SYNDICATED COLUMN: Protofascism Comes to America

The Rise of the Tea Party

Is the Tea Party racist? Democrats who play liberals on TV say it isn’t. Vice President Joe Biden says the Tea Party “is not a racist organization” per se, but allows that “at least elements that were involved in some of the Tea Party folks expressed racist views.”

Right-wing Congresswoman Michele Bachmann has received permission to form an official Tea Party Caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives. It’s official. The Tea Party matters.

So: is it racist? Certainly a sizeable minority of Tea Partiers’ “take America back” rhetoric is motivated by thinly disguised resentment that a black guy is president. As for the remainder, their tacit tolerance of the intolerant speaks for itself. “Take America back” from whom? You know whom. It ain’t white CEOs.

Yes. The Tea Party is racist. Obviously.

But racism is only one facet of a far more sinister political strain. It’s more accurate to categorize the Tea Party as something the United States has never seen before, certainly not in such large numbers or as widespread.

The Tea Party is a protofascist movement.

Robert O. Paxton defined fascism as “a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion.”

Typical Tea Party rants fit the classic fascist mold in several respects. America, Tea Partiers complain, is falling behind. Like Hitler, they blame leftists and liberals for a “stab in the back,” treason on the homefront. The trappings of hypernationalism—flags, bunting, etc.—are notably pervasive at Tea Party rallies, even by American standards. We see “collaboration with traditional elites”—Rush Limbaugh, Congressmen, Republican Party bigwigs (including the most recent vice presidential nominee)—to an extent that is unprecedented in recent history.

Tea Partiers haven’t called for extralegal solutions to the problems they cite—but neither did the National Socialists prior to 1933. Then again, they’re not in power yet. Wait.

One major component is missing: aggressive militarism. Certainly most Tea Partiers support America’s wars and the troops who fight them. But Tea Partiers focus on domestic issues. Similarly, the Nazis didn’t make much of their aggressive intent until after they seized power.

Because it has no central leadership and because it’s easier to attract new members if you never say anything specific enough to turn anyone off, ideological vagueness is a defining characteristic of the Tea Party movement. Indeed, ideological imprecision tends to increase as you move from left to right on the political spectrum.

On the left, communists are specific to a fault. (This is why the Left is factionalized.) Programmes, five-year plans and one tract after another are the (increasingly boring) order of the day under socialism. Moving right, bourgeois organizations such as the two major U.S. political parties have platform planks and principles, but tend to be mushy and flexible. As we move to the far right, as under Hitler, ideas become grand, sweeping, meaningless slogans (take the nation back! death to the traitors!). What should be done is nominally whatever needs doing (i.e., whatever the Leader orders).

Umberto Eco’s 1995 essay “Eternal Fascism” describes the cult of action for its own sake under fascist regimes and movements: “Action being beautiful in itself, it must be taken before, or without, reflection. Thinking is a form of emasculation.”

Note Republican Senator John Cornyn’s choice of words when he defended Tea Partiers against charges of racism: “I think it’s slanderous to suggest the vast movement of citizens who have gotten off the couch and showed up at town hall meetings and Tea Party events, somehow to smear them with this label, there’s just no basis for it.”

Tea Partiers deserve praise for having gotten “off the couch.” They’ve shown up. That’s what matters! Never mind that they’re stupid. Never mind that many—those who get quoted in the media, anyway—are painfully ignorant and uneducated.

As an added bonus, Senator Cornyn’s statement both demonstrates “effective collaboration with traditional elites” and another entry from Eco’s checklist: “Disagreement is treason.” Or slander. Whichever Ann Coulter book title floats your boat.

Eco also discusses fascism’s “appeal to a frustrated middle class, a class suffering from an economic crisis or feelings of political humiliation, and frightened by the pressure of lower social groups.” Guard the borders! Deport the immigrants! Mexicans are stealing our jobs!

So much anger. It’s too bad that the (justifiable) rage of the white male middle-class is directed against their fellow victims. It’s worse that they’re playing into the blood-soaked hands of their own oppressors.

(Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto,” to be published in September by Seven Stories Press. His website is



  • “You chose not to listen, actually, ’cause [cutting military spending] is exactly what Ron Paul promised in ’08, and unlike OhBummer, he’d probably deliver.”

    *This makes sense in theory. But the squealing from the military welfare queens would halt the process. Anyone who is serious about fixing the country will operate as a one-term president, but the political entrepreneurs who depend upon him will thwart him to save their own political skin. This is to say nothing of impeachment and the effects of the corporate media, who are behold unto a shortlist of companies dependent upon the US military as their own private security.

  • “Anyone who is serious about fixing the country will operate as a one-term president”


    Historically, the president who did the most to fix the economy was elected to 4 terms.

  • Albert, I believe you mean the president who tried to pack the courts, struggled, successfully, to involve the US in a European conflict, stuffed innocent civilians into “internment” camps on account of their ethnic origin and financed the development of the deadliest weapon known to man, al the while failing pathetically at fixing anything, in the economy or elsewhere. That’s not to mention starting a sad history of inefficient and unfair agricultural subsidies.
    What a guy!

  • This is to say nothing of impeachment and the effects of the corporate media, who are behold unto a shortlist of companies dependent upon the US military as their own private security.

    Angelo, I fail to see how calling the troops home, closing up shop in the various US bases in foreign countries and slashing the “defense” budget could be grounds for impeachment, considering these are things a president is entitled to do through executive order. I do see how that could put the bold fellow in the way of a bullet from a lone, deranged shooter acting by himself, wink, wink.

  • Highway,
    I can’t understand why Obama’s “disputed” nationality is more important than his reneging on his promise to end the wars.

  • Oleg,
    You folks voted for him. Remember hope & change and all that?

  • bucephalus

    I think FDR was right in trying to pack the courts, he would have been even more successful. The Japanese and Germans declared war on us, it was not a war of choice. Who were put in the internment camps was left to the states, the bill FDR signed didn’t specify any race or ethnicity. I don’t want to get into a debate over the atom bomb and whether or not it should have been used. The New Deal led to long term success and FDR is the greatest president in US history.

  • I don’t know Al, seems to me that if you are President maybe the US ought to be your home country.

  • Susan Stark
    July 27, 2010 9:15 PM

    >>>You chose not to listen, actually, ’cause that’s exactly what Ron Paul promised in ’08, and unlike OhBummer, he’d probably deliver. Nader would probably do it too, to be fair. Anyways, you didn’t make a convincing case for mind-reading, I’m sorry.>>>

    Ron Paul did, that’s true. But most Teabaggers support Sarah Palin, unfortunately. Which is why I take the liberty of reading their minds. I also can read the future, and I don’t see Ms. Palin cutting the military budget.

    But as far as providing more “mind-reading proof”, I can give you a long list of hypocritical Teabaggers accepting government money, if you paid me to do the research. But I’ll give you a freebie, if you like: Michelle Bachmann receives farm subsidies. So obviously she doesn’t mean herself when she says “cut spending”.

  • “I don’t know Al, seems to me that if you are President maybe the US ought to be your home country.”

    Sigh, do I dare waste more time on this?

  • Yes Al you should. Explain to me why the President of the United States shouldn’t consider the US his home country.

  • Michele Bachmann is only a hypocrite if is opposed to farm subsidies and took them at the same time. Considering how many tax cheats there are in the White House particularly the head of the IRS, the former head of the House Ways & Means Committee, and tax avoider John Kerry (who served in Vietnam) I think you have plenty in your party to worry about.

  • Why can’t they both be his “home?” One being his literal home (United States) and the other being his cultural home (Kenya).

  • Oleg,
    You folks voted for him. Remember hope & change and all that?

    I wanted Ron Paul to win. He would have no chance of stopping the military welfare queens, but he would have cut everyone else off the dole, and emptied the prisons. He’d also take the bully pulpit to convince the country to get rid of public education. Without govt subsidy, the food system would collapse. Hugo Chavez would send aid, but no trucks would arrive to pick it up, because no one would get the memo. Mexican bandits would intercept it and try, to no avail, to sell it to us. Starving volunteer fire departments, and private police would be overwhelmed by throngs of starving rioters. The internet would become so stratified that a handful of advertisers would be sucking up all of the bandwidth trying harder than ever to sell things to people who have just stopped buying.

    You want to apologize for saying I voted for Obama? Or are you even reading this?

  • Buceph,

    the impeachment could happen on any grounds you like. But you are right. It would be redundant.

  • Yes oleg, I apologize for saying you voted for Dumbo.

  • If Obama is Dumbo, it’s because he’s too conservative and not liberal enough. But Obama is 100 times smarter than the last president, that’s pretty obvious.

  • Really Al, based on what? We haven’t seen his college records.

  • Without govt subsidy, the food system would collapse.

    You mean it would be brought back to sanity. Do you really, honestly think nothing would ever be produced if there are no subsidies?

  • Ever hear carls jr’s ad campaign?:

    “without us, some guys would starve”.

    I think it would be proven if the subsidized food system collapsed. It would be wonderful.
    Of course things can be produced without subsidy. Now it’s your turn to answer a question. Do you think any corporation should refuse free money?

  • Do you think any corporation should refuse free money?

    Should? Yes! Would? I don’t think so. Subsidies go to farmers too, by the way. “Corporations” will usually react the same way average people do when doled out: they’ll hang on to it for precious life. Doesn’t mean that’s right, though.
    The subsidized “food system” maintains stuff that is not good for you anyways: excess corn production, leading to HFCS dumping (thanks also to tariffs on Latin American sugar) and corn-fed cattle. If this collapses, American would be a lot better for it.

  • I agree. Fully agree. I am sure Aggie is also on board here. But I only only agree in the long run. The chaos which leads to the burning of all we know, would be in the very short term.

    Your concurrence is assumed.

  • The short term havoc wrought by such an industrial food system collapse would be mainly economic in nature. People would have to adjust rapidly given the vast majority have no idea how to operate outside of the conventional agribusiness model, however few people would actually starve because of it.

    Massive economic disasters in the United States are usually precipitated by extensive agricultural collapses. The MAIN impetus for the great depression was in fact an agricultural collapse, as was the stagflation of the 70s (the grain embargo due to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan not yet ten years after Earl Butts demanded farmers plant hedgerow to hedgerow, if not just remove the hedgerows altogether). The story of food in the US over the past century has been one of chronic overproduction. That’s why every 20 years there’s a corn ethanol craze….it’s a stupid idea every time, but a handful of prospectors get filthy rich off of the subsidies for it each time…because we never learn.

    the elimination of farm subsidies for agribusiness would be really good for our country overall. The chaos a collapse in that system would bring short term would force the aggressive economic restructuring our country sorely needs. The beauty of the collateral damage it would inflict is that it would transcend socio-economic class. . . .everyone has to eat.

  • OK who stole Aggie and replaced him/her with this Aggie?

  • Route, they finally touched on my area of actual expertise, instead of just spouting off my half-assed opinions like everyone else.

  • with no central planning or state-funded food pantries, I don’t think there is a past event to go off of.

  • What was that last post supposed to mean, Angelo?

  • Perhaps you meant state-subsidized silos for ADM, Cargill. Subsidy is not funding, btw. It is bad in that it distorts prices and proper allocation of scarce resources. To equate with with a giveaway is like saying the mugger who releases the choke ok your neck is giving you free air to breathe.

  • I was referring government food lines — a case and point in baseline social contract theory. We are both bound by a contract we did not choose to enter.

    1) If I am forced to enter a contract, I want the other party to keep up their end of the contract.

    2) If I were outside the contract, I could accomplish everything I want to accomplish. I would not need organizations (state or other) to “create” jobs for me, or to circle jerk each other toward doing so.

    3) Unfortunately, the contract is consummated over the entire earth for the rest of time thanks to over-population brought on by civilization itself.

    Perhaps we have been left behind in all forms of discourse because everyone knows it is pointless to discuss unmaking the contract. Very wealthy people can sometimes afford to thrive despite the contract (eg. if there are not enough jobs, you have savings and, perhaps, a ton of cheap labor to make further gains.)

    I think we need to revisit a critique of the enlightenment “state of nature” since Hobbes, Locke and Smith made assumptions there are so random and inane. They were not anthropologists, yet, they based our entire social contract theory on it. Perhaps you have something illuminating to share from your readings.

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