Alt-right? Don't be afraid to call them fascists

Charlottesville mayor: Trump missed his chance
Charlottesville mayor: Trump missed his chance

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Story highlights

  • Michael Weiss: It's jarring to hear hatemongers in Charlottesville described as members of the "alt-right," which is a euphemism
  • The violence in Charlottesville reminds us that fascism is alive and well in America, Weiss writes

Michael Weiss is an international affairs analyst for CNN and author of "ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror." The opinions in this article belong to the author.

(CNN)A year before the end of the Second World War, George Orwell wrote an essay inspired by an American poll, which asked for a serviceable definition of "fascism."

The answers, he noted, ranged from "pure democracy" to "pure diabolism." And to this admittedly baggy semantic category, Orwell added the examples of people applying it fatuously to the Boy Scouts, the London Metropolitan Police, the Catholic Church and the British Labour Party, until he finally concluded that "as used, the word 'Fascism' is almost entirely meaningless."
The man who wrote "Politics and the English Language" had taken a bullet in the throat from a Francoist solider in Spain and so it was especially shrewd of him to detect, in 1944, that a pointed political term had been worn down into a cliche encompassing everything from a nasty child on the playground to an agent of the Gestapo. His advice was to use it "with a certain amount of circumspection and not, as is usually done, degrade it to the level of a swearword."
    Curiously, this degeneration has proceeded apace with the far more specific term "Nazism," which has become a postmodern byword for authoritarian cruelty, if not a cartoon label applicable to feminists, as per Rush Limbaugh, and sitcom soup-ladlers alike. However, the f-word, which is less moored by time and place, has all but abandoned the American lexicon when it is arguably most in need of revival.
    If the old rule for hardcore pornography — "you know it when you see it" — is no measure to go by, then surely taking fascism's modern adherents at their own word should be. Why, then, do so many Americans stubbornly refuse to do just that?
    Consider how jarring it is to witness a collection of torch-bearing racists and anti-Semites chanting "blood and soil" converging on Charlottesville, Virginia, in protest of the removal of a symbol of slavery. It's also jarring to hear them described as "white nationalists," "white supremacists" or members of the "alt-right," a more recent coinage which sounds like a Manhattan traffic violation rather than a euphemism for those who want to ethnically cleanse the United States of minorities.
    As Anton Shekhovtsov, a scholar of reactionary parties in Europe told me, "the 'alt-right' is not a name for some new right-wing movement; it's a fancy hipster self-representation of neo-Nazis." Nevertheless, in the last 72 hours, I've seen well-meaning people on Twitter denounce Sieg-Heiling thugs as the embodiment of "white privilege," as if the Allies stormed Normandy because the Third Reich's comparative literature curriculum wasn't quite progressive enough.
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    Among the organizations behind the "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville are ones that don't leave any mystery as to what their political heritage is or from which historical leader they derive inspiration: the National Socialist Movement, for example, or Vanguard America, whose manifesto is helpfully titled "American Fascism" and whose website informs us of a cheery future with an "economy that is self-contained, and free from the influence of international corporations, led by a rootless group of international Jews." (They don't like blacks, gays or Muslims, either, you'll be surprised to learn.)
    And despite an avowed zero-tolerance policy for "lawlessness," the Southern Poverty Law Center reminds us that Vanguard America emerged from the so-called "Iron March" forum community, members of which have recently been arrested for murder and the possession of explosives.
    Which brings us to James Alex Fields, the 20 year-old Ohio native who is accused by Virginia of transforming his Dodge Challenger into a battering ram, killing one woman and injuring others.
    At the very least he is a fellow traveler of Vanguard America, if not quite an "official member," as the organization was eager to clarify yesterday, suddenly attuned to PR damage control with a press it has elsewhere scorned for "poison(ing) the minds of our people."
    Fields' social media is awash with Nazi iconography, and his former history teacher told the Washington Post: "It was obvious that he had this fascination with Nazism and a big idolatry of Adolf Hitler."
    "Neighbors Remember Serial Killer as Serial Killer" was how The Onion satirized typical news stories following the capture of some blood-soaked psychopath who was invariably described as "polite," "nice" and "quiet" by those who knew him. (Fields, too, was remembered for being of much the same disposition in the same Washington Post article, his "big idolatry of Adolf Hitler" notwithstanding.)
    Still another curious characteristic of the modern fascist is the hero worship of yet another mass murdering tyrant, Syria's Bashar al-Assad, whose epaulette-adorned image Fields posted to Facebook with the caption "Undefeated."
    Arab strongmen have a rather complicated history with Aryan race-purists. However, as my friend and colleague Alex Rowell has pointed out, the Assad dynasty occupies a unique place as a Middle Eastern lodestone for every variety of European fascist, from the British National Party's Nick Griffin to Greek Golden Dawn MP Ioannis Sachinidis to, indeed, the actual S.S. commander and Eichmann aide Alois Brunner, who died in penury in Damascus in 2001 after decades of being harbored by the Ba'ath regime.
    Idiots in T-shirts celebrating Assad and his barrel bombs have even been recorded in Charlottesville, prompting some to wonder what accounts for the attraction. That, too, isn't a very difficult question to answer: Anyone who can exterminate Muslims on an industrial scale and scapegoat the Jews for his misfortunes is going to be a friend to the jackbooted.
    I'm probably the last person to comment on how our normally outspoken president has expended more rhetorical fire and fury on Meryl Streep, Mitch McConnell and Jeff Sessions than he has on what, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, could be the "largest hate-gathering of its kind in decades in America," leaving it to his Jewish-convert daughter to condemn such an event in more candid language.
    But even in national tragedy, Donald Trump has got a point, if only by accident. He ran for office by railing against runaway political correctness and the nationwide failure to call threats to the US by their rightful name.
    Hence the insistence on "radical Islamic terrorism" in lieu of the ridiculous "man-caused disaster" of the Obama era. But when it comes to a dangerous pathology of even older vintage, one which he has done nothing to acknowledge or confront, our tell-it-like-it-is commander-in-chief is just as guilty as the liberal establishment he claims to hate.
    Fascism is alive and well in America. The only harm is in not saying so.