Public Anthropologies

By Nicholas De Genova (University of Houston)

Nothing is true; everything is permitted.
–watchword of the Order of Assassins

Brazen lies have become an incessant and unrelenting hallmark of political discourse in the United States in the era of Donald Trump, who has been widely and casually denounced as a pathological liar, even by some prominent members of his own party. Yet, Trump remains shamelessly (one might say, militantly and psychopathically) impervious to being exposed as a serial liar. Instead, Trump weaponizes falsehood. Nonetheless, Trump never ceases to decry falsehood and deception in his allegations of “fake news.” Thus, we find ourselves in the deeply unsettling vicinity of something akin to the terrifying predicament that Hannah Arendt examines in The Origins of Totalitarianism ([1951] 1968, xxxii): specifically, totalitarianism’s conspicuous “contempt for facts and reality.” Like totalitarian propaganda, Trump thrives on an escape from reality into a duplicitous and capricious world where “truth” is infinitely manipulable, installing and insulating “the gruesome quiet of an entirely imaginary world” (353) while holding out “promises of stability” only in order to conceal the perpetuation and exacerbation of “a state of permanent instability” (391). And—to paraphrase Giorgio Agamben ([1995] 1998, 170–71)—where fact and law are utterly confused, where the authoritarian pretensions of “law and order” serve the authorization of governmental lawlessness in the perpetuation of a state of exception that allows for human beings to be so completely deprived of any residual semblance of dignity that no atrocity committed against them can appear any longer as a crime, is precisely the predicament where we must begin to recognize the futility and impotence of the tired verbiage of political “polarization” and “partisanship” and instead begin to discern the sinister workings of the ethos of civil war, wherein “the killing of what is most intimate is indistinguishable from the killing of what is most foreign” (Agamben 2015, 11). For, where nothing is true, everything is permitted.

The ethos of civil war obliterates any of the conventional normative distinctions of politics whereby differences and disagreements can coexist within the civic space of a shared public. In Agamben’s (2015, 11) terms, the paradigm of civil war constitutes “a threshold of indifference” wherein “the killing of what is most intimate is indistinguishable from the killing of what is most foreign.” Still more importantly, civil war as a political paradigm, in Agamben’s formulation, exposes the artifice of the social contract, revealing the intrinsically mythological character of the social covenant that is purported to have fabricated the civic “fraternity” of citizenship as the foundation of modern democratic sovereignty and properly public life (cf. De Genova 2018). Thus, adopting Agamben’s phraseology, the public mutuality of citizenship is shorn of its mystique in a manner that “de-politicizes” politics-as-usual, such that fellow citizens with different partisan affiliations (Democrats, Republicans) are no longer mere political competitors in a shared public sphere but rather converted into outright enemies with whom nothing can remain in common. Meanwhile, the bases of “private” affinity and allegiance—above all, in the United States today, white racial identity and nativist populism—are politicized anew and increasingly appear for many of Trump’s supporters to be the exclusive ultimate foundation for politics. By exposing the artificial national family as a fabrication, this ethos of civil war compels the forlorn desire for the impossible intimacy and communion of nationhood as a virtual (civic) family to retreat into the ostensibly “real” kinship of “blood”: the civic nation of fellow citizens and its public are irreparably fragmented, the democratic People is irredeemably fractured, and the “true” nation is now re-bordered—as race. Thus, the agonistic mission of recuperating and reinvigorating the nation—as in Trump’s signature slogan, “Make America Great Again”—becomes inseparable from a retreat into internecine racial tribalism: in short, white nationalism. And white nationalism, invigorated by an ethos of civil war, spells fascism.

THE MASSACRE

Here, we are compelled to examine the toxic, indeed lethal, nexus between Trump’s devious nativist demagoguery and the white supremacist violence that it incites and exalts.

On August 3, 2019, after traveling more than 650 miles from his home outside of Dallas to the more than 80 percent Latino city of El Paso, a lone twenty-one-year-old white gunman armed with an assault weapon carried out a massacre, shooting forty-six people and leaving twenty-two dead, at a Walmart less than five miles from the US-Mexico border. In police custody following the attack, the perpetrator explained that his goal was “to kill as many Mexicans as possible.” The mass murderer was the author of a racist anti-immigrant manifesto posted online just nineteen minutes before the assault began. The manifesto proclaims the attack to be a “response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas,” which purportedly threatens to “make [Texas] a Democrat stronghold” and thereby help to secure for “the Democrat party” a future “one-party state” nationally. The gunman justified his actions as “defending [his] country from cultural and ethnic replacement brought on by invasion.”

The castigation of migrants and refugees as an “invasion” has of course been a defining hallmark of Donald Trump’s political career. As is well known, the denunciation of Mexican/migrant “illegality” and the call to “build a wall” to physically barricade and partition the US-Mexico border were central tenets of his campaign for the presidency from the moment of its enunciation, when Trump notoriously branded Mexicans as “rapists.” More recently, in only the first seven months of 2019, Trump’s reelection campaign already deployed the notion of an “invasion” by “illegal” migrants in 2,199 Facebook advertisements.

This is not simply a matter of Trump’s incendiary rhetoric or hateful discourse, however. The El Paso massacre was a deliberate premeditated act of white racial terrorism, specifically targeting Latinos, whom the shooter presumptively perceived as migrants and noncitizens, in the name of defending his (white) country against “invaders.” Of course, El Paso was merely one of the most prominent instances in a long series of racist mass shootings, including at least nine since Trump’s assumption of the presidency. Indeed, the El Paso massacre occurred less than a week after another white supremacist shot sixteen people, killing three, before taking his own life in Gilroy, California. But what is at stake here is not simply the convergence of rhetorical incitement and the murderous impulses of deranged men with all-too-easy access to combat weapons. Rather, we must interrogate the synergies between, on the one hand, the variety of ways that Trump’s supporters are induced to endorse or emulate this brutal and bellicose racial nativism and, on the other hand, the outright cruelty and sadism of the Trump administration’s border-enforcement tactics and the racist violence that they have institutionalized.

THE CAMPS

As an undeniable prelude to the El Paso massacre, the Trump administration effectively mandated that US Border Patrol agents and prosecutors along the US-Mexico border enforce “family separations” by abducting the children of newly arrived migrants and refugees when a “zero tolerance” memorandum, issued on April 6, 2018, required that all “improper entry” offenses be referred for criminal prosecution. Recalcitrant about this atrocity of state-mandated kidnapping and child abuse at the US-Mexico border (Tazzioli and De Genova n.d.), Trump remarked with thinly veiled racist contempt: “You wouldn’t believe how bad these people are. These aren’t people, these are animals.” Thus, in part to pander to the anti-immigrant racism of his political supporters, while also manipulating the circumstances for political leverage in order to extort concessions from his political opponents, Trump deliberately instigated an unprecedented humanitarian crisis at the border, caging and encamping migrants and their children and overcrowding detention facilities in degrading conditions, all further amplified by the refusal to allow would-be asylum seekers to cross the border at official ports of entry to lawfully present themselves to authorities and petition for asylum. Moreover, on the same day that Trump visited wounded victims of the El Paso shooting, immigration enforcement agents were simultaneously conducting the largest statewide workplace immigration raids in over a decade, arresting 680 migrant workers, overwhelmingly Latinos, in seven factories in six towns across Mississippi and inflicting mental torture on their children who were left with no idea of whether their parents would return. This sensational large-scale enforcement operation was evidently calibrated for maximum publicity effect, its viciousness in fact cynically put on resplendent display to enhance the impact of the larger spectacle, apparently verifying that the Trump regime was unabashedly “getting tough” on “illegal” migration and valiantly fighting the “invasion.”

The notorious “zero tolerance” diktat followed Trump’s furious reaction to conservative news media reports of a caravan of approximately 1,200 Central American asylum seekers (mainly women with children, unaccompanied minors, and LGBT persons) traveling through Mexico toward the US border. In one panic-mongering reaction on Twitter, echoing the general nativist hysteria peddled by the unrelenting Fox News coverage, Trump declared, “Our country is being stolen!” Far-right anti-immigrant extremist media amplified the racial panic with headlines such “An Army of Illegal Aliens is Marching on America” and “Brown Hordes on the Move.” Trump then mobilized state governors to send 2,100 National Guard troops to support the Border Patrol at a time when the numbers of “illegal” border crossings were in fact at historic lows. When the caravan arrived at the border, its size had dwindled to under 300 people. Nonetheless, in a press event defending the “zero tolerance” policy, then–Attorney General Jeff Sessions proclaimed: “We are not going to let this country be overwhelmed. People are not going to caravan or otherwise stampede our border.”

When confronted with subsequent migrant and refugee caravans in October 2018, Trump tweeted: “This is an invasion of our Country and our Military is waiting for you!” Trump’s vitriolic excoriation of the caravans as an “invasion” was replete with unfounded allegations that the caravans were host to countless violent criminals, particularly members of the street gang MS-13, as well as people from the Middle East he insinuated were terrorists. “Criminals and unknown Middle Easterners are mixed in,” Trump tweeted. The “unknown Middle Easterners” claim was amplified when it was translated by Fox News host Pete Hegseth into the contention that Guatemala had already arrested and deported “over 100 ISIS fighters.” For Trump, the racialized suspicion of all “Middle Easterners” spoke for itself.

Far more prominently, however, Trump had come to rely upon the racist scare tactic of invoking the ghoulish figure of “MS-13” (a Salvadoran street gang that originated in Los Angeles) and eliding this menace with all “illegal” migrants into a generic racial evocation of Latino criminality. Earlier, in Trump’s “State of the Union” address on January 30, 2018, he exploited the spectacularized figure of “the savage gang MS-13” to allege with characteristic contempt for the truth that gang members “took advantage of glaring loopholes in our laws to enter the country as unaccompanied alien minors.” Thus, as a justification for family separations and the detention of children at the border, Trump insisted that his draconian border policies would protect the country from an “infestation” of migrant criminals.

At a political rally in the run-up to the November 2018 midterm elections, which he hoped to turn into the “election of the caravan,” Trump declared that Democrats “want to open America’s borders and turn our country into a friendly sanctuary for murderous thugs from other countries who will kill us all.” Then, as a political publicity stunt one week before the elections, Trump dispatched another 5,200 active-duty soldiers to the border. Five months later, during a campaign rally in Panama City Beach, Florida, referring to migrants crossing the border, Trump asked the crowd, “How do you stop these people?”; one supporter shouted, “Shoot them!” Trump laughed and replied, flattering his audience’s most base instincts: “That’s only in the [Florida] Panhandle, can you get away with that statement. . . . Only in the panhandle.”

Hence, when a white terrorist made the ten-hour trek to the US-Mexico border “to kill as many Mexicans as possible,” there can be no doubt that his vigilante mission to inflict maximum carnage against “the Hispanic invasion” was profoundly inspired by and, in effect, authorized by Trump’s devious and toxic nativist and racist rhetoric. Still more significantly, however, his violent aims were bolstered by the Trump regime’s border-enforcement practices—above all, the flagrant perpetration of crimes against humanity in the form of gratuitous cruelty inflicted on migrant and refugee families and the veritable torture of infants and children. Recalling Agamben’s ([1995] 1998, 170–71) poignant description of the Nazi concentration camps, I argue that what matters above all in the exaltation of white supremacist violence in the United States under Trump are precisely “the juridical procedures and deployments of power by which human beings” can be “so completely deprived of their rights and prerogatives that no act committed against them could appear any longer as a crime. (At this point, in fact, everything had truly become possible).” For Trump’s most devoted and dutiful (and literal-minded) disciples, as a defense against “murderous thugs from other countries who will kill us all,” everything is permitted.

Photo by Rosemary Ketchum from Pexels.

BORDER WAR / RACE WAR

The newfound assertiveness among white supremacists who interpreted Trump’s signature slogan “Make America Great Again” as a literal call to arms was clearly articulated by

the former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke at the “Unite the Right” rallies on August 11–12, 2017, in Charlottesville, which afforded Trump the occasion to explicitly signal his overt solidarity with the most virulent organized political formations of racist militancy, carrying semiautomatic assault weapons and Confederate and Nazi flags. Duke proclaimed: “We’re going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump. . . . That’s why we voted for Donald Trump, because he said we’re going to take our country back.” Of course, this sort of rhetoric and the accompanying violence pre-date Trump. In 1977, Duke mobilized a militia to patrol the US-Mexico border, the Klan Border Patrol Watch, which may well have been the originary instance of the now endemic phenomenon of paramilitary border vigilantism (Belew 2018; Shapira 2013). For years, anti-immigrant racists organized in armed militias of border warriors have mobilized to emulate the US Border Patrol itself and, in the name of providing their self-styled support for border enforcement, making a sport of “hunting for illegals,” rounding up and detaining migrants and refugees, including children, at gunpoint. Not unlike the gunman who traveled to El Paso to enact a terroristic propaganda of the deed against “the Hispanic invasion,” these self-anointed soldiers armed with combat weapons understand their mission as simply replicating and reinforcing a Border Patrol that is perceived to be overwhelmed by the thankless task of fending off the “invasion.”

It is only in the context of the protracted agony of racist reaction to the historic ascendancy to the US presidency of an African American man, Barack Obama, that we can fully comprehend and critically dissect Trump’s multifarious sympathies with the most extreme variants of white racial terror. After all, it was precisely in the context of racist reaction to Obama that Trump first catapulted himself into the national political debate by becoming the premier mouthpiece of the “birther” controversy: allegations of Obama’s prospective ineligibility for the office because of his suspected “foreign” birth and, by implication, his foreign allegiances. Not only was this an utterly cynical ploy to undermine the legitimacy of the first African American president, it also notably intensified the affiliation of racial Blackness with de facto foreignness, and thereby recircuited and reanimated anti-Blackness through the specifically anti-Muslim racism of the larger nativist metaphysics of antiterrorism (De Genova 2010). Later, Trump’s malicious castigation of football player Colin Kaepernick’s public solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, which escalated into an increasingly indiscriminate campaign of branding African American athletes as unpatriotic and hostile to the US military, as well as his notorious attack on four progressive junior Congresswomen of color who have been among his most forthright critics, three of whom were born in the United States and one of whom is an African American, by declaring that they should “go back to their countries,” all reveal a reflexive insinuation that the “American-ness” of Black Americans is always already suspect. Trump’s knee-jerk animosity toward African Americans in particular plainly exposes a deep racist derision, generally, but it also specifically flatters the white nationalist reflex whereby all Black people are presumptively undesirable internal malcontents, a corrosive presence that ultimately undermines the US national project. Here, it is instructive to consider Wahneema Lubiano’s (1997, 235) incisive remark: “The perspective of black nationalism permits the realization that . . . the dominant discourse of U.S. history has been some form or other of white American nationalism.” Indeed, US nationalism, as a racial formation of whiteness, has always had to contend not only with the foreignness of migrants but also with the vexing alterity of the nation-state’s “internal minorities” (De Genova 2006; 2007).

Whereas Trump’s castigation of the specter of “illegal” migration as an “invasion” evokes a constant sense of border war, it also authorizes racist hostility (so manifest in the El Paso mass murderer’s mission) against all Latinos and other nonwhite groups—something approximating race war. The recurring agonistic theme that white racial terror must be perpetrated to “defend our country” against a putative “invasion” or hostile takeover by people of color exudes a manifest logic as well as an exorbitant, emphatic, and increasingly explicit discourse whereby race war becomes apprehensible as another name for civil war. Admittedly, we must allow for the likelihood that all of the pernicious compulsions of Trump’s demagoguery may finally be little more than the opportunistic reflexes of a narcissistic psychopath with no genuine political-ideological moorings, convulsively driven only by his own quest for self-adulation and consequently his perverse authoritarian will to power. To the extent that this may be true, however, these fundamentally racist demagogical reflexes serve above all else for him to demonize his political opponents. By conjuring a terrifying spectral world of “illegals,” “criminals,” “terrorists”—in short, by invoking impending mayhem and the cataclysmic prospect of a kind of racial armageddon—for which “the Democrat Party” are made to serve as the convenient proxy, Trump converts his nightmarish world of ghoulish enemies into political currency.

THE ENEMY

Predictably, Trump has had to vacillate between a continued invocation of lurid criminalized images of an imminent “invasion” by “illegal” migrants attempting to rush the border, on the one hand, and the agonistic contention that he is actually doing something to counteract this menace. At a campaign rally in March 2019, he declared: “We are also protecting America’s borders.” He then added, significantly, “And we are taking on the extremists. They are, really radical extremist Democrats who want open borders and crime.” Remarkably, Trump’s well-worn allegation that his Democratic Party adversaries are somehow proponents of “open borders” here was conjoined to the by-now-familiar specter of the Democrats as a peril because they are purportedly really “radicals” or “socialists.” What is particularly revealing in this instance, however, is that Trump resorted to the well-entrenched verbiage of the so-called war on terror in which the phrase “radical extremists” (long rendered synonymous with the spectacular figure of Muslim terrorists) would now be repurposed to demonize Democrats—evidently, any and all Democrats—as both a palpable threat and a veritable enemy.

What is pervasively depicted as political “polarization” and “partisanship” is in fact nothing less than the multifarious manifestation of a Republican will to aggrandize its political power by any means necessary and subvert Democratic gains at all costs. The propagation of the myth of “voter fraud” (Minnite 2010), for instance, spiraled into a veritable conspiracy theory peddled repeatedly by Trump. Within days of his election in 2016, as a rebuttal to the fact that he had lost the popular vote by nearly three million votes, Trump wildly asserted with no evidence whatsoever that Democrats had arranged for three to five million “illegal immigrants” to vote against him. All the while, for years, Republicans have widely engaged, with calculated and mercenary precision, in blatant gerrymandering and flagrant campaigns of outright voter suppression in districts dominated by racial minorities, where voters presumed to favor Democratic candidates have accordingly been deprived of the capacity to even participate in elections. Through these deeply antidemocratic measures, Republicans have largely succeeded to secure veto-proof Republican “supermajority” control even when a majority of voters in fact seek to elect Democrats (Fang 2013; Mayer 2016). As Nancy MacLean (2017) astutely contends, there is a dogmatically and devoutly antidemocratic drive that has come to dominate the Republican Party over recent years, committed to suppressing the political liberty of the vast majority in order to secure the neoliberal economic freedom of the very wealthiest of the capitalist class to pursue their naked interests without any semblance of governmental interference or regulation or any danger of democratic demands for greater equality or social justice.

Undoubtedly, a desperate and reactionary sense of the fast-approaching horizon of their own political obsolescence may help to explain the astounding capitulation and venal complicity of virtually the entire Republican Party establishment to Trump’s unprincipled demagoguery and ideologically incoherent populism (cf. De Genova 2018). In the face of Trump’s apparent electoral appeal, his Republican apologists insist on the self-serving mantra that “elections have consequences.” This smug demand for compliant resignation to the Trump presidency, usually directed at Trump’s critics, was above all revealing of the Republicans’ own (supposedly tactical) retreat into a “new normal” of Trumpish aberrations. What apparently began as an overconfident will to hide behind the spectacle of Trump’s sensationalist distractions as a smokescreen for single-mindedly pushing ahead with their legislative and judicial “agenda” quickly began to command ever deeper political and moral compromises on the part of Republican leadership, who had previously viewed the Trump phenomenon with derision and suspicion as a kind of snake-oil salesman’s sideshow. But the Trump sideshow had become the only show in town, and now the Republican Party’s unscrupulous quest to retain and expand their power compelled them to become ever more subservient to the mandate of indiscriminately defending Trump’s egomaniacal caprices and authoritarian excesses. Even those prominent Republicans who, at one moment or another, exhibited the decency, integrity, and temerity to defy Trump on a particular issue generally aligned themselves shamelessly with his domination of the party on nearly everything else. Reckless governmental incompetence, rampant corruption, brazen criminality, callous contempt for the rule of law, appalling moral bankruptcy, substantial evidence of coordinated collusion with a hostile foreign power, and finally impeachment—nothing mattered any longer. Nothing was true; everything was permitted.

A well-entrenched amoral realpolitik among Republicans, which had increasingly sought to denigrate the Democrats at all costs—particularly in the era of the populist insurgency of the “Tea Party,” which often channeled an openly racist backlash against the Obama presidency—provided Trump with his basic political grammar. This, after all, was the backdrop for the birtherism bandwagon that Trump rode to national political notoriety. But Trump’s recurrent recourse to racist and nativist dog-whistle politics has been consistently conjoined with the larger project of castigating the Democratic Party. In one particularly revealing tweet on June 19, 2018, Trump clarified the delusional nexus between “illegal” migration and Democratic Party electoral victories: “Democrats are the problem. They don’t care about crime and want illegal immigrants, no matter how bad they may be, to pour into and infest our Country [sic], like MS-13. They can’t win on their terrible policies, so they view them as potential voters!” Here, the nativist exploitation of the issue of undocumented migration and the racial panic that hyperbolically imputes a connection between migration and violent street crime, particularly attributed to Latino youth, exude a more fundamental anxiety about the birthright US citizenship of migrants’ children and the prospect of burgeoning nonwhite communities of future (presumptively Democratic) voters. Recall, however, that this is precisely the speculation in the El Paso shooter’s manifesto that transposes the phantasm of “Hispanic invasion” into a future “one-party state” by “the Democrat party.” The anti-immigrant fanaticism that Trump has incessantly stoked among his supporters is always inextricable from his own political calculus about reinforcing his power and command. However, when the fear and loathing of Democrats has come to authorize mass killing, mere partisanship—even of the most opportunistic and unscrupulous variety—is plainly not an adequate explanation. Here again, we must consider seriously the operative ethos of civil war.

CIVIL WAR

In the run-up to the widely anticipated Democratic victory in the November 2018 midterm elections, sixteen homemade pipe bombs were mailed through the US postal service to thirteen prominent public figures, predominantly Democrats, including former presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, Trump’s nemesis Hillary Clinton, and other eminent critics of Trump. One recipient of a mail bomb was billionaire philanthropist (and Democratic Party donor) George Soros, who Trump insinuated might be personally financing the migrant caravans that were such a constant obsession for his efforts to derail the Democratic Party’s momentum in the upcoming elections. The man eventually convicted for the foiled bombing terror campaign was described by his lawyers as a “Trump super-fan.” His adoration of Trump was expressed not merely as disdain for Democrats, however, but as a desire to assassinate them—indeed, to exterminate them—as enemies.

Then, on October 27, 2018 (the day after the fifty-six-year-old mail bomber was arrested), in this same climate of escalating antisemitism surrounding the anti-Soros conspiracy theories, a forty-six-year-old white gunman carried out the most deadly attack perpetrated against Jewish people in US history, killing eleven worshippers and injuring six others in a synagogue in Pittsburg. Alleging that Jews were carrying out a genocide against whites, the attacker proclaimed that he “just want[ed] to kill Jews.” Notably, as an added justification for the massacre, posted online just hours before the attack, he declared his hostility to a Jewish charity that provides humanitarian support to refugees, contending that the association was supporting “3rd World caravans” of “hostile invaders” from Central America who “kill our people.”

Trump’s speech has effectively served as both an incitement and a retroactive vindication of the violence of his supporters throughout his political career, on no other grounds than that they are his supporters and they are targeting those whom he has overtly identified, or who may be implicitly deemed, as his adversaries. What commands our critical scrutiny, therefore, is that Trump’s demagogical political style conjures a Manichaean world of friends and enemies. Abiding by only the most elemental logic of war, those designated as the enemy must be destroyed. This is an ethos of civil war: while Democrats endlessly make pitiful appeals to “patriotism over party,” their Republican rivals, now as partisans for Trump and the corrosive ethos of civil war, prepare for the annihilation of their enemies.

THE F-WORD

Around the same time as the mail bomb campaign to assassinate and terrorize Democrats, in late October 2018, law enforcement investigations prompted by the Charlottesville rally culminated in the indictments of several white supremacists who were charged with criminal conspiracy to incite riot and various acts of physical assault against anti-Trump protestors, and in some instances with stockpiling weapons (presumably, for the execution of some sort of violent plot, or perhaps in preparation for the coming conflagration of civil war). It was revealed that some of these avowedly white supremacist Trump supporters had begun to designate themselves “Trumpenkriegers.” In a transparent gesture affiliating themselves with fascist stormtroopers in Nazi Germany, these self-styled “warriors for Trump” had embraced the ethos of civil war. They understood their main mission to simply physically assault anti-Trump protestors wherever they encountered them, which is to say, they had fashioned themselves as fascist paramilitary gangs whose premier purpose was to attack and destroy anyone at odds with Trump. Whatever may be the variety of competing definitions of fascism, this indeed is one of its decisive hallmarks: the extra-state organization of violence as the self-styled popular vanguard of a reactionary nationalist project (Mann 2004).

In another violent incident following the invitation of their leader to speak to a Republican event in Manhattan, members of a pro-Trump organization brutally assaulted protestors. The vicious attack ensued after the group’s founder and spokesman had appealed to the gathering of wealthy Republicans: “Let us scum in. You need us foot soldiers. You need us disgusting rude jerks because . . . outside of all the things you disagree with, we have a lot in common. What we have in common is we both want America to prosper. We both want Trump to do well.” Such an appeal to the ruling elite to rely upon an extra-state paramilitary formation of armed violence to defend their interests and enforce their will—above all, in the form of organized attacks against their perceived political enemies—has always been a defining centerpiece of fascism. It transposes the ethos of civil war into a specific kind of action plan. The appeal simply but ruthlessly pursues the ethos of civil war to its logical conclusion—that the political destruction of the enemy should culminate in its physical annihilation. What is truly remarkable, moreover, is that while there have always been self-styled fascist formations and other violent extremists on the far-right fringes of US political life, these new fascist gangs have mobilized to perpetrate violence as an enactment of their fervent allegiance to the man actually occupying the office of the US presidency, who refuses to repudiate them.

Whereas fascism has historically tended to be ushered into state power only following the gestation of a fascist social movement organized on the basis of paramilitary violence, the ethos of civil war that has come to more or less universally animate Republican politics in the United States has delivered a populist opportunist into power, and now, only in the aftermath of that cataclysmic systemic backfire, in the aura and orbit of that nonstop demagogical spectacle, a white supremacist fascist movement—albeit in convulsive fits and starts—is gathering its forces. From the brazen lies and conspiratorial innuendos of Trump, to the translation of that incendiary rhetoric into “policies” that institutionalize atrocity and routinize crimes against humanity, to the transnationally networked online fascist echo chamber that semi-regularly dispatches white terrorist bombers and mass shooters to massacre their unsuspecting “enemies,” to the braying heavily armed white supremacist fiends of the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally chanting “White Lives Matter!” and “Blood and Soil!”—the United States today has come under the grip of an ethos of civil war, whereby everything is permitted.

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De Genova, Nicholas. 2010. “Antiterrorism, Race, and the New Frontier: American Exceptionalism, Imperial Multiculturalism, and the Global Security State.” Identities 17 (6): 613–40.

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Lubiano, Wahneema. 1997. “Black Nationalism and Black Common Sense: Policing Ourselves and Others.” In The House That Race Built: Black Americans, U.S. Terrain, edited by Wahneema Lubiano, 232–52. New York: Pantheon.

MacLean, Nancy. 2017. Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America. New York: Viking/Penguin Random House.

Mann, Michael. 2004. Fascists. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Mayer, Jane. 2016. Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right. New York: Doubleday.

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Tazzioli, Martina, and Nicholas De Genova. n.d. “Kidnapping Migrants as a Tactic of Border Enforcement.” Unpublished manuscript.

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