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Erasing QAnon Fascism: A Case Study in Black Comedy

TRUMPISM - Karl Marx famously wrote in the Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte that historical facts appear twice, “the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.”

Following this observation, journalists’ longstanding denial of the fascist implications of Trump’s ties to QAnon long ago ventured into black comedy. President Biden recently referred to Trumpism – of which QAnon is a big part – as “semi-fascism.” He described Trump during the 2020 election season as “sort of like Goebbels.” This was in reference to the Big Lie propaganda that Trump popularized during the election, and which was used to stoke fascist violence on January 6. As Goebbels and Hitler infamously recognized regarding the Big Lie, if you say it enough, people will believe it.

The QAnon connection, perhaps more than anything else, demonstrates Trump’s commitment to fascist politics. Consider the history thus far. During the run-up to the 2020 election, Trump retweeted QAnon accounts repeatedly. On the afternoon of the Fourth of July (2020), Trump retweeted from QAnon accounts 14 times. In the months before July Fourth, Media Matters documented that Trump retweeted 90 posts from QAnon supporters, and from 49 different QAnon accounts. He was later booted from Twitter and Facebook for stoking the January 6 insurrection – which itself included a strong QAnon presence. Trump continued to repost QAnon accounts on his new social media forum, Truth Social. As the New York Timesreported last month, Trump has “amplified content” from 30 QAnon accounts to his nearly 4 million followers, “reposting their messages 65 times since he became active on the platform in April.”

In sum, Trump has posted QAnon related content more than 150 times between 2020 and 2022, and across multiple social media venues. It strains credulity to argue that one can accidentally post QAnon content 150 times. These posts are deliberate, and Trump is clearly part of a political community that’s committed to normalizing the QAnon movement and its values.

Trump actively winked at and collaborated with QAnon fascists throughout the 2020 election season. In the wake of the election, he met in the White House or collaborated in his campaign with numerous QAnon supporters, including “My Pillow” CEO Mike Lindell, ex-felon and retired general Michael Flynn, and lawyer Sydney Powell. The meeting with Powell and Flynn was to strategize about how to overturn the election results. When asked about the QAnon movement by reporters, Trump acknowledged that its supporters “like me very much” and he described them as patriots who “love America.” When asked by reporter Savannah Guthrie about his retweeting of QAnon personalities, Trump said that the movement was “very much against pedophilia. They fight it very hard.” And yet, he’s played dumb on QAnon by insisting that “I know nothing about it” – a point he believes allows him plausible deniability to deny his obvious ties to the movement. This is classic Trumpian gaslighting – it empowers him to continue mainstreaming the movement, while claiming not to be a supporter.

In recent days, Trump has finally abandoned his claim of being ignorant to what QAnon is, and now explicitly embraces the movement. On his Truth Social platform, and as Vice reports, he “shared a picture of himself wearing a Q lapel pin, overlaid with the QAnon phrases, ‘The Storm is Coming’ and ‘WWG1WGA’” (“Where we go one, we go all”).

As I’ve previously written in my book, Rising Fascism in America: It Can Happen Here, the QAnon movement is best classified as neofascist in political orientation. QAnon’s “conspiratorial politics are based on the claim that Democratic leaders are vampiric pedophile Satanists. This claim is recycled form Nazi-era propaganda, drawn from the ‘blood libel’ claims offered by the Third Reich, which posited that Jews needed to be targeted for elimination because of their efforts to drink the blood of children.” This propaganda claim is drawn straight from the notoriously antisemitic Russian propaganda pamphlet, “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” which was published at the turn of the twentieth century and warned about a secret Jewish plot to conquer the world. The antisemitic bent of QAnon is further revealed by mid-2022 polling from Morning Consult, which finds that half of the movement’s supporters subscribe to the belief that liberalism has “equipped Jews to destroy institutions, and in turn gain control of the world.”

Looking at historical definitions of fascism, which I explore at length in Rising Fascism in America, QAnon checks the boxes on many fronts to be classified as a neofascist movement. Its members embrace the cult of personality, blindly believing that Donald Trump, who is framed almost as a deity figure, will defeat the “deep state” pedophiles by publicly executing Democratic officials, including Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Joe Biden, and targeting the news media, Hollywood, and elements of the professional bureaucracy, which are all portrayed as complicit with the deep state. This cultist worship of Trump is also reflected in QAnoners’ support for a coup against the Biden administration, and with Q supporters prophesizing that Trump will be reimposed as president, despite clearly losing the 2020 election. As fascism goes, the cultist attachment to Trump overlaps well with the blind worship of Hitler in the classic era of fascism.

Additionally, QAnon is authoritarian and dictatorial in its politics. It sees Trump as a would-be dictator who will rule over the American people and defeat the ominous, omnipresent “deep state” pedophilic threat. Contempt for democracy is another major facet of classical fascism, as is the antisemitism that QAnon traffics in, including their blood libel propaganda.

Finally, QAnon is fascist in its commitment to eliminationism. It depicts the Republican Party’s and Trump’s political adversaries as demonic and beyond the pale – as an existential threat to American society and its children. Its supporters explicitly call for the public execution of Democratic officials. Trump has echoed this eliminationism in his recent attack on Biden, whom he called “an enemy of the state.” Eliminationism was also core to Third Reich fascism, via the consistent demonization of Jews as a threat to Aryan “pure blood,” and as representing a fifth column threat working on behalf of communist revolution (“Jewish Bolshevism”) that must be eradicated.

For Trump to explicitly embrace QAnon and remove any remaining (willful) ignorance about his feelings toward the movement is of incredible significance to the future of what remains of American democracy. Sadly, U.S. political discourse has consistently failed to stress the severity of the threat at hand. Aside from Biden’s occasional references to Trumpism as a fascist threat, mainstream U.S. political discourse has been overwhelmingly reluctant to acknowledge the fascist politics of QAnon, and by extension, of Trump himself. My review of the Nexis Uniacademic database reveals that “QAnon” was referenced in 312 articles from the New York Times in the first 8 months of 2022. Of those pieces, just three – less than one percent – refer to “fascism” or “fascist” tendencies alongside discussions of QAnon. Similarly, CNN ran 137 segments mentioning QAnon during this period, with just six of them – less than five percent of the total – referencing Q alongside discussions of “fascism” or “fascist” politics. At the Democratically oriented MSNBC, QAnon was mentioned in 181 segments during the first 8 months of 2022, with just 10 – less than six percent – discussing the movement alongside references to “fascism” or “fascist” politics [1].

U.S. political culture is notorious for downplaying the risks of Trumpian fascism. For years, political commentators, scholars, intellectuals, reporters, and government officials have downplayed the specter of rising fascism as the sort of thing that “can’t happen here” in a country (allegedly) as exceptional in its commitment to democracy as the United States. Trump’s now open support for QAnon is the final nail in the coffin for the fascism deniers, as it represents his open descent into the world of conspiratorial neofascism.

The country is at a crossroads. We can address the threat now or pay the price later. The simple answer for how to combat it is to cut the head off of the snake of Trumpian fascism. Cults don’t just replace their leaders when they’re neutralized, and there’s little reason to think another rightwing personality – like a Tucker Carlson or Ron DeSantis – will simply slip into the role of the next Trumpian would-be dictator. Trump has openly violated numerous national laws for which he needs to be punished. Whether it be promoting a national insurrection on January 6 – which is a clear violation of federal law – or trying to extort a state official in Georgia (Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger) to manufacture fake votes and throw the 2020 election, or his violation of national security law by illegally holding classified government documents, there are multiple points of attack against the former president.

I don’t believe blue state America will agree to be ruled over by a would-be dictator if Trump succeeds in 2024 in getting Republican-controlled swing states to nullify electoral victories for a Democratic candidate via bogus claims of “voter fraud.” What is more likely is that the country will collapse in a state of civil strife, instability, and violence, as it degenerates into uncontrolled violence (stoked by Trump), and as Trump seeks to impose himself as the next president against the will of the people. The Republican Party’s crisis of identity under Trump long ago reached a fever pitch. Without the party’s rank and file standing up and rejecting Trump as their presumed nominee in 2024, the nation’s descent into fascist chaos will continue, with dire consequences.

Notes

[1]. The review of MSNBC looks at news segments that mention “QAnon” within 100 words of references to “fascism” or “fascist” politics. I use the 100-word qualifier in reviewing these transcripts because cable news transcripts are typically an hour long, and I wanted to isolate discussions of fascism that occurred immediately alongside discussions of QAnon, rather than appearing in other segments or parts of the transcript that are unrelated to the movement.

 

(Anthony DiMaggio is Associate Professor of Political Science at Lehigh University. He is the author of Rising Fascism in America: It Can Happen Here (Routledge, 2022), in addition to Rebellion in America (Routledge, 2020), and Unequal America (Routledge, 2021). He can be reached at: [email protected]. This article was featured in CounterPunch.)