Empire Files: Chris Hedges & Abby Martin – Trump, Fascism & the Christian Right
CROWD: (indistinct shouting)
ABBY MARTIN: While many talk about the growth of the Alt-Right movement under Trump, there’s a much less discussed and much better organized sector of the far right that has obtained significant power. The Christian Right.
DONALD TRUMP: I brought my bible. Okay?
ABBY MARTIN: During his campaign, Trump took care to appeal to his Evangelical constituency, citing the repeal of Roe v. Wade and other key issues signaling to his base. He received more votes from Evangelical Christians than even the most overtly religious Republicans, just like Mitt Romney and George W. Bush.
Prominent Christian Fundamentalist, Mike Pence, is in the Empire’s second highest seat of power and the entire administration is littered with his fellow extremists, such as Betsy DeVos, Scott Pruitt, Rick Perry, Ben Carson, and Nikki Haley. Now they have unprecedented influence over U.S. policy and the Evangelical movement is just one sector of the right wing responsible for the growing threat of fascism in America.
Author Chris Hedges has written extensively about what he calls the development of a Christian fascist movement. He even went undercover among them for his book, “American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America” as well as witnessed and reported on the rise of fascism abroad. I talked to him about neo-fascism and the danger posed by this once fringe Evangelical movement’s recent rise to power.
Many are calling Trump a fascist, even the next Hitler. Can you define — what is fascism?
CHRIS HEDGES: Fascism is not really ideologically-based. It’s very protean in terms of its ideology. There’s a German historian I like very much who wrote a book called, “Male Fantasies” about the Freikorps and he describes… the Freikorps was the antecedent to the Nazi Party. They were demobilized right-wing World War I veterans who were used to crush the Spartacist uprising in Berlin and the kind of radical left and they killed Rosa Luxemburg and Liebknecht.
And it revolves more around emotion, hyper-masculinity, a virulent nationalism, a celebration of “strength”, of military virtues. It holds up a kind of moral purity that it claims to represent. It’s hard… Robert Paxton wrote a very good book called, “Anatomy of Fascism” and he notes that fascism in every country has its own peculiar characteristics, in the sense that Italian fascism was very different in many ways from German fascism.
I think that fascism, although I’ll use the word to describe Trump, is perhaps not finely accurate. I think you’re better off describing our system as what Sheldon Wolin, the political philosopher calls “inverted totalitarianism” by which he means that you’re not replacing old symbols and structures. It’s more like the old Roman Republic after the civil wars and the rise of Augustus. So, you still had a Senate. You still supposedly had a Republic but it was all a facade.
So, you have corporate forces that purport to pay fealty to electoral politics, the Constitution, the iconography and language of American patriotism, but internally have seized all of the levers of power to render the citizen, you know, disenfranchised.
And Wolin writes that in that system, politics is never able to trump economics. It’s all about economic consolidation, maximization of profit. And, so what we’re getting with Trump is, I think, a species of inverted totalitarianism with demagoguery.
ABBY MARTIN: Yeah, it’s insane that one of Trump’s first measures was basically making it harder for poor people to get mortgages.
CHRIS HEDGES: Right. Right. So, what we’re going to get is turbo-charged neoliberalism. You can see it from all of the appointments, everybody around him.
ABBY MARTIN: His political base is far from monolithic. We have the Christian right, the alt-right. I know that you’ve spent an enormous amount of time studying the Christian right, but what exactly is the alt-right? How would you even define this ideology? Would you say it’s synonymous with Neo-Nazism, like how people are saying that today?
CHRIS HEDGES: Yes. I think it has a lot of characteristics with Neo-Nazism but so does the Christian right. The Christian right like the alt-right is endowed with all sorts of conspiracy theories, coupled with magical thinking, coupled with an utter disdain for historical fact. And I think that what we will see is that the Christian right will become… will fill Trump’s ideological vacuum because he doesn’t really have an ideology, he’s such a narcissist and I think that that will be handled through Pence.
So, I think this in many ways will be the empowerment of the Christian right, which I have always considered a political movement. I, you know, went to seminary. I grew up in the church. I do not consider them Christians any more than the German Christian church which was pro-Nazi was Christian. You know, the German Christian church had the Nazi flag on one side and the Christian cross on another. That’s how I look at the Christian right. And that’s why you saw 81% of Evangelical voters support Trump, even though his personal life makes a mockery of the very values, the kind of family values that they say they hold sacred.
So, I think what we’re watching with the Trump presidency, especially as it comes under attack from the establishment — both the old landed Republican and Democratic establishment — you’ll see his fortress become that — the ideology of the Christian right which I wrote a book called, “American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War in America”. I didn’t use that word lightly — I think they are Christianized fascists.
ABBY MARTIN: But certainly, there’s a differentiation between the Christian right and this kind of emergence of these emboldened bigots who seem to be much more vitriolic — the alt-right who call themselves the alt-right are more–
CHRIS HEDGES: –No, I think the Christian right are as bigoted as the alt-right. The Christian right is much more sophisticated because it is a network. I mean, tens of millions of Americans are hermetically-sealed within this bizarre world because they are… And with Betsy DeVos, this is going to be expanded, if everything goes through, $20 billion dollars of Federal money, in essence, handed off to religious schools. So, they are sealed within their, you know, news, their religious information, their entertainment — all gets colored with this Christian…
So, one of the things I learned when I wrote the book, which I spent two years on was, I would go to the services and not… They would have nice music and the chairs would be a lot more comfortable than the pews in the Presbyterian Church where I grew up, and it was kind of warm and you’d feel good and people… but then you would be pulled into the back rooms where you would be discipled and you would be assigned people. And they would really break you down and sever you from your family because the next thing you know, you’re there every night of the week. And I was in prayer groups where people were weeping because their children weren’t saved, or their husband wasn’t saved. And that’s one of the great ironies is they talk about family — their the great destroyer of families.
So, they’re quite clever in having a kind of public face which, in many ways, is even appealing but a very dark, cultish… I found many aspects of cults within it, in terms of the way they broke people down; the kind of inability to question these white male pastors who had direct communication with God, who made fabulous amounts of money off of these people’s despair.
So, I think that the Christian right is a far more dangerous movement than the alt-right. And I think that it has many characteristics that it shares with the alt-right, in terms of its anti-Semitism, its homophobia, its Islamophobia.
I think the alt-right, because it incorporates so-called new atheists, has its own coloring but I think it shares many common traits with the Christian right. But I don’t think it’s as dangerous as the Christian right. I think people focus on it because it’s more visible.
ABBY MARTIN: Uh huh.
CHRIS HEDGES: There is a strain of deep cruelty, savagery even, fascism, intolerance within the Christian right that is institutionalized in a way that makes it a far more dangerous movement than the alt-right.
ABBY MARTIN: You mentioned that 80% of Evangelicals voted for Trump. I wanted you to briefly talk about how Evangelicals became this highly politicized force because they don’t comprise that much of the population.
CHRIS HEDGES: It was really… it’s kind of a fascinating story. It was a conscious attempt on the part of right-wing groups to politicize Christian conservative movements because traditionally, fundamentalists, for instance, and Evangelicals hated each other. I mean, Fundamentalists considered Evangelicals, because they spoke in tongues and stuff, Satan. I mean, there were all these divisions.
ABBY MARTIN: Uh huh.
CHRIS HEDGES: The Fundamentalists called on believers to remove themselves from the political process and not be contaminated by it. I’m going back to the ’20s and ’30s.
And what you saw roughly around 1980 was the rise of what we call “Dominionism”. It was propagated by Rousas Rushdoony who wrote this very turgid book I had to read based on the Ten Commandments. But I mean, this goes back to — we don’t have to worry about prisons because all murderers will be put to death and women who commit adultery will be stoned. I mean, it’s really crude stuff. And that got very heavily funded. They took over seminaries like Southern Baptist which used to be a great seminary. They pushed out… used to have in the Southern Baptist Church a fusion of kind of conservative Christians in terms of their personal piety but they were very left-wing in terms of their politics which is how my father was, actually. And that’s all gone. And so, there was a kind of hostile take-over.
The essence was, “Can we create the Christian society?” And that viewpoint got infused into a movement that, while it’s called the Christian right, really doesn’t bear any resemblance to what had come before in terms of Evangelicalism or Fundamentalism. It was a new entity; many people call it “Dominionism” and that’s when it got political. And it began to strive for political power, very… with a lot of mistakes at first. I mean, they were too heavy-handed. They were too obtuse. If you remember, a few years ago, Pat Robertson ran for President and this kind of stuff.
ABBY MARTIN: Uh huh.
CHRIS HEDGES: And now they’ve gotten a lot more clever and they allied, for instance, with the Federalist Society so that, like, Liberty University has a law school. I mean, they’re producing these Federalist judges. So, they have quite effectively seeped into the inner workings of power. And it is an ideology that is in that sense, although they speak about tradition, it’s really new.
ABBY MARTIN: And Mike Pence, he was told by Trump’s people that he would be running foreign and domestic policy. He will be the most powerful Christian Evangelical, if I’m not mistaken, ever in political history, especially with the executive power that’s given to the presidency.
CHRIS HEDGES: Right.
ABBY MARTIN: Will this move us forward to what you call Christianized fascism, and if so, what would that look like?
CHRIS HEDGES: Yes. That’s what I expect because this is an ethics-free administration, as we’ve seen. There’s not even a pretense about ethical rules, whether it’s with Trump or anyone else. And so, you have what’s going to become a kind of naked kleptocracy — and I’m not just speaking about Trump’s family, which, of course, will get fabulously rich, but about all of those forces that are predatory.
ABBY MARTIN: Uh huh.
CHRIS HEDGES: Sucking money out of the Education Department or I mean, they’re just going to loot the country. But they’re also inept, which is a very bad combination. And as that ineptitude becomes more… or is more pronounced, and more understood, they are going to have to become more ideologically rigid. And I think the only place they’re going to go is the Christian right.
So, what is it going to look like? It’s going to look like a Christianized fascism. It’s going to be the fusion of the American flag with the Christian cross and the Pledge of Allegiance. We’ve already seen it. And it’s going to be assaults on women, women’s rights. It’s going to be assaults against the educational system. So, we’re teaching creationism and magical thinking. It’s going to be attacks against “those forces of secular humanism that are destroying the country”. It’s going to be a kind of sanctification of law and order and imperial adventurism into a kind of crusade.
And I think that as society unravels they will stoke this demonization of The Other: Muslims, undocumented workers, African-Americans are on the list, feminists, all the way down, to vent the frustration and the rage against segments of the society that are vulnerable within the context of a kind of Christianized language. That’s kind of what I think is coming.
ABBY MARTIN: Betsy DeVos, you mentioned her, she’s being roundly condemned for many reasons as being Trump’s appointed Secretary of Education but people are under-reporting her ties to Erik Prince, which is her brother, who is the famous mercenary founder of Blackwater.
CHRIS HEDGES: Right.
ABBY MARTIN: He’s also one of Pences’s biggest donors.
CHRIS HEDGES: Yeah.
ABBY MARTIN: And now he’s advising Trump.
CHRIS HEDGES: Right. And I had a conversation once with Jeremy Scahill who wrote the great book on Blackwater, and I had been going around the country speaking about the Christian right and I said, “Well, you don’t have to worry. They’re not fascists because they don’t have an armed wing.” Every fascist group has an armed wing. And Jeremy said, “What do you mean? That is their armed wing.” And I realized, oh, he’s right and I was wrong. And they do have, through Blackwater, essentially mercenary forces at their disposal. And any totalitarian or even authoritarian government relies heavily on vigilante violence because they’re not held accountable for it. I mean, even the excesses of the Brownshirts, people forget Hitler would denounce it, because he could.
ABBY MARTIN: Uh huh.
CHRIS HEDGES: I mean, of course, he was giving the greenlight to it, but then they would go beat up a bunch of people and there would be an outcry and Hitler would say, “Well, they shouldn’t have done that,” you know…
These forces will, I think, play an increasingly prominent and frightening role within American society because they’re not going to be punished. They’re not held accountable. And they can carry out forms of coercion and violence and intimidation and threats on behalf of the state and the state will protect them. But they’re kind of immune. That’s classic.
ABBY MARTIN: Yeah, we saw in Israel. We see it everywhere with these kinds of militias that then become part of the–
CHRIS HEDGES: –Yeah, I saw it in Yugoslavia.
ABBY MARTIN: Yeah, but I was going to say, I mean, Blackwater and what Erik Prince is doing is almost, that is kind of institutionalized, whereas far as the vigilante groups on the ground, the actual armed militias that are emboldened by people like Jora Paya and who are taking action on their own terms at the border. Those are different, right?
CHRIS HEDGES: They are but they’ll be brought under control. Again, you can go back, I mean, the state wants centralized control. That’s what finally did in the Brownshirts, with the night of the long knives, when he got rid of Rome and the SS. The SS supplanted the Brownshirts. They want control. So, I think all of those groups, if we come to this, will be put within structures. They may not be public structures, but will be put within structures.
ABBY MARTIN: I think a fascinating example of kind of how this has already happened under the Obama Administration is the difference between the Standing Rock North Dakota Access Pipeline protestors who are unarmed, right.
CHRIS HEDGES: Right.
ABBY MARTIN: And crushed and then you have the Bundy Ranch militia…
CHRIS HEDGES: Well, there you go. That’s, I mean, imagine if Bundy and all those guys were black. They’d all be dead. There’s a good example. But that’s always been true and Hofstadter wrote about that in his last book on violence. I mean, throughout American history we have relied on white vigilante thugs to go after African-Americans, Chinese, labor movement. We had the bloodiest labor wars in U.S. history. Hundreds of American workers were killed and who killed them? Gun thugs: Pinkertons, Baldwin-Felts, you know, mine militias raised by the Scrantons in Pennsylvania. There’s a long tradition of that, including the Klan. And so, you know, we have kind of historical precedents for what’s coming.
ABBY MARTIN: Uh huh. And as the Trump Administration uses the rhetoric of “alternative facts” to basically shut down any dissent — what about the alternative facts being promoted from websites like Breitbart and Infowars? Do you have any comment on the fact that Steve Bannon is now in the ear of Trump and so is Alex Jones.
CHRIS HEDGES: Well, I mean, they’re conspiracy theorists just like Trump, so they just reinforce his kind of loony world view.
ABBY MARTIN: The U.S. isn’t the only country where we’re seeing this far-right rise. Obviously, this is happening in Europe and beyond. How is what we’re witnessing here connected to elsewhere in the world?
CHRIS HEDGES: Well, it’s the result of Neoliberal Economics where you destroy public institutions. I mean, whatever you say about communism, and I was there in Eastern Europe, they had a first-class educational system which people did not pay for. Everyone had health insurance. There was full employment. And so, Neoliberalism went in and destroyed in the name of the free market, which everyone confused with freedom, all of those institutions. Huge state enterprises closed; massive unemployment.
I was just in Poland: two million young Poles work as baristas in Spain or somewhere. And you created a new oligarchic class by selling off state assets — this happened, of course, as well as Russia — and people, you know, finally woke up and realized they were being had. And they were being had by that “liberal establishment” in the same way that we’ve been had by these liberal elites on the East Coast and the West Coast. And we’ve seen the rise of proto-fascist movements in Hungary and Poland. We’re seeing powerful proto-fascist movements in France, even Germany.
And it all goes back to this idea that human society and human life should be ruled by the dictates of the global marketplace. It’s an insane ideology. It’s never worked anywhere in human history. But until we break the back of corporate power, we’re not going to blunt the rise of these movements.
ABBY MARTIN: Yeah. We’re in such a post-truth reality that people think that Trump is still anti-establishment because they’ve just learned to blame the state for all of their ills.
CHRIS HEDGES: That’s right and when they figure out somehow that he isn’t, when they get what’s happening, then you will see turbo-charged the hate talk and the hate crimes. That’s classic.
ABBY MARTIN: Like you said, the police state was already put in place.
CHRIS HEDGES: Right.
ABBY MARTIN: It just takes someone like Trump to pull the lever.
CHRIS HEDGES: Right. This was the big mistake. He has all the tools at his disposal to, with a flick of a switch, turn this into a police state. And they were all given to him primarily by the Bush and the Obama administrations.
We allowed whole segments of our population to be stripped of their rights. I’m talking about poor people of color in marginal communities; a court system where, you know, 95% something… 94% never even get a trial. This system of mass incarceration; the police terror where police can use indiscriminate lethal force against unarmed…
Hannah Arendt writes about this in, “Origins of Totalitarianism”. When you allow a segment of your population — she was talking about stateless, she herself was stateless in France — to be stripped of their rights; once rights become privileges, then should unrest spread throughout the society, you have both a legal and a physical mechanism to impose, they’re already in place, to impose that on everyone else. And that’s what we’re seeing — that what poor people of color have been enduring in these mini police states, is just instantly expanded once the rest of the population is no longer passive.
ABBY MARTIN: You talk about how the biggest way to fight Trump, the Christian right, the alt-right, is to revolt.
CHRIS HEDGES: Right.
ABBY MARTIN: Mass resistance — what does that look like? What does that mean? And why is the Democratic Party not the vehicle for the resistance?
CHRIS HEDGES: Well, because the Democratic Party is not going to confront the underlying ideological system of Neoliberalism, or corporate power, which has created the mess that, you know, we now live in.
Instead of we and the opposition dealing directly with the ravages of Neoliberalism and what it’s done, you have a Democratic Party that blames the election result on Putin or on Comey. This is ridiculous. And it is a way to be as demagogic as Trump and a way to present alternative facts of your own. And that’s very dangerous because if we don’t have significant segments of the society that deal with the ideology, utopian ideology of Neoliberalism that has lead us to this mess and continues to offer up these alternative facts, then, in essence, they’re going to collude with Trump to create a form of American fascism. And they will be in many ways as responsible.
If we don’t go after those corporate forces through acts of civil disobedience, such as at Standing Rock, we don’t have any other way to have our voices heard, or to create resistance.
Now, it’s going to be ugly under a Trump Administration because… And Standing Rock was ugly under Obama — rubber bullets, concussion grenades, water in subzero temperatures laced with pepper spray. It was ugly there. But it’s going to be even uglier because there just will be no holds barred at all. And, you know, in Standing Rock they brought in private security contractors who’d just come from Afghanistan and Iraq, which gets back to these kinds of quasi-militias allied with the Christian right.
Well, we’re just going to see a lot more of that. It’s going to be fierce but we don’t… There are no institutions left that are authentically democratic that are going to challenge these centrifugal forces that have brought us to where we are. That’s only going to be done in the streets.