The extreme right – one of the traditions of the United States

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By MARY ANNE JUNQUEIRA*

The far right in America is bigger than the uncontrollable President Trump

On January 06th, a mob filled with fury and resentment took the United States Congress by storm. It was the largest occupation of the public building on record. Prior to that, the Capitol had come under heavy fire in the 1812 war with England. At the time, the European country wanted to restrict the rapid conquest of the West by the United States and contain the country's trade, especially with France, due to the Napoleonic wars. The Americans set fire to Toronto, Canada, in April 1813. Retaliation came in August 1814, when Washington was taken, and the Capitol, White House, and US Navy set on fire.

There are still records of other types of violence in the building since its construction in 1800, but what we saw on January 6th was unprecedented, brutal and grotesque: building invaded, vandalized and defiled. More: carried out by nationals. The initiative put into practice by the far right, some of them mobilized at the last minute by Donald Trump and social media, is not good for the United States or for those who cherish governments guided by social contracts. Since the country is a reference in the matter, despite the limits and contradictions. The country that guarantees indirect and continuous elections since 1789, when the representative Republic was formed, has coexisted very well with non-democratic aspects of the country since then.

Much has been said about the president who launched the invasion, Donald Trump, and Trumpism. The man, despite more than 74 million votes, lost a lot: the presidency, support in the House and Senate and his place among the Republicans. Party that has sheltered the extreme right and now faces dilemmas regarding its future.

Regarding trumpism, it is urgent to consider that the extreme right in the United States is greater than the uncontrollable president. It is as much a part of American traditions as the very social contract that is now being questioned by many. However, this extreme right, white supremacist, which makes use of military tactics and terrorist initiatives, takes us back to the post Civil War (1861-1865). Period of emergence of secret societies, white supremacists, constituted in the defeated south. Between them, The Knights of the White Cameliawhite league and the famous and influential Klu Klux Klan, founded in 1865. These and other organizations gained supporters and branched out among Southerners.

The Klan crossed the centuries between declines and resurgences, reaching the 21st century. Most of these secret societies were founded by former Confederate officials, dissatisfied with and resentful of the downfall of the South. Above all, fearful that blacks would acquire political rights. They were central to paving the way for racial segregation in the South that eventually spread across the country.

Many of those who stormed the Capitol on January 6 proudly displayed the Confederate flag and Klan insignia, among other symbols. The Confederate flag was (and is) distinctive of what came to be called “southern nationalism”. To get an idea of ​​past uses of the Confederacy: only in 2020 — after the supremacist Dylan Roof, in 2015, opened fire on the African American church, in Charleston, and the consequent battle of the monuments —, the marine corps abolished the use of southern symbols on the weapon.

Like the solidly established far right, the existence of congressmen who support white supremacists is firmly anchored in American history. The list is not small, many former klansmen served as representatives, senators, federal judges and governors, in the 19th and 20th centuries. In the same direction, in 2021, some congressmen did not hide their support for Trump and extremist movements. Many owe their current position to the votes they received from supporters of that political spectrum.

Donald Trump is a prestigious leader of this extreme right. He gave way to it in politics and strengthened communication with extremist groups. However, this leadership is circumstantial. The indications are that it (the extreme right) will remain, although we do not know if it will gain more space or return to the margins where it was, for example, during the Cold War. So Trumpism is just as circumstantial as Donald Trump.

In the 21st century, the extreme right that had been growing since the last decades of the 20th, erupted thanks to social networks and the deep web, and not just in the United States. Today it has different names: alt-rightfar rightextreme right etc. Congregates militias (such as oath keepersProud BoysThree Percenters), various Christian groups (many anti-Catholics), neo-Nazis, such as the Creativity Movement, between others. Part of the militias compares to the patriots of the country's independence period. This explains why the year of emancipation, 1776, is claimed by these groups. For example, the online store of Proud Boys, which brings together only men, whom Trump asked for readiness (Stand by) at the time of the election in November, it proudly called itself: 1776.shop.com

Although rooted in tradition, the extreme right in the United States mobilizes symbols, discourses and initiatives not only from the country's supremacist tradition, but also from European Nazis and fascists. Even the North American supremacist organizations of the 19th mobilized themes from medieval Europe. Today, in addition to Crusaders and Templars, they boast Nordic racial mythology, whose symbols were also exposed in the invasion of the Capitol.

If the extreme right is firmly rooted in the historical tradition of the United States, what is current about the invasion of Congress? At least two recent aspects can be highlighted: the very nature of this type of right is more diversified, with a national scope and international ties. To get an idea, in 2019, the website Southern Poverty Law Center which monitors hate groups (anti-Semites, anti-immigrants, supremacists, misogynists, Islamophobes, etc.) tracked 940 groups across the United States. Number that certainly grew in 2020. In addition, it recorded the existence of 1747 symbols of the Confederation throughout the national territory, against which moderates and progressives, among them the movement Black Lives Matter, have faced in recent years.

The second aspect is related to the most unavoidable initiative of the president and his followers: not accepting the results of the November 2020 election. It is not new that militiamen and secret organizations reject the status quo. But at least in the recent history of the country, it is the first time that previously agreed rules of the game are so vehemently rejected. Such denial tries to move the Democrat Joe Biden into the nebulous space of illegitimacy, which can open up to unusual situations like the one we saw on January 6th.

Criticisms of the system are common: note those made of the Electoral College, another North American tradition, responsible for distortions in elections. Among them, that of assuming the White House the candidate who does not win the popular vote.

Such misrepresentation, greatly harmed the democrats in the 21st century. Al Gore won the popular vote, but it was George W. Bush who won in 2000, and the same happened with Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, in the 2016 election. Although Al Gore asked for a recount of votes, the Supreme Court ruled in the Electoral College. Al Gore and Hillary accepted the results in the name of maintaining the process that guides the country. Upholding and honoring the system has always been important to politicians and most Americans. It reiterates that what has been seen in recent weeks has been the unusual refusal of a candidate for re-election — who lost in the popular vote in 2016 and 2020 — and his supporters to the agreed and consolidated rules of the game.

There is no doubt that the Democrat Joe Biden has important victories, and he already responds to those who raised him to the highest position in the nation. In addition to more than 81 million votes, the Democrats will lead the House and Senate, although the latter is split 50% for each party. He, with the invaluable help of Stacey Adams, activist and former congressman, helped turn the state of Georgia to the Democrats—in an unprecedented feat—after 28 years of Republican dominance in the state. Still, the division of the country is undeniable. Biden will inherit the rift-torn country that Trump helped deepen. For the moment, Trump and the invasion of Congress have overshadowed the transition and celebration that should have been for Biden. The 78-year-old moderate Democrat, with a discreet, reserved and averse to outburst style, will certainly have difficult years ahead.

*Mary Anne Junqueira Professor at the Department of History at FFLCH-USP and at the Institute of International Relations (IRI-USP).

 

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