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Naked Neo-Nazis and Well-Dressed Alt-Fascists: A History—and Warning


Dystopian visions of a future America struggling against authoritarian elements, if not fascistic forces have fascinated seers for years. Novels and films such as Civil War, The Second Civil War, Shadow on the Land, The Plot Against America, The Man in the High Castle, and It Can’t Happen Here all raise the question of how Fascism could come to America (as it once came to other democracies).

But I argue it already has in some form or fashion, albeit not in the dramatic literary-cinematic way portrayed in the America-as-dystopia genre. When social critics and novelists are looking for the arrival of Fascism in America perhaps they are watching for a reincarnation of the original, ‘traditional’ model of Fascism, as imagined, for example, in Phillip K Dick’s brilliant nightmare.

Yet, if a possible emerging Fascism is not a literal reincarnation of its past life, how do we identify and locate its activities ? As Umberto Eco emphasized, “the fascist game can be played in many forms…” And unless a particular form of Fascism is revealed, citizens could be living on the cusp of a Fascist takeover and not even know it.

Naked Nazis vs. Alt-Fascists

Racist far-right white supremacists brandishing swastikas and wearing uniforms marching in the street with torches; latter-day KKK rallies waving American Confederate flags, as well as other right-wing street-level terrorists as, for example, tracked by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Dangerous, yes; Contemptible, indeed. A threat? Absolutely. Openly displaying symbols of hatred and venting racist diatribes, their obvious ideological affinity to the spirit of Hitler’s National Socialist Party and Mussolini’s National Fascist Party, as well as to an earlier American Fascism, is beyond question.

Their identities are visible and present. The flags and symbols they wave leave us with no doubt where they stand. They make no effort to conceal that, when it comes to democracy, they are political outlaws. The events of January 6, 2021, and the fascistic implications, echoing past, pro-fascist, anti-democracy violence, spoke loud and clear. These shameless advertisers of hatred stand exposed, for all their ideological overdressing, as what I call Naked Nazis.

The other incarnation, the non-street rowdies, is, however, far more dangerous in the long run because their true fascistic agenda is invisible, while they wield considerable power and money against democratic institutions. They are the Alt-Fascists, who present themselves in a manner familiar and reassuring to Americans, wearing, for example, the disguises of patriotism–and the business executive–and speaking the language of freedom and individuality. As one scholar on Fascism, Robert O. Paxton writes:

No swastikas in an American fascism, but Stars and Stripes (or Stars and Bars) and Christian crosses, No fascist salute, but mass recitations of the Pledge of Allegiance. These symbols contain no whiff of fascism in themselves, of course, but an American fascism would transform them into obligatory litmus tests for detecting the internal enemy.

The most cunning form of Generic Fascism 101, what Umberto Eco styled, Ur-Fascism or Eternal Fascism–that is, in its most raw, elemental form–does not wear distinctive neo-Nazi uniforms nor espouse stereotypical pro-fascist views, but appears outwardly conventional.

Ur-Fascism is still around us, sometimes in plainclothes. It would be so much easier, for us, if there appeared on the world scene somebody saying, “I want to reopen Auschwitz, I want the Black Shirts to parade again….” Life is not that simple. Ur-Fascism can come back under the most innocent of disguises. Our duty is to uncover it and to point our finger at any of its new instances… 

This “plainclothes,” well-dressed version of Fascism no longer leans heavily on exact highly visible binary ideological symbols and classifications, especially as they have appeared in various, sharply distinct historical forms, the previously dominant “Nazi” discourse (e.g., Hitlerian Fascism versus Marxism-Leninism Communism).

For the Alt-Fascists, such exact binary-ideological dichotomies are obsolete because their form of Fascism has evolved from having its own unique set of symbols, sharply defined, for example, by the Swastika, to an ideology that uses the language of profit and loss not the language of blood and soil.

While traditional All-American Naked Nazis boldly display  American flags and other patriotic imagery blatantly juxtaposed with Nazi symbols, Confederate flags, and “Sieg Heil” salutes in the name of “True Americanism,” the  Alt-Fascists are respectably dressed in business suits espousing a seemingly non-violent ideology without a “whiff of fascism.”

What is this ideology more precisely?  Who are its exponents?

Jacques Derrida gives us important clues.

In his 1994 work Spectres of Marx, Derrida attacked the view that the collapse of the communist state meant the consignment of Marxism to the dustbin of history. Our current “new world disorder,” he quipped, of “neo-capitalism”, has not managed “to rid itself of all of Marx’s ghosts.”.  Though the wheels have fallen off the old Marxist express train, still the spirit of Marx haunts the machinery of neo-capitalist globalization, aka neoliberalism.

Derrida’s neologism, Hauntology to describe the “persistence and lingering” of Marxist ideas in a globalized world helps us understand how the “spectres” of Fascism(s) past can also return to haunt liberal democracy, albeit a fascism different from the 20th-century versions.

Contrary to the so-called End of History theory, which claims that democracy has been the ultimate victor over totalitarian ideologies, modern democracies are ‘haunted’–that is, infiltrated–by these spectres of Fascism. Though it is dead in one sense, it is uncannily “alive” in another, as the spectral-phantasmal imagery implies.

The term “Hauntology” connects both of these political and metaphorical meanings.

Past, discredited political traditions are “absent”– yet linger in the present, perhaps in a fragmented or partial sense. Ideologies exist as blurred ‘after-images,’ ‘traces’, and ‘residues’ of what had originally been distinct, fully-fledged political systems living in a binary universe where there were once sharp differences between them.  That the spectres of Marxist ideology could “linger” certainly means that Fascism could also have spectral, ghostly afterlives–“traces” whose identities are at first not recognizable.  This exercise of “spotting the hidden ideology” is the ideological and political equivalent of a visual brainteaser in which players search for and identify similar shapes, traces, and objects not readily apparent. It is not, however, a frivolous parlor game but of profound importance if we are to identify the presence–and hidden danger–of unexpected forms of Fascism(s) now.                               

Hidden Alt-Fascists Stripped Naked (Visible)

So, what do we find if we expose Alt-Fascists? They are self-identifying American patriots and defenders of the Free Enterprise System, wealthy oligarchic elites who occupy the prestigious pinnacles of American corporate power, while stealthily using it to undermine their American democratic traditions, institutions, and values. They are the American Fuhrers quietly organizing a private sector version of Fascism–an alternative fascism that operates better by not revealing its true ideological colors.

Unlike the original Naked Nazis’ crude street behavior, the Alt-Fascists are not about bullying, rabble-rousing, terrorism, and advertising raw prejudice. With their (non-violent) bureaucratic skills in strategizing, budgeting, and planning, Alt-Fascists are fully integrated into corporate institutions, unlike the street-level, populist neo-fascist thugs on the outside waving American, Nazi, and Confederate flags. However, they share the same anarchic-cum-totalitarian loathing of democratic institutions–but with the power and reach to destroy democracy at the institutional-organizational roots, not just trash government buildings.

The goals of these billionaire radicals go beyond objections to tax rates and government regulatory ‘red tape’, which are the standard complaints of Neo-Liberalism. They are actually a subversive force, a “fifth column” working to undermine American democracy by tearing government out by its roots.  They represent “the capitalist radical right [that] has been working not simply to change who rules, but to fundamentally alter the rules of democratic governance.”

How do the Alt-Fascists do this?  Channeling massive sums of “dark money” (money whose source is undisclosed), via a vast network of organizations composed of non-profits, think tanks, donors, and academic programs largely cloaked in secrecy to influence–through money and disinformation–elections, public policy, media, and political discourse. Alt-Fascist elites are engaged in a stealthy “long-running class war from above” which aims for a “hostile takeover” of democratic government.

Against democracy but also against government as a force for the citizens’ common good, they influence democracy’s political representatives to by-pass the voters. Alt-Fascists’ unelected, corporate elites through their political networks have driven a wedge between elected representatives and the citizens’ needs and wants.  Empirical studies have shown that the extremist oligarchic elites have been successful in shifting the Republican Party’s agenda, for example, on climate change-denialism and defunding social programs, to the far right–positions in conflict with the preferences of the voters, including not only the Democrats’, but even some Republicans.’

By so doing, Alt-Fascism eliminates the fundamental principle that governs democracy–its elected leaders respond to the citizens’ needs and wants not to wealthy elites–as sure, as if an “occupying force” had colonized democracy. This subversion of democracy’s non-negotiable electoral rule that government representatives should respond to the citizens’ voices is part of Alt-Fascism’s broader “chaining of democracy” vision.          

This is not just aggressive “political lobbying”–which apologists claim, “everyone does.” Rather it is an unrelenting war against voters and democracy. These oligarchic elites, including but not limited to the Koch network, have, as documented, disenfranchised voters at the local, state, and federal levels via disinformation for many decades. Deceitful tactics include lies to voters about climate change and other assaults on voter rights.           

Both illegally subverting citizens ‘ power to vote and using dark money “front” groups to influence elected politicians–technically legal–towards the long-term goal of subverting and destroying democracy are tactics from the Communist’s playbook. Lenin advocated  a “skillful combining of illegal and legal work” through his innovative use of “cadres” to divert attention from the Bolshevik Party’s subversive (illegal) activities, as well as creating organizations meant to hide subversive activities  behind non-subversive veneers, known as “communist fronts” or “popular fronts.”  All are dedicated to the “withering away of the state”.

Charles Koch, who “wanted to be the Lenin” of the Libertarian Revolution, adopted the aforesaid Lenin-inspired  tactics also to destroy the government, believing along with Lenin that it was the enemy and that well-trained cadres “could prevail over a majority in the political arena”. The ghosts of both Fascism and Communism now haunt his “right-wing empire.”

Privatization: a Fascist-Friendly Agenda

Not only do the oligarchic Alt-Fascists subvert electoral democracy, but push an agenda that enshrines a Fascist-Friendly policy: privatization.

Although much has been made of the global emergence of radical privatization reforms since the 1970s and 1980s, 20th-century Fascism actually introduced privatization much earlier.

Both Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany were pioneers in privatizing industries and abolishing public labor unions, as well as balancing the budget–goals of the far right agenda. Italy’s first Fascist government applied a large-scale privatization policy between 1922 and 1925. The government eliminated the State monopoly on life insurance, sold off most of the State-owned telephone networks and services, reprivatized the largest metal machinery producer, and awarded concessions to private firms to build and operate motorways. Later in the 1930s, Nazi Germany privatized its economy on a large scale by transferring to private interests the delivery of public services, as well as steel, mining, banking, local public utilities, and other industries.  “German privatization of the 1930s was intended to benefit the wealthiest sectors and enhance the economic position and political support of the elite.”     In privileging the wealthy elites over the underclass, privatization’s original Fascist connection is no surprise. The Fascists were not “socialists” or “collectivists”, but early innovators of privatization, Fascism’s spectre haunting our world, hides in the privatization that threatens to destroy democracy, a true danger.  

However, another government found the dangerous Mussolini-Hitler spectres not a threat, but very useful: The Chilean Pinochet military dictatorship. Infamous for the suppression of political parties, the abolition of independent media, the torturing of thousands of dissidents, as well as the internment, murder, and forced exile of its opposition, it also adopted the economic agenda of Fascism’s privatizations. James McGill Buchanan, an American economist, who became a key ideological guru for the Koch network, helped the Pinochet regime implement these far-right programs, including the destruction of labor unions and privatization of government health care. Accepting the “necessity” of despotism, Buchanan rejected democracy; he was a totalitarian capitalist promoting a privatized neo-Fascist state and a pioneer of Kochonomics. A founding architect of neoliberalism.

“…certain persons had made an attempt to establish a fascist organization in this country”

Yet you may still find this vision of a “plainclothes” Fascism in an expensive business suit–a Fascism without the clichéd one-armed salutes, the kitschy uniforms, the dark symbols, and the slogans of hatred–too far-fetched to qualify as the real thing.

Few recall now that between 1933 and 1934, a cabal of Wall Street corporate executives plotted to overthrow the president of the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, whom they considered a threat to their financial interests, and radically transform the government of the United States by removing FDR and installing a dictatorship. This coup plot, backed by corporate power and money, was organized after a detailed field study of European Fascism by the schemers, and efforts were made to assemble an army of veterans to march on Washington. However, the potential coup was exposed and consequently failed.

And while the 1930s Wall Street oligarchic radicals had planned a full-blown march on Washington DC–envision a better organized, better armed January 6 mob of Naked Nazis and Alt-Fascists–claims of a budding coup were originally sneered at by the major media, including the New York Times and Time magazine.  However, in February 1935, a United States Congressional Committee issued a report, which concluded:

…evidence was obtained showing that certain persons had made an attempt to establish a fascist organization[i] in this country. There is no question that these attempts were discussed [and] were planned…

Today’s Alt-Fascists, also desiring a “hostile takeover” of American democracy, having embraced fascist-friendly privatization and Leninism’s subversive tactics, are stealthily reinventing the 1930s Wall Street coup plot to bring down American democracy. We ignore the spectre of the Wall Street coup plotters haunting today’s libertarian oligarchs at our peril.

[i] Years later, John McCormack, the co-chairman of the committee, said, “This was a threat to our very way of government by a bunch of rich men who wanted Fascism.”