Pro-Trump Insurrectionists Demonstrating on 9/18 Continue to Threaten Democracy

Interview with Ruth Ben-Ghiat, professor of history and Italian studies at New York University, conducted by Scott Harris

The U.S. just marked the 20th anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attack, the most deadly in our history. At the time, there was widespread fear that the terrorist threat posed by groups like al Qaeda from outside the country imperiled America’s future. Two decades later, however, we’re confronting a present and future threat of domestic terrorism linked to one of the nation’s two major political parties, the Republicans.
Many of the same far-right, pro-Trump extremist groups that participated in the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol that attempted to overturn the 2020 presidential election will gather again at the Capitol on Sept. 18 for another rally, dubbed “Justice for J6.” Those organizing the protest advocate for the release of the jailed insurrectionists, who they consider patriots, heroes and political prisoners.
Although more than 630 participants in the Jan. 6 capitol riot have been arrested, Donald Trump and the other architects and funders of the Jan. 6th attack have thus far escaped prosecution. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Ruth Ben-Ghiat, professor of history at New York University, and author of the book “Strongmen: From Mussolini to the Present.” Here, she talks about her concerns about the planned Sept. 18th rally — and the importance of accountability for those who commit political violence.
RUTH BEN-GHIAT: It’s extremely dangerous. And as somebody who studied fascism and historic fascism, too, the way that fascism started in Italy — it started in Italy before Germany — where gangs of armed men after World War I in the countryside. And when we have all of these actions that also were tolerated by militia groups and sovereign sheriffs and all of these different forms of extremists, some of whom are part of law enforcement — and all of this led up to Jan. 6. And it’s very interesting. My paperback edition of my book is coming out on Oct. 5th and it has a new epilogue that goes through Jan. 6th. And when you analyze who participated in Jan. 6th, which is relevant for what may happen on Sept. 18th, it was a real microcosm of all of the kinds of extremists who come together around the halo of Trump.

And so you had retired and active duty law enforcement and military. You had militia members. You had Proud Boys and kind of far right political extremists. And you also had a new group of people who weren’t affiliated with any known radical groups, but they had become radicalized as individuals. And all of these people able to have guns. And so the wild card of our country right now is the possession of over 400 million guns in private hands. And this makes any kind of gathering extremely dangerous. So this rally, Justice for Jan. 6th, it has the potential, I think of how many times fascists tried in the countryside before the March on Rome that brought, you know, Mussolini to power — I feel like they’re at the gates and they’re banging, right? They breached it on Jan. 6th, but the specter of people assembling again really fills me with dread.

SCOTT HARRIS: Professor Ben-Ghiat, what’s your assessment of the congressional investigation thus far into causes and the ways to prevent a future Jan. 6 insurrection. And I ask you that in the context of many people being concerned that 639 people have been charged with crimes related to Jan. 6, but none of the architects or the funders of this attack on our democracy are being held to account.

RUTH BEN-GHIAT: Yeah. That’s very bad for democracy because the bedrock of democracy is accountability. Conversely, the essence of authoritarianism is getting away with it. And Donald Trump’s brand from the start was that he was a man who could get away with things. And, it’s typical that none of the GOP, you know — politicians or the architects of the event — were anywhere near it physically, because they’re too smart to be near it. Bannon wasn’t there. Lt. Gen. Flynn wasn’t there. They know better than to be there. So the big fish, we see that they’re not being held accountable. And I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s overlap with funding, including dark money with Jan. 6th and with this September rally, which is called formally Justice for Jan. 6th. And so the lesson of Jan. 6 for right-wing extremists — and I’m including the GOP and Trump — is that you can get away with this and you can do it again.

SCOTT HARRIS: What is your sense of the most effective form of resistance that can be organized against the rise of the extreme right here in this country — a political force in the United States that seems to be wanting to invoke white supremacy, authoritarianism or outright fascism?

RUTH BEN-GHIAT: I think mass nonviolent protest, which we had a demonstration of its effectiveness with Black Lives Matter in the middle of a pandemic and which also created a kind of activism that led to Trump’s defeat. I want to say to your listeners, it’s very unusual that somebody like Trump, who’s an open authoritarian, who’s consolidating his power is voted out. And that’s what we did. That’s what Americans did in the middle of a pandemic with voters, you know, with suppression initiatives. We voted him out in sufficient numbers.

So, mass nonviolent protest — it has a ripple effect. And so it’s always been very effective at the right time against authoritarians, but we also need the Democratic party to really step up. It’s the level of its messaging. It needs to unify its messaging. It needs to take on much more directly what a threat to life — because it’s not just a threat to freedom, it’s a threat to life — what the Republicans are doing. They’re an existential threat at this point and the Democratic party needs to be much more frank about that.

For more information, visit Ruth Ben Ghiat’s website at ruthbenghiat.com or
lucid.substack.com/p/welcome-to-lucid.

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