On April 15, the Civilian Police Oversight Agency in Chicago released bodycam footage of the March 29 shooting of Adam Toledo. He was just 13 years old. The day before, former Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, police officer Kimberly Potter was charged with second-degree manslaughter for the shooting death of 20-year-old Daunte Wright at a traffic stop. Wright, the most recent of Black Americans killed by police, and his death have inspired a new wave of protests across the country. This includes Minneapolis, of which Brooklyn Center is a suburb and which was the site of the summer 2020 Black Lives Matter protests after the murder of George Floyd. On April 15, too, a Maryland State Police trooper shot and killed a 16-year-old boy, Peyton Ham, who was holding an airsoft gun in his driveway. Ham, who is white, does not fall into the demographic — Black people and other people of color — typically victimized by police. But his story illustrates the importance of understanding policing — and police supporters — as more than just an issue of white supremacy.
White supremacists stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 — many of them waving Blue Lives Matter flags. “Edgy” teenagers traverse YouTube, Reddit and 4chan only to become radicalized by PewDiePie, r/stupidpol and r/braincel, among others. And over the past four years, horror after horror churned out by the Trump apparatus fed op-ed after op-ed about the white working class, things like “Auschwitz” and “Holocaust” were regularly trending on Twitter, and the intellectual elite either whispered or screamed the word fascism.
In his 1932 pamphlet to the German proletariat, “What Next?,” Leon Trotsky articulates what the development of fascism looks like: “At the moment that the ‘normal’ police and military resources of the bourgeois dictatorship, together with their parliamentary screens, no longer suffice to hold society in a state of equilibrium — the turn of the fascist regime arrives.” At its base, Trotsky argues that fascism occurs when the petty bourgeoisie — or, more simply, the middle class — becomes counterrevolutionary, driving state violence toward the control of the proletariat and minoritized peoples. Indeed, it is often said that fascism is when the state redirects the weapons of warfare upon its own citizens.
The United States is not a fascist state. However, I think it is correct to describe American politics — and the neoliberal capital, ever-innovating tech industry, massive and deeply ingrained culture of race- and class-based violence which drives it — as proto-fascist. Of course, many thinkers have lingered upon liberalism’s unique ability to produce authoritarian regimes, as it did in the 20th century.
What makes contemporary American white nationalism so interesting is that it is partially rooted in class resentment — but this resentment is not of the “white working class” of mythical lore. Instead, the 2020 election saw that low-income voters across races went for Democratic candidates — instead, white, upper-middle class Americans were behind the Capitol protests and formed the crux of the Trump base. This is what makes the Trump base so fascinating; they are tipped toward fascist sentiment by a simultaneous desire to uphold white supremacy and seek dominion over a proletarian underclass.
Indeed, pro-police sentiment is inherently pro-authoritarianism. The appropriation of the Blue Lives Matter flag as a neo-Nazi symbol illustrates this. But police are also used as vehicles for right-wing authoritarian states around the world.
In particular, recent unrest and demands for democratic governments in Eastern Europe have been met by dramatic police backlash. In Belarus, citizens were met with disproportionate police brutality after protesting the fraudulent reelection of Alexander Lukashenko, deemed “Europe’s last dictator.” While the protests were in full swing last fall, the protestors were fond of telling the following joke: “A man is getting beaten by a police squad in the street, and he cries out in anguish, ‘But I voted for Lukashenko!’ The policemen respond, while working away with their batons: ‘Stop lying, motherf—er; no one voted for Lukashenko!’
Similarly, over the past few weeks, police in Russia have been cracking down on supporters of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, including using facial recognition and other smart city technology to crack down on protestors. Even in the United States, the tear gas regularly unleashed on Black Lives Matter protestors is itself a violation of the Geneva Convention — and this is before even discussing the countless murders of African Americans at the hands of police that instigated those protests.
The Trump era was not so different from the Obama era. From Biden, it is clear we can expect much of the same. But one of the crises of neoliberalism is that it causes society to stagnate, even as we spiral out of control. Neoliberalism militarizes the police, content in the naivete. They toss funding at the military with little regard for what destruction it causes in the wrong — or right? — hands. And as quickly as fascist sentiment spills into public discourse, the discourse soon forgets. When there are no protests in the streets and no fascist insurrections, we must remember that support for the Thin Blue Line indicates both explicit negation of Black lives and support of a fascist project. The challenge is in not forgetting.