that war by the Marxists is ongoing and as strong as ever. It would do such things as teach sex and homosexuality to children, destroy American identity through immigration, foster an unreliable legal system by promoting bias against victims of crime, undermine the authority of teachers and schools, encourage the breakdown of the family, and so on.
Some right-wing ideologues in the U.S. (most famously Pat Buchanan) and around the world have made statements that refer to this conspiracy theory, as have neo-Nazi groups, and several terrorists, including Anders Breivik, who justified his killing of 77 social democratic youth in Norway in 2011 by claiming that he was combating Marxist cultural warfare.
How to fight back?
It is important to build a steady resistance to the growth of the right wing in this country. The present danger is not primarily from the open fascists and militias but by the more mainstream far-right forces who are mobilizing to take over school boards and town councils, and who agitate against such things as anti-COVID protections. These forces, as we have shown, often have major corporate money behind them.
It is especially important to safeguard what exists of democratic rights in this country. The movement to sidetrack elections and disenfranchise the most oppressed sections of the working class, such as Black people and immigrants, needs to be reversed. We must also confront the laws designed to limit and penalize political protests—a direct assault on First Amendment rights to free speech. Since 2017, at least 20 state legislatures have enacted such laws, and another 25 legislatures have discussed similar bills. A number of those bills were put into motion following the George Floyd protests of 2020, and others were passed in response to the protests against the Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines.
We cannot rely on the Democratic Party politicians to protect us. For example, the limits to which the current House investigatory committee—dominated by the Democrats—is prepared to go are glaring. Naturally, unless the Supreme Court stops the committee, it might continue to pursue Trump and his henchmen; taking those people down several notches would have few pitfalls for the Democrats. But no investigation appears to be scheduled of the right-wing members of Congress who practically opened the door for the rioters on Jan. 6, and then tried to downplay their actions. And what about investigating the millionaires and billionaires who financed Jan. 6?
Right now, Congress and the court system are willing to rap the knuckles of the fascist militia members and other proponents of far-right ideology who entered the Capitol or engaged in violence on Jan. 6. It is not unlikely, however, that at a later time the ruling class—both Republicans and Democrats—will see the need to put the fascists into action. This could happen when the capitalists feel they require brutal weapons to smash a growing labor and left-wing movement that they think could challenge their system.
Instead of relying on the courts and politicians, it is essential that working people and all of their allies who support democracy and civil rights, build a united front to counter-mobilize against the fascists in the streets. This does not require battling the fascists in physical confrontations but building a mass movement that can overwhelm the fascists with their numbers, graphically demonstrating that they and their ideas are unwelcome in our communities.
In order to generate the power to isolate the fascists and chase them out of active political life in this country, it essential that the organized labor movement take a prominent role in building counter-mobilizations. It will also require that the labor movement put muscle into building a real workers’ party, independent of the Democrats, which can develop a program that will serve as a beacon to disheartened workers and the petty bourgeoisie. This will help to win them away from the hollow rhetoric of demagogues like Trump and the conspiracy-mongers to his right.
Photo: Jose Luis Mangana / AP