An Anarchist and a Cop Walk Into a Bar

May 4, 2017

Little Beirut: It’s not completely untrue that May Day in Portland, Oregon is more celebrated than Christmas Day. May Day marches can bring thousands to the streets to show support for workers’ rights around the globe and whatever issue has people’s collective goat that spring. My first Portland march was in 1996 and there were some signs protesting Mumia Abu-Jamal’s death sentence and Bill Clinton’s deregulation of the internet mixed among the calls for worker solidarity. I had my union card in my pocket and probably a Smashing Pumpkins song in my head.

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Portland has long skewed left-of-center. If you’re a registered Democrat, you’ll likely get sneers, not from registered Republicans, but kids in Che Guevara t-shirts. The city was dubbed “Little Beirut” in 1990 by a member of the George H.W. Bush administration after Vice President Dan Quayle came to town for a fundraiser at the Hilton. There had been several anti-Bush demonstrations between 1989 and 1991, but this one unfolded in true Portland style, with Reed College students vomiting in red, white, and blue up-chucks and a man taking a dump on a picture of the Vice President. Now that the city has a rad nickname, each generation of radicals feels the pressure to raise the bar.

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The first May Day of the Trump Administration put Portland back on the CNN map. An initially peaceful protest Monday was quickly hijacked by Black Bloc anarchists, garden-variety trouble-makers, and probably a few agent provocateurs. By afternoon there was a fire burning in the middle of 10th Street, the windows of a cop car had been knocked out, and some 22-year-old  “revolutionary” smashed out the window of the downtown Target and threw a lit flare into the store full of people. I don’t think this is what Karl Marx had in mind when he wrote that capitalism “sows the seeds of its own destruction.” The Portland Police Bureau declared the formerly permitted march a “riot” and most peaceful protestors got the hell out of the sustained barrage. Even Portland State cancelled some evening classes, perhaps depriving some students from a lesson on what anarchy actually is.

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Look, I get the excitement. I have all Rage Against the Machines CDs and used to play them really loud and scream along. “Fuck you, motherfuckerrrrrrs!” I was a punk in the early 1980s and spray-painted my fair share of anarchy symbols around Atlanta, including on a daycare facility. (I’m so sorry about that.) I even took a swing at a cop once. It was after a Clash concert in 1982. After the show, a brawl erupted in the sweaty summer street in front of the Fox Theater between members of the Revolutionary Communist Party and some Nazi-wannabees. Everybody else, charged up by the combat rock (The Clash’s final song was “I Fought the Law”), jumped in. Peachtree Street was full of punks and cops on horseback and 18-year-old Randy, who thought punching a police officer was the appropriate thing to do in such a setting. Luckily, I missed the guy who had more serious threats to attend to and I went off to the punk club and bragged about rioting in the streets to anyone who would listen.

There is a psychology of these events. Lord knows how many we’ve had over the decades. Social scientists have long looked at how angry mobs take on a life of their own and how a “herd mentality” emerges. When a like-minded crowd, excited about roughly the same thing and dressed similarly (whether its sports fans or black-clad anarchists), get together, there is a tipping point where the rational individual mind shuts down and the emotional collective mind ramps up. This is especially true when there is outside confrontation, usually with the cops. And it has to be added that most of the rioters are males acting out a hyper-masculine script in their “us vs. them battle.” I’ve seen it first-hand plenty of times and have been pepper-sprayed and tear-gassed for my observations. “Smash the state! Quick, lets get a selfie first.”

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Monday’s riot took Little Beirut to a different level. It seemed to be motivated by a hatred of the police. Law enforcement officers had everything not nailed down thrown at them, including rocks, bottles, and fireworks. Besides the shop windows that were smashed and the bike tires that were slashed, “KILL COPS” was spray-painted on a street sign. I know these folks are opposed to the militarization of the police, but they’re pretty much encouraging the militarization of the police. It makes you think some of these supposed radicals are on the payroll of a defense contractor.

If you’ve read this blog you know that I’m anti-fascist. And the Trump presidency has moved this country closer to fascism than it has ever been. I also think intellectual anarchists, like Noam Chomsky, offer a path away from oppressive social systems. I get the antifa philosophy of “countering” fascism directly. (The FAQ on the Rose City Antifa website fairly clearly articulates their positions on the matter.) My whole life has been dedicated to countering neo-Nazis. I risked my life for years studying Nazi skinheads to learn how to do this. And I learned the best approach is to turn a Nazi into a former Nazi, not beat them into submission. That tends to have the opposite effect.  I’ve been to Klan rallies, Aryan Nations meeting, and had a couple of skinheads plan to severely beat me in a Portland strip club. I know Nazis and the Portland Police are not Nazis.

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Like most metropolitan police departments, The Portland Police Bureau has had its share of issues, including the shooting of unarmed African-American citizens. (Every time I pass the spot on the Skidmore Bridge where Kendra James was killed in 2003, I get a chill.) And there was one officer who was probably a little too fond of Nazis, which didn’t help the matter. In 2000, the city commissioned a panel to study racial profiling and found, surprise, the bureau did engage in racial profiling. In 2012, the Department of Justice filed a civil rights lawsuit against the city because of police interactions with mentally ill civilians and the Portland Police are currently engaged in reforms based on the DOJ settlement. That’s a good thing. We’re moving forward together.

There’s no doubt that racism is an issue woven within the institutions of our society, including the various institutions of law enforcement, that devalues non-white lives. Based on our actions, the evidence is clear; all lives don’t matter. But there’s a seriously wide continuum between old school Bull Conner racist cops and harm done by seemingly invisible implicit bias. Post-Ferguson Report, these issues are now out in the open. Although, I don’t have much hope that our new Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, will continue the reforms being made in police oversight.

I know an awful lot of Portland police officers who don’t go to work every day to prop up capitalism or put down the little guy. The officers I know have more of a social work approach to policing and probably have more in common with the core values of true anarchists than the “boys in black” might guess. (I will exclude the “Anarchy!” thugs who just want to “fuck shit up” from this observation.) Sgt. Pete Simpson is the Portland cop you always see on TV talking to the local media. He’s a friend and former student of mine and I asked him what he would want the anarchists to know about his line of work:

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“I have been a police officer for nearly 23 years and I have worked with cops from all across the United States. Never once have I met one that said they look forward to going to work to support corporate America and oppress minorities. Quite the opposite really. Most officers I’ve ever been around want to go make their corner of the world slightly better every day — and a lot of those corners are occupied by local businesses and people of color who officers work to protect and serve. At a core level, officers might philosophically agree in some ways with “anarchists” about the things that are wrong in the country — but police officers have a different approach rather than to slash and burn.”

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I also know many anarchists and former-anarchists. They are on their own journey to make sense of the world how to most effectively address the serious problems we face. Like the Nazi skinheads I’ve studied for 25 years, some get pulled into a simple world of black and white with a subsequent action plan of “destroy everything and hope something beautiful arises from the ashes.” When I was 21, that seemed incredibly appealing and romantic. As a 53-year-old parent, I know the black and white analysis (“Capitalism is always evil!”) is problematic, at best. (Starbucks is not 100% evil. I’d say only 40-60% evil, depending on my need for caffeine.) I also know it’s better to get inside the machine and “fix shit up.” Maybe I’m just an optimistic 50-something, but I believe real reform happens.

There was a moment before one of the many Portland marches against George W. Bush’s pointless 2003 invasion of Iraq. We were making signs in the Park Blocks and a young anarchists with a red bandana over his face asked the crowd for some good quotes for his signs. I offered a few. “Government is not the solution to the problem, government IS the problem,” “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction,” and a few others. He scribbled them down furiously. “These are perfect! Who said them?” he asked.

“An anarchist named Ronald Reagan,” I said. He was not amused.

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Anarchism is a legitimate and important philosophy. I’ve taught its basics for years in my Contemporary Theory class. I’m guessing the rocket scientist who tried to set the Target on fire on May 1st would not pass the test on the subject. When people hear the word “anarchist” now they just think of violent thugs who want to murder the members of our community who work in law enforcement. Black Bloc might not all be agent provocateurs on Trump’s payroll, but they sure are reinforcing Trump’s narrative about the “violent left.” Not the best strategy of creating support for social change. Cool, in a Rage Against the Machine/rebellious youth sort of way, but not effective in reality. The 25 “protesters” who were arrested in the riot can only claim to adding fuel to the fire driving the drivel on Fox News. Capitalism remains unfazed.

On May 2nd, I was having an email chat with PPB’s chaplain. He had a little anecdote that said so much about the situation. “This morning at coffee I had a conversation with a young women who is friends with many of the Antifa people, and who was asking about racism and police brutality.  I think, from a honest position, her friends claim that there is out of control police brutality. And that none of the things the police claim are true, like destruction of property, aggressive actions, etc..  She came over to me and the officers seated at coffee with me and just didn’t know who or what to believe anymore.”

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What if we got the anarchists and cops in a room together? What could they learn from each other? It might serve to humanize both sides. I was on one side of the “battle” until I started actually listening to people I thought I was somehow fighting. Turns out we’re all on the same side. As someone who has pretty much read everything Karl Marx has written (The picture of me at his grave in England in 1991 will surely surface if I ever run for office), let me end with a quote; “Let us seek our salvation through solidarity.” I promise that’s from Karl and not Ronald Reagan.

POSTSCRIPT: I realize this blog post might annoy some police officers AND sone radicals. If that’s so then my mission as a teenage anarchist is complete. Now dig this song.

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Interviewing Neo-Nazis has taught me how to talk to Trump supporters

March 9, 2017

Riding on a Portland bus one time, I was talking to one of my PSU students and said, “I was at a Klan rally once…” and I think all talk on the bus stopped. My student knew I was referring my years of undercover work in the white supremacist world, but the passengers on the Number 8 likely thought I was one of the racist recruiters that pop up in the city looking for fresh cuts for the coming race war.

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It’s impossible to count the number of white supremacists I’ve interviewed over the last 30 years. Over 200, for sure. Some of that was at covert Klan rallies in Georgia, in dark strip bars in Oregon, and in the bright light of the mainstream media. (Somebody please put my appearance on the Sally Jesse Raphael Show on YouTube. It’s a Klanriffic hoot!) I’ve interviewed anti-government militia members in a cabin in Montana and Aryan murderers in a Texas prison where I had to wear a Kevlar vest (to protect my vital organs, the guard said). And I’ve interviewed grandsons of real Nazis in Berlin, standing next to the rubble of the wall.  And I’ve heard it all.

In qualitative research we call it “data saturation.” When you start hearing the same thing over and over again, you’ve probably got enough information to start building a theory. Did you know the world is controlled by a secret Jewish cabal? Did you know that Jews in the music business want white kids to listen to rap music so they won’t listen to their own “white” music? (Yodeling, perhaps.) Did you know that if a white woman has intercourse with a black man, his sperm is so potent, any child she has after that will be part black? (I always thought that one was a pretty good case for black supremacy.) These people were mastering alternative facts before Sean Spicer knew how to chew gum.

People often ask, “How can you sit down and talk to these Nazis?” Well, beer helps. And growing up in a Klan town, like Stone Mountain, Georgia, doesn’t hurt. Many of these “extremists” are a lot like the people I grew up with, a few who went off and joined the Klan or other racist groups. They are, at their core, human beings who are trying to make sense of the world with the tools they’ve been given. And that’s why there is hope.

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When I started interviewing racist skinheads in the 1980s, people would ask me, “What happens to these people when they grow up?” And I’d say, “I don’t know. Talk to me in 30 years and I’ll tell you.” Now there is a whole world of former racist activists who are actively engaged in the other side, working to undue the hate they once spread. They have written amazing books, like Autobiography of a Recovering Skinhead, and formed vitally important organizations, Life After Hate. Individually and collectively they talk to young people about the mistakes and thinking errors they made that caused them to burn up valuable time in their lives while undermining the essential peace in our communities. The best person to talk about the problems with living in the extreme right-wing is somebody who used to live in the extreme right-wing.

When Trump launched his political campaign in 2015, it was painfully clear he was borrowing the playbook from white supremacists. My blog post on the parallels of Trump’s rhetoric and what you’re likely to hear at a KKK rally has over 270,000 reads and has been posted across the world. (I was even interviewed by a newspaper in Spain about its assertions.)  In the time since then, I’ve written about how a good number of his followers share many qualities with the rank and file followers of neo-fascist subcultures.

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I’ve been honored to help many people leave the world of hate. They use their experience as both a source of reflection and advocacy. I have to think the same will be true with many Trump followers. That as the true agenda of his administration becomes clear, many of those people who voted for him, including people in my family, will see the thinking errors and reject his dangerous demagoguery. The best people to talk about the dangers of supporting Donald Trump will be people who used to support Donald Trump. Just like inside every white supremacist is a potential committed anti-racist activist, inside every Trump supporter is a potential social justice warrior. The threat of Trump to core American values is just too serious to not try.

I want to briefly outline a few traps that both white supremacists and Trump fans (and plenty of liberals) get caught in. Maybe these issues can be addressed when attempting to appeal to the humanity of either. (By the way, I could write a book on each of these. But here are 3 quickies.)

Low-Effort Thinking

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When we are young we learn in opposites. Up/down, good/bad, hot/cold. It’s been something of a miracle that I’ve convinced my 2-year-old daughter that there is a category called “warm.” But when we’re kids, the Good Guys are always good and the Bad Guys are always bad (and look it). Similarly, we think of gender as “opposite sexes.” As we get older, things become more nuanced and endlessly shaded in grey, depending on context. Are those guys terrorists or freedom fighters? It depends what side you are on. Is that person male or female? Try asking them how they identify.

Many of the people I studied never graduated to shades of grey. Figuring out the context was too much work. They’d say things like, “How come black people can use the N word but I can’t?” Everything associated with white was good, and non-white was bad. Men were men and women were girls. Their leaders were infallible (until they weren’t) and anything outside their tiny subculture was perverted and corrupt. Stereotypes were absolute and they actively looked for anything to confirm them (“Did you hear about that black guy who raped the white girl?”) and ignored anything that invalidated the stereotype (like their own white criminality).

Numerous studies have backed this up. Feminist Patricia Hill Collins has long examined how dichotomous thinking fosters racism and the research supports the idea that people who see the world in black and white have a hard time empathizing with people they don’t see as members of their group. A 2012 study found this type of “low-effort thinking” pushed people towards the conservative end of the political spectrum. It’s just easier. John Wayne never worried about “nuance,” right?

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Of course this is the hallmark of the Trump supporter who hates Obamacare but wants to keep the benefits gained under the Affordable Care Act. (Anything associated with Obama is “bad.”) In Trumpland, you are either with us or against us. America first! There’s no need for diplomacy when your arsenal is bigger than theirs. Trump was the guy who said the show Blackish was racist because you couldn’t have a show called Whiteish (which would be 98% of the shows on TV). And Ben Carson’s goofy comments about immigration and slavery are no different than Obama’s. Don’t ask me to look at the “context.”

On its surface, it seems moronic, but we all engage in some type of low-effort thinking. I still think anyone who plays for the New York Yankees must be care more about money than the game. Could I be wrong?

It’s a conspiracy, I tell ya!

That low-effort thinking paves the way for conspiracy theories. Nazis are the master of this. It all goes back to their hackneyed belief that events across the planet are controlled by a secret gang of Jewish rabbis. Why is circumcision the norm in the United States? Those rabbis want to lob off gentile foreskins to force the goyim into submission. They’ve got a million of these.

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The conspiracy theory orders their world and simplifies it. A white student fails social studies? It’s because he or she is being forced a “multicultural curriculum meant to make whites feel guilty.” A white dude can’t find a girlfriend? It’s because the Zionist Occupation Government gets non-white women to die their hair blonde so you can’t tell who is truly “white.” (A Neo-Nazi once shot up a bunch of beauty parlors for this exact reason.) The theory explains literally EVERYTHING. No context or thinking required.

You have to think Joseph Goebbels would be proud of Donald Trump, the modern master of the alt-right conspiracy theory lifted straight from Alex Jones’ Infowars. From “Obama’s birth certificate” to “Obama tapped my phones!,” it’s an endlessly fact-free world and his supporters love it. The Mexican government is conspiring to send its rapists across the border and the “fake media” is conspiring to make him look bad. The definition of “fake news” has been repurposed to mean anything that’s not favorable coverage of his ego-driven administration, sending his loyal troops to get their information from “real news” sources, like Breitbart and the National Enquirer. Conspiracy theories about Muslims and refugees and Arnold Schwarzenegger. It’s the dumbing down of America. Where have we seen this kind of cultural thinking before? Hint: You won’t find the answer at Breitbart.

Inside the bubble

All this leads to something we’ve been hearing a lot about lately, life under the dome. (And not the cancelled CBS show I was briefly addicted to.) Hate groups work a lot like cults. The flow of information inside the bubble confirms all biases and anything outside the bubble must be avoided, including that gay uncle and cousin who dated a black guy, as well as the classmate who went off to college and was brainwashed by the liberal Jewish (or Jewish liberal) education system. Under the dome their is complete accord – that everyone outside the dome sucks.

That echo chamber is a powerful force on social media where it’s easy to mute a noisy neighbor who has upsetting viewpoints. I’ll admit I’ve blocked a few Trumpies this past year, mainly because I don’t want to waste time arguing. I’m happy to engage, but anytime I see the word “libtard,” I just close my laptop and make a sandwich. That’s not a person who wants a reasoned conversation.

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While there are echo chambers on both the right and left, research shows conservatives are more likely to seek out news sources that confirm their own political positions while liberals are more likely to seek out opposing views. (I always enjoy a quick dip in the Fox News crazy house.) Conservatives tend to be more distrustful of anything coming from outside their bubble. There’s little chance for an alternative perspective if your Trump-loving dad thinks the New York Times is “fake news” and would rather proclaim, “Ditto, Rush!”

Learning from ex-Nazis

The path out of the white supremacist world is often a very personal one. I’ve published about male racists connecting with females who impressed upon them the value of empathy and their own potential victim status as women. Frank Meeink, former racist skinhead leader, has written about how life routinely put people in his path who shattered all his stereotypes. One of my friends was involved in a notorious racist murder in Portland and her conversion started when she befriended her black cellmate and began listening to stories from outside her bubble.

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Even the most hard-core Trump supporter has potential of moving to a radically different position. We’re already seeing scores of disillusioned Trump voters who see that they’ve been duped. If we can help move others out of the black/white thinking, away from the simplistic conspiracy theories, and out of their echo chamber, the possibilities are endless. They’ll reflect back on the days when they were chanting, “Build a wall!” and “Lock her up!” and shake their heads. Instead of pushing them further into a dark corner, we can walk them out to the light.

This piece is dedicated to my family and friends who voted for Donald J. Trump in 2016. It’s 2017 and the door is open.

Douchebags, Thugs, Bullies, and Donald J. Trump: The perils of wounded masculinity

May 25, 2016

Last summer when I began pointing out the parallels between white supremacist tactics, fascist movements and the rhetoric of Donald Trump I felt like a lone voice in the wind. Now the concern that Trump is bringing a populist form of fascism to America is bouncing around the mainstream, from the Village Voice to the Brookings Institute. Of course, last summer I thought the Trump crazy-train would derail by Thanksgiving as Bush or Rubio became the rational choice of the Republican Party. I have never been so wrong in my life. I completely underestimated the number of deluded people willing to dive into a cult of personality. They aren’t a silent majority, they are a very noisy minority. A very noisy white minority.

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Much has been made of the fact that the core of Trump’s base is “undereducated” (Trump’s word) white males. Yeah, many of those are whites who think Latino youth in the streets of Albuquerque protesting Trump are the shape of things to come. But as important is the “male” part of the phenomenon. According to a recent Gallup poll, 7 in 10 women have a negative view of Trump. Another poll found that almost half of Republican women can’t see themselves voting for Trump. Trump doesn’t really want the minority or female vote and heaven help us all if he wins the White House without it.

I’ve been writing about how Trump reminds me of the white supremacists I’ve studied for thirty years. He also reminds me of another idiot I’ve studied; myself. He reminds me of myself before I became a feminist. Before I grew up. You have to ask yourself one question, why do women hate Donald Trump so much? Are they just “dumb bitches” who don’t understand politics? Should they just be seen and not heard and vote the way their men tell them? I think I get Trump and the thugs who love him. I used to walk in their shoes.

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Much has been written about Trump’s horrible treatment of women, especially since the recent New York Times article, “Crossing the Line: How Donald Trump Behaved With Women in Private.” As soon as he declared his candidacy, his voluminous amount of sexist comments were trotted back out. The guy who said, “You know, it doesn’t really matter what [the media] write as long as you’ve got a young and beautiful piece of ass” might become president. Women are just eye candy for his beauty pageants and women who oppose him are “ugly.” His first wife implied that he raped her before he dumped her for one of his lovers. His groping of women is Cosby-level. And it goes on and on and he, oh, he just won another state. What the hell is going on? (And don’t dare suggest that he has small hands!)

The larger answer relates to the concept of backlash. There’s a white backlash similar to the one that Ronald Reagan, with his mythical tales of black welfare queens, rode to the presidency in 1980. They see Black Lives Matters protestors and Latino protestors threatening their special rights as whites (aka, white privilege). But there’s also gender backlash, the same one that Susan Faludi wrote about in her bestselling 1991 book. The advancement of women threatens male power and so the war on women begins again. Trump doesn’t want to have to be “politically correct” and neither do his followers. And nothing is more threatening than the prospect of a female president. After eight years of a black president, then a lady president? What’s next, a gay president? It’s hard out here for a straight white man. Save us Donald! Our essential masculinity is under attack!

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I used to buy into that kind of thinking, the zero-sum game between men and women. We were opposite sexes. I performed the role of masculinity I was taught, defending any attack by “manning up.” Then I took out a loan on a clue and went to college. Women are not the opposition, they are the salvation. Instead of dismissing them (and raping them), we should be listening to them. I tell young men the most revolutionary thing they can do is ask the women in their lives what they think and then actually listen to their answers. Donald Trump has never done that (or at least the Trump caricature he performs for his flock). And his beauty queen wife stands behind him. “He’s not Hitler!” she promises.

Here’s what makes Trump the king of the douchebags. It’s not his endless lies that his followers ignore, dismiss and excuse like battered wives who will put up with the abuse as long as the husband promises to take care of them. (“Believe me.”) It’s the simple fact that Trump cannot admit that he’s ever made a mistake. Even the bashing of Heidi Cruz was not really a mistake to him, he just wishes he’d done it differently. He routinely says he has no regrets. He as no ability to share his internal monologue because his internal monologue probably just sounds like, “Tits, ass, tits, ass, tits…” What does Donald J. Trump have to regret anyway? He’s the perfect American, he says.

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Meet the regret king, me. As you evolve, you probably look back at the last version of yourself and shudder. I was using the word “feminist” before I knew how to act like one. I was callous with the women I dated, used sexist language, and, worst of all, failed to really hear those I was in serious relationships with. I’d like to apologize to all those females, including a Facebook friend who’s bra I snapped in eighth grade. And I’m sure 2026 Randy will think 2016 Randy still had a lot of work to do. To be a decent person you need humility and to know that you’ve probably been wrong more than you’ve been right. You have to allow yourself to be vulnerable.

Instead we get Bully Trump who “hits back” twice as hard when he thinks he’s been hit. Maybe somebody should tell him about the guy to asked us to turn the other cheek. He wants to build a wall around America like the wall he’s built around himself. It’s the wimps that wanna listen and share their feelings. He just wants to knock the hell out of his enemies. He’s a sad man who reminds me of so many sad men I know and the one I once was.

The media has tried to create a similar narrative on the left, the “Bernie Bro.” Supposedly there are an army of Sanders supporters rioting in the streets who will use sexism to defeat Clinton. It’s a myth easily dispelled by the wide support Sanders has from women and minorities, but it’s still something to guard against. Clinton and Sanders and their supporters don’t benefit from the same lack of introspection that Trump celebrates. None of us do. And throwing rocks at cops just drives the sheep into Trump’s tent.

Screen Shot 2016-05-25 at 8.48.54 AMLook, there are plenty of white people who don’t understand the Black Lives Matter movement or Latino protestors taking to the streets. Are they racist? Well, some believe America is being handed to “underserving savages,” so those people are. Even more Trump men see their old-fashioned John Wayne masculinity threatened by empowered women, gay, lesbian and transgender people. They can’t even protect their females from the mythical transsexual predator in the Ladies Room. They’ve already surrendered the toilets at Target. What’s next? America? Where is the white man’s man who can make America great again?

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This election is going to be decided by women. Will they follow their men into Trump’s douchbag circus of doom or stand on their own, vote their interests and save the rest of us dumb-asses from ourselves?

Douchebag note: I have to be honest, I’ve never really known what an actual “douchebag” is. About a year ago a female friend suggested it might be more sexist language I should abandon. I listened but the sound of the word fits so well with who it describes, I held on to it. My friend Jen just sent me a note on the word and I defer to her feminist wisdom. She said, “This issue I have is that you are comparing a man to a dirty vagina that needs to be cleaned and in this scenario the vagina is a) dirty and needs to be douched to get cleaned which is obnixous and false b) he is lower than a dirty vagina and c) because he’s so sexist equating him to a vagina cleansing product implies that the worst thing he could be is a woman’s vagina which is in fact one of the most amazing things on the planet.” Agreed, vaginas rule! She also offered the other argument with this piece: Could “douchebag” be a feminist insult? Thanks, Jen!

Earlier Trump blogposts

Who the Hell is supporting Donald Trump?

I told you Donald Trump was a fascist!

Mr. Trump, kiss my anchor baby

Trump Part 2 – This is what fascism looks like

Donald Trump is the new face of white supremacy

Who the hell is supporting Donald Trump?

March 10, 2016

When I first started writing about the Trump candidacy last summer it was because his hateful rhetoric reminded of what I had heard in my many years of studying racist groups like the Nazi skinheads and the Ku Klux Klan. I feared for the brown members of my family but hoped that, like so many Trump products, the marketplace of ideas would send the Orange Aristocrat to the dustbin of history; that this “Ivy League” braggart with his horribly misspelled tweets and his potty mouth would be given a permanent time-out by sane political voices.

Well, we were all wrong. Somehow the Trump shell game has only gained followers. So the question is now, who the hell are these people voting for Trump? It’s easy enough to blanket characterize them of as idiotic racists flocking to the game show host’s cult of personality like good little Germans, but that angle is horribly problematic. It denies the fact that these are real people responding to problems that they believe to be real. Their numbers include some of my own friends and family members whom I’d never describe as knuckle-dragging mouth-breathers.

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So pollsters and pundsters are wringing their hands trying to figure out who this mob is that might be driving the United States towards fascism while the rest of the world watches in horror and humor. “Donald Trump? Really? Sacré bleu!” YouTube is full of videos of Trumpists saying stupid, racist, and completely wrong things giving credence to the popular belief that they’re an army sub-moronic cretins who have fallen for Trump’s fact-free medicine show. But those folks giving the Donald their stiff-armed pledge don’t tell the whole story.

While ranking Republicans are freaking out, trying to unmask the Trump con (even Glenn Beck has compared him to Hitler) there’s something happening in the country.  And that something is same phenomenon that is also driving people to support Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton.

It’s no longer a blue collar world

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My master’s research was a thirteen-month study of a group of white supremacist skinheads in Orlando, Florida in 1989 and 1990. I was trying to figure where these little Nazis came from. Were they crazy? Did they have abusive parents? Did black guys steal their girlfriends?  What I found was they were responding to the very real phenomenon of deindustrialization. The economic policies of Ronald Reagan opened the door for manufacturing industries to close up shop and head across the border and overseas in search of cheap labor.

If I work in a factory, I probably belong to a union and that union has used collective bargaining to secure a decent wage, paths to promotion, health care benefits, and maybe even a pension. I can work in an auto plant or a textile mill and still buy a (small) house and send my kid to (state) college. That’s the American Dream right there and it evaporated under Reagan. Of the people to move out of the middle class in the 1980s, two-thirds moved downward, not up. And it got worse when Bill Clinton signed NAFTA in 1993, accelerating manufacturing job loss and replacing them with shitty, low-wage, no benefit service sector jobs. Fifty years ago the number one employer in America was General Motors. Now it’s Wal-Mart.

These skinheads knew lots of people who had been laid off or downsized (including their parents). What was happening to America? they’d ask. The answer came from neo-Nazis like John Metzger (son of White Aryan Resistance leader Tom Metzger) who would tell them exactly why. It was immigration, Affirmative Action and a “Jew-controlled” economy conspiring to take away “their” country. A very real problem (deindustrialization) was given a bogus explanation (Jews) and followed up with a very old-fashioned solution (violence). A recipe that has driven the  racist skinhead movement ever since.

In much of America, this problem persists. Wages are down and benefits are few and far between. The factory is gone and in its place is a Wal-Mart selling American flags made in Vietnam. There must be somebody to blame for this.

Donald Trump as a Strongman

Donald Trump is a hyper-masculine cartoon character. He wants to torture terrorists and kill their children. That is until one of his seemingly slow advisors hands a note saying that’s illegal. He wants to “bomb the crap” out of ISIS, unaware that Obama has been quietly doing just that. He wants to ban all Muslims from entering the U.S., “until we know what the hell is going on,” except for the fact that we do know what the hell is going on. And he goes on and on about how “they” are chopping off our heads (in New Jersey?). Most famously he wants to “build a wall” to magically keep illegal aliens out, seemingly oblivious to the fact that illegal immigration has decreased and deportations have increased under Obama. All that might not play well on college campuses where kids actually keep up on the news, but it’s a huge hit with the white boys in South Carolina and Mississippi.

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My Orlando skinheads were little authoritarians who were frightened by the changes in the world and wanted someone to come along and give them a path out of the chaos to order. Unfortunately, it was older Neo-Nazis who gave them that very ordered worldview and action plan. There’s a real parallel with the Trumpists who are scared shitless of Muslims, Mexican immigrants and Black Lives Matters protesters who are upsetting their world. It’s hard enough to keep up with cell phone technology, let alone these non-WASPS who might push terrified whites off the privilege throne. So here comes Trump, railing against “political correctness,” and the “God-given-right” to push back against these darkies. “All lives matter,” he bleats. “I’ve got a big dick!” he promises us. “Believe me.”

Recent research at the University of Massachusetts Amherst found support for this idea. A doctoral student named Matthew MacWilliams found that Trump supporters, unlike the general population, demonstrated authoritarian personalities (just like my skinheads). Trumpists felt threatened by outsiders and were more likely to flock to a strongman who, they believed, would stop the changes that they feared the most. So Donald Trump says he’s going to build a wall on our southern border and suddenly he’s their savior. It might be too obvious to draw the parallels with Hitler here but the xenophobia of Trump and his core following is not exactly new. We can talk about how fear-mongering moves us toward another F word, fascism.

Fear is the Path to the Darkside

We’ve got plenty of evidence about the frightening views Trump supporters hold. A recent YouGov poll found that a third of Trumpists thought placing Japanese-Americans in concentration camps during World War II was a good idea and one in five Trumpists thought freeing the slaves was a bad idea. No wonder Trump has been slow to disavow support from white supremacists. (He’ll disavow it with a hrumpf that says stop making me do this.) And disavowing someone like Klansman David Duke is much different than making a heartfelt statement about the evils of white supremacy. The bottom line is these are Trump’s people!

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Trump’s support has been less in whiter states, like Oklahoma, where Ted Cruz has been winning. Researchers have shown that you find higher rates of racism among people who believe they are directly competing with minorities for the same jobs. Data has shows that Trump supporters overwhelming believe (wrongly) that Affirmative Action takes jobs away from whites and hands them to blacks. They also have the incorrect idea that their taxes go to welfare for lazy (minority) adults who refuse to work. This was a lie Ronald Reagan pioneered in 1980 to move working class whites away from the Democratic Party. Driving this trend are southern evangelicals who have little to do with Jesus and lot to do with racial resentment, according to recent research done at Vanderbilt University.

Trump protester sucker-punched at North Carolina rally, videos show

Trump has tempered is huge support from white supremacists by pushing a more politically correct version of racism that makes brown the new black. He’ll find a small number of African-Americans who are ginned up on the competition with Latinos for crappy jobs and place them in front of the camera at his rallies. They are victims of the same economic policies that he’s profited from but he tells us that he has a “great relationship with the blacks.” “No on has done more for equality than I have,” he recently proclaimed. So fuck you, MLK.

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Earlier this week I was on The Gavin McInnes Show, the right-wing internet show that’s popular with anti-feminists and “angry white men,” having a surprisingly good discussion about racism and Trump with guest host Jim Goad, author of The Redneck Manifesto. I think we both clearly stated our points and I was glad to participate. Afterwards I got a tweet from a fan of the show that said, “ if u dont believe blacks have a problem with violence why do u live in a white city? Move to black Chicago and test your bullshit.” I’m trying not to engage these folks on Twitter but I wanted to explain to him all the years I joyfully lived in downtown Atlanta and that I purposely moved to historically black part of Portland. But he lives in fear and the fear drives his political choices.

The year of the “I’m not a racist, but…” voter

Of course Trump’s coded racism is clearly understood by his followers. The endless data is telling us who his supporters are. They are older, whiter and angrier. They’re angry at the how the country has changed in the last fifty years with all the feminists, homosexuals, non-English speakers, and most symbolically of all, Barack Hussein Obama, their black president. Like the white supremacists I studied, they want somebody to “make America great again,” when a white man could beat up a black protestor and not get labeled as a “hate criminal.”

The anger is also targeted at the “disastrous trade policies” of the “stupid leaders” in Washington (who are mostly Republican) who have been unable to stop the the “Obama agenda” from driving the country off a cliff (or to renewed prosperity, if you look at the actual economic measures). With merely the power of his awesome personality, they believe that Trump will transform the complex workings of all three branches of the federal government. (“Meat Loaf for the Supreme Court!”) Just like Mussolini, who Trump is fond of quoting.

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The great irony is that the Trumpists are motivated by a very real problem, the erosion of the middle class rooted in the very policies that Trump has benefited from to make his money. Trump’s lovely ties are made in China where the cheap labor is. And it’s a problem that impacts EVERYBODY in the working class, not just whites. These policies, including the Clinton-signed NAFTA, are also motivating many Sanders supporters, but instead of blaming the people at the bottom (who are often not white), Sanders and his voters are more likely to understand the problem is systemic magnified by the influence of corporate lobbyists in politics. But that’s a more complex issue. Scapegoating Mexicans is easier for Trumpists.

Bernie Sanders might be able to reach out to these economically dislocated Trump supporters in a way that Hillary Clinton can’t. But they have to be willing to abandon their authoritarian need to bash outsiders and insiders who don’t look (or pray) like them. They will have to let go of their fear. That’s a big “If” and points to the sad reality that after Trump goes back to his golden palace, another strongman will likely arise with the promise of making America great (white) again.

Post-script (Aug. 3, 2016): Warning: This Trump rally video includes vulgarities and racial and ethnic slurs.