This week the President falsely claimed that a 75-year-old peace activist who was shoved to the ground by cops “could be an ANTIFA provocateur.” The man, Martin Gugino, hit his head on the pavement, drawing blood. “Antifa,” in case you don’t know, is short for “anti-fascist.”
Even if he was a member of Antifa (he was not), such treatment by police is not deserved. In the United States, people have the right to belong to political groups and to protest. Membership in a group does not give the police permission to assault you.
In fact, fascism occurs when there is a systematic use of the police to abuse members of certain groups. This is wrong. And in the United States it is illegal. The cops who shoved Gugino have been charged with assault. This shows that the U.S. is not a fascist country. We prevent fascism by containing police brutality.
The fascists of the 20th Century like Mussolini and Hitler unleashed the police and para-military thugs on the people. They used violence to consolidate power under a mythology of racial nationalism.
There have been warnings from mainstream thinkers such as former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright about the looming threat of fascism. But so far, the United States is not fascist. And I doubt that many Americans long for fascism to come to America.
I’m not saying it couldn’t happen here. But Americans are typically anti-fascist. Americans fought against fascism in World War Two. We are generally outraged by racism. And police brutality is prosecuted. Witness the near universal condemnation of the police killing of George Floyd and the arrest of the cops involved.
Anti-fascism is woven into our traditions and culture. Our founding myth tells a story of rebellion against tyranny in the name of liberty. The Constitution prevents authoritarian consolidation of power. And the Bill of Rights creates strong safeguards against fascism. The First Amendment guarantees religious liberty, freedom of speech, the free press, and the right to assemble and petition the government. Other Amendments limit the government’s ability to set up a police state.
It is true that there is a counter-narrative to the American myth. Native Americans were slaughtered and dispossessed. Africans were enslaved. Minority groups were excluded and oppressed. Thugs lynched Black Americans during the Jim Crow era. Japanese Americans were rounded up and put in concentration camps during World War Two. Discrimination and racism continue.
But we have made progress. The slaves were freed. Women were given the vote. Jim Crow was dismantled. And people continue to take to the streets to demand an end to racism, injustice, and police brutality.
One way to continue to make progress is to oppose fascism. Americans ought to be anti-fascist. This means we should be opposed to police brutality, racism, and ethnic nationalism. To be anti-fascist is to be in favor of liberty and the right to speak, protest, and assemble.
Now let’s consider the question of Antifa, which has become a bogeyman for President Trump. Antifa appears to be a loose collective of activists opposed to racists and neo-Nazis (see discussions here and here). If Antifa is committed to violence, then its tactics should be rejected. But a recent analysis from the Center for Strategic and International Studies concluded that there is no threat to American values posed by Antifa. And Stanislav Vysotsky, the author of a new book about Antifa, concludes that Antifa is “a decentralized collection of individual activists who mostly use nonviolent methods to achieve their ends.”
This brings us back to Mr. Gugino, whom friends describe as a loving person committed to nonviolence. Advocates of nonviolence have always been opposed to fascism. Gandhi was a dedicated anti-fascist who described fascism as a doctrine of the “naked sword” that glorified war and violence.
To be anti-fascist is be in favor of democracy and opposed to a cult of power, violence, and domination. The best way to oppose fascism is to affirm nonviolence. When nonviolent protesters such as Mr. Gugino are assaulted by police, the specter of fascism appears. But when police brutality is prosecuted, this ghost is exorcised.