by Brendan Maslauskas Dunn / Love and Rage
Supporters of Donald Trump from across New York State held a rally and march at Fort Stanwix in Rome on Saturday, April 2 where they were confronted by two counter-rallies of Bernie Sanders supporters and anti-Trump protesters.
Those that organized the pro Trump rally stated in a press release that “Fort Stanwix was selected as the event location, because organizers believe recent violence against Trump by political disrupters is placing American voters under siege like American patriots were under siege at the fort in the summer of 1777.”
It should be no surprise that the Trump supporters desperately tried to paint themselves as victims of supposedly violent leftists and Sanders supporters. In reality, the opposite is true. Trump has regularly encouraged and condoned violence at his campaign rallies. A spate of violent attacks against those protesting Trump, Sanders supporters and Black people at Trump rallies are well documented. Former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke’s endorsement of Trump, as well as the endorsement of other fascist and white supremacist groups for the contender, and Trump’s refusal to distance himself from this support should raise some flags. In addition other Trump supporters have put calls out to have armed militias to protect Trump from the bogeyman of “violent leftists.” Trump himself even warned the press that there may be riots in Cleveland at the RNC if he does not get the nomination.
In addition to the acts listed above, Trump’s calls for putting all Muslims in a national database, his plan to further militarize the U.S.-Mexico border with a large, extensive wall, and his repeated promises to round up all undocumented immigrants and deport them en masse have helped build an ever-growing following fueled by racism and bigotry. Repression of religious minorities, blaming economic problems on an outsider, and calling for massive roundups and deportations: sound familiar? It should. Think Italy and Germany in the 1930s.
The father of fascism studies, professor emeritus of political science at Columbia University and author of countless books on the subject Robert Paxton was recently interviewed by journalist Amy Goodman on Democracy Now about the rise of Trump and fascism. Paxton told Goodman in the interview, “Well, I think that Donald Trump shows a rather alarming willingness to use fascist themes and fascist styles, which—and the response this gets, the positive response, is alarming.” If you have not listened to the full interview, you definitely should.
But are local Trump supporters modern torch bearers of European fascism from a bygone era? Far right, racist and anti-immigrant fascist movements have been on the rise in Europe in recent years, especially in Greece, Ukraine and France. Could we say the same is happening in the U.S. and in our own backyard? It only makes sense to take a closer look at some of his supporters.
James Zecca, a local Dixiecrat and former Utica Common Council member, was instrumental in organizing the rally. He is one of those dyed in the wool, old-fashioned bigoted right wingers that is terrified of everyone and everything: Muslims, immigrants, refugees and Mexicans. He regularly makes posts online from far right wing websites that talk of the socialist-Islamic-immigrant conspiracy to undermine and destroy democracy in the U.S. Although he was out of office at the time, he was a very vocal supporter of Councilman Frank Vescera’s plan to legally discriminate against Muslims and Syrian refugees by banning them from entering Utica. He is one of many supporters of Trump but his racist views are in line with those of Trump and many of his supporters.
The connection between the American colonial rebels that defended Fort Stanwix from the bombardment of the British army and the perceived “siege” being waged on Trump and his supporters is a stretch. But it may be a little telling that Zecca and the others who came out in force found some political affinity with the side in the American revolution that local slave owner Nicholas Herkimer was active in. The same side that committed genocide against the Iroquois, burning and killing their way through sixty indigenous villages under orders from Washington and the leadership of Generals Sullivan and Clinton. Just history? Maybe. But the creation myths of the U.S. have a connection with some of the myths surrounding Trump and his campaign; specifically, the use of violence, racism and nationalism to support the myth of freedom and democracy, which in reality will be limited and strained.
I decided to go to the anti-Trump protest to see for myself what these local Trump supporters were like. There was a large crowd of 100 or so Trump supporters, waiving a sea of American flags. Although many were from the area, a good portion came from across the entire state. I stayed mostly with the anti-Trump protesters just outside one of the entrances to the fort, while a larger group of Sanders supporters from Rome rallied across the street. In total, those protesting Trump numbered around 40, but unlike the Trump crowd who had to muster up people form across the entire state to get a large group, all of those protesting Trump were from Rome, with some from Utica and other surrounding towns. A welcoming committee of the Rome police was also set up across the street to keep tabs on the demonstrators.
I recycled a sign that was made for the recently held pro refugee rally in Utica that was written in Karen. On the other side I wrote a fitting quote for the occasion by Buenaventura Durruti, one of the most famous Spanish anarchists that came out of the Spanish Revolution of 1936, a social experiment where workers were actually in power that was tragically crushed by fascists. It said: “Fascism is not to be debated, it is to be smashed.” Other people were equally creative with the signs they made for the rally too. Although I am not a fan of electoralism or either of the two mainstream parties in the U.S., I had never before seen a political rally in Rome. It was nice to see that, if anything, the Sanders campaign had its impact locally – his supporters felt inspired to protest and got out in the streets.
The Trump crowd marched around the fort about three times. Every time they passed us, they started yelling and screaming at us. This is when their colors really showed and my previous suspicions of local Trump supporters were legitimized. One of them yelled at us that he was a veteran so we should all shut up. He and a few others singled me out, pointed at me, and angrily yelled, “He looks like an Arab! He looks like a Muslim! Are you a Muslim? He’s a Muslim! He’s a Muslim!” They inched closer and closer to me. I could see the hate swell in their eyes and heard it in their voices. Yet another Trump supporter marched around with a Confederate flag and taunted us. Many of them yelled vulgarities at us and various other threats. James Zecca proudly marched at the front of this entire group. There was yet another Trump supporter who drove by in his pick-up which had a statement written on the back calling for the lynching of Obama.
One Trump supporter who had singled me out earlier walked up to me as he was leaving and started filming me with his camera and, oddly, repeatedly said I was a racist and hated Black people, probably to get a rise out of me. He was really agitated and seemed to want to start an incident. At that moment, my friend just arrived on the scene and the two accidentally bumped into each other. Immediately, the Trump supporter yelled out that he wanted to call the police and press charges. A few Rome cops came over and calmed him down and refused to press charges against my friend. There was no violent leftist there but the Trump supporters tried their best to find one.
I ended up talking with him and another Trump supporter, both of whom had traveled to Rome from the Buffalo area, along with another Love and Rage writer and Utica activist. Things calmed down and he actually apologized for his behavior. And that’s where things got strange. He said his wife and children were Latino, he supported unions and also general amnesty for undocumented immigrants. Why was he marching side by side with people waving a Confederate flag and countless signs condemning “illegal immigrants”? The woman I spoke with and I agreed on a number of issues as far as political corruption and economic inequality, but where we differed is naming the source of the problem. To me, it is a bigger question of capitalism – of the entire economic system, racism and imperialism. To her, the cause of all her woes are poor people on benefits and Mexican immigrants.
We parted ways and both crowds slowly fizzled out. While I am not convinced that the Trump movement is exactly identical to past and current fascist movements, I think that there are many overlaps between the Trump movement and fascism in general, especially in the rhetoric and use of violence, and various positions on religious minorities, immigration and nationalism. However, witnessing the hate and racism from the Trump supporters during the rally only reinforced my fears of the growing threat of fascism in this country.
I think we need to directly confront this threat as the two counter-rallies did on Saturday, but we also need to have dialogue with his supporters. We need to pull his base of support away from him. And, unlike the Democratic Party, we need to come up with an alternative that dismantles U.S. imperialism, economic inequality and the concentration of wealth and power into fewer and fewer hands. If we don’t do this, people will continue to look to the far right for answers. Like Durruti said, there should be no debate on the subject of fascism, but for those who are drawn to fascistic ideas and movements without even knowing it, we need the room to try, at the very least, to turn them in another direction. Before it’s too late.