Interview Transcript: Dr. Joan Braune On Fascism

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The following is a transcript, lightly edited for clarity, of my September 24, 2018 Praxis interview with Dr. Joan Braune. You can also listen to the interview in the player below.

 

Taylor Weech (TW): I’m here in the studio with Dr. Joan Braune and we’re going to talk about fascism and whatever else comes up. Welcome to the show.

Joan Braune (JB): Thanks for having me.

TW: Can you start by introducing yourself and talking a little bit about your background and how you came to know so much about fascism?

JB: Sure. So I grew up in kind of an activist family and have always been involved in social justice work in various capacities. I’ve been in Spokane for 2 years and I moved up here shortly before the election. So after Trump was elected, I started to realize that something had shifted in the political landscape. It really happened when I saw this neo-Nazi who a lot of people have heard of, Richard Spencer, who got punched at the inauguration and also is famous for giving a Sieg Heil salute to Trump after the election, getting a lot of free air time. He was all over NPR and CNN and at that point I realized that something had shifted in terms of what was potentially considered normal in the political landscape. So I underwent a project where I tried to figure out the influence of fascist ideology on the Trump administration as well as hate groups nationally.

TW: Great…so it’s been a long almost two years since then?

JB: Yes (laughter)

TW: I guess if we can start—I think there’s a renewed conversation around this in general because of the political tenor of the time, but I think there’s still some pretty common misconceptions around some of these ideas— so starting at the basic building blocks, what is fascism?

JB: It’s a little tough because scholars don’t agree on a single definition of fascism, but what we want to do is exclude certain simplifications for sure. So one misconception for example is that any censorship of speech is automatically fascism. While it’s true that fascist states like Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini’s Italy did engage in censorship, lots of other totalitarian states have done that as well. Fascism is a specific political ideology and it’s essentially a way of justifying violence and exclusion toward scapegoated groups that are blamed unfairly for economic decline and a sense of meaninglessness or cultural upheaval in a society. That can take a variety of forms, but a pretty essential part of that belief system is that humans are fundamentally unequal and that society should be established in such a way as to give those who are more worthy of power more power and that’s often divided along lines of race and gender as well as other categories.

TW: And you know when you talk about that scapegoating we obviously in this country have a long rich history of that behavior. What do you think sets this administration and moment apart in terms of a deepening of that commitment? Is there a formalization happening?

JB: That’s a great question. It’s hard to divide because we do have such a strong history of white supremacy and genocide in this country. So is Donald Trump just a new Andrew Jackson? That’s a possible answer, Steve Bannon seems to think there’s some similarity. So it’s not the first time we’ve had populists that have empowered racists in a position of power in this country of course, but I think because of the economic crisis and things that are happening globally, there’s an attempt to blame others. Especially because of increased migration—that is giving people an easy scapegoat for thinking about what is really just a failure of capitalism and how it can be explained through blaming someone more easily.

TW: —and you mentioned this as a global phenomenon also. I want to mostly focus on this country, but can you speak to that a tiny bit, just how the U.S. fits into the larger global moment?

JB: Yeah, so sadly we’ve seen in elections across Europe a resurgence of political parties that have historical ties to Naziism. We’ve seen this most recently in Sweden just a couple of weeks ago; we’ve seen it in France with the resurgence of Marine Le Pen; in Denmark, in the Netherlands, just across Europe. Brexit in the UK, even though it was, for a lot of people just an economic policy kind of vote, for a lot of people that was a vote for xenophobia and nationalism. So we’re really seeing this globally and it’s also not even just confined to Europe. If you look at Hindu nationalism in India; there’s an election coming up in Brazil where fascists are rooting for a particular candidate; the president of the Philippines called himself a fascist fairly recently. It really is an international problem.

TW: A lot of these figures are figures Donald Trump has applauded and held up as examples, particularly in the Philippines and across Europe.

JB: There’s a genocide going on in the Philippines. You have people who are accused of being drug users or drug dealers and killed without any due process and Trump has said that he really admires the way the Philippines is fighting the drug war.

TW: So that’s horrific, obviously, and this has the potential to go that way as a topic. Where do you think we’re at in the U.S. in terms of our preparation level to understand and ultimately to combat nascent fascism?

JB: On a certain level, it’s really bad because people don’t understand ideologically at all what they’re dealing with, they don’t understand the belief system, they’re very easily fooled by all kinds of things. When fascists call themselves simply defenders of free speech, or simply trolls, or people who are trying to get people to debate things more freely, people often fall for that. I think on the other hand, especially here in the Northwest, we’ve seen the impact of this ideology before and the history of the Aryan Nations is very foremost in people’s memory here. Every community in this country has gone through these kind of struggles. So there is a very strong current of anti racist sentiment at the same time in the U.S. and theres also a strong sense that we are a country of immigrants, which not every country shares. So i think because of the history of the civil rights movement, how far we’ve come, there’s quite a bit of momentum to push back. but people need to know what they’re looking at.

TW: How has that gone for you just in terms of being locally sort of an emerging person who is presenting these ideas to the public?What do you think public reaction is in general to someone saying ‘hey watch out, we’ve got legitimate fascism coming our way’?

JB: Most people I think are concerned, but it does take a little bit of doing to help people see what’s actually happening. Because if it’s not impacting your world it’s very easy to think that people are being alarmists or to be confused and think that people are just trying to whip up sentiment against Trump and manufacturing something that doesn’t exist. But these group are active in our own community. We look at Identity Evropa for example which is a fascist organization and they’ve put up fliers all over this town at the community colleges, at Gonzaga University, downtown, they’ve done banner drops, they’re quite active.

TW: —at EWU in Cheney as well.

JB: Yes and one of their members, James Allsup, has spoken publicly with local Republican leaders so this is not even just a fringe phenomenon anymore— it’s striving for normalization so to speak. It wants to get into public institutions and become part of the normal political spectrum.

TW: Let’s jump into talking about that strategy. For me, the first time I heard about James Allsup as a character, he was still head of the WSU College Republicans down in Pullman and they had put together an action in which they built I think a 20 foot tall wall on the campus on which they were chanting ‘build that wall’. They were behaving in really threatening ways toward students they perceived as being undocumented or even of being non white, doing really intimidating things on campus. So that’s where my introduction to James Allsup comes from. Do you want to build on that and talk about how we got to this place we got to a month or so ago?

JB: Sure. James Allsup had positions of some degree of leadership within the Republican party in Washington state. He was the statewide chair of the College Republicans for the state of Washington, he was as you mentioned the president of his chapter at WSU, he was also on the board of leadership for Students for Trump and when trump came to Washington as a candidate, he was one of those introducing Trump to the crowd. So he was very much within the political establishment to a certain extent and I think he probably still has a rather massive email list and list of contacts from all of his time in those positions. What happened was— it’s hard to trace exactly at what point—but he grew increasingly extremist in his views or increasingly public at any rate about his extremist ideology.

In the summer after Trump’s election, he participated in a number of rallies with fascists. He went to D.C. in June before the famous Charlottesville march in 2017, there were two rallies that day in D.C. for free speech. It was originally a general alt-right and alt-lite sort of event—fascist and fascist-affiliated people were going to rally for free speech, so to speak (they’re not really for free speech, we can come back to that) but they were having this free speech rally so called and there was a split because not all of them decided they wanted to actually rally with the Nazis. There was one rally that included Richard Spencer and neo-Nazis and one that did not and Allsup was a speaker at the one with the Nazis. That was even before Charlottesville. And of course in August 2017 there was this horrific and violent torchlit march with KKK members and neo-Nazis and others in Charlottesville and Allsup was a participant in that march, which he’s very proud of. In fact, he’s said the only thing he regrets about participating is that he didn’t hold a tiki torch. So after he returned from Charlottesville, he was exiled in some sense from the formal GOP establishment. They had to do that for their own reputation and safety, but he maintained certain connections clearly and this summer, in July, he was a speaker at an organization called NW Grassroots.

NW Grassroots has a variety of different political persuasions you might say. It’s clearly on what I would call the far right—it’ s given platforms to people affiliated with the John Birch Society, neo-Confederate pastors, a Christian Identity pastor at some point, I don’t know if he would call himself Christian Identity, but a racist pastor, Islamophobic bigots…they’ve given a lot of space to far right ideology, but this is the most in-your-face kind of extremist that they have invited. They had him in July, they did not announce previously that he was going to be a speaker but afterward they were very public about it. They put it on Facebook and Wwitter a full video of this event at which James Allsup had spoken alongside various local public officials and following the revelation that that had occurred, the chair of the Spokane County Republicans, Cecily Wright, stepped down from her position as chair due to pressure around this whole thing. She was the co-leader of NW Grassroots, co-founder with her husband, and she had introduced James Allsup at the event where she said he had been “label-lynched”, that calling him a white supremacist had been unfair and it was akin to lynching…a rather troubling comparison.

TW: …particularly considering that he is open about his views by being a member of Identity Evropa which is explicitly connected to the supremacy of the “white race”.

JB: …they’re very good at cloaking that, but it is what they’re about.

TW: Part of my recollection of what happened with Cecily Wright is that she and many other formal GOP leaders had already denounced Allsup at the time he was elected as a PCO (precinct committee officer) for the GOP and then they doubled back and said they had no idea who this young man truly was mere months after having denounced him.

JB: It was very ironic and interesting. Cecily in fact had told the Inlander just a few weeks before this whole thing that she wanted to punch James Allsup in the face. So she had positioned herself as this opponent of him, had publicly denounced him as part of her position as chair of the County Republicans. She knew exactly what she was doing in the sense that she knew his affiliation, public perception of him, and had been willing to speak out against him and backtracked and invited him and celebrated him essentially.

TW: And so how does— there’s an ongoing conversation around this because there were other elected officials in the room who at the very least did not stand up and say ‘excuse me, we find your views intolerable and we’re upset that you’re here’ when they had the chance. There’s an open q and a on film at the event at which none of these leaders said anything. I guess we can speak to that, but also how does this entryist strategy play out across the board? My understanding is that James Allsup is not alone in attempting to infiltrate the GOP as a strategy.

JB: Right. So there were other people in that room including Rob Chase, who’s County Treasurer, and Rod Higgins, who’s the Mayor of Spokane Valley. We’ve yet to get a proper apology from them. There’s been an effort to get a statement made on behalf of the [Spokane] Valley city council denouncing white nationalism and there’s been some motion and progress on that after a series of meetings and a series of people testifying. So I’m hopeful that the Valley council will do that as hopefully kind of an easy minimal action. But about entryism, this is a really wonderful term and its really an important concept in terms of what’s happening right now, what the fascist movement is doing. It’s divided because you do have some people who are just more engaged in terrorism essentially like Atomwaffen which has been involved in several murders over the past year or so, but what Identity Evropa is trying to do is to put kind of a friendly, well-dressed, college student kind of face on fascism. They don’t use a swastika they use a cute green triangle. They’ve remodeled their image and this is not new— this has been going on since the 80’s so if you talk to people who have left these movements behind, if you talk to people in organizations like Life After Hate who were in skinhead movements in the 80’s and 90’s, they remember conversations about how they were going to remodel their image, drop the swastikas, go to college, blend in, mainstream the ideology. And that’s essentially what’s happening.

Within Identity Evropa there’s a lot of this talk, very publicly on their podcasts and so on, about taking over mainstream institutions, especially the Republican party. James Allsup has said for example that if you use what Trump is actually saying, you can quote Trump himself to people and that can be an entry point into spreading white nationalist ideology. He is a PCO which is a very easy position to get, no one ran against him, or paid attention to him running and he thinks that’s a strategy that could work nationally. He’s talked about getting students, young people who share a fascist ideology, to just show up to a few Republican meetings and if you wear a suit and tie, if you look good, if you make a good impression, he says people will just give you a leadership position without even trying. So you can take over at the grassroots level and start shaping policy, start choosing which candidates are selected and so on. This is happening across a variety of organizations, not simply the Republican party, even though they’ve made themselves particularly accessible because of Trump and statements that they’ve tolerated they’re specifically accessible to entryism. But there have been some entryist attempts into the Democratic party over the past year or so as well— the Traditionalist Workers Party for example trying to network with Democrats. Then this past week this guy was in town this antisemitic conspiracy theorist who claims he’s running for president on a Democratic ticket. It’s not so much about which party, it’s a strategy of entering and taking over something that’s mainstream, that appears normal.

TW: Thank you that’s a really succinct summary of that really wild strategy and reality that we’re living in. Let’s talk—you just alluded to it, but I think it’s really important that people understand what the map looks like in terms of who these groups are, who these actors are and how they vary from each other but how they’re all contributing to this wave. So can you speak to that?

JB: Sure—so there are so many of these organizations, but I would say Identity Evropa is one of the most important to watch because they’re very good at this rebranding thing. On the other hand, you also have the Traditionalist Workers Party, which has crumbled to some extent, but they had a model that was a little bit more explicitly fascist in terms of sharing the main points of their ideology with people, but they were trying to pass themselves off —which is common within fascist ideology— as in solidarity with the workers and the white working class. There is of course, no white working class, just the working class. But they had this idea that what you could do was tap into that anger just like Trump did with his election. Tap into the alienation and the anger of white people, especially in these rust belt kind of regions or coal country, which by the way is not working very well for them, I think they misunderstand the working class in a really deep way. That’s one strategy also, they’re a little bit more rough around the edges, a little less college student appearance, there’s a number of organizations that try that approach.

And then you also have, I think we want to think about hate groups broadly to include things that maybe don’t explicitly share fascist ideology, but that give cover and credence to those beliefs by socializing with those people, by holding up the same slogans. We think about things like the Proud Boys for example. The Proud Boys are considered a hate group, they’re not explicitly white nationalist but they see themselves as fighting the left. One of their slogans is “fighting solves everything”. What they try to do essentially is try to go into left wing communities, left wing protests, stir up violence and then claim to be persecuted and claim they’re mistreated by left wing protestors. So they’re trying to create this whole narrative. Then of course you have more traditional, easier to recognize fascists of various stripes. You have things like the National Socialist movement or the Daily Stormer and these organizations, there’s quite a bit of conversation that happens across the lines of these groups. There’s overlap. These people may not see themselves as believing the exact same thing, but they’re willing to talk to each other in many cases.

TW: Do you think that’s a strategic advantage they might have? Is there anything we can learn from that on the left?

JB: You know, I think they’re stealing from us to be honest. So I think we have better unity on the left than the right does. They’re striving to have the kind of unity we have on the left and I don’t think they’re achieving it… I could talk about some other things I think they’re stealing from the left.

TW: Yeah, go for it!

JB: So one of the things that’s interesting to me is the way the far right is appropriating the ideas of Antonio Gramsci who’s very much a part of the tradition of the left. And if you look back at the history of the left— think back to the Black Panthers in the 60’s— the point at which the FBI really freaked out about the influence of the Black Panthers was not at the point when they were carrying guns, but the point at which they were offering free breakfast to children. The Panthers realized that you don’t reach people simply through ideology, that you have to reach people through service, and community building and belonging. The fascists have picked up on this idea that the left and Marxists have often followed and they’ve tried it locally on a very small scale and nationally groups like Identity Evropa in particular are trying to do these small charity projects. They’ll talk about how it’s optics and it’s branding, but it’s more than that because they know that they’re trying to reach people who are alienated and angry, but instead of reaching them with the message that justice is possible and a better society can be built they’re reaching them with a message that you can expel your rage onto others and feel better by picking on someone beneath you on the social ladder. And if you look at the far right in Europe which the far right in the U.S. is constantly appropriating from, you’ll find that Europe is also appropriating these ideas from the left. If you look at CasaPound in Italy, this is a traditional fascist group in Rome and they have a hostel where you can stay, if you are white, Italian, and so on and not an immigrant. They have a free clinic where you can get a heart check up, if you are white, Italian and so forth. These are all very small scale things, but that’s part of the direction that the right is going in and it’s important that we know that because we don’t want to cede that ground to them. So we want to think of our own ways of building community and serving.

TW: …and I can see how that ties in— in an unfortunately elegant way— into more mainstream conservative policy around privatization.

JB: Oh, interesting. Yes, you don’t need the government— your local fascists will feed you. If you belong to the right category.

TW: So I want to double back again to something you alluded to that I think is at the crux of public perception around this issue which is the issue of free speech.

JB: Yes.

TW: …which these fascist folks have really glommed onto and raised as their main banner, I think, in the world… the most recent touchstone I think people are familiar with is the removal of Alex Jones’ Infowars from I think every major social media platform at this point. So can you speak to the idea of free speech in general and maybe to that de-platforming that’s happened more specifically?

JB: So some of this outraged pearl clutching by the fascists is clearly just an act. They don’t believe in free speech for everyone. That’s not the objective of the society they’re trying to construct. They need free speech tactically so that they’re able to advance ideas that ultimately undermine free speech and ultimately undermine all kinds of freedoms. But one of the things I think is interesting to think about is that the First Amendment prohibits the curtailment of speech by the government, but it doesn’t mean that individuals need to welcome fascists into their social circles or give them platforms or invite them to speak on campuses and certainly private entities like Youtube and Twitter are able to make their own decisions legally about whose views they want to air. And I think the deeper question also and I don’t know actually, I’ve thought about this and I’m still thinking about this, but I think it’s possible that there are some views that you do want to —that do actually undermine the whole project of democracy and free speech— that if you air certain kinds of views, you’re undermining the entire project that makes free speech possible. And you want to have a rather narrow definition of what those things are, but it’s also important to keep in mind that some of the things that are being brought forward as simply speech, simply another view, are actually deeply threatening to communities and are in many cases just veiled threats. So when somebody puts up a swastika, they aren’t actually just advancing a view, to many people in the community that is a death threat. So there are a lot of things to consider there.

TW: That’s something I’ve considered as well because in the wrong hands, I mean, Facebook notoriously also shadow bans—they have a practice referred to as shadow banning—and it has been documented as disproportionately affecting black activists in the Black Lives Matter movement particularly when they call out the racism of Facebook’s practices. So I think there is a very legitimate conversation to be had in terms of what is the role of these very powerful companies in monitoring and controlling speech, but as you said, that line where it’s a threat. Where if your position is that entire groups of humans should not have the right to exist on the earth, then that’s more than a difference of opinion.

JB: Yeah, and I think the debate around free speech has just got so abstract. We have to look at individual cases I think when we talk about this kind of thing and there have certainly been measures that have censored people unreasonably. Google in the way it has decided which things to frontline has impacted the left as well as the right in sidelining particular views and those things are all important to think about, but I think at a certain point the law or principles get so abstract that we don’t think about individual cases. So when someone is saying something offensive about a targeted group, for example, it’s different from someone simply complaining about how annoying white people are, and those things may in the abstract seem the same if you take out white and put in black, but it is different because of the context that we’re in.

TW: …and that seems to be at the heart of a lot of this because it’s hard to believe when you hear some of the ideology that these people are espousing that you’re living in the same reality at all. How do you think we can address that problem? As a philosopher by background, how do we address the reality problem that’s at play?

JB: Right. I think a lot of this comes back to what I was talking about in terms of building community and not ceding that ground to the right. So people that are looking for identity, belonging, and purpose need to be able to find that on the left or simply among people who respect the basic dignity of all people and they should not have to find that on the far right. So part of this is about creating cultures and spaces where people have a way to belong and have a way to have meaning. Once people are actually in that ideology, you can’t debate them. It takes experts, it takes therapy to get them out and there are organizations that do that, but i think for the average person, the average activist, the best way to deal with this honestly is to protect yourself and your community first. There’s a wonderful new book that I haven’t started reading but have spoken with the author, and I’m just getting it in the mail called “Empowered Boundaries” by Cristien Storm and she is a therapist as well as an activist against white nationalism. She helped to found something in Seattle decades ago called Home Alive—it was a self defense group following the death of someone killed by skinheads in Seattle—and her thesis is that people don’t have a proper sense of boundaries on a personal level and because of that they’re allowing too much space for fascists. So they’re saying ‘oh, maybe I have to let this person into my coffeeshop, maybe i have to let them into my bar, maybe I’m being mean if I report them for bullying or for violence’ and I think for women especially it’s hard because we’re socialized to accept and to make space and to have compassion. Sometimes the compassionate thing to do is to draw a line and to say ‘your ideas are not acceptable within public society because you’re going to put people in danger’.

TW: Yes, and I’ve seen that as the primary debate even beyond the general left but in society at large, mainstream dialogue, that is the main divide. Should we talk to these people at all? Or not? And as you said, personally as a member of the media, as someone who’s done this work, I’ve been appalled to see Richard Spencer on NPR, to see these people being given a platform because in some ways, they can’t lose when they have a platform. If you treat them reasonably, they get a platform for their views to a general audience, and if you use the interaction as an opportunity to critique their worldview, they really well I think appropriate the language of bullying and discrimination to say ‘look how mean they were to us’.

JB: There are some situations where I think this has worked, but it’s so rare. There was one particularly good piece done by The Guardian that was filmed where the guy really took Richard Spencer to task, but I think so much the reporting, the problem is we’re letting these people speak for themselves and when Identity Evropa says for example, ‘we just want a white majority U.S., we’re just against immigration’, you have to explain what that’s coming from and what the ideology is and not just let them run this scam, essentially.

TW: I mean, I think that that’s a major question for us all and that the boundaries framework is a really useful one particularly as someone who was socialized in girl land to be nice. I think we all have this embedded niceness that’s really been taken advantage of in these situations.

JB: That’s really true. It’s also, it’s one thing if it’s your racist uncle. It’s another thing if it’s Richard Spencer. So there are situations where you can talk to someone and make some kind of headway, but that can’t be equated with giving people a microphone.

TW: I feel like uncles get the real brunt of…

JB: …poor uncles!

(laughter)

TW: …that’s the example I constantly hear and use myself. ‘Your racist uncle at Thanksgiving’. I have some great uncles who are not super racist. So what have I not asked about so far that you think is important for folks to know when they approach this topic?

JB: I think it’s interesting to think about how recruitment into these organizations operates. A lot of this has shifted online and young people in particular are being targeted. I think there’s a misconception—a lot of misconceptions about how people get engaged in this ideology. For some, it’s through social media, through memes, through kind of bringing people in with things that appear to be a joke at first and then provide a sense of community, a sense of meaning, an outlet for their anger, and then sort of suck them into the organization that way. That’s become a really prominent means of recruiting. There’s also recruitment at cultural fairs and in subcultures whether it’s Renaissance fairs or video games so it’s interesting and important to pay attention to what you can do within the subcultures you belong to. Can you make your subculture, whatever that might be, if you’re into comic books or film or whatever can you use that as a way to talk about ending racism and— you know— working for social justice within that subculture? I think it’s super important for families to be talking to young people about what they’re seeing on the internet because oftentimes things begin as a joke and then lead to ideological recruitment.

TW: What do you think are some of the… I don’t know,  I guess this is going to sound like a pamphlet, but talking about prevention, what are some of the things parents specifically can look for?

JB: I think just talking to your kids is so important. There’s no clear warning sign, it’s a little different from gang involvement for example, where the member of the gang will identify with the gang and wear the gang colors and I think schools struggle with this because they’re used to that model. They’re hoping we can give them a list of symbols or something. And it’s true there are symbols, you can look online and find out what Identity Evropa triangle looks like or something, but it’s not the sort of flashing of symbols or slogans, it’s where are people getting their sense of belonging and where are they finding themselves in the world and how are they viewing the world. And those are conversations that have to be had and if people are not already over the brink, they should be engaged in the community in a way where they are coming into positive contact with all different kinds of people and not secluding themselves on the internet or in some very small cultural world trying to find meaning with people who are also angry and alienated.

TW: That kind of reminds me I wanted to talk about the role of the troll in this movement. That’s been very interesting to me and just this last week, there’s an online debate I’ve been witnessing around whether the ‘OK’ symbol, linking your index finger with your thumb, leaving your other fingers up, whether that’s officially a white power gesture at this point or not. There’s been instances of prominent people flashing it on TV, in photos, and now they’re saying ‘it’s just a troll thing, it’s a joke you guys don’t understand’. Can you speak to that a little bit?

JB: Yeah, it’s not just a joke. And I find that that’s often the defense—it’s the defense of every bully. Every bully who calls you a racial slur or calls you ugly or tries to harm you always says ‘i’m just joking’—part of that is just the mentality of the bully. But the thing with the so-called white power symbol it plays in different ways. It became a thing because it was a gesture that Trump does when he speaks and aside from him being Trump it’s not independently a symbol of white power but because of that it was put out initially as a kind of joke, but a kind of tactic by white supremacists on the internet who decided to remodel this as a symbol of white power. So when people flash this symbol I think they know, if they’re doing it for a photo for example, and not just not knowing what it is but intentionally posing with this symbol, they know that it’s going to offend people. They’re doing it in a bullying kind of way, intentionally to offend and to harm people, and depending on their level of knowledge they may be doing it to offend people as a clear racist symbol or just to offend people by being very in-your-face about their support for Trump. But I think when something is a joke symbol for racism, its not a joke, it’s a symbol for racism. Just like people will say ‘oh, the Confederate flag is just my heritage’ and it’s like, do you know the impact it has on African Americans when they pass into your city and see that? And if you do know, you know it’s not just about your heritage and you know it’s impacting people.

TW: …and seeing it as frequently as I do in Spokane and North Idaho, the heritage argument is hard to make from 2000 miles away.

JB: Yes.

TW: I was also hoping to ask you a little bit about how can people, if people are hearing this and it’s new information for them, or if it’s not new but they’re really ready to do something, and as you said the antidote is getting involved, what are some local and national opportunities for people to be involved in countering fascism?

JB: On the local level, it’s about supporting communities that are already doing this work. There are so many organizations doing social justice work in Spokane. Spokane Community Against Racism, or SCAR, the NAACP, Families Against Bigotry— which was formed to deal with the situation of recruitment in high schools, Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane, I’m in DSA [Democratic Socialists of America] as well— we have a new committee devoted to working on opposition to fascism. One thought about that, if i may, one of the statements that we made in that document as we were coming together and thinking strategically as socialists, how do we fight fascism is we wanted people to understand that fascism is not simply a crime problem that can be fixed with law enforcement and it’s not simply a problem of one capitalist political party that can be fixed with elections. So we’re dealing with an actual social movement that’s going to continue to exist for some time and we need to fight it with mass protest and mass organizing and not think that it’s going to go away if someone comes along and saves us, whether it’s police or politicians. So that leads into this broader theme of finding out where in your community you can go to support people and work with people who are doing this work. There are so many good organizations out there doing that.

TW: I’ll be sure to throw in some links with the podcast. We have a few minutes left and I want to come back—you reminded me of something very important I wanted to ask— which is about the role of the state in working on this issue because we’ve seen some very disappointing and scary things this past summer. Looking at Portland, the Proud Boys announced a march in Portland, anti fascists came out in droves and were, rather than being protected by the police, were attacked by the police, there was a lot of perception of imbalance in the way that event was handled and that’s been echoed in other places across the country too. So i guess what do you have to say regarding the role of the state in combating fascism and protecting average citizens from these street level folks?

JB: Right. It’s mixed and often we’ve seen things like what we saw in that particular instance in Portland where the police seemed to be more on the side of the fascists than on the side of the people protesting the fascists. It goes back to this fundamentally not being a problem about crime. These are people who are trying to normalize themselves. They’re trying to take political power and they’re willing to try a number of means to do that. And if they find that law enforcement are going to crack down on them for certain methods, then they’re going to try others whether that’s taking over political parties or taking over culture. So their goal is power and in fact they have a certain implicit respect for police and in some cases have infiltrated police departments. Because they are fundamentally authoritarians and the police know that and I think there’s—you know the police departments are made up of individuals with many different views on things— but I think sometimes on a structural level they understand that one side is authoritarian and one side is anti-authoritarian and that impacts their approach to the matter.

TW: That makes a lot of sense. And I appreciate your focus on building community as the way to solve this because like you said, it’s so complex. It’s got roots, deep roots, through history globally not just in this country. So yeah. We’ll all dig together I guess is the way to continue that metaphor. If people want to know more, particularly from an academic perspective, where can they find more of your work, but also some people you’re influenced by?

JB: A lot of my work at this point has been through public speaking and I’m going to publish some things soon on this topic. One of the—I’m wearing a lot of different hats—but one of my hats is that I’m involved with the Institute for Hate Studies at Gonzaga University and we are sponsoring a conference in April. Of course I’m speaking only as myself here, but I’m very excited about that work and the journal that they have and the research that they do. At the national level you also have the Southern Poverty Law Center, which does impeccable research, you can look up all kinds of people there from our local state rep Matt Shea, to Identity Evropa, on their website. And Political Research Associates is one that’s a little less known, but they do wonderful research and they’re also happy to talk to people directly if you have questions. I’ve found them very helpful. There’s a wonderful book as well by Shane Burley who’s a journalist out of Portland and if you want a quick book introduction, I would check out his book “Fascism Today: What It Is and How to End It”. And finally there’s some really nice documentaries if you just want to watch some stuff online. On Netflix there’s a documentary called “White Right” that focuses more on the mentality and psychology of people in these movements and then there’s a more activist-oriented kind of documentary by Pro Publica [“Documenting Hate: Charlottesville”] which is very good— looking at how Charlottesville developed and the different organizations and people that were involved in Charlottesville. So there’s a lot of really good resources out there and I really encourage people to reach out and talk to people and not feel like you have to do this as an individual, cause there are so many out there doing this work. Contact your organizations and people who do this work—its really positive.

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