We Fixate on Viral Videos While Fascism Marches On

Indigenous elder Nathan Phillips and MAGA youth Nick Sandmann on January 18, 2019.

When the footage of the teen boys in MAGA hats surrounding a Native American elder first started circulating, I was finishing revisions on my novel and getting ready for a writing conference. I glanced at the photos and the memes comparing the smirking, raucous white youth to the sneering white mobs of the past. I found the images alarming but was too busy to watch the footage or follow the story closely. As I found out after my conference, a counter-narrative had spread through the media after the initial outrage. The new pronouncement was that the situation was more complex than the initial images suggested.

There were errors, ommissions, and misrepresentations which then transformed a MAGA youth mob into victims of bias and hysteria, eclipsing what they actually are and what they were there to represent— the youth wing of a fascist movement led by Trump and Pence. The boys had just come from the March for Life, a Christian fascist march for biblical patriarchy. This annual demonstration is part of a movement determined to strip women of the right to decide when and if they bear children. Its ultimate demands will turn women’s bodies into the property of men, the church, and a theocratic state, and they now have the backing of a president and vice-president that is delivering what they want — the reassertion of white supremacy, Christian supremacy, and male supremacy at the highest levels of government and throughout society.

We should always strive for a full picture of reality with all its complexity. But all the media and pundits who say they are trying to capture the complexity of this particular incident will only pull the lens back so far. The lesson they want to impart is that we should never rush to judgement. Fair enough, though as many people have pointed out, if this were a group of 200 youth of color (or even five), the rush to judgement would have been swift and unwavering. In this case, a few errors allowed a fascist propoganda machine to turn reality on its head, which they will do whether facts are on their side or not. The fascist offense and liberal retreat that has spun the initial verdict 180 degrees has not captured the truth any better than those first heady reactions on social media.

There is a lot concentrated in this incident and its viral response: the limited framework of competing narratives and identity groups; the obfuscation of “Make America Great Again” white supremacy; the history of white mobs and people of color; the intersections of propaganda, social media, and public opinion; definitions of youth and manhood and much more. Some of these things are being discussed and some are not, but there is something wrong with this endless cycle of viral videos as political warfare. All of our outrage and actions get siphoned toward the individuals in the video — who they are, where they come from, how to hit them where it hurts, how to get them expelled or fired or arrested. The entire strategy is to defeat a whole fascist movement one by one by one by one by one, without ever actually targeting the leaders of that movement. This, we already know, is a losing strategy.

The leaders of the movement that spawned these youth are in the White House. They are shutting down the government over funding for a racist wall, preparing and winning public opinion for ethnic cleansing and genocide, creating a Supreme Court that has rubberstamped the regime’s fascist policies (Muslim travel ban, transgender military ban, state-sanctioned discrimination against LGBT people, fake anti-abortion pregnancy clinics…), locking up children in concentration camps, lying about how many kids they have separated from their parents, threatening war against Iran, destroying the separation of church and state, accelerating climate change, and setting up terms for all of us that are disastrous for humanity. We have two years of evidence of what the Trump/Pence regime is doing to people, too much to fit into a viral video. Above all our actions and demands need to be channeled toward stopping the regime, because that is what is driving us rapidly into a nightmare future. Trump’s ugly base of smirking, snarling, violent mobs are riding on his victories, and they will continue to be unleashed under his leadership.

The need to coalesce into a visible, diverse, unified movement that can match the force and reality that Trump and Pence represent becomes more urgent every day. Millions of people in sustained, non-violent protest raising the singular demand that Trump and Pence must go can change history.

All of us who do not want to live in a fascist nightmare, for a future worth fighting for, let’s get on with it.

Author of The Pathless Sky. (novel, Europa Editions, 2015) www.chaitalisen.com

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