It’s February, 1939. Madison Square Garden is packed with more than 20,000 people. The crowd had gathered to celebrate the upcoming anniversary of George Washington’s birthday. A massive portrait of Washington hangs over the stage.
Surrounding Washington are two Nazi banners. The opening speaker at the rally, James Wheeler-Hill, said, “If George Washington were alive today, he would be friends with Adolf Hitler.”
Surprised? I can imagine. American history classes tell us only how America was the great vanquisher of fascism. What history class often leaves out is how many Americans were really pulling for Hitler, and that fascism, rather than being destroyed by the United States, has persisted to the present day.
Fascism can be difficult to define, but most experts agree that it’s a far-right ideology that began in Italy in the early 20th century. Fascists are generally ultra-nationalist and contemptuous of democracy. They are vehemently opposed to socialism and communism and usually hold white supremacist and anti-semitic views.
Anyone with knowledge of the ugliness of American history can guess fascism had a lot of support here. In the 1930s, a Catholic priest named Charles Coughlin had tens of millions of Americans listening to his weekly radio broadcasts where he spouted his admiration of Benito Mussolini and his hatred for Jewish people.
This shouldn’t shock us Hoosiers. After all, Indiana harbored the most powerful Ku Klux Klan in the country in the 1920s.
Fascism, far from being defeated at the end of World War II, has remained ever the cockroach infesting American society. In 2017, hundreds of fascists gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia for a rally to save a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee, chanting, “the Jews will not replace us!”
Even in blue Bloomington, fascists were found hiding amongst us in 2019, selling us vegetables at the farmers market.
Yes, America may have fought fascism in World War II, but since then, it has fostered fascism at home and abroad. For example, the U.S. government supported fascist governments in Chile, Guatemala, El Salvador and other Latin American countries in their efforts to contain communism. Those Latin American regimes were guilty of immeasurable human rights abuses. The blood of those killed by fascists in Latin America is on the hands of the U.S. government.
Fascism remains a threat. It’s a genocidal ideology, as the historical record has proven, and should be vigilantly opposed.
For those who remain unconvinced of the ongoing necessity to oppose fascism, the presidency of Donald Trump and its aftermath should be concerning.
Trump has been accused by many of being a fascist, or at the very least, fascistic. He ticks many of the boxes on the fascist checklist. Brazen xenophobia, allegiance to corporations, contempt for democracy — all we need is a Nixon-esque tape of anti-semitism, and Trump is a fascist dead to rights.
Trump has massive support from people sympathetic to some or all of these views. Even if Trump isn’t a fascist, many policies reminiscent of fascism are popular.
It might be difficult to swallow, but censoring and deplatforming known fascists and Nazi-sympathizers is necessary. This wouldn’t be unprecedented. Charles Coughlin was eventually pulled off the air because of his dangerous rhetoric.
But this solution has often been resisted. In 1977, the American Civil Liberties Union defended the rights of the Nazi Party of America to protest in a Jewish neighborhood in Skokie, Illinois. The Illinois Supreme Court eventually determined Nazi hate speech is protected by the First Amendment.
This fanatical support of free-speech absolutism is dangerous. The First Amendment has never been universal — there are over two million incarcerated Americans who are without freedom of speech, for example.
With this in mind, we should have no trouble silencing fascists. They pose a threat to us all and should be greeted with complete social ostracism. They should definitely not be the subjects of glowing profiles in The New York Times.
Fascists shouldn’t be normalized. I understand the hesitancy to support censorship, but remember, fascists themselves don’t believe in freedom of speech. It was fascists who burned books. Don’t extend them a courtesy they would never reciprocate if they had power. Don’t give them a single inch.
Jared Quigg (he/him) is a sophomore studying journalism and political science.