On January 6th 2021, following Joe Biden’s election, Donald Trump spoke at a rally where he told voters that if they did not “fight like hell, [they were] not going to have a country anymore”. Fuelled by the belief that the 2020 election was ‘rigged,’ enraged Americans, some armed, stormed Capitol Hill. The attack resulted in five deaths and over $2.7 million in damages. Since then, Donald Trump has faced impeachment twice, been arrested and been charged with 97 felonies, including charges related to the inciting of violence on Jan. 6th.
The question arises: when did America veer towards the far right, and how did it lead to an unprecedented insurrection?
Since Trump’s 2016 election, far-right ideology has been on the rise. It is fuelled by social media, unmoderated against political ideologies demonising minorities and spreading misinformation, and polarises media coverage. Trump sold his Presidency campaign with ‘Make America Great Again,’ leading to comparisons with fascist leaders like Adolf Hitler. As California Congresswoman Jackie Speier Jim Jones once stated, “Jim Jones was a religious cult leader, Donald Trump is a political cult leader”.
Throughout his presidency, Trump weaponised the idea of ‘fake news,’ accusing the media of lying and manipulating with ‘woke ideology.’ The hypocrisy in his claims cannot be understated. Trump rallied support by convincing the American public that they were being deceived while repeatedly lying to them in turn. He made bold claims regarding minority groups, including how it was necessary to “build a wall” to keep out migrants, whom he claimed were “rapists” and “criminals”. Trump’s campaign for President and his political standing encouraged division, fueling anger against minorities. He perpetuated beliefs that the ‘True Americans’ were under attack and his supporters spread this across the internet, inciting harassment and violence against groups he targeted.
Trump’s anti-Mexican rhetoric influenced Patrick Wood Crusius who in 2019 travelled to El Paso, a predominantly Hispanic city, and opened fire in a mall, committing an act of stochastic terrorism inspired by Trump, as made clear in his ‘manifesto.’ He killed 23 people with another 22 injured. Trump’s statement following the attack included a condemnation of “racism, bigotry and white supremacy.” The next day, ‘#WhiteSupremacistInChief’ trended number one on Twitter, highlighting public calls of hypocrisy in Trump’s statement.
Social media platforms like 4chan and 8chan are responsible for spawning echo chambers of hate. QAnon, a popular far-right conspiracy movement, primarily uses the internet to spread its ideologies. Donald Trump is at the core of their ideology; he is hailed as a saviour necessary to defeat a “cabal of Satanic, cannibalistic, child molesters”, a belief rooted in anti-semitic conspiracy theories. This new brand of far-right movement, dubbed ‘Digital Fascism,’ involves communication in online spheres, including social media, online forums, and far-right news channels. It is especially dangerous for new generations growing up with the internet.
However, America has a longer history with the “Them versus Us” propaganda than just the past two decades. During the Cold War, in their ‘hunt’ for communists, Americans were encouraged to turn against anyone they believed could be a communist, triggering suspicion between neighbours and friends. Even before the Cold War, evidence of politicians encouraging discrimination was prevalent. After all, who could forget the treatment of Native Americans, or the enslaved African Americans, and post-Civil Rights segregation? In the United States’ Declaration of Independence, it was written that “all men are created equal”; and yet, since the country’s birth, US politicians have routinely returned to division tactics to inspire votes.
2024 will see another American election. The campaigning candidates do not inspire a vision of a left-leaning, or even centre-leaning, political atmosphere. Donald Trump has promised to make a bid for re-election, despite failing to do so in 2020. Other candidates include Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who has come under fire for passing controversial far-right laws.
Arguably, the rise of the far-right in America has yet to reach its peak. With Neo-Nazi demonstrations from the ‘Proud Boys,’ state laws restricting inclusive curriculums in schools, and the continued harassment of minorities, one pressing question for the future remains: when and how will America break free from its descent into the right?
By Larisa Jones