We should all condemn, in no uncertain terms, the violent Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol. George Packer, in his book, “Last Best Hope,” claims, “A mob of freedom-loving Americans [were] hunting down elected representatives to kidnap and kill.” In New York Magazine, Jonathan Chait likened these efforts to the 1933 Reichstag Fire. But murderous images are not consistent with at least some of the evidence of what happened in Washington while Congress was certifying the 2020 election results.
None of those arrested after the Capitol breach has been charged with gun possession or assault while inside the Capitol. Moreover, one of the most identifiable groups among the protesters — the Proud Boys — may have had no intention to use violence or attack the Capitol, according to an embedded FBI informant. Even liberal commentator Glenn Greenwald apparently was disgusted by false and exaggerated claims made about the events of Jan. 6.
The Capitol assault also has been used as a blanket condemnation of all those who gathered in D.C. that day to protest the election’s outcome. About 20,000 people attended the rally at the White House, and perhaps about 1,000 of them then moved to the Capitol, where somewhat over half of them actively participated in the breach. That means about 3 percent of the day’s protesters took part in the assault — and yet the entire group that peacefully rallied was indicted in social media and some media posts. Compare this to the rallies across America following the May 2020 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis — most media outlets took pains to distinguish participants in looting and vandalism in some cities from the vast majority of protesters who were peaceful.
Indeed, the vilification of all who rallied at the White House is extended by some to anyone who is Republican. For some time, Republicans have been broadly labeled as “white supremacists.” After the Capitol assault, they increasingly have been accused of threatening democracy. As Bill Zeiser reported in The Spectator, liberal commentator Dean Obeidallah claimed, “If you ever wondered what it was like to live in early 1930s Germany, you are getting a taste of it courtesy of [former President] Trump and the GOP.” On Twitter, he offered that “the GOP is no longer a political party — it’s an openly fascist movement. That is undisputed.”
Indeed, a summer 2021 survey conducted by the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics found that 56 percent of President BidenJoe BidenPredictions of disaster for Democrats aren't guarantees of midterm failure A review of President Biden's first year on border policy Vilsack accuses China of breaking commitments in Trump-era trade deal MORE’s voters believe “there is no real difference between Republicans and fascists.”
In “Antifascism: The Course of a Crusade,” Paul Gottfried claims alluding to the impending dangers of fascism underpins the dark vision for America expressed by Packer, Chait and Obeidallah — and also a large share of social justice advocates. In explaining the contrasting view of the Jan. 6 Capitol assault, compared to violence during urban demonstrations last summer, one of the book’s reviewers, James McElroy, claimed that “[f]ascism is a permanently lurking evil that can re-emerge at any moment” so that the “black-clad [antifa] thugs from last summer are not the enemies of power but its unwitting shock troops.”
Short of fascism, many social justice advocates label the danger “right-wing authoritarianism,” linking Trumpism with Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, and Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orbán. While right-wing authoritarianism is well-documented, researcher Thomas Costello and his Emory colleagues have found that left-wing authoritarianism is far from inconsequential. While Costello estimated that in the United States right-wing authoritarians are probably three times the number of left-wing authoritarians, Sally Satel, a psychiatrist and resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, noted in an article in The Atlantic, “One doesn’t need to believe that left-wing authoritarians are as numerous or as threatening as their right-wing counterparts to grasp that both phenomena are a problem.”
Right-wing authoritarians appear to be more significant in rural, less populated areas and their efforts may result in illiberal policies in some states. However, at universities and in much of urban America, there appears to be more danger from liberal authoritarians who are often emboldened by some in the media who amplify their exaggerations of dangers posed by the “fascist” right.
Most troubling, labeling Republicans as fascist, right-wing authoritarians or white supremacists has nothing to do with finding solutions to two pressing social problems in America: gun violence, especially in predominantly Black communities, and the educational deficiencies of too many Black youngsters. Indeed, one might argue that left-wing authoritarians — by trying to silence all those who want to look beyond white racism to understand the persistence of racial disparities — stand in the way of finding solutions to these problems.
Robert Cherry is a retired professor of economics at Brooklyn College and a member of the Woodson Center’s 1776 Unites forum.