Ever since the January 6 Capitol Hill riots, we have been forced to endure a myriad of political sound bites — including most notably from President Biden himself — which express how the attack “does not represent who we are,” and how it was implemented by a “fringe mob.” That law enforcement must continue to be revered. And that the broader democratic functions of our country cannot be intimidated, or bullied away. However, with the Senate’s embarrassing acquittal of the 45th President for his role in the insurrection attempt at the Capitol, it has become all the more crucial that we undergo a proper reckoning of this event and articulate an accurate illustration of how the riots truly fit within the larger context of the American political project, specifically in regards to its ongoing flirtation with white supremacy and fascism. Therefore, it is paramount that we secure American accountability for our white supremacist tendencies, even with one of their fiercest allies out of office and escaping conviction. As much as the riots themselves revealed about the decrepit state of our current political and social climate, the various reactions from both the political and media establishment has been almost just as telling. To this end, we must be cognizant of the language that is both being used — and not used — to depict this moment, and who is consciously and subconsciously being blamed in the process.
As soon as I had turned on CNN to watch how the riots were unfolding, there I immediately saw Jake Tapper, wearing an expression of profound disbelief and horror as he lamented in shock at the images emerging from Capitol Hill, telling his viewers, “It’s surreal. I feel like I’m talking to a correspondent reporting from, you know, Bogota.” This is a sentiment that would be shared and repeated in an eerily similar fashion throughout the day, from Democrats and Republicans alike.
Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio wrote in a tweet, “There is nothing patriotic about what is occurring on Capitol Hill. This is 3rd-World style, anti-American anarchy.”
Mike Gallagher, the Republican Representative for Wisconsin’s 8th congressional district, would comment in an interview that, “we are witnessing absolute banana republic crap at the United States Capitol right now.” Alan Lowenthal, the Democratic Representative for California’s 47th congressional district, stated, “It was unbelievable — felt like a coup in a third-world country.” Claire McCaskill, the former Democratic senator from Missouri and current political analyst for MSNBC, surmised that “Trump has made us into a third world banana republic. The shiny democracy on the hill is sustaining real damage today. Shame on his co-conspirators.”
Steve Cohen, the Democratic Representative for Tennessee’s 9th congressional district, declared that “This is now a third world country led by a tin-pot dictator,” later adding, “Russia, if you are reading this, come and take your President home!”
Greg Sargent of The Washington Post tweeted, “CNN reports that according to White House sources, Trump is watching all this unfold on TV, and has been resisting demands from staff to put out a stronger statement calling on supporters to stand down. A Banana Republic paralyzed by street violence that we all saw coming.”
Even former President George W. Bush would share his thoughts, saying, “Laura and I are watching the scenes of mayhem unfolding at the seed of our nation’s government in disbelief and dismay. This is how election results are disputed in a banana republic, not a democratic republic.”
Anecdotally, the U.S. media has pathologically perpetuated a narrative surrounding the concept of the “third world” that consistently invokes imagery of war, hunger, poverty, and disease. Yet somehow, this specific terminology has also been the most convenient way for members of the media and political elite to comprehend the riots that had, irrefutably, occurred here, in the capital of the most powerful nation in the world. However, this is neither a new nor an original sentiment to the American political discourse, as we have seen these types of characterizations made throughout Trump’s exhaustive tenure as President.
In 2016, prominent economist Justin Wolfers would say, “Threatening your political opponents with prison is third-world dictatorial stuff. Undemocratic. Un-American,” while MSNBC host Joy Anne Reid had written, “The GOP has developed an almost third world attitude towards the presidency.”
A Washington Post editorial in July 2016 lamented that “America would be Trump’s banana republic,” while Politico Magazine that same year published an article headlined, “Donald Trump Tweets Like a Latin American Strongman,” featuring an edited picture of Trump dressed as a Latin American military general with a cigar in his mouth and darkened skin to really drive the point home.
This is obviously not my denial of the blatantly fascist or at least fascist-adjacent nature of the Trump administration. The problem, however, is that for several reasons, probably more bluntly racism, but more precisely, national chauvinism, U.S. media seems to lack any ability to scrutinize and reflect on Trumpism or the traces of fascism in the United States without first orienting “banana republics” or the “third world” as the primary focal point of that discussion. And in the meantime, as the inequities, racism, and classism of the U.S. continues to bubble over and burst onto the surface for the world to see, it is exactly during these occasions of homegrown crises where they will scour for answers and accountability — not here in the United States — but rather in places such as Tehran, Kabul, Caracas, and Bogota. Those people over there are capable of such disorder and mayhem, but not us, because this is not something that is inherently American. That is the message they are tactically conveying, washing over and ameliorating the true nature of what the United States is and what its core principles are. Because in truth, those founding beliefs — based on sacred notions of truth, justice, and the “American way” — generate contradictions and chasms which invariably arise in times of conflict. Such conflict — like the brutal police violence against BLM protesters or the chaos of the Capitol Hill riots — that showcase enough of our cruelty and dysfunction to potentially compromise and cripple this façade of American egalitarianism that has been meticulously constructed.
The American public has been so systemically inundated with years of false impressions of American exceptionalism that this has caused a vast portion of the population to live in what is functionally an alternate reality. So in the wake of such a jarring exposure to the fear, violence and ugliness of the true American experience — perhaps many people’s first real confrontation against the myth of American majesty — some will develop a reactionary coping mechanism that seeks to look outward, not inward, for blame.
As a part of this ceaseless exercise of deflecting fault towards the Global South to find solace for our own inadequacies, we also arrogantly disregard the United States’ role as being a major contributing force in their perpetual unrest. Very often the reason why democracy is undermined in other countries is explicitly due to involvement by the United States. In fact, the term “banana republic” only exists as a product of American imperialism. By its literal definition, “banana republic” is a derogatory expression meaning “a small nation, especially in Central America, dependent on one crop or the influx of foreign capital.” However, the historical origins of the term indicate it was originally conceived by American author O. Henry in his book “Cabbages and Kings” who wished to illustrate the full extent which Honduras and its economy, resources, and labor were being ruthlessly dominated by the American-owned United Fruit Company.
Moreover, this particular style of state-sponsored exploitation can actually be traced back to another American-operated business, the Cuyamel Fruit Company, who had purchased 15,000 acres of farming land on the northern coast of Honduras in 1910. This was during a time where banana production was heavily controlled by the United Fruit Company, the primary rival of Cuyamel Fruit. One year later, Cuyamel Fruit’s founder, Sam Zemurray, in league with U.S. Gen. Lee Christmas, executed a coup d’état that removed the elected government of Honduras, and in its place installed a military regime fronted by General Manuel Bonilla — an ally to American enterprise.
The 1911 coup d’état would be one part of a larger disturbing pattern of U.S. corporate entanglements in the political affairs of Honduras and other states in Central America. However, the ramifications would be especially egregious in Honduras, stagnating their economy to the point where they became unable to modernize or expand outside the banana industry, granting foreign corporations enough strength and leverage to tacitly anoint themselves as the dominant ruling power of the country. As Peter Chapman says in his book “Bananas,” these companies became “more powerful than many nation states,” while regarding the republics which they manipulated as their own “private fiefdom.” By 1933, the United Fruit Company would absorb Cuyamel Fruit Company, thus becoming the exclusive employer of the Honduran populous while hijacking control of the country’s agricultural, transportation, communications, and political infrastructure, effectively transforming Honduras into the model “banana republic” with an economy hegemonized by oligarchic banana plantations.
Honduras is only a small sample of the substantial part the U.S. and U.S. interventionist foreign policy has played in remaking other countries into the supposed banana republics that we condemn them as today. Needless to say, there are numerous right-wing insurrections that the U.S. has either directly or indirectly sponsored in efforts to supplant democratically elected governments across the world. Yet, pacified by the soothing conditioning of American exceptionalism and shielded by an impenetrable pride for a greatness built off of exploitation, our political and media establishment operates in a perennial haze; convinced that fascist street violence must be an exclusively native feature of the Global South, while we here in the United States are but innocent bystanders who must occasionally pinch our noses to endure its odious stench. In reality, this reek is of our own creation, emanating from beneath our feet out of the corpse of our rapidly rotting foundations. In essence, this racist inclination to implicate what is happening here and now as a unique phenomena of Black and brown countries is simply a calculated way of saying: This is not how white people are meant to behave, and although we have incited this elsewhere, we are expected to be better than this. Well we are not, and we never were. We refuse to reflect inwardly and understand that this is what the United States is, and for the majority of our history, what we have always been.
Simply take one glance at the January 6 mob and you will recognize the vile iconography of the American far-right in full force, featuring a host of fascist symbols and slogans, along with those who confidently paraded their Confederate, Blue Lives Matter, and Trump paraphernalia, advertising to the world just how American homegrown they all are. QAnon loyalists were spotted in T-shirts which implored people to “Trust the Plan,” while the imagery of the popular online alt-right symbol Pepe the Frog had also made an appearance. Far more unnerving were the extent of white-supremacist oriented militia groups that were in attendance, openly donning the emblems of their fascist cliques; whether they were American flags with the Roman numeral III to signify the “Three Percenters,” or camouflaged armored vests with patches that read “Oath Keepers.” Both the Boogaloo Boys and the Proud Boys were also present in the crowd, seen brazenly gesturing the “OK” hand signal, using it to resemble the letters “W” and “P,” for “white power.” Other members of the mob were shown sporting their various adaptions of Germanic pagan imagery or the Crusader cross that has become a common theme among the racist and anti-Semitic fringes who yearn for a time of white, Christian persecution against Muslims and Jews. One rioter inside the Capitol was even identified wearing a “Camp Auschwitz” sweatshirt, bearing the words “Work brings freedom” as an attempt to honor the phrase “Arbeit macht frei” that is infamously known for appearing on the gates of Nazi concentration camps.
Yet, as I monitored the expressed outrage over this attack, it is confounding how few people, at least publicly, were willing to muster the word “fascist” when addressing the mob, despite the staggering visual spectacle which affirmed their obvious white supremacist affiliation. Even terms like “right-wing” and “far-right” were said with extreme reservation, instead favoring vague or blatantly false vocabulary such as “anarchy,” “extremism,” or “third world.”
In particular, the excessive and reckless usage of the term “anarchist” merits further examination. As I switched furiously back and forth between all the major networks over the course of the day I would hear “anarchy” and “anarchism” uttered time and time again, spoken either with a striking contempt or a casual indifference, exhausting the word so thoroughly to the point where it became devoid of any meaning. This passive impulse to refer to these far-right rioters as anarchists renders the term itself to become nothing more than a lazy substitution for chaos, giving credence to the misconception that anarchism does not carry any definitive political significance of its own. At one instance, a Democratic member of the Florida House of Representatives even went so far as to refer to the mob as “MAGA anarchists,” which is not only a bewildering oxymoron, but also a troubling indicator of just how successful the obfuscation of these terms have become.
If one possesses even just a casual familiarity of anarchism, they would know that it resides on the far-left side of the political spectrum and is rooted in a strong opposition to the state structure. In contrast, these Capitol Hill rioters were attempting to ensure that a sitting president — the literal physical embodiment and representative of the state — could maintain power. So even just semantically speaking, the use of the word anarchism here is woefully inappropriate, almost comically so, and whether that is intentional or not on behalf of the political and media class, by purporting that misrepresentation they enable a damaging rhetorical and linguistic falsehood which serves to bind the far-left and the far-right together, blurring the lines between these terms and ultimately obstructing our capacity to delineate where the true threat to democracy lies.
The same applies to the inordinate use of words like “extremism” or “radicalism.” When imprecise language such as this is invoked to interpret incidents like what we saw on Capitol Hill, the conflict becomes diminished to simply a matter of resistance against the status quo, as opposed to the very specific issue of fascism. Words like “radicalism” and “extremism” do not necessarily belong under any one ideological umbrella, but merely suggests that one operates in defiance of the mainstream, thus ignoring the exact ideologies which are directly responsible for encouraging their violent radicalism. As a consequence, the discussion moves away from the ideology that needs to be denounced towards the methods that are being utilized, robbing us of our clearest opportunity to singularly call-out fascism and white supremacy on its face and ultimately allowing it to descend once more back down into the cloudy depths of a muddied and incoherent national discourse which cannot even distinguish up from down, and right from left. When this obscuration occurs, it initiates a potentially dangerous rhetorical and political precedent, providing a regime and the media the opportunity to dismiss the demands of any dissident — credible or not — by grouping them all together as simply radicals or extremists.
This is why it is vital to understand why fascism is the appropriate political philosophy to be designated for this moment. Now, you can make the argument that this is not explicitly fascism but rather fascistic-inspired or quasi-fascist, but regardless, this is where the conversation needs to begin. So we have to ask ourselves, what exactly is this conflict that we are seeing and who was this demographic of people attacking the state?
At the time of this writing, much of the evidence indicates that the class composition of the rioters were mainly made up of the petty bourgeois, consisting of the smaller capitalist business owners or skilled contractors. So the next thing we have to do theoretically is understand whether there is any historical precedent to who typically makes up the foundation of fascism. In their analyses of post-WW1 Germany, Marxist political theorists such as Leon Trotsky and Clara Zetkin outlined that a major portion of the fascist base in Germany were in fact the precarious petty bourgeoisie, primarily those driven into destitution by the sanctions placed on Germany following the war. Similarly, in September 1930 the German sociologist Theodor Geiger surmised that the success of the National Socialists in the German elections was the result of economic crisis which helped produce “a panic in the Mittelstand,” while the liberal German newspaper Frankfurter Zeitung stated in February 1931 that that the Nazis represented “the revolutionary eruption of the despair of the proletarianized middle classes.”
Essentially, this unique economic hardship would provoke the petty bourgeoisie’s condemnation towards the elite bourgeoisie class, however, not so much in a way which would coalesce in support around the broader working class, but rather confined strictly to the scope of their own personal financial well-being. The livelihood of the petty bourgeoisie had been endangered, and when faced with the prospect of downward social mobility, how they often respond is not by building a shared solidarity with the working class to oppose the capitalist powers, but instead stake their claim of having a deserved position among them. Compounding even further onto their already prominent sense of vulnerability during these times of advanced crisis is the fact that the petty bourgeoisie possess neither the resources and the wealth of the ruling class, nor the numbers and the popularity of the proletariat. Such perceived weakness consequently makes the petty bourgeoisie a prime target for manipulation by the large-scale capitalists, who can take advantage of the petty bourgeoisie’s anger and anxieties by offering them a shared banner under fascism, thus manufacturing a semblance of collective power that promises the petty bourgeoisie the illusion of comfort and security which they so desperately crave.
These efforts are then ultimately accelerated by the fascists’ ability to assign blame for their assorted grievances onto various scapegoats. Ideally, these scapegoats will consist of targets who the fascists can decry as traitors to “the people,” then followed by an aggressive confrontation towards these supposed “traitors” in order to instill themselves with a feeling of strength and autonomy. The fascist movement fancies itself to be ingraining terror among workers and minorities, as well as among the ruling class — which in their mind has also betrayed them — by developing ground-level fighting potential and a paramilitary structure that is intended to prove their capacity and willingness to resort to violent means at a moment’s notice. This is the essence of how fascism obtains power and momentum: attracting supporters, obtaining institutional legitimacy, and promoting fear among their supposed “adversaries.”
Now if we observe these clearly distressed Trump supporters, we will see that they mirror that same precarious petty bourgeoisie: Financially strained by the COVID pandemic, enforced with armed militias, victimized by an imaginary enemy, endorsed by right-wing capitalist media and political authorities, and enraged by the perceived betrayal from former political allies. Historically, when we observe what is the core composition of fascism and the catalysts which empower them, these are the precise types of disaffected factions and environmental conditions that, when combined, are capable of transforming a chaotic moment into a violent movement.
This is why moving forward the discourse surrounding the attack must center itself around the issue of fascism, and the language we use needs to reflect that. Unfortunately that is not what we are seeing emerge, with the conventional response typically favoring “anarchists,” or even more frequently, “radicalism” and “extremism.” In many ways this is a perfect encapsulation of how the liberal and centrist psyche has endured Trumpism for the last several years. There is an institutional disinterest in accepting the reality that Trump possesses a massive constituency of over 70 million people, with it being far easier to relegate him to the history books as a fluke, political accident, or even a foreign agent. Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi expressed what feels like the quintessential embodiment of this neoliberal sentiment, saying the events in Washington were “the biggest of all his many gifts to Putin” from Donald Trump.
“This is the day that Vladimir Putin has waited for since he had to leave East Germany as a young KGB officer at the end of the Cold War,” echoed Barack Obama’s former Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes.
“Today Trump delivered his latest, but hopefully his last gift to Putin,” parroted the former U.S. ambassador to Moscow Michael McFaul.
Can we for once initiate a sincere deliberation on our domestic shortcomings without concurrently affixing the conversation back to Russia? To wonder what the Russian dictator is thinking, as though he is the primary contributor and benefactor to the riots, is maddeningly misguided. Moreover, it makes the insinuation that this, and this alone, is the moment where the American political project has finally been exposed as flawed and for its intrinsic ties to white supremacy; how up until now our foreign adversaries had simply lied awake at night in eager anticipation for the U.S. to finally slip-up and reveal our exploitable imperfections. Whether that attitude is born out of arrogance or ignorance, it is well documented that the United States is by no means strangers to spectacularly failing its own people on the national and global stage. Within the last 30 years alone we have experienced numerous public eruptions of extreme white supremacist violence in the wake of Black and brown people pleading for basic rights, including the Los Angeles riots in 1992, the 2014 Ferguson unrest, the Dakota Access Pipeline protests in 2016, and the more recent nation-wide George Floyd protests. The jig is up, America, the world knows. Yet somehow the only ones who don’t seem to know is us. And now in the aftermath of witnessing a white supremacist mob which had been ignited by the President and his legion of far-right television pundits, and we have the audacity to ponder out loud, “what does the Russian president think?” Sorry, but that isn’t going to cut it anymore. We cannot address a problem if we are not even capable of having an honest conversation of what the problem even is.
So let’s not mince words. We witnessed the Capitol Hill police posing for pictures with and opening up the gates for these rioters. Outside of the brave few officers like Eugene Goodman, their response was both pathetic and alarming. However, if the Black Lives Matter protests proved anything, it is that this reaction is not an outlier of the system, but a direct function of it. We saw this dynamic play out in the Kenosha, WI protests, as the National Guard and local law enforcement on multiple occasions were caught on video socializing and even coordinating with these right-wing militia groups. Intelligence agencies have widely reported how white supremacists have been gradually “infiltrating” police departments for years. Except that is not completely accurate, because to infiltrate would be to imply that they are not already allies. Moments like this display the dire necessity behind issues like “Defund the Police” as it perfectly crystallizes just how out of reach reform for these institutions are in the same way that it is ludicrous to try and reform the Ku Klux Klan. The discourse needs to migrate away from dismissing the bulk of right-wing activity as simply the actions of some fanatical MAGA outsiders, but rather scrutinize the institutional actors that are — at their best — unbothered by this behavior, or — at their worst — participating in it. This needs to be an existential conversation which interrupts and dismantles the American fantasy that breeds an astounding ignorance, and even outright apathy, of the white supremacy which courses through our politics and culture. Instead, media personalities, pundits, and career politicians are doing their utmost to offer empty platitudes and superficial pleas for unity, while identifying foreign examples which to compare, or take responsibility for, our very much domestic-born afflictions. This is the ultimate repercussion of the Trump years. No longer can the U.S. project its sickness overseas, but must now put in the work to find the diagnosis here at home. Trump and Trumpism is the consummate monument to the persisting fascist currents that are intimately entrenched in our country, and until we acknowledge those forces, then we are never even going to begin progressing towards a movement that can successfully confront them.